ARE VENUES REALLY DISAPPEARING? MUSIC VENUES IN NORWICH ARE BUCKING THE TREND

by Alex Day

Clubs these days have it tough. 

Gentrification, some say, is killing our venues. Student flats, noise restrictions, Dry January

How does one make money with surging rents and a clientele streaming limitless online content from home, bed-ridden and booze-shy?

AND there’s the dubious authorities I imagine peering through the smoke and shadows, itching to close noisy night spots. One wrong move and they’ll surely revoke your license. 

Dingy nests for underground music are being smothered into obscurity – the narrative goes. 

There is evidence to support this. In the last decade, 35% of independent venues in the UK closed.  A UK ‘live music census’, conducted for the first time in 2018, found that a third of live music venues have experienced problems with property developments

As with live music, night clubs are also having a rough ride. Over just eight years, the capital has lost 50 per cent of its nightclubs. Fabric, a behemoth in London’s clubbing landscape, had their license revoked after two drug-related deaths (they subsequently reopened following a rapturous national campaign). 

In Bristol, clubs are also being barged adrift. Thekla, an infamous boat party, was threatened by a residential development in 2017 and, the following year, Lakota announced they may refashion themselves into a ‘mixed-use development’ (a by-word for swanky digs and a Co-op). 

 

Norwich Arts Centre, Space Studios and Gonzo’s Two Room remain fiercely independent and are teeming with dancers.

 

Thekla and Fabric continue to host parties, but their rocky rides remind us our favourite clubs are not immune to urban development nor police authority. Corporate hegemony seems to be erasing independent venues. 

Yet, in spite of such cataclysmic headlines, music venues in Norwich are hitting their stride. Norwich Arts Centre, Space Studios and Gonzo’s Two Room remain fiercely independent and are teaming with dancers. They have not suffered the pesky erasure that plagues other cities.

I spoke to the managers and programmers involved to find out how they do it. 

Gonzo’s Two Room is a “breath of fresh air’” says Levi, a promoter with 12 years’ experience. Last year the club rehoused, abandoning Bermuda Bob’s for a space darned with sophisticated interior, rooftop terrace and ‘sweaty 250 cap’: “we’re blessed to have it’” Levi concurs. So far, Gigi FM, Peach and Joy Orbison have graced the booth. 

Like Gonzo’s Two Room, Norwich Arts Centre (NAC) has embarked on an upgrade. The bar and auditorium have been refurbished and a gender-neutral toilet is incoming, supported by a £500,000 grant; all part of the NAC Regenerations Project. 

Space Studios is a smaller, 100-capacity, venue and ‘the closest thing to a house party’, according to Abraham, the manager. It is a hotbed for new promoters, like Bass in Space and Utopia 4 Junglists, and live bands. Abraham booked 100 bands last year. 

So what’s their secret? 

One way to turn a profit is to diversify. As well as music, Gonzo’s offers a monthly comedy night and operates a ‘Tea Room’ downstairs, whilst Space Studios houses yoga, meditation and 18 artist studios. NAC is also eclectic, presenting spoken word and theatre.  No venue is aligned to just live music. 

 

…when local artists develop, shows improve and audiences flock faster

 

Another approach helping sustain these venues is to work closely with the local community.  At the top of Abraham’s agenda is to “‘develop a scene and support local talent”. He admits it’s “difficult to turn a profit”, but such a component is unimportant when partnerships are fuelled by goodwill. At NAC, ‘True Stories Live’ invites amateur raconteurs to the stage, voicing local stories to a local audience. Gonzo’s supports local promoters, like Our House and Keep on Dancing, which has a synchronous effect: when local artists develop, shows improve and audiences flock faster. 

Amongst the local talent, these venues are platforming marginalised communities. Gonzo’s aim for a 50/50 gender split in DJ bookings; evidenced by recent headliners Éclair Fifi and Moxie. The NAC are a long-term supporter of House of Daze, a leading Norwich drag show, and began this year with a discussion on ‘representation’.  Space Studios have also announced a monthly ‘House of Daze’ event. To thrive, venues must be accessible and open-minded.

