This article has been written with the support of Jack Daniel's. Find out more.

Why grassroots venues matter, according to the bands that play in them

Why grassroots venues matter according to the bands that play in them

Tim Burgess at Joiners Arms, back in the day

The Charlatans' Tim Burgess and others share their experiences of independent music venues

Jack Rocks sponsors Independent Venue Week. Jack Rocks is a nationwide initiative that supports grass roots music through hosting gigs at small venues, therefore giving a platform to the UK's best emerging talent to cut their teeth. In recent years Jack has rocked over 400 gigs at small venues as well as curating a new music stage at 10 festivals. Through these events, Jack Daniel's has helped shine a light on those artists and venues by investing in advertising the importance of local scenes to its broad reaching fan base.

Robbie Watters, Jack Daniel's Brand Manager, says: Independent Venue Week is a great initiative that puts the spotlight on the people and places that create amazing live music experiences across the UK, the real 'I was there' moments. Jack Daniel's is proud to support IVW in addition to Music Venue Trust in the hope that by doing our bit we can help the UK grass roots scene continue to produce some of the best talent the world has ever seen for years to come.


There's little doubt how important grassroots music venues are to the cultural experience of town and cities around the country. More than that, though, they're an essential testing ground for bands learning their craft. For the 2017 Independent Venue Week, we've already spoken in depth with managers and owners around the country about their experience running venues, so it seemed only right we get the perspective of the people who roll up for one night only to play. We wanted to find out about band's memories of playing gigs, their favourite places to play and what makes a venue special; it turns out that it can be as diverse as having a Turner Prize artist's work hanging on the walls or being served bowls of homemade soup, but mostly it's the people.

Tim Burgess (The Charlatans, IVW ambassador)

'I remember [my first gig] really clearly – it was a Tuesday night at the end of August in 1989 at The Overstrand in Walsall. Our guitarist, Jon Baker was the booker there so that's how we got the gig. It held about 100 and it was sold out – I think they let loads more than that in as you couldn't move in there. It was £1.50 to get in and we only had seven songs, we had written them all in a few practices in the month up to the gig. We played 'Always in Mind', 'Flower', 'Everything Changed', 'You Can Talk To Me', 'Indian Rope', 'Imperial 109' and 'Sproston Green', we still finish our live sets with that song. They demolished the venue a couple of years ago. At the end of that gig I knew I wanted to chuck in my job and give it a go being in a band. I still get the same buzz whenever we play live.

'When you're starting out the venues can be down at heel sometimes, but they are really exciting times, so you're never that bothered. There's always been an enthusiastic owner or promoter full of excuses about why you have to use the beer cellar as a dressing room. It was always audiences that set them apart, venues like the Barrowlands and King Tut's in Glasgow where they would sing along every word to every song before the record had even come out.

'Places close to home like The Boardwalk and The Hacienda in Manchester were venues I'd spent time in watching other bands, so they were places I really wanted to play. Our gig at Northwich Memorial Hall meant a lot, as that was where I grew up. I used to look at the listings in The NME when I was at school, so there was a real romance to venues like Powerhaus in London or The Duchess of York in Leeds.

'Why do independent music venues matter? It's where everyone gets a start and learns their chops. Not just bands but promoters, sound engineers and DJs too. Towns and cities with a decent number of independent venues can sustain a music scene that means that more bands form and fanzines are started. Anything from a room in a pub that holds 40 people through to more established venues – bands like Catfish and the Bottlemen and The 1975 were playing tours of independent venues in towns and cities up and down the country until recently. The next band to go massive might be playing up the road from you on Wednesday night. But it's about getting some mates together and getting along to support the bands and the venues.'

Why grassroots venues matter according to the bands that play in them

image: WHITE
Leo Condie (WHITE)

'My first [proper gig] was getting invited to play at Henry's Cellar Bar in Edinburgh, when it was still Henry's Jazz Cellar. It was all very exciting and felt very strange and hard to fathom how anyone put on gigs or anything like that. It only took about four or five gigs before we realised that it's actually really easy to do yourself and much more fun because you can control everything. We learned very quickly that it's not actually that scary.

'I was thinking about when WHITE did our first Glasgow gig, we booked out two nights at The Poetry Club and that was possibly one of my favourite venues we've played and one of my favourite gigs we've put on because both nights had sold out and we knew we were going to have a hell of a show to put on. We just took the opportunity to put in as many extra things as possible so that it left people with a full experience. And The Poetry Club is really good anyway because it's crammed full of Jim Lambie's bits of artwork that he had lying around his studio – that's already a pretty amazing start having a Turner Prize artist's bits of artwork kicking about. It set that venue apart so much and it already had a feel of a weird speakeasy, there're no signs outside or anything, it's like an exclusive club feel. These are the things that make it really good with venues where they're not covered in branding or anything like that, it's just a cool space.

'There was one we really enjoyed playing in London called Madame Jojo's which used to be where the White Heat club night was on, but that shut down a couple of years ago because one of the bouncers chased after someone with a baseball bat. But that one was really exciting to play because it felt totally strange, like 'Why are we in this space'? It had the full mirror you could only see on stage and these ornate but tatty railings and then I found out later that it got used as a set in Eyes Wide Shut. Places like that and The Poetry Club are hidden gems, not just a box with speakers in it. We've played a few of them as well but yeah, you actually feel like you're stepping into an alternate world where you wouldn't usually have a band on.

