“I love going on tour with bands, which is something I’ve done ever since I was a fanzine writer,” says BBC 6 Music DJ Steve Lamacq, by way of introduction to the series of broadcasts he’s about to do across the country to mark Independent Venue Week.
They start at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds on Monday January 23.
“I think it’s important for various reasons. It’s good to get out of London because there are so many different musical scenes that you’re not always aware of unless you actually go and find out more about them.
“For instance I didn’t know how big the music scene was in Hull, just how many new bands there are. Hull is overflowing with groups and that’s something that can pass you by if you just sit on your backside in London.
“We went on tour last year around Independent Venue Week and it gives you a good perspective on different music that different communities like, but also the challenges that are being faced by the venues which are at the heart of the scenes.”
Having grown up watching bands in small venues in Essex himself before going on to become a reporter on his local paper then a writer on the NME and later a DJ on BBC Radio 1, 2 and 6 Music, 52-year-old Lamacq understands the special part that such places play in nurturing new talent.
What’s happening to live music is almost what’s happened to football in a way – there’s so much corporate sponsorship dollar which goes into the big clubs but nothing gets trickled down for the smaller clubs.Steve Lamacq
“I think it’s important to explain to people and make a bit of a song and dance about just what an important job they do on a weekly basis before unfortunately we lose a lot of them,” he says.
“Independent Venue Week is obviously part of an attempt to raise the profile of what these venues do, but also [this tour is a chance to highlight] all the challenging conditions that they’re working in at the moment – under threat from local councils, huge business rates, while all they’re trying to do is put new music before a local audience.
“I’m really looking forward to it. We had a ball last year and saw a lot of bands, made a lot of friends and by the end I came back and I had somewhere near touching 100 CDs and demos – that took us a week and a half to get through but it’s good to get out and find out what’s going on.”
Lamacq is familiar with the Brudenell Social Club, in Hyde Park, from several previous visits including the !Forward Russia! reunion in 2013. “I love the Brudenell ,” he enthuses. “It’s a terrific venue, it’s got great eye line, it’s really friendly, it’s got a great bar where you can go and stand in between the bands, it’s a terrific place so I’m looking forward to [revisiting] it.”
He would like to see more done to preserve grassroots venues. “You can’t put a price on how important they are for various reasons,” he says. “Not just it’s a place where bands can learn their craft, where new bands can play and start working out what they’re good at.
“On another level you see some bands at their best in the first year and a half when they’re playing these venues. But it’s not just about that.
“In Leeds you’ve got [independent stores like] Jumbo but a lot of places are losing their record shops. We used to go to record shops not just to buy records. I used to go to record shops just to stare at people’s shoes, to read the notes left on the wall and to make friends almost. Without that we rely on these small venues to be the hub of the local music community. If bands are going to form you’re not going to meet a guitarist in a record shop these days, you’re going to meet them at a gig probably just by thinking ‘He looks like someone who’s going to play bass guitar for me’, so that’s important, but also just for like-minded people to be able to go out and enjoy something of an alternative culture, so it’s hugely important.
“I don’t know what we can do but we certainly have to look at how councils deal with venues, the restrictions that are sometimes placed on them in terms of their licences. I think we have to look at how much rates they pay for providing an entertainment service. I also think the record industry themselves. I think what’s happening to live music is almost what’s happened to football in a way – there’s a huge amount of money at the top, there’s so much corporate sponsorship dollar which goes into the big clubs but nothing gets trickled down for the smaller clubs and this is very much what happens with live music. There’s so much sponsorship money at O2 level but very little providing support for the people that actually do the groundwork, who nurture the bands that will go on to play at these big venues. It’s very much like the clubs that provide the raw talent for the bigger clubs – the small clubs miss out – and I think small venues [are the same].
“I think even the record industry don’t appreciate how important they are. The record industry does virtually nothing except send their bands round on tour. A little promoter in St Albans will help build an audience for a band that ends up selling loads of records but sees nothing in return.”
Hear Steve Lamacq’s show from the Brudenell Social Club on January 23 on BBC 6 Music between 4pm and 7pm. Several bands from the Leeds area are expected to feature in the show. For details visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0072lb2