The toughest gig in town

The recession has decimated small music venues. As London's Luminaire becomes the latest to go to the wall
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The Independent Culture

Independent venues have helped launch the careers of legendary bands such as the Sex Pistols as well as fledgling acts but increasingly these crucibles of music are being forced to shut their doors.

The Luminaire in north west London, which has boosted the careers of you ng acts such as Mumford & Sons, Hot Chip, Babyshambles and Editors has announced it will close on 31 December.

In a statement on the venue's website, the Luminaire's co-founder Andy Inglis, said: "It's been a labour of love for a while now, and at this point it makes no sense for us to continue." While Mr Inglis refused to comment further, industry sources blamed the closure on the venue's removed location in Kilburn, its lack of sponsorship, and belt-tightening among gig-goers.

Other venues to recently announce their closure include Oxford Street's 100 Club, the Flowerpot in Kentish Town, Cardiff's Barfly, and London Astoria, which closed last year.

News of the Luminaire's demise prompted an outpouring of support from acts that have played there. "The Luminaire was one of the best venues in London," said Marcus Mumford, lead singer of Mumford & Sons. The band, which appeared on the John Peel stage at Glastonbury this year and performed on David Letterman's US chat show in February, had their first EP launch at The Luminaire in 2008.

"The way it was run was unique too. People coming to gigs were always very aware that they were coming to listen, and it's the only venue I know that painted instructions on the walls to remind people that they were there to watch and listen to music, rather than hold a conversation, which is amazingly helpful if you're playing."

The 100 Club, which will also shut its doors at the end of the year, opened in 1942 and saw The Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Buzzcocks play at the venue in 1976. Musicians to join a campaign to save it include Liam Gallagher, Ronnie Wood, Mick Jagger, Paul Weller and Carl Barat.

"The problem is, a lot of these venues are in prime real estate locations," said Bernard Doherty, spokesman for the Rolling Stones, whose first performance was at London's Marquee Club in 1962. "If the 100 Club turned into a shoe shop it would make a fortune. There used to be four delis in Soho and now there is one. The same applies to music venues. They are the lifeblood of the music industry but are privy to extortionate licencing fees."

The 100 Club's owner, Jeff Horton, said in September that the venue has been racking up losses of £100,000 a year for the past three years, blaming rent increases of 45 per cent, business rates of £1,000 a week and rising VAT and alcohol duty. Over 6,000 people signed up to a Facebook campaign to save the club within 24 hours.

"We treat artists and audiences as if we don't want them in our buildings and this we do in the name of entertainment," wrote Mr Inglis in a 2008 for IQ Magazine. "We should be ashamed of ourselves. Our small venue circuit is globally derided. Small venues are crumbling. Investment from public or private sources is almost non-existent."

The Flowerpot spent less than two years in business, but saw the likes of Damien Rice, Frank Turner, Billy Bragg, Laura Marling and The Kooks walk out on to its stage. The announcement of the closure of the Cardiff Barfly in September followed 2009's closure of the chain's Glasgow and Liverpool satellites. Again, the news was greeted with shock by fans. A Facebook group set up to call for the venue to reopen allows fans to post their memories of live gigs to a specially-created wall.

"The live music scene is generally very healthy – more people are going to see bands than ever in the UK," said NME news editor Jamie Fullerton. "But although there are a huge amount of bands who sell a hell of a lot of tickets in medium or large venues, the bottom end of the live circuit seems to be being cut off in the process."

Mr Fullerton says large, corporate-sponsored venues are taking some blame for muscling in on the live circuit, edging out independent venues: "This is probably a big factor but the fact that we just don't have a barrage of straight-up toilet circuit bands who'd pack out small venues tearing around the UK right now is another.

"The vicious cycle is that without small venues to play in, how will new bands ever hone their craft and go on to play bigger venues at all? Record Store Day seemed to give a bump to the independent record stores in profile at least – maybe we should see something similar for small independent venues too."

The venues where it all began

* The Rolling Stones played their first formal gig on 12 July 1962 at the Marquee Club on London's Oxford Street, which had opened four years previously. Two years after the gig it moved to another site on Wardour Street, which closed in 1988. Several attempts have been made to revive clubs with the same name but none currently remain open.

* Liverpool's Cavern Club is where Brian Epstein first saw the Beatles play in November 1961, shortly after the band's shows in Hamburg. The club closed in 1973. In April 1984 the club was rebuilt to closely resemble the original, occupying 50 per cent of the original site. That club closed again in the late 1980s and still hosts gigs today.

* Oasis played their first live gig at Manchester's Boardwalk in August 1991. The Stone Roses, the Happy Mondays and The Charlatans all played on the venue's opening night in 1986. Sonic Youth also played there before it closed in 1999.