Thinking big is fine, but don't forget the smaller venues - Kevin Buckle

Lots of positivity this week about the improvement there will soon be in Edinburgh venues and of course these changes are welcome but there is little good news for those who prefer smaller venues.

Sneaky Pete's is still flying the flag for small venues in Edinburgh
Sneaky Pete's is still flying the flag for small venues in Edinburgh

This may of course just be that the demand for small venues has dropped considerably in recent years as those younger folk who were the mainstay of such places have found alternative ways to spend their evenings.

Certainly much more is expected now from a venue than was the case three or four decades ago when gigs were put on in unfashionable discos and the back rooms of pubs often on the quietest days of the week for those venues.

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Of course what that meant was that hiring costs were low or even non-existent as the venues were glad just to get people in drinking on a rainy Monday in Edinburgh.

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There were signs of problems long before Covid with complaints that bar takings were not what they used to be because younger gig goers spent so much time on their phones they drank very little.

When the Scars kindly reformed to play a gig to help Avalanche pay for the move to the Grassmarket eleven years ago the venue was over the moon not just with the attendance but with the bar takings at the end of the night with the bar sometimes five deep with revellers.

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They compared it with a recent attendance from an X Factor finalist with an even higher attendance but showing a massive drop in profits for the venue after the bar was added.

What has happened over the last decade has been a gradual but steady decline in the profitability of small venues who unlike art galleries for instance are unable to apply for grants to help subsidise their support for small bands.

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The mistake these venues make it appears is to try and run like a business and make a profit no matter how much the odds are stacked against them. Meanwhile it is just accepted art galleries can’t possibly break even leading to heavy subsidies even when maybe with a better food offering and more merchandising they might do considerably better.

The loss of the Electric Circus at the back of Waverley Station, ironically swallowed up by the Fruitmarket Gallery, was a huge blow and others such as Sneaky Pete’s still fly the flag but overall the picture is not great for small venues.

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If it is the case that for whatever reason there is not the demand for smaller venues then so be it but if there is a good demand that simply needs some support as is seen across the arts in general then those with the power to instigate that support need to look at how that can be implemented.

The bands that can play these larger venues will nearly all tell you they started off in far more humbler surroundings and if new artists are to break through they need smaller venues to learn their craft and build their following.

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