Grassroots venues are helped further by city-wide festivals, such as Wigflex City Festival and Simple Things, which draws punters to unchartered destinations in Bristol and Nottingham. Last year, Norwich was enlivened by Wild Paths, a three-day music festival that celebrates venues, as much as music. All the programmers I spoke to were busy assembling gigs for a flurry of footfall this October, when Wild Paths returns. 

All this ingenuity is, crucially, being supported by our local council. Whilst transitioning into Gonzo’s Two Room, Levi felt the “the council were great” and “understood what you were doing”.  The figures confirm: Since 2017, the council has granted 100 new licenses and no venues have been closed due to noise complaints. 

At national government level, optimism abounds: small and medium music venues can look forward to a 50% reduction in business rates, which the Music Venue Trust estimates will save each site an average of £7,500 a year. And, Arts Council have renewed their Supporting Grassroots Live Music Fund, a pot that amounts to £1.5 million, until 2021. 

Still, venues embedded in Norwich’s compact lanes are not immune from noise complaints. Bermuda Bob’s renamed and relocated after a neighbouring pub issued a noise complaint last year (although they weren’t evicted). Space Studios, which is not a nightclub in a traditional sense, abides by strict decibel rules to deter from confrontation and encourage conversation. A few years ago, they closed temporarily due to ‘licensing issues’. 

Running venues is rarely plain sailing. To avoid instances of ‘statutory nuisance’ in future, property developers and politicians must continue to support the creative calisthenics performed by our limber venues. This means sound-proofing new developments and appointing a night-czar, like Amy Lamé. Beer-glugging youths, poised with gun fingers, may be underrepresented at the director’s table, but their access to culture should not be limited. 

Our nightspots are bolstered by diverse events and offering their platform to local and marginalised groups – smart remedies for a tough climate. Yet, without the approval and financial backbone of local and national government, venues vanish. 

Head out and support. Here’s a programme of events that invite you to shuffle:

https://www.facebook.com/events/3040736312638075/

https://www.facebook.com/events/2723143201139464/

https://www.facebook.com/events/158872398865144/

 

[In light of recent COVID-19 expansion and news, please be aware that these events may now not be taking place as originally described.]

Featured image credit: Gonzo’s Tea Room Facebook Page


The Norwich Radical is non-profit and run by volunteers. All funds raised help cover the maintenance costs of our website, as well as contributing towards future projects and events. Please consider making a small contribution to fund a better media future.

STORY AND SONG – AN INTERVIEW WITH SKINNY LISTER

By Rowan Gavin

Skinny Lister play one hell of a live show. In fact, so raucous and rousing are the London six-piece folk outfit’s performances, I’ve yet to encounter any journalism about them that doesn’t start by stating that fact – and I see no reason to change that here. With guitar and accordion and their ever-present flagon of rum, they set the Norwich Arts Centre a-jumping last Friday night, just as they did the Waterfront on their last visit to Noz in late 2017. This time, I was lucky enough to sit down with frontwoman Lorna Thomas in the bar beforehand, to talk all things Skinny.
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REVIEW: SCRATCH IT! AT THE NORWICH ARTS CENTRE

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by Lewis Martin

On Sunday 6th May I attended Scratch It! hosted by Hack Theatre at the Norwich Arts Centre. Aimed at attracting new writers and ongoing projects, the evening looks to give a platform to work that is happening in the area so it can be developed and flourish. The arts varied across the evening, ranging from comedy to drama and using different styles and formats.Continue Reading

REVIEW: THE AUDIT (OR ICELAND, A MODERN MYTH)

by Hannah Rose

On the 1st January 2008, a young woman called Eva walked along the promenade in Reykjavik with her grandfather. The sun barely saw the day as the rain came lashing in. It was the day that banks across the world would crash as phenomenally as the waves which battered the Icelandic coastline.

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THE ONLY WAY WE KNEW HOW TO DO IT WAS THE WAY THAT WE DID IT – AN INTERVIEW WITH THE BELLRAYS

by Rowan Gavin 

Since their formation in the early ‘90s, Californian Rock & Rollers The BellRays have befuddled the expectations of music media and the industry, just as much as they have thrilled audiences. They’ve taken an open-minded approach to the genre that has defined American music for the past seven decades, and they’ve been an independent outfit that whole time.

