Don’t stop the music: How one small venue is fighting back against Covid-19

The concerns raised for the future of small venues has, for music lovers, been one of the most depressing aspects of the whole Covid-19 situation. Now one small venue in Manchester is fighting back and has been running a series of physically distanced, outdoor gigs in their beer garden. The Rose and Monkey Hotel is located in Manchester’s cultural Northern Quarter and I went along to talk with owner Chris Slater and Jezebel Music Presents promoter Mike Nuttall.

Promoter Mike Nuttall at The Rose and Monkey

I began by asking them about how things were prior to lockdown.
“Jezebel Music has been working with artists in the americana and folk genres for seven years now. Amongst those featured prior to lockdown were Amy LaVere, Dylan LeBlanc, Peter Bruntnell, Jesse Dayton, Jace Everett, Hannah Aldridge and Joana Serrat”. Before lockdown, the pub felt vibrant and we had the clientele we always thought we could attract – and a line-up of live events to be very proud of.”

Lockdown must have come as a big blow to you.
“It’s been hard for everybody and I don’t want to make out that we were more affected than anybody else. Closing the pub was tough, as we still had to pay rent, even though at a reduced rate. Since re-opening, the pub is operating at roughly 50% of pre-lockdown takings, so that is a challenge. From the music point of view, we had just gone to print on our spring programme and having to cancel shows by the likes of Jeffrey Foucault, Eileen Rose, Mike Ferrio and Hannah Aldridge was a bitter pill to swallow.”

So, can you tell us about the outdoor gigs that you’ve been staging.
“We are so lucky to have such a large outdoor space and we have worked hard to make it cosy, but safe. As soon as it was announced that physically distanced shows were permissible Mike came down for his first lockdown pint. As he sat in the beer garden it was clear that he had a plan. Jezebel Music look at every space as a potential music venue and it went from there. I think he had the first shows lined up the very next day! They have proved to be very popular and it’s been great to see so many friendly and familiar faces returning, and we are indebted to them for that. The real challenge will be when the weather turns. We have a plan to fully cover the outdoor area, but that will require funding which we are hoping to get help with.”

How do you see the future for small venues and live music?
“It is sadly inevitable that we will lose venues and we are seeing it every week. Music Venue Trust are trying with all their heart and soul, to get funding for our industry and we owe so much to those guys. Music Venue Trust estimate that £50 million would be required to help grassroots music venues but despite the £1.57 billion funding announced for the arts, all we are hearing is of venues being turned down for funding. I think that because our industry is not traditionally Tory voting, the government may feel that they are losing nothing by neglecting grassroots music and theatre. However, it is a multi-billion pound industry and leaving so many people without a job is also devastating for the economy and for the mental well-being of the nation. The solution has to be funding for venues and an extension of the furlough scheme whilst venues are still shut. On a positive note though, live music will always find a way”

On the evening that I visited the Rose and Monkey they were hosting a sold-out show by Later Youth, the new solo project of Jo Dudderidge of The Travelling Band. Entrance was gained via the back gate, straight into the beer garden. Before entering gig-goers were asked to sanitise their hands and then upon entry, they were directed to their table. On each numbered table was a drinks and food menu with a number to text your order, which in turn was delivered to your table and contactless payment collected – all superbly organised and executed. I felt completely safe and comfortable throughout.

The show began at 7.00 pm as there was an 8.30 curfew in recognition of the close proximity to residential properties. Later Youth, which on this occasion was just Jo Dudderidge, played two sets with a drinks interval between them. Playing a set of largely newly written numbers Jo began with ‘Nuclear Love’ the first song to be released under the Later Youth banner. The songs, as expected from such an accomplished songwriter, were well crafted with ‘The Lurker’, a song about social media and the humorous ‘Nothing Else to Do’ about lockdown, being stand-outs from the new songs offered up. Dudderidge seemed genuinely elated to be back in front of an audience and that was reflected in his performance.

There were a couple of nods to The Travelling Band as firstly a reworked ‘Loser’ from their 2017 album ‘Sails’ was played and then after the interval a new song ‘Sinner’ destined for the next Travelling Band album was given an outing. During the second set Dudderidge was joined on stage by Sam Quinn, bass player with the Travelling Band, but on this occasion playing electric guitar whilst Dudderidge moved effortlessly between keyboard and acoustic guitar, as he had throughout the earlier set.

The evening was hugely enjoyable, made even more so by the superb atmosphere generated by a great venue and that rare thing, a balmy Manchester evening. Well done to Chris and Mike at the venue and to Later Youth for the great music. Long may you run.

Gig photos courtesy of Steve Hampson 

Author: Clint West

From buying my first record aged 10 and attending my first gig at 14, music has been a lifelong obsession. A proud native of Suffolk, I have lived in and around Manchester for the best part of 30 years. My idea of a perfect day would be a new record arriving in the post in the morning, watching Ipswich Town win in the afternoon followed by a gig and a pint with my mates at night,

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