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Is a new music venue needed in Ipswich?
By Anna Louise Dobbie, BBC Blast Reporter
Ipswich has had some great names pass through, including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Blur. However, the town has been excluded from the touring circuit for many bands in recent years in favour of venues in neighbouring counties.
Dan, Underline the Sky (by Jen O'Neill)
So what does the rest of East Anglia offer that Ipswich does not, and how can we improve the local live music scene?
When Road to V 2009 winners Underline the Sky were interviewed by BBC Suffolk about their victory, they were bubbling with excitement. However, when asked about their gigging aspirations, they mentioned the prospect of playing venues in Norwich, Cambridge and Colchester.
Although the band were very positive about the Ipswich venues in which they had performed, guitarist Dan Oaten felt that Ipswich needed a dedicated music venue: "I think that would create a better community and scene for up-and-coming local artists because there's nowhere specific for bands of a certain status to play.
"I think if there was a nice venue with a good sound system, it would definitely improve the scene in Ipswich. But it's been discussed for 10 years within Ipswich and it's just never happened."
Ed Barnes firing a t-shirt to freshers
Dan is not alone. Ipswich-based gig promoter and DJ Ed Barnes is also dissatisfied with the current range of venues in Ipswich.
"The local music scene is appalling. As a promoter, if I'm offered a decent touring band that could attract crowds of about 400 people, there's nowhere to put them on in town so I'd look at Colchester or Norwich first, which is wrong."
Starting a music venue to fill the niche would be a risky venture, as there is no guarantee that people would attend gigs in the town.
But Ed believes that there is still a demand for live music in Ipswich: "In the past we've had some good bands and they've always done well.
"Even some really shoddy indie acts have played to packed houses. I remember seeing Space at the Corn Exchange many moons ago who are not Britpop's finest, but they sold out the venue!
"Whenever you go to Colchester or Norwich, you always see faces from Ipswich. It's kind of become the norm that we've become used to travelling to gigs, but that habit would be easily broken if we could offer local gigs."
Please be seated
However, the manager of the Regent Theatre and Corn Exchange, David Mansfield, believes that when choosing touring venues in East Anglia, Ipswich's demographic lets it down.
Ipswich Corn Exchange
"Promoters are looking for a safe bet venue, so if they're looking at East Anglia at the moment, they're more likely to chose Cambridge or Norwich.
"For seated venues, Ipswich is very much up there with both Cambridge and Norwich so we do attract a lot of the concerts to Ipswich, as the Regent seats 1500 people.
"In terms of the target market, a lot of the indie type bands do tend to be standing. The Corn Exchange is a well established standing venue and promoters could buy talent in, but at a risk.
"Ipswich is a university town now, and I think in years to come when there is a much larger student population, there'll be a demand and you can pretty much guarantee that will bring touring bands here.
"At the moment, now and again we pick up an indie type show but we don't have that many of them. A lot of the music we do have is quite mainstream and quite popular.
"The music industry has changed in that touring was very much seen as a route to success where as these days television drives much more of the music that becomes successful. There are reports that Simon Cowell's company SyCo generated 40% of
"When television is driving the music industry to that extent they tend to go straight to the top to the big venues, and so we get a lot of the X Factor type shows come through here because they can sell the tickets and fundamentally the music business is a business and it's about making money for the managers, the agents and the promoters."
On top of a £1200 hire fee, Ed explains another reason why promoters might be dissuaded from booking the Corn Exchange: "We've just lost it for the best part of the year as it closes down for five months.
"Unfortunately it looks like we're going to lose the Caribbean Club soon, but that was limiting because of the size and also you've got to put up a stage and protective barriers and put in a PA system as well as promote.
"What you want to do is just hire a venue, for example Colchester Arts Centre where you pay for the venue including soundman, all the equipment and the stage, so I can get on with selling tickets.
"You're not going to get promoters going through all that rigmarole when they can simply phone up Colchester Arts Centre and they'll say 'Cool, that’s booked'!"
Room for change?
Booking agents play a key part in choosing which venues make up part of what they call 'the circuit'.
To get an outsider's opinion of Ipswich I spoke to a high profile national booking agent who has number one artists as well as up and coming talent on his roster. He asked to remain anonymous.
"I think because Ipswich isn't a student town and has closer competitors such as Cambridge and Norwich, which have good venues and sell well, it gets overlooked," he said.
"It is positioned in between these two cities and London and personally speaking, I don't know of that many good quality venues in Ipswich either.
