“Rock ‘n’ roll is very much a middle-class thing now – and it pisses me off”: Richard Hawley believes a lack of grassroots venues will punish working-class musicians

As increasing costs threaten smaller venues, Hawley believes working-class creatives will suffer most.

Richard Hawley performing live

Credit: Neil H Kitson/Redferns

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Historically, rock ‘n’ roll brought in the big bucks. Rat-arsed rockstars used to live frivolously, smashing up their guitars and trashing hotel rooms.

However, the modern state of the rock scene is far less glamorous. As the cost-of-living crunches down on the industry, more and more independent music venues shut their doors.

In 2023, the Music Venue Trust’s annual report found that rising living costs and rent spikes forced 125 independent venues to close their doors in 2023. The report also found that 38% of the remaining 835 independent venues made a loss in revenue. One particularly significant closure came in the form of Bath’s Moles – the venue that aided the likes of Radiohead, Oasis, The Killers and Ed Sheeran on their roads to success, yet could not be saved.

While acts like Enter Shikari are constantly striving to support grassroots venues, notably donating £1 from every ticket sold on their recent arena tour, it’s unclear whether 2024 will see even more venues having to shut their doors. If a change doesn’t happen soon, more venues will fall – one example being Leeds’ hardcore haven BOOM, the venue currently in the thick of a year-long run of fundraising gigs to avoid closure.

In light of the music industry’s suffering, former Longpigs and Pulp guitarist Richard Hawley has suggested that the middle class have allowed grassroots venue to struggle. With smaller venues closing in less affluent areas, there’s far less chance for working class musicians to find their feet. “The danger facing small venues is a disaster waiting to happen because it just means that ‘Tarquin & The Quentoids’ will be the next wave of rock’n’roll – not Dave, Linda and Barry,” he says in a recent NME interview.

“Rock ‘n ‘roll is very much a middle-class thing now – it does piss me off,” he asserts.

Hawley even notes how “scary” it is that moderate-sized venues like Sheffield’s iconic Leadmill are also being threatened. Without these venues, Hawley would never have been able to forge a successful career in music “I’ve been in that position [of struggling to make ends meet] – I was in that position for 10 years, from 16 to 26, and I don’t forget it,” he says. “It’s just not easy.”

While the Music Venue Trust welcomed a £5 million investment from the government last June, as well as the December introduction of the Pipeline Investment Fund grant (PIF), there’s a long battle ahead.

If you’re eager to support grassroots venues, you can donate via Music Venue Trust website.

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