The Music Venue Trust has hit back at Manchester’s Co-Op Live for saying some grassroots venues are “poorly run” – despite having had to delay its own opening this week.

Co-Op Live, which cost £365million, is set to become the UK’s largest indoor arena when it opens, with a capacity of 23,500.

The venue’s executive director Gary Roden spoke to the BBC recently, where he discussed the proposed £1 ticket levy on all gigs arena-sized and above, to help secure the future of grassroots venues and artists.

Roden said that he was “very aware it’s a hot topic”, and that he was “embracing the conversation”, but that he believed the levy was “too simplistic”.

Artist's impression of Co-op Live
Artist’s impression of Co-op Live. CREDIT: Press

The report suggests that he thinks support should come directly from the government, and added that while he acknowledges the financial pressures on small venues, he thinks some of them are poorly run.

“If the conversation stops being ‘Give me a quid’ and quite aggressive – if it changed to be, ‘What can we do together to help?’, that’s where I think we start to get into that apprenticeship conversation and all those different things that we want to work through,” he said.

“We’ve got a list of ideas that we’re currently forming, and I think once we’ve been open six months or a year, we’ll be really able to add something very significant to the grassroots system in Manchester.”

The comments provoked a response from Mark Davyd, the CEO of the Music Venue Trust, via social media. “Fun facts of the morning: the new @TheCoopLive arena has 46 music events confirmed to take place this year so far,” he wrote. “The average age of the performers is 50 years old.”

“21.7% of all the shows will be performed by artists over retirement age. 8.6% of all the shows will be performed by artists under the age of 30. 17.3% of all the shows will be performed by artists over the age of 75.”

He continued: “41.3% of all the shows will feature a headline performance by a British artist. The average age of the British artists performing will be 52 years old. No British artist under 30 is confirmed to perform.

“The average length of time it takes for a British artist to be booked to headline the Coop Live Arena from the date of the release of their first album is 30 (THIRTY) years. No British artist that started their career in the last decade is booked to headline the arena.”

Davyd added: “Final Bonus Fact: Coop Live have publicly stated that they don’t believe there are problems with the UK music talent pipeline.”

Davyd later returned to the topic by responding to people telling him to stop picking fights with the arena.

“They literally used the occasion of their opening day event to claim that grassroots music venues were all poorly run and that they won’t financially contribute to the ecosystem because they don’t need the acts it produces,” he wrote.

“I’ll stop mentioning them at all if they stop talking bollocks and just do the right thing. I’m really interested to know where @coopuk stand on this behaviour. And @CoopParty too. It’s your name on the front of the arena,” he added, tagging in the consumer retail group and its political affiliate who sponsor the arena.

In an official response to NME, the Music Venue Trust has said that it is “regrettable” that the owners of Co-Op Live have declined invitations to engage in the discussion about the future of the UK’s live music ecosystem.

“This lack of willingness to play a role in that ecosystem unfortunately leads them to make ill-judged and poorly considered comments about the sector’s approach to the discussions, the professionalism of the people running the venues, the possibility for Oakview Group to financially support them, and about any obstacles that might prevent that financial support getting to where it’s needed and doing the work it needs to do,” they said.

“It’s simply not true that the approach to these discussions has been ‘aggressive’. They started with the music industry in 2018. Requests for meetings with Oakview Group, so they could play an active role in the conversation, started in 2022 – they so far remain unsuccessful.

“The UK’s grassroots music venues are not ‘poorly run’, and it is disrespectful and disingenuous to suggest otherwise,” they continue. “This is a highly skilled and experienced sector facing almost insurmountable and highly specialist challenges.

“Obviously, the irony of making ill-judged, unnecessary and misleading comments about grassroots music venues on the day that the launch of their new arena has unfortunately fallen into such difficulties is not lost on anyone in the music industry, on artists, or on audiences. We still wish Co-Op Live all the very best in delivering the forthcoming shows. Hopefully tackling these challenges might give them a chance to reconsider their position on supporting the UK’s music talent pipeline with meaningful actions which would actually make a difference,” they concluded.

NME has also contacted Co-Op Live for further comment.

The war of words comes the day after Co-Op Live themselves were forced to postpone their opening shows. Peter Kay had been due to perform there tonight (April 23) and tomorrow (April 24), but it was announced that the dates would be moved to next week.

That decision was made after a test event featuring Rick Astley at the weekend, which was beset by problems, including several thousand tickets being axed at the last minute.

Officially announcing the delay of its grand opening, the venue said: “Following our first test event on Saturday, regretfully we have made the difficult decision to reschedule our two opening performances by Peter Kay. It is critical to ensure we have a consistent total power supply to our fully electric sustainable venue, the completion of which is a few days behind.”

The case for the £1 ticket levy was presented to the UK Parliament last month, with the Music Venue Trust arguing that “the big companies are now going to have to answer” for the scale of the problem faced by smaller venues.

In January, the Trust published a report that outlined the “disaster” that struck UK grassroots venues in 2023.

Among the key findings into their “most challenging year”, it was reported that last year saw 125 UK venues abandon live music and that over half of them had shut entirely – including the legendary Moles in Bath.

Some of the more pressing constraints were reported as soaring energy prices, landlords increasing rate amounts, supply costs, business rates, licensing issues, noise complaints and the continuing shockwaves of COVID-19, issues that would apply to a business regardless of how well it is run.

Overall, it was found that venues’ rent had increased by 37.5 per cent year-on-year, with them operating at an average profit margin of just 0.5 per cent.

A year earlier, the Trust had warned that smaller gig spaces were “going off a cliff” unless urgent government action was taken and without investment from large arenas.

Liam GallagherTake ThatNicki MinajOlivia Rodrigo and Keane are among the acts who have been announced to perform at Co-Op Live in the coming months. It’ll also stage the 2024 MTV European Music Awards later this year.

The post Music Venue Trust hit back at Manchester’s Co-Op Live for saying some grassroots venues are “poorly run” – despite arena facing own major issues appeared first on NME.


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