Are music lovers and bands let down by a lack of venues in York? MAXINE GORDON reports

Is York's live music scene under threat?

Labour councillor Pete Kilbane thinks so. He's started a debate in York around the issue. In an open letter to The Press, Cllr Kilbane, who also runs The Escape Club dance night four times a year, expresses his concern over a lack of "purpose-built places" for bands and artists to perform and says York's vibrant live music scene is being "strangled at birth".

Is this the case? Certainly, music fans are waiting with baited breath to find out whether music venue Fibbers will be relocated following news its site at Toft Green has been sold to developers.

In response to Cllr Kilbane's letter, we asked a variety of York people involved in the local music scene for their views, including Shed Seven front man Rick Witter and veteran York promoter Tim Hornsby. But first, here's Cllr Kilbane's thoughts...

York Press:

Pete Kilbane – Labour City of York councillor

"It’s great that Make It York want to 'put culture at the heart of the city’s economic prosperity and wellbeing' and that the council has a cultural strategy to put the city in the 'top five in the UK for cultural engagement'.

However, we already have a lively culture that is made by people in the city, for people in the city. It’s the local music scene and in my 30 years in York I’ve never known it to be so vibrant. But it’s being strangled at birth.

We’ve got lots of talented song writers, musicians, DJs and bands but hardly any purpose-built places for them to play. Those venues that we do have survive on tight margins, while being circled by developers or challenged by complaints from neighbours.

If local bands make it to the point of getting paid for their efforts, then they will find that the only mid-sized venue in this town, Fibbers, is about to be knocked down to make way for a hotel, and its future location remains uncertain.

Up-and-coming bands on tour, the ones that inspire future musicians, bypass York due to lack of venues.

On top of this York, unlike Pocklington, does not even have an Arts Centre. Truly great culture needs an incubator where experimental and cutting-edge performance can take place.

I’ve nothing but admiration for the folk at Arts Barge, but we really shouldn’t be relying on the goodwill of volunteers and donations to construct a major part of York’s cultural strategy.

So I appeal to all the people who are shaping the future culture of our city, please support the performance venues that we have, and work with the remarkable people who are making them a success.

As the city centre becomes more of a leisure destination, please encourage the creation of live entertainment spaces that offer something for all of York’s residents and visitors, while providing a real alternative to the drinking culture that is taking hold."

York Press: The Apollo Festival at Clifton Park, York, on Saturday. Pictured Rick Witter on stage. Picture David Harrison. (30313969)

Rick Witter – Shed Seven frontman

"As a person who came up the ranks myself I understand how important these kinds of venues are to a city. Bands and artists need a platform to ply their trade.

Nine out of ten people who pick up an instrument want to go and show off what they can do.

We played lots of gigs in Fibbers before we were signed and we would never have got to where we were without venues of that size in York.

We take part in Independent Venue Week at the end of January every year – we have played an acoustic set at Fibbers for the past four years.

I'm hugely hopeful that Fibbers will find a new venue in the city – it has moved once before.

There needs to be a venue of this size and capacity for upcoming bands and new artists – otherwise bands will stop coming to York."

York Press:

Tim Hornsby – veteran York live music promoter

"York is really well catered for for up-and-coming local bands. Not enough venues? We have the Fulford Arms, the Basement and the Crescent. Venues currently have difficulty filling up; the last thing we need is more venues.

We are not struggling with capacity either. We have venues of up to 600 or the Barbican, which can take between 1,000-1,800.

Local bands and visiting bands are well catered for. Venues have spare dates and are not full. I think things are OK.

The people who say there are not enough venues in York are people who don't go out to live music."

York Press:

Sean Bullick – managing director, Make It York

"There is a fantastic live music scene happening across York and the city is bursting with creative talent. York’s new cultural strategy will open up even more opportunities and ‘cultural canvases’ for artists, musicians and creative practitioners alike.

York is the home of the National Centre for Early Music which offers world-class performances and festivals showcasing every genre of music from across the world. The University of York puts on a dynamic mix of musical performances and the city’s folk and jazz scene is nationally renowned.

York has a good mix of venues but we do understand there is a need for more and this gap in cultural provision is firmly on our radar. Pop-up cultural performance spaces have already been used to great success, such as Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre and the Great Yorkshire Fringe.

Opportunities alongside the rivers Ouse and Foss will be explored, supported by the major capital developments and building on the success of the Arts Barge initiative. New developments such as Castle Gateway and York Central also bring with them substantial embedded arts and heritage opportunities.

All of this activity can help support the exciting grassroots and underground music scene in York. Putting culture at the heart of our strategy will attract new audiences to York and is key to the future prosperity of the city."

York Press:

Chris Sherrington – co-owner of York live music venue The Fulford Arms

"York has the healthiest live music scene it's had for quite a few years. At the moment there are concerns about the closure of Fibbers because that leaves three smaller venues below 200 [capacity], but we still have the Barbican for bigger shows.

More of a problem is getting the right support structure for venues in terms of publicity. There's no what's on guide in York anymore. That could be addressed by the council or Make It York. It's difficult to promote these shows.

We put on 260 shows last year – from bands doing their first gig to 20 people, to sell-out shows to 160.

In terms of progression, bands can go on to play at The Crescent that has about a 260 capacity, then Fibbers [about 600] but once a band gets to that level of progression they are more likely to play Leeds.

Geography is an issue because York is so near Leeds which has a bigger fan base – and people will travel from York to Leeds – and on the other side, Hull. York is sandwiched between the two.

For smaller venues like us, we need to have something on every night in order to justify us being open.

With the Victoria Vaults, the Basement and the Arts Barge, there is enough going on at this level, but there is a gap left by the closure of the Duchess and now Fibbers. There are only so many people who want to come out regularly to live music and only so many bands that can play."

York Press:

Bradley Blackwell – of York band The Howl & the Hum (whose first album will be released in February)

"The band got together in 2017 and I lived in York for ten years. It is really positive as a place to be a musician. There is a good community, good open-mic nights and great acoustic music and people like Tim Hornsby and Chris at The Fulford Arms who are really supportive of local bands. But when Fibbers closes, York will need a venue where you can do 400-800 people. Bands get to a certain level and there is nowhere to play. There is no arts centre – I grew up in the Midlands and even Coventry has two arts centres. York is so full of music and cultural life. It could do with a bigger venue – probably an arts space."


York Press:

Charles Hutchinson – arts editor The Press, York

"From buskers to Barbican and Grand Opera House shows, pub and club gatherings to race-day pop showcases on Knavesmire, York's music scene is busy, diverse and expanding.

The Duchess went, but The Crescent emerged; Fibbers will rise again post-enforced move; the Fulford Arms, the Winning Post, the Victoria Vaults, Spark:York and The Basement at City Screen keep the live music flowing; the Black Swan is a folk circuit institution; the National Centre for Early Music presents festivals of international heft and a diverse programme besides.

The Arts Barge and Young Thugs Studios are supporting York talent; so too are myriad open-mic nights. Jazz at the Phoenix Inn is a joy.

Does York need a designated arts centre or plush new venue? Are the opportunities for York's musicians "being strangled at birth"? No, in both cases. Never mind the bollards perceived to stand in the way, York's creative community always finds an outlet. Culture thrives from the grass roots, not from top-down strategies imposed from outside."