Centre Stage: Mark Davyd

Centre Stage: Mark Davyd

Music Venue Trust CEO Mark Davyd’s monthly deep dive into live music’s biggest issues...

I’m sure I remember a time when you heard about a great plan, a positive opportunity or a simple way to do something that could make things better, and just said, ‘Oh, that’s good, count me in.’ These days it seems to be like pulling teeth. 

In October, it was my privilege to attend the unveiling of a special plaque on the side of The Snug in Atherton. That name may not be familiar to you, and most likely many of you reading these words will never have been to Atherton in Greater Manchester. But whether you know it or not, The Snug is a vitally important asset to its local community. Its work starts with the belief in supporting artists, encouraging people to be creative and giving them opportunities to enjoy culture. 

I had a walk around Atherton. It’s lovely, and the sense of community is palpable. It isn’t overrun with theatres and cinemas, nor are there grand institutions ensuring people feel included in a creative vision for the UK’s future, but there is The Snug. 

The new charitable community benefit society created by Music Venue Trust, Music Venue Properties (MVP), is acquiring The Snug as its first grassroots music venue in the Own Our Venues project. In that scheme, MVP acquire the freehold and place it into a benevolent ownership model that means it can never be lost as a cultural facility to its community. MVP then issue the venue operator a long-term, secure and sustainable lease that’s based on the concept that they’ll deliver creative opportunities to their community. 

The Snug doesn’t just put a few bands on hoping one is successful. It’s open during the day for coffee and it offers free Wi-Fi to those who might not be able to otherwise get it. People go there to feel part of something and connected. It supports food banks, fundraising drives and other community groups. Out of a core focus on music, The Snug now matters to the whole community. And in that respect, it reflects hundreds of other grassroots music venues across the country with the same mission. 

I was asked a lot of questions by media outlets during the launch day and was given a lot of opportunities to make that incredible event into something else other than just the positive story it is. But I resisted the temptation to name people and organisations that didn’t help at all, even the ones who tried to prevent the project succeeding. I won’t name them here either, because the delivery of that project was not about some people being wrong. It was about everyone who ignored the negativity and made it happen by being right.

Plus, people reading this know who was out there leading from the front to make it happen and who said it wouldn’t work. 

Writing this column, I am thinking about the huge obstacles we have faced to make this project a reality, and the lack of enthusiasm shown for it by some of the most senior individuals and organisations in our business. We did it without them, but we really shouldn’t have had to. 

Our industry is full of great, passionate and driven people who understand what a place like The Snug is, what role it plays for career development and for the community. I meet them all the time, and a lot of them tell me they agree with a lot of the ideas and opportunities I describe in this column. So, this column is personal for you if you’re one of those people. 

I hope you had a chance to read all the press coverage about the acquisition of The Snug, and if you did, you’ll understand the tangible difference this will make to artists, communities and fans. I want you to reflect on your senior management’s decision to support it, campaign for it, or, too often, not to be involved, not to support it. For that second category, perhaps it’s time to sit them down and ask them to do better. 

Right now, we are in a stand-off about who can or cannot make an arena and stadium ticket levy happen, with everyone avoiding responsibility. The people who said Own Our Venues wouldn’t work are saying the exact same things about this project: ‘It’s too difficult, it can’t happen.’

But it is their responsibility – and it will be easy, we don’t have a genuine reason why we can’t do it. These are the same tired voices saying the things they’ve always said. And honestly, it’s time we had this out with them because everyone working in this industry deserves to be acknowledged, respected and rewarded. 

If the organisation you work for is part of this problem, you can’t expect people making good [changes] to think you’re also part of the solution. Great things will happen with or without your involvement. It’s up to you, not anyone else, to [make sure you’re a part] of them. 

In summary, if your company didn’t play an active role in the Own Our Venues project, now is the time to talk to your boss and ask them why you and your team, who believe in positive change, are being left out of it happening.  

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