The BellRays have self-published their nine albums through a variety of independent labels, including Upper Cut and Alternative Tentacles. 2017 saw the release of EP Punk Funk Rock Soul vol 1, the long-awaited follow up to 2010’s Black Lightning, and last month gave us the album-length Punk Funk Rock Soul vol 2. I caught up with Lisa Kelaula & Bob Vennum, the band’s permanent members, before they went on stage at Norwich Arts Centre last Friday.Continue Reading

TRUTH, SYSTEMS, GOVERNMENT AND HIERARCHIES – THE AUDIT

by Hannah Rose

It’s now ten years since the global financial crisis, the most significant economic meltdown since The Great Depression in the 1930s. What better way to mark the event than by going to see  The Audit (or Iceland, a modern myth) at Norwich Arts Centre on 21st March? Taking on the voice of a nation which spoke out against the accepted narratives succeeding the 2008 financial crash, Proto-Type theatre’s latest work speaks to the powerless about the powerful.

A medley of performance, text, animation, music and myth-busting promises shine a light on new perspectives of the systems, government and hierarchies that have shaped recent global politics. Be warned: this is theatre that will turn the truth inside out.

This is the second piece of political work by Proto-Type, following A Machine They’re Secretly Building about surveillance in our modern times. Rachel Baynton, Gillian Lees, and Andrew Westerside are multi-disciplinary artists who lead the group, and also support young artists across the globe in making and performing original works.

Come and support this movement of myth-busting and truth telling…

Featured image via NAC, by Adam York Gregory

 


The Norwich Radical is non-profit and run by volunteers. All funds raised help cover the maintenance costs of our website, as well as contributing towards future projects and events. Please consider making a small contribution to fund a better media future.

REVIEW: TWO LITTLE DUCKS EDINBURGH FRINGE PREVIEW

by Laura Potts

CW: Mentions violence against children

More than any other art form, spoken word performance art allows an audience to directly interact with the thoughts of the artist. This kind of interaction can often change minds more effectively than argument or statistic, making spoken word art a very progressive medium. As a spoken word enthusiast and an artist on a student budget, I was therefore excited to attend Matt Abbott’s pay-what-you-can preview of his Edinburgh Fringe show ‘Two Little Ducks’ at the Norwich Arts Centre recently. And my excitement was certainly justified – Two Little Ducks is a powerfully thought-provoking, politically driven work.

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REVIEW: TRUE STORIES LIVE – NO REGRETS

by Hannah Rose

CW: mentions of sexual assault

Think of your best friend, I bet they spin a good yarn. No doubt they think the same about you. The exchange of life stories is how the finest, most novel human bonds are made. It’s within these intimate, warm spaces where the stories of our lives unfold; cementing who we are, rooting memory, making kaleidoscopes of our imaginations.

This is the essence of True Stories Live—the invention of Norfolk producer Lucy Farrant and writer and host Molly Naylor. Continue Reading

TRUE STORIES LIVE: NO REGRETS

by Hannah Rose

True Stories Live is a beautifully simple idea which has blossomed since its inception a year ago. Each night promises to be engaging and entertaining, offering a storytelling space where the unexpected nearly always happens. The premise is straightforward, inviting members of the public to share their unscripted stories with an audience.

A theme is set for each night and storytellers are invited to workshops to help prepare for their performance. To date, themes have included: ‘There’s No Place Like Home’, ‘Forgive And Forget’, and ‘In Another Life’. A rich experience often including the intimate, the bittersweet and the darkly funny, drawing large audiences each time round.Continue Reading

REVIEW: LUKE WRIGHT’S THE TOLL AT NORWICH ARTS CENTRE

by Hannah Rose

Luke Wright’s eighth solo show The Toll is a razor dipped in sugar: Ian Duncan Smith is a “jiggling tit” and rumour has it that a lion stalks the good people of Essex. It’s an hour of truth or dare, but not without the candid insight that self-reflection demands of performance poetry. Wright connects with his audience through just the right amount of personal anecdote tinged with good times and bad, and a generous scattering of cultural and political satire.

