The Music Venue Trust has told NME that comments made by Manchester’s Co-Op Live Arena about grassroots venues are “disrespectful and disingenuous”.

Earlier this week, the executive director of the major new 23,500 capacity venue said that some smaller venues in the UK are “poorly run” and dismissed calls for a £1 ticket levy on all gigs arena-sized and above.

Gary Roden told the BBC he believes the levy is “too simplistic”, and says it should fall on the government rather than major arenas to support the live music ecosystem.

“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.

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In response, Mark Davyd, CEO of the Music Venue Trust, has told NME that he believes Roden’s comments are “disrespectful and disingenuous”, while also highlighting the irony of making such “ill-judged, unnecessary and misleading” remarks on the week that their own venue was forced to postpone their own launch, due to a number of logistical problems.

“It is regrettable that the owners of Co-Op Live have consistently declined invitations to engage properly in the discussion about the future of the UK’s live music ecosystem so that the team there could have a full understanding of the challenges and issues facing the grassroots music sector, venues, artists and promoters,” Davyd said.

Abigail Morris of The Last Dinner Party performs at Oslo, Hackney on June 13, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Jim Dyson/Getty Images)

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“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 [Co-Op Live commercial partner] 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.”

“It’s simply not true that the approach to these discussions has been ‘aggressive’,” he continues. “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. This is a highly skilled and experienced sector facing almost insurmountable and highly specialist challenges.”

“While it is true that it is simple to create a fund to support the grassroots live ecosystem, as has already been done in France and as evidenced by the multiple charges and fees which Co-Op Live have managed to add to each ticket they sell, it’s simply not true that a £1 fee from each ticket sold at an arena to support local community music activities is ‘simplistic’. Anyone who has actually read the MVT Annual Report on the sector would know this. These venues do not need a training programme and apprenticeships, they need a sustainable injection of cash as a direct investment into future talent development.”

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Co-op Live on April 20, 2024 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Jeff Spicer/Getty Images for Co-op Live)

“In terms of the allegation that distribution of the fund would be complex and it is unknown how it could be done, Music Venue Trust has successfully distributed many millions of pounds to venues, artists and promoters in the last 24 months,” he added. “LIVE, the umbrella organisation for the live music ecosystem, is creating a charitable trust to receive the funds generated and distribute them to agencies such as MVT with specialist knowledge on where funds can be used to have the most impact.”

“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,” Davyd concluded.

NME has contacted Co-Op Live’s owners for a response.

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 2023 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.

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.

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