BISCUITS

OR: McDonalds v The Cavern Club

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Yesterday was Venues Day, held at The Purcell Room in The Southbank Centre. There was a lot to think about (I took 29 pages of notes), but since coming home, I’ve been thinking about a core theme – is an independent music venue a place to make money, or to display culture? So I had a look at the website of a long-standing venue Cavern Club (although it sounds better with the The it doesn’t really exist). Opened in 1957 as a jazz club, it was Liverpool’s first venue dedicated to live popular music, and was opened because Alan Sytner wanted a jazz club. Not a business. However, not all has been well in the club’s history, with it closing in 1966 as it wasn’t financially viable. Despite launching The Beatles to super-stardom.

So then I thought I’d look at another legendary name – McDonalds. Yes, I know they aren’t a music venue!! But why did they start, why are they so successful, and why are they everywhere? Well, they started in 1940 when two brothers (Richard and Maurice McDonald) opened a restaurant with a limited menu, run on “the speedee service system”. It was their efficiency that sparked the interest of Ray Kroc in 1954, and he took over, with the aim of offering the same high quality and speedy service across the whole USA. It seems he was a very good businessman – and overtook the world. But the business did start with two people who wanted to just have a restaurant – much like the Cavern Club.

I get the feeling many independent venue were started in the same way, as a desire to provide a service, usually a mix of live music from established touring acts and local up-and-coming acts. But somewhere along the way they forgot they also needed to be a business. It maybe in an attempt to sell more tickets, but ticket prices have barely risen over the years, while costs have. This, along with free town festivals, and major camping festivals stacked with head-liners, may have left people not ‘valuing’ music anymore. A gig with 4 acts for £5 – a cappuccino is verging on £2.50/£3 these days, a pint of beer £3.50+…. where is the value to the music? If the ticket for local acts is only £5 does that make it not worthwhile, rather than a bargain? Or is £15 way too much for a touring band, when you will also be buying drinks at the bar??

I imagine McDonalds looking at a badly selling line and saying “Let’s keep doing that because we like it, someone may want to eat it one day”….

Or the toss side of the coin – would we want our towns full of successful, corporate venues, maybe run by Simon Cowell, all looking the same, offering the same music at each place, so you know what you’re getting? With changes in planning laws, it looks likely these venues would be perched outside towns, while the previously lively town centres become almost blocks and blocks of face-less flats. There’s another success: Do you think the whole world should look like this?

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