Should bigger entertainment venues pay to support smaller ones?

Last year Lewis Capaldi was left speechless after his P&J Live show in Aberdeen broke the Scottish indoor crowd record.

That same week at least one smaller music venue closed in the UK.

By the time 2024 rolled around and millions had boogied and sung along to Elton John and Beyonce, another 124 grassroots entertainment venues had closed their doors.

This suffering of small businesses is by no means a new problem.

Elton John on stage cheering with two fists in the air.
Elton John played at Aberdeen’s P&J Live last year. Image: Ben Gibson / HST Global Limited t/a Rocket Entertainment.

With the cost-of-living and dramatic rise in bills, a wave of independent businesses have shut their doors in our cities and towns leaving swathes of vacant storefronts and a steadily gaping hole in culture and choice.

However, many argue it is live entertainment and music that help to plug this gap.

In London, the hospitality sector raked in £46 billion last year after three of the city’s biggest stadiums welcomed £1.2 million visitors.

With the big names drawing the crowds, cafes, restaurants, pubs and clubs flourished.

But for smaller entertainment venues, the struggle continues.

Should larger venues help fund their smaller neighbours?

In response to the growing “crisis”, a Conservative former minister Ashford MP Damian Green suggested larger venues should have to pay towards supporting smaller ones.

Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine.
Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine. Image: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

After all, we would not have today’s superstars without these smaller stages, argued Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine.

Posting on X (formerly Twitter), she stated: “Grassroots venues provide a vital first opportunity for young musicians and boost for our economy and culture.

“A levy on tickets for large events could secure the future of hundreds of venues across the country.”

But would this model, in a more idealistic world, work?

The Press and Journal asked Naz Hussain from Aberdeen’s Breakneck Comedy Club and Sean Paul O’Hare from An Lanntair in Stornoway to see what they thought – and the opinions were perhaps surprising.

Naz Hussain founder of Breakneck Comedy Club in Aberdeen.
Naz Hussain founder of Breakneck Comedy Club in Aberdeen. Image: Chris Sumner/ DC Thomson.

‘We actually don’t want their money’

While Naz Hussain, owner of Breakneck Comedy Club, said the club was very much more focused on comedy than music, the concerns raised apply to his industry as well.

He said: “Pretty much all the big name comedians would have started at the Comedy Club. So if you cut the grassroots it will be difficult. It will have an impact on it all.”

In the last few years, in Aberdeen alone, Breakneck has hosted more than 300 events in the city.

In a conversation with Aberdeenshire Council, Naz was also told he has broken the record in Aberdeenshire for the most events hosted by any individual person

The club at 28 King Street in Aberdeen first began with a comedy night hosted by Naz.

Thinking it would be “good for people to have a laugh”, it proved so popular he ended up dedicating 14 years to doing just that.

Breakneck Comedy Club in Aberdeen.
Breakneck Comedy Club in Aberdeen. Image: Breakneck Comedy Club

In recent years though it has been getting harder to see the funny side.

“It’s been the hardest couple of years,” Naz said. “Because obviously we’ve had the pandemic, and then the cost of living.

“It’s been challenging.”

Naz added while the idea of a levy could help, it seems a bit unrealistic and it is not what venues always need.

“We actually don’t want their money,” he said. “We just want for them not to be the only people who get exposure.”

Nas Hussain outside the club’s first venue on King Street. Image: Chris Sumner/ DC Thomson.

No arts centre can flourish without funding

The director of An Lanntair arts centre in Stornoway, Sean Paul O’Hare, admitted like many in the industry, things are certainly not easy.

Especially as they face the additional challenge of expensive travel costs and accommodation for artists travelling to the Outer Hebrides.

An Lanntair arts centre in Stornoway.
An Lanntair arts centre in Stornoway. Image: An Lanntair

He said: “We have to generate a lot of income just to survive and flourish but also no arts centre in this country is going to do that without public funding and support.

“It’s a mixed-income stream about what we generate and what we receive from funding streams, that’s the model.

“I think there needs to be proper funding for that. I think these venues are struggling. We’re coming out of a massive pandemic, we’re coming out of the economic downturn…everyone struggles.”

Funding from larger venues not ‘reliable’

In the latest Creative Scotland funds for multi-annual funding, Sean Paul said £95 million worth was applied for from a £45 million pot saying it shows the “depth and need” of arts organisations.

However, like Naz, he was not sure receiving funding from bigger venues was the answer.

Instead, he thought more cooperation between arts organisations and support from the government would be more beneficial.

He said: “I don’t know how we would rely on bigger organisations. What if they go through a difficult time?

“Where’s the reliability of such a funding idea? It seems to me it’s a lot to expect from larger organisations.

the audience enjoying the performance of The Cheviot, The Stag and The Black Black Oil
Sean Paul said beyond the benefits of public health and education, the arts gives people a chance to enjoy themselves. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DCT Media

“I do think within the arts and events sector we should be pooling our resources together.

“But equally we also have to ask those in political power.

“We need that support and we should have that support because we are delivering and there’s benefits beyond even the arts. There’s public health, education, skills enhancement, giving young people careers and also people enjoying themselves.

“It’s also a very fundamental part of life that we put things on enjoyed by communities and people.

“There’s so much the arts can offer society it’s just putting a value to that.”

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