Brexit, Question Time and John Betjeman. It’s all in there. This line is hard to walk when it’s just you on the stage—too much waxing-lyrical about good times with your mates and you’ll bore your audience. Equally, too much of the dark stuff and the lights go out. People don’t generally pay £12 to be brought down by bad news.Continue Reading

A WOMAN ON HER KNEES – REVIEW OF LOUISE ORWIN’S A GIRL AND A GUN

by Hannah Rose

He is driving, she is hanging on his arm. Behind them a vista depicting a wide road disappears into desert upon a large screen. The cherry red of her lipstick matches her low-slung red dress, punctuated by a pair of cowgirl boots. Her dreamy expression says she’s completely at ease, hanging off her man; pleased as punch, because he is in control. But he has never seen the script before; he will be reading off an autocue. She is the one driving the show.

Performer-playwright, Louise Orwin, is touring the UK with her new theatre piece, A Girl and A Gun which was performed at Edinburgh Fringe this summer. Jean-Luc Godard’s adage “All you need to make a movie is a gun and a girl,” is the springboard from which Orwin’s performance dives headfirst into a chilling reality which is anything but surface deep.

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TRIGGER WARNING: LOUISE ORWIN’S A GIRL AND A GUN

by Hannah Rose

“All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl,” quipped Jean-Luc Godard. Images of scantily clad women waving weapons around are commonplace in the media. It’s troubling to think how often we consume this image: Charlie’s Angels with their high-heeled kicks and sniper rifles; Bond women emerging from the sea with a pistol stowed away in a pair of knickers, and even pop music’s favourite feminists — Beyoncé and Lady Gaga — wear matching white bodysuits and brandish plastic-looking revolvers whilst singing something about a telephone. Watch out, those gals are gyrating and dangerous.Continue Reading

THE PERSONAL IS POLITICAL: A REVIEW OF TRIBUTE ACTS

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by Hannah Rose

Tribute Acts is a bittersweet piece of autobio-theatre written and performed by Tess Seddon and Cheryl Gallacher from Theatrestate. Set against a space-age backdrop, Tess and Cheryl introduce their fathers via a pre-recorded video link. The dads look uncomfortable in their suits and ties. Their daughters are wearing spacesuits. The gulf between parent and child is obvious, and the unease is palpable.

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NOTHING AS IT SEEMS: A REVIEW OF WILL TEATHER’S INFINITE PERSPECTIVES EXHIBIT

by Hannah Rose

Tiny cheerleaders, an umbrella on the moon, portraits of dead rock stars – all of these and more can be found in the uncanny paintings of Will Teather. Time’s inconsistency runs throughout this unnerving exhibition. Teather plays with time in a way that would be funny if it wasn’t so unsettling. But then again, isn’t that the mark of a significant piece of art? To catch the viewer unawares?

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NORFOLK AND NORWICH FESTIVAL: PEDAL-POWERED CAR CHASE

by Paige Selby-Green

Saturday. 9:30pm. I’m sitting cross-legged on the grass of Chapelfield Gardens, and all around me the Garden Party is still going strong. The Adnams Spiegeltent is a roar of chatter and noise, and beside it a large mechanical dragon — rather charmingly named Elsie — turns the air orange with the glow from her flamethrower-covered body. I’m not here for either of those events, great though they were. I’m here for Pedal-Powered Car Chase, a fifteen-minute performance involving inventive live music, a handful of plucky volunteers, and some exercise in the name of making us think.Continue Reading

A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO RADICAL FILM — 11AM, APRIL 30TH, NORWICH ARTS CENTRE

Disclaimer: The Norwich Radical is not associated with The Norwich Radical Film Festival.

by Jack Brindelli

Film is often wrongly pigeon-holed as a passive medium — simple entertainment to be used for distraction or escapism. But throughout its history, cinema has never been ‘just entertainment’. At its best, film-making is combative, subversive and revolutionary.

Norwich is a city built on a proud Radical heritage, and the inaugural Norwich Radical Film Festival aims to build on that legacy to inspire the community to engage with ideas and movies that will shake the world. As the first of four monthly events leading to our main festival in August, we are proud to present “A Beginner’s Guide to Radical Film”, taking place on Saturday 30th April 2016 between 11:00–16:00 at the Norwich Arts Centre.Continue Reading