It’s the middle of Independent Venue Week, so we couldn’t resist having a chat with one of the organisers, Chloe Ward, Director of the UK.
Founded by Sybil Bell and now in its fifth year, Independent Venue Week is getting bigger and better each time. Chloe came on board in the second year of Independent Venue Week and has worked with Sybil ever since.
How did you first get involved with Independent Venue Week?
I’ve never really had a full interview for any of my roles in the music industry, it’s all kind of been word of mouth. My background is mainly festival production and stage management. I’d covered for a friend who was doing the stage management for the Secret Cinema Back to the Future series of events. It was there I met Joe Edwards who was Sybil’s business partner at the time. They had just set up Independent Venue Week and alongside that they were running the Music Producer’s Guild (MPG) Awards.
I was working at a magazine publishers, New Bay Media, on a freelance basis, assisting with the running of the awards ceremonies that were attached to their publications. I mentioned to Joe that my time there was coming to an end and I was looking for something else. He asked me to come on board and assist on the production of the MPG Awards, which I did, and I was based in the office with Sybil.
Independent Venue Week had grown from 17 to 91 venues in a year. I just said, ‘I can feel you’re really quite stressed with this massive increase in work. Is there anything I can do?’
I started helping out by putting together the line up for a BBC Introducing show that was part of the week and advancing that. Then when it came to wrapping it all up, I helped with that as well, and I’ve gone from there. She can’t get rid of me basically.
Have you always worked in the music industry?
I did a four year degree in event management. The third year was an industry placement and I did it at my local music venue. One of the partners in the venue was also a partner in Field Day Festival.
They’d never had a work experience person before, so I don’t think they quite knew what to do with me. He was like, “here’s the address, here’s a name. Go to the site at 8am on this date in Victoria Park, ask for Natalie, she’ll give you some jobs to do”, which I did and it was amazing.
I ended up working in various roles and working my way up to sort of a management role, for the past eight years, at Field Day Festival doing production and creative production. From there I… went out and did stage management and artist liaison at other festivals.
It was then I met my housemate, that worked at New Bay Media at the time. She was executive of their awards ceremonies. I’d never really been based in an office; it had always been hands on work, literally out in the field, or in a field, doing stuff. She offered me a chance to go in as a freelancer to assist on their awards and it went from there really.
Independent Venue Week is in its fifth year, how has it progressed since it started?
Obviously the number of venues we work with has grown vastly. We started out with 17 in year one and we’ve grown steadily to now 173 venues taking part this year, which has just been phenomenal growth for us.
[We’ve progressed in terms of] the number of venues and the number of artists that we’ve got on board now, and agents are finally seeming to get it and understand it.
We’re working with a lot more agents now who’ve got artists that perhaps their fan bases are a bit bigger, they could play bigger venues, but they are releasing an album that week so they want to go out and do underplays. It’s grown massively.
Why did the project start and why do you think it’s important to celebrate independent venues?
Sybil started it because she was a venue owner herself and she also had a background in marketing and securing sponsorship deals for other events in the UK. I think she had a few knock backs with doing that and just thought: as venue owner it’s a completely thankless path, you’re often there, you’re often working in isolation, you’re not in it to make any money. A lot of venues, unfortunately, are struggling financially and she wanted to create something that shone a spotlight on the venues and the amazing people that work in them. [The people that] run them and keep them open year in year out and week in week out.
We wanted to create this celebratory thing that said to people, go to a gig – there’s not really any better experience than live music. Don’t wait until your local venue is threatened with closure, go and support it now by going to shows.
The reason she chose January, or the end of January to run it, is because it’s a notoriously quiet time for the venues so it’s a great boost to them. It’s a great time to discover new music and new artists. These venues are small spaces and they are where emerging artists, that are first starting out, are playing so it’s a great time to be like ‘go and check out this band’.
Also, by the end of January everyone’s fed up. They’ve done dry January, they’ve been in for a month. It’s been cold, it’s been raining and miserable. Everyone’s been paid and it’s a great time to say ‘look, you can finally go out now.’
What’s been the biggest achievement for Independent Venue Week?
We’ve increased the number of venues, promoters and artists we work with. That’s always been a great achievement, to see the spread of the venues and be able to spread the word and work with more venues.
I think personally this year, one of our aims was to work with more venues in secondary and tertiary [towns and] cities in rural locations… We really wanted to work with and raise the profile of venues out of these spaces so that more people were engaged and more people realised that they did have a music venue. It might be that it’s a pub but no one realised that they had a back room which is also a music venue. We’re got 84 venues taking part for the first time and they are in 80 locations around the UK.
Lots of small venues are under threat now. Is there anything else you think can be done to support these independent venues and make sure that we don’t lose more?
Recently the Agent of Change principle has been passed in parliament so that’s going to help immensely. They shouldn’t have the legal threats and threats of closure from local councils that’s been going on in the past… but generally, as I said before, people just going to gigs more frequently. If you used to go to gig once a month, go twice a month, if you go twice a month maybe look at going once a week.
I think that’s the key thing, don’t wait until the venues are closing or being threatened with closure and then write to the local council and local MP and start campaigning. Show your support by being present in those venues.
Also, another thing that we found that for a lot of people now, and I know finance is tight for many people, they are drinking at home or going to a pub round the corner but a lot of these venues rely on bar take to stay open. I’d say go to your venue from the start and buy your drinks there.
On the flip side, we’ve got 19 venues taking part this year that are a year or less old. Last year we had six venues that we’d worked with that had been open in the last 12 months. I know we’ve lost a lot of venues, which is an awful thing, but there are new venues popping up all over which is great.
What has got you most excited about this year’s Independent Venue Week?
We’ve really tried to get more of a spread of genres throughout the venues. Traditionally theses venues are very much alternative indie rock venues, and we’ve got a really strong number of jazz shows going on this year.
One of our ambassadors, Nadine Shah, has curated a tour which we deliberately routed in secondary and tertiary locations, away from the traditional circuit, which Skinny Girl Diet are headlining. A number of tours, as well, are taking part for the first time.
We have tried to work with a lot more agents and artists and say look we’ve got this list of venues, we can pretty much route a tour wherever you want, you can hit all the major cities or no major cities, you can do one date, five dates, seven dates. Agents are coming to us now and saying ‘I’ve got this artist what can you do?’ and we put it out to the venues.
We had one artist and the agent approached us and said I’d like them to go out during the week. I checked in with him a couple of weeks later and he said he’d had 25 offers for a five date tour, which is brilliant.
Do you think Independent Venue Week leaves a legacy that can be continued throughout the year in terms of encouraging artists to use these different types of venues?
We hope so. After the week’s taken place we always [ask the venues] ‘have you built up relationships with agents or artists that you weren’t working with before?’ and a lot of them come back and say yes.
Sybil is very aware that as an operator and manager quite often it’s you alone in your venue and the most common piece of feedback that we hear is that the venues feel part of a national project. They’re up there with The Joiners and The Leadmills and more well known venues which they really love.
Independent Venue Week is on until 4th February. You can find out more information here: https://www.independentvenueweek.com/