'When you're writing songs for the stage, it helps if you picture yourself in these venues and because you're right up front and in people's faces, there's a sort of combativeness to the music whatever you're playing, it feels more visceral and right up front. So when you get to the stage of writing songs that sound big in huge venues, obviously I'm not at that stage, but there's a nuance that gets lost in a lot of bands when they get to that stage. Obviously the arena rock thing, all the songs have four chords and are heavily signposted as to what's coming next, there's a certain spontaneity, and excitement and unpredictability that I would associate with smaller venues where you genuinely don't know what is coming next. And I quite like interacting with the crowd anyway so I've always loved when you play small venues and it's great to be able to get right in amongst people without this awkward jumping off a 10ft stage that you can't get back on.'

Why grassroots venues matter according to the bands that play in them

image: Idlewild at Edinburgh's Picturehouse
Colin Newton (Idlewild)

'Idlewild's first gig was in a venue called The Subway, which was in the Cowgate in Edinburgh. It was a local band night, three bands on the bill including a teenage metal band called Body Hammer. We had to share the drum kit which said 'Body Hammer' on the bass, they were pretty bad and you know what, we were probably awful too…but it was amazing. It was our first gig, my first ever, just a few friends from university came down and nodded politely while we made a lot of noise and screamed. Roddy [Woomble] screamed a lot.

'When you start off you play in a few places that are a bit shit and the sound man is not interested and it's all a bit rubbish. But when you start touring you find all these venues that really care about music. There's hundreds of them. Well, there used to be. You play places like King Tut's in Glasgow or [Nice 'n'] Sleazy, and they're all run by people who put on bands because they enjoyed it. You would see other amazing bands that were playing around the same time, bands like Mogwai, and you were seeing them in these tiny, wee places. There's this public toilet in Tunbridge Wells called The Forum, it's an old toilet on the green that's been turned into a venue and it was run by amazing people.

'I can't imagine being able to do it any other way than playing in these kind of places and playing regularly without huge amounts of pressure. When you're starting out you have to go and play and know what it feels like to be in front of a crowd. The support you get from people, the people who work in venues would say things and give you advice, and you just need to listen to as much information as possible because you're learning how to do it. And when you play in those venues, the people who come and see you will come and see you for years and years and years. They'll be the ones that are always there, always coming to gigs, and you get to know them. For the first few gigs I was up in Aberdeen at The Lemon Tree with a 500 person capacity, you're so close to the stage and the musicians and it's not like a huge stadium show with a little guy on stage miles away and you're thinking 'That could be me', because when you do that there's no chance it could be you.

'For us the most famous of them was King Tut's, when you start playing places like that, places where you'd go to see gigs and all these bands from America would come over and play there, that was kind of mind-blowing. We were so excited to play there and we got given a bowl of soup each. You play all these venues and usually you get a slab of Tennents and maybe packet of crisps, then you play King Tut's which is a lovely venue run by people who care about you and you go there, feel nice and warm and they give you a bowl of soup. It's a good place to end a tour.'

Why grassroots venues matter according to the bands that play in them

image: King Tut's
Ben Bodoano (Backline Tech for Chvrches, Bloc Party)

'Essentially I'm a roadie, but the term's moved on somewhat from the 60s/70s and basically covers everyone that works on the road. Within the touring party I work as a Backline Tech, we're responsible for all the bands musical equipment; to set it up and pack it down each day, maintain and repair the gear and instruments and to assist the band throughout the show. My first gig in this job was for The Streets in 2007 I think. It was a festival in Portugal they were headlining and all my equipment went wrong, it was a nightmare. Never thought I'd work again, haven't stopped working since!

'What sets the most memorable grassroots venues apart from the rest? It always the crowd! It's nice if the room sounds good and there's a semi decent PA. But some of the best shows I've been part of have tiny venues, just the rawness is something you can't capture in a stadium. In terms of venues I get excited about working, it's always going to some of the smaller Scottish venues, King Tut's etc. Apart from the crazy audiences, from my perspective they have some great local crew with some great banter.

'We did a gig with The Kooks organised by a small indie promoter. It was on a beach in Cornwall, not very big and quite an intimate, lovely setting. Only thing was the 400 stone steps all the gear had to carried down and then back up. The things the crew have to go through, for the show to go on. It was a banging gig though.'

Independent Venue Week is happening in venues around the UK until Sun 29 Jan.

Find out about Jack Rocks upcoming January gigs.

The Charlatans

The ever-durable Charlies have weathered all kinds of upheaval over the years and but have managed to plod along happily with considerable fan support.

Cardiff University

Fri 8 Dec

The Great Hall

£31.35 / 029 2078 1458

Cardiff University Concert Hall, Cardiff School Of Music

Fri 8 Dec

£28.50 / 03700 101051

  • 19:00

Cardiff University Student Union

Fri 8 Dec

£28.50

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