Mumford & Sons: The UK’s live music scene needs ‘sweat on the walls’

Dressed in a hard hat and hi-vis jacket, Mumford & Sons’ Ben Lovett is stood in front of what will soon be his new venue, Lafayette, in north London.

“It’ll be done in six weeks,” he laughs as a pneumatic drill interrupts him.

A building site might not seem the natural habit for a former Glastonbury headliner, but it’s all part of the “deep responsibility” that he says lies behind his involvement in the UK’s live music scene.

Mumford & Sons started out in smaller venues

Not everyone can pick a plot of land in King’s Cross, build a venue from scratch and attract the buzz that comes with the involvement of one of the world’s biggest bands.

But for Ben, who also launched London’s Omeara in 2016, getting to this point “has been a lifetime of work”.

“Spending my life around independent music meant it felt like a natural progression to dive into venues…

“I’m not doing this because it’s a laugh or to make money. I genuinely believe in the ecosystem of this industry.

“Even when no one knew who Mumford & Sons were and we were playing in pubs, I cared just as much.”

Adele shared stages with Ben and the rest of Mumford & Sons at small venues

Ben, who has done much more than just lend his name to Lafayette, says venues like this are “vital” for the next generation.

“There was a great regular event we played years ago in the back room of a London pub.

“I remember one night it was Adele, Jamie T, Florence [Welch] and us playing to a room of about 200 people.

“There will be acts playing here that will go on to headline Glastonbury.”

Ben Lovett says acts like singer-songwriter Sam Fender will play to bigger and bigger crowds

‘You don’t have to be from Mumford & Sons’

Lafyette will join the hundreds of venues across the UK offering stages to future headliners.

Many of those spaces have struggled recently though.

“There’s been venues that, just this last week, have announced they’re closing,” says Chloe Ward, Independent Venue Week’s UK director.

Chloe Ward at London’s 100 Club where Oasis and The White Stripes have played

The event, which runs in the last week of January, was started “as a celebration of venues and the people that own and run them”.

Five venues which have been open for less than a year are taking part this year, but it follows industry body UK Music estimating that 35% of the country’s venues have closed down in the last decade.

“It’s not that we’re ignorant of those closures,” says Chloe “but new venues are coming through.”

The rate of closure in recent years has slowed with the introduction of laws to help venues stay open and defend themselves from new developments.

More than 35% of grassroots venues in the UK have closed in the last decade, including The Cellar in Oxford

The government has also just announced a 50% reduction in business rates for small and medium-sized “grassroots music venues”.

Chloe adds: “We see a lot of support from established artists for those venues but you don’t have to be Ben from Mumford & Sons to build and maintain a venue.

“There are people in local communities willing to give their time because they appreciate these spaces. There’s a lot to be said for the history of venues and keeping them going.”

Ben agrees that an all-hands-on-deck approach is key.

“I can’t remember the last time a week went past without being on the phone with someone who either owns venues or is trying to support one… This is a team effort, honestly.”

The Rolling Stones are among the legendary acts who have played at the 100 Club

‘We need sweat on the walls’
Something that Ben feels the UK scene could build on is nurturing new spaces when they emerge.

“What we don’t have here, which some venues like the 100 Club do, is that Eric Clapton sweat on the walls – legendary stories of people that have played here,” he says, while showing Newsbeat around what will be Lafayette’s toilets.

Despite acknowledging “there isn’t a perfect way” to open a new space, Ben says he has “an epic 2,000-word note” filled with plans to help his new opening make a big impact around the world.

“When an artist growing up in Venice Beach, LA, says ‘If I get to London and play somewhere like Lafayette’ that would be cool.”

“As long as everyone remembers we’re all aiming towards the same goal – to have more venues to see bands that you get to know and love – then we’re going to be okay.

“We rely on the fact that people want to check out bands, that underpins the entire thing.”

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