Storge Debate: Does Derby need a large music venue?

The idea that Derby needs a large music venue has long been a subject for debate and it seems to be rising once again. As opposition councillors ask questions about the future of Derby Arena, plans sit for the redevelopment of a music and performance centre to replace the Assembly Rooms, and a suggestion is made to renovate the derelict Friar Gate Goods Yard Warehouse into a music venue, we ask – is a large music venue really what Derby needs?

At a meeting tonight (11 September 2017) of the communities scrutiny review board a paper will show the costs of Derby Arena – home of the velodrome but with the possibility of being used for large scale music and entertainment productions – the future of which has been questioned by opposition councillors. In its first year its hosted Catfish and The Bottlemen, the Happy Mondays, and Hallé Orchestra among the 32 events held, 13  of which are reported to have had more than 1000 in attendance. in 2017/2018 it will host the same total number of events but just 11 are set to be at the larger capacity of 1000 of more people.

Should the subsidy on the Arena be seen as too high a burden on the public purse there is the possibly it will be moved into private ownership – although the paper to tonight’s meeting says they are on track to make this year’s projected savings, the Council mentions a review of leisure services may lead to looking at ‘alternative delivery models’ which probably doesn’t mean the volunteer-led kind they seek for the library service. Will this be a case of the taxpaying picking up the initial bill for something which ends up being for private profit?

And at the same time the £27.5 million Arena has run at a loss and needed subsidising since opening in March 2015 arguably this year’s largest acts to visit the city have played a different venue: Derbyshire County Cricket Ground.

In 2017 Derbyshire County Cricket Ground has hosted a date on Sir Elton John‘s tour and this month will welcome Boyzone to the stage. While in the past Pride Park Stadium has been used for a large show – Red Hot Chilli Peppers played there in 2006 and one-off outdoor events have been held on Markeaton Park (who’s old enough to have been to a Radio One Roadshow there?) and the Market Place (Big City Bash anyone?). So with a number of options already, some of which are yet to show they can succeed long term, do we need more? Apparently so…

The Derby Telegraph carried a story – although it is worth saying its based on the personal view on an individual unconnected to the music industry in the city – that the Friar Gate Goods Yard Warehouse, which is listed but is currently derelict, could be renovated to be the large music venue the city is said to need. The warehouse, which forms a recognisable silhouette on the city skyline, would cost millions to make fit for use, although re-use of existing buildings and the positioning would work well with other venues in what we like to think of as the emerging self-organised ‘Creative Quarter’.

Add this to the plans the Council are pursuing to redevelop the moth-balled Assembly Rooms into a new music and performance centre for the city. The flagship project successfully gained £8.6million in funding earlier this year, which would be put toward the development of the 5000 capacity venue on the Market Place. But building a venue is only the first part of the challenge – successfully booking and selling shows is quite another matter, and one which doesn’t seem to be addressed fully in any plans or reviews of current offers.

And what of what the city does have? A 500 capacity venue in the Hairy Dog, widely held on the alternative circuit as one of the best venues this size in the country, a 400 capacity venue at The Venue, which is already bringing in bands including Wolf Alice and British Sea Power. A number of smaller venues too – Dubrek Studios, Black Rebel Coffee Shop (upstairs at The Hairy Dog), Bar One, The Vines – and spaces transformed as the need arises including the Silk Mill and St Werbergh’s Chapel. 2Q Festival has done a great job of linking all these together for one-day a year and shows that the city is more than capable of hosting bands of calibre.

Given the general opinion in Derby still seems to be that acts don’t come and ‘nothing ever happens here’ perhaps whatever the venue the challenges of booking, marketing, poor coverage in the city’s mainstream media, and over-coming low ticket sales in the city needs to be recognised. And maybe Derby needs a focus on supporting the venues already around – the larger of which are more than suitable for many touring acts – rather than creating more new venues?

What do you think? Does Derby need another large music venue? What was the last gig you went to in Derby and what acts do you think should be playing the city at an existing venue or a possible future one? Share your views in the comments or with us on Facebook

One Reply to “Storge Debate: Does Derby need a large music venue?”

  1. The debate about the new Assembly Rooms v The Arena v the abandoned warehouse is one that is completely separate from our brilliant smaller venues. The people who say that ‘nothing ever happens in Derby’ actually mean ‘nothing that I like ever happens in Derby’.

    These people aren’t interested in the alternative music and arts events that The Hairy Dog, The Venue, Dubrek etc do so well. They want a Capital FM Arena – for Derby. And to be fair to them, that is something Derby does not have, a large venue that brings in recognisable, TV friendly music and comedy. Also, for that matter, we don’t have an ‘O2’ sized venue that could compete with O2’s mid sized brand of ‘alternative’ orientated music that could compete with Rock-City.

    The people calling for a large venue are only interested in the established, not the new or underground.

    Does Derby have a population that is a) big enough and b) engaged enough to regularly fill such a venue, providing it with a sustainable future? Potentially, but it’s a risk. And that’s why we don’t already enjoy such a venue. The people with the money are risk averse, and Derby is a risk. If there were money to be made with such a venue, we’d have one by now. This is why we don’t have a Capital FM Arena (no sponsorship deal has ever been struck for the velodrome) or an O2. If there was any future planning for shows at the velodrome during it’s conception (which I doubt) those who run it soon discovered how difficult it actually is to run a successful venue. Building it and they will come? No, its far more difficult than that.

    Our smaller venues are brilliant. They provide a great mix of acts and they should be cherished. They’re also at the centre of a bubbling ‘movement’ which is delivering some fantastic local acts that are gathering national scrutiny. This is where our attention should be concentrated, on marketing what we already have, filling our smaller venues and improving on what we already do well.

    Our individuality should be our strength. Help those who already book great (smaller) acts for us by turning up, buying tickets, spreading the word. Then, when the wider Derby public is engaged in the local music scene, the investors might not see Derby as such a risk.

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