Centre Stage: Music Venue Trust CEO Mark Davyd reflects on 12 months of ups and downs for the sector

Centre Stage: Music Venue Trust CEO Mark Davyd reflects on 12 months of ups and downs for the sector

Every month in Music Week, Music Venue Trust CEO Mark Davyd guides us through the state of the grassroots live music scene. Here, he looks back on the wins and losses the sector has seen in the past year…


There is no sugar-coating it, 2023 was the worst year ever for venue closures and losing live music spaces. The MVT team was besieged by venues in severe financial trouble throughout 2023, and too many of those were lost. This is market failure. In the best year ever for live music ticket receipts, the UK has allowed more of its grassroots music venues to be permanently lost than in any other 12-month period. We, the public, our political representatives and the music community won’t tolerate it. 

At the beginning of this year, we alerted the government that the energy crisis was disproportionately impacting cultural spaces. The market for providing energy for such premises simply did not exist. When there are no energy companies competing for creative industry businesses, these creative businesses end up with providers who cannot stop supplying them even if they want to and no other providers who will bid for their business. This results in the existing suppliers being able to name any price they want and leaving the business with only two options: accept or close. Prices rose by a huge amount – in one case by 870%. We wrote to the chancellor pointing this out and he, in turn, wrote to Ofgem pointing this out. Nothing has actually been done about it. 

In January 2020, then chancellor Rishi Sunak finally responded to five years of campaigning by MVT on the issue of business rates, with a special relief of 50% for grassroots music venues. This action recognised that the business rates system, which has imposed the largest premises taxes anywhere in Europe on the UK’s live music circuit, was dysfunctional. The chancellor and government committed to reviewing the entire system and producing a report by the end of 2020. However, when the pandemic hit, this was suspended. Since the day the lockdown was lifted, MVT has written to successive chancellors nine times asking for the review to take place. Nothing has happened. 

When the 75% relief to business rates was continued for grassroots venues in November 2023, the MVT reiterated its call for a review: "We hope that this further extension into 2025 for this relief will provide the necessary window of opportunity for the government to complete the full review of business rates on Grassroots Music Venues which it committed to in January 2019," 

MVT began nine years ago, determined to pursue a policy of cultural parity that spaces, events, activities, programmes, artists and audiences in the grassroots sector deserve, and the same level of recognition for their contributions to culture as everyone else in the creative industries. As we enter our 10th year as a charity, it’s jarring to see how often contemporary popular music is addressed in terms which exclude it from the cultural conversation. These attitudes run deep and must be challenged, whether it’s an unsustainable £50 fee for the support band, or the announcement of a cultural policy for a nation that excludes music from its announcement. Music starts in our communities and needs respect. 

This is getting its own mention because the situation is ludicrous and it indicates how much we have left to do to achieve cultural parity. 2024 marks the third year in which Manchester’s iconic Night & Day Café has been fighting a court battle against an ill-considered Noise Abatement Order. The inability of Manchester City Council to resolve this case shows a lack of care for our cultural spaces that starts from badly delivered planning and development and ends with enforcement officers who’ve failed to receive instruction on the importance of creativity. Manchester can’t call itself a music city until the threat to the Night & Day is removed. 



A landmark report for the grassroots sector was released in June by the Department For Culture, Media & Sport. While it’s been a significant topic of conversation for some time that these venues act as the research and development department for the music industry, finally here it was in an official statement by the government. This has far-reaching consequences for the way we can support grassroots venues in the future. Language matters. The DCMS Report is the sort of document that we will still be referencing in 10 or 20 years’ time for the way it changed perceptions of our sector. 

Over 1,200 private investors and many industry organisations, like Sony, Warner, PPL and Amazon Music, came together to raise funding for MVT’s campaign to change the ownership model of the UK’s grassroots music venues. With financial support from Arts Council England and NESTA, MVT raised £2.35 million to create a Charitable Community Benefit Society: Music Venue Properties [MVP], an organisation owned by the shareholding members. Atherton’s The Snug was the first property acquired by MVP, placing it into a protected status. In its first phase, MVP plans to acquire nine venues and create a ‘National Trust Of Music Venues’. Ten years in the making, this is a groundbreaking project.

3. VENUES DAY 2023
After the worst year for venue closures since MVT came into being, it might have been expected that Venues Day 2023 would be a gloomy affair, bringing together a beaten sector to commiserate. The exact opposite was true, with over 700 delegates attending a day full of plans, projects, ideas and inspiration. Sometimes you need a reminder that our industry is about people, the connections we make through music, the passion people have for culture and creativity. A room full of people focused on that is always going to be a joyful experience, no matter how hard the economic and social circumstances are. 

This year was the biggest ever for MVT live partnerships, launched with a week in Liverpool with The National Lottery and Eurovision for the United By Music campaign. Partnering with National Lottery has delivered over £5 million for the grassroots sector, creating events for over 400 venues and supporting over 500 artists. In July, we announced a partnership with Coca-Cola, delivering a tour with Casey Lowry to explore how the brand can support the sector, and in October, we announced a campaign with Free Now to offer a donation for every person riding with their travel app who elects to Ride For Music. Brand partnerships are a part of our work offering opportunities for partners to make connections to grassroots audiences by financially supporting everyone in it. 

We started the year pleading with the industry to recognise that the grassroots sector is essential to all of us and that radical action is required to stop it collapsing. We finished it with an artist (Enter Shikari), promoter (Cuffe & Taylor), venue (The Piece Hall), arena (Swansea Arena) and three ticketing companies (Ticketmaster, Skiddle, Good Show) who have taken action to invest into the sector by attaching a contribution from each ticket sold to support the grassroots sector. The longest journey starts with a step, and we need more partners to take that step, so that next time I write these reflections out, the live music industry has a solution to tackle its talent pipeline problem. 


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