"I think to get an Ipswich venue on the gigging circuit depends on the demand for the acts and not the venue itself. There could be the best venue in the UK in Ipswich, but if the demand isn't there then it wouldn't be worth playing.
"Another thing could be the lack of good promoters. If there was the demand and a good promoter, I think that a new venue in Ipswich could start to take away some business for competing cities and get the town back on the touring circuit."
Venue Seventy Seven
Promoter Daz Antenbring believes Venue 77, located near University Campus Suffolk (UCS), could be the venue to fill the void - although many of the headline acts are cover bands. "We want to put local bands on in front of bigger audiences.
"We've got 250 standing capacity and a 14 plus age limit which is new for the area. We're quite happy for a band to promote its own gig, and provide its own PA and we charge nothing for rental.
"People that wouldn't normally see an original band are coming to us to see a tribute band and leaving as fans of the supporting original band. That's exactly what we're trying to do."
In order to attract the level of bands that perform at venues such as Norwich Waterfront and Cambridge Junction, Ipswich would need a larger capacity standing venue.
The President of UCS Students' Union has promising news about plans for a new Union bar.
"At the moment the Union has one bar which is only 250 capacity and we don't really hold many music events. However we're moving to a new venue next autumn which is a 400 capacity, new build.
"It'll be a top class venue and a very nice place to go, so hopefully it'll be a draw to certain acts.
"We're young, we've only been around for two years. Norwich and Cambridge are a lot older hence they're much more resource rich and can put on anything and everything that their students want.
"We hired out the venue a few times last year and we didn't realise that there are actually a lot of tax implications but we're looking at ways to get round that.
"We're an incorporated charity so we have to make sure we hit our legitimacy and hopefully our budget will increase as it hasn't been reduced yet so far. It's all about us trying to get a foothold - the more we do the more we'll get known and then things will roll."
Ed Barnes is reserving judgment until the new UCS Union bar is up and running: "It'll come down to whether there's an in-house PA system, whether you can just book the venue and book the artist and then get on with it.
"Until we have a system like that in place for a good sized venue in Ipswich, we'll still struggle."
Changing the world (or Ipswich) is hard work
Previous attempts at creating a touring venue in Ipswich have had limited success, including the ill-fated return of Premier Pool Club under the guise of QJam, which closed up shop just three months after its launch.
"QJam was a really odd one - I don't know the guy who ran it but I always had to find their advertising, their advertising never found me.
"I found out that Myles Hunt from the Wonderstuff had been on. Back in the day I was a big Wonderstuff fan and I would've quite happily paid to go to that if I'd known! The venue's doomed anyway, it'll get knocked down in a few years.
Drum and Monkey, August 2009
"As for The Drum and Monkey, they pulled out because of major problems with the venue itself and then they put on stuff at The White Horse. The inside of that venue is in disrepair too, it's awful. It's a listed building and it's going to take a lot of money to sort out."
Ed has his eye on the town centre's churches: "Religion's not going to make a come-back in the next thousand years and we've got so many quiet churches in the town centre.
"All towns are built around churches because back in the old days that's what God wanted. Times have moved on and you've got all these churches in the middle of shopping areas where no one lives.
"I've been to a few gigs at St Nicholas Centre which is a converted church, and it's absolutely fantastic but if you put on a band that send the crowd crazy then you've got to be kitted out and adaptable and if you put on a thrash metal gig there it wouldn't survive.
"We need a multi-purpose venue that'll stand up to everything we throw at it."
Return to Hollywood?
Ed also has high hopes for the future of the venue formerly known as Zest: "It's right next to the A14, A12 and the train station, it's got car parking left, right and centre, it's perfect!
"I don't know the ins and outs of it but I know it's a very expensive lease and even once you're in there it's a listed building so it'll cost a lot more to refurbish. I think the only way to get it done is if somebody got a lottery grant - it would be fantastic, it'd be so good!
"There's Trader Jack's next to it which could be another smaller venue or it could have a club attached. If I had a couple of million, or even a few hundred thousand, I'd be in there - it's criminal that the venue's standing empty.
"Several years ago, I went to the police and the council and I tried to open up a venue. The final words I was given by the licensing officer were: "If people want to go to clubs and venues, they can go to Cardinal Park."
"Those words stuck with me, he just didn't get what I was trying to do."
Ed believes that there are people trying to improve the local live music scene: "McGinty's had a great idea with the Green and Blue rooms and The Swan has been great opening its doors to live music, but we're talking about pubs and as much as we love them, we need something bigger."
last updated: 14/08/2009 at 15:04
Have Your Say
Do you think Ipswich needs a new venue for live music? And if so, how would we go about getting one?