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A bright future for The Garage?

As it approaches its 25th anniversary, a campaign has been launched to protect the Highbury Corner venue by making it an ‘Asset of Community Value’

10 August, 2018 — By Róisín Gadelrab

Acts who have played at The Garage include Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pulp, Blur, Jack White, The Fall and Oasis. Photos: Sarah Koury

SUPPORTERS of one of Islington’s most prominent music venues are being urged to join the campaign to help preserve it for years to come.

As it approaches its 25th anniversary, The Garage, at Highbury Corner, is taking steps to protect its future by calling on fans to sign up to a Facebook campaign for it to be designated an Asset of Community Value. An application for this status requires a minimum of 21 supporters that live in the area and will be submitted by the community to Islington Council on behalf of the venue.

The move comes after The Garage received a notification in February from the Town Hall that it sits on a site that is likely to be redeveloped or experience significant change over the next 15 years. There are fears Transport for London (TfL) may expand Highbury & Islington Station onto the site. The venue has also experienced a significant increase in business rates.

More than 40 per cent of London’s grassroots venues have closed in the past 10 years and The Garage is hoping to avoid the same fate. It has a long history of hosting top acts as they worked their way up, including Ed Sheeran, who played early gigs there, to more established acts making last-minute appearances such as The Killers, who rushed over after playing Wembley Stadium in 2013.

Other acts to appear include Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pulp, Blur, Jack White, The Fall and Oasis.

Having made it to a quarter-century, the venue, which was recently taken over and revamped by DHP Family, is feeling the force of the many factors that threaten small music venues across the country. A worrying combination of having a short rollover lease, high rates and being under constant fear that developers will move on the site has caused a cloud of uncertainty to loom large. But, instead of leaving its fate to chance, the venue has teamed up with War Child to celebrate a joint 25th birthday party with a series of special gigs in November and is seizing this milestone as an opportunity to garner support. The Garage’s programmer, Matthew Cook, said: “As a small to medium-size venue with a serious heritage behind it, it begs the question: what makes us different or immune to this indiscriminate closure?

“Bands most people have heard of don’t get to where they are without playing small venues. It’s always been like that. We know that from working with Ed Sheeran from the start. If you take that away there’s nowhere for them to get their start – artists lose out, punters lose out, people like me who put blood sweat and tears into this lose out.

“I feel this way about any city or town – London particularly – being the epicentre of culture and heritage and fertile ground for creatives to find themselves and progress.

“You take that away when you close music venues and arts centres. We need places for people who survive on a low budget, to drink and gather and share ideas.”

He added: “By taking on The Garage, Borderline and Oslo, DHP are going against the grain. We’ve seen a trend across the country of grassroots venues closing. We’re very confident about putting money into these venues and putting a lot of love in them, curating a programme that’s thoughtful and impassioned. But there’s no point in doing that if there’s a genuine feeling of dismay amongst contemporaries about why we should bother.”

DHP Family’s managing director, George Akins, has recently become a patron of the Music Venue Trust to support the charity’s work to protect, secure and improve grassroots music venues across the country.

Speaking of The Garage, Matthew said: “We believe we’re a site of local importance bringing a vibrant musical culture to Islington. With so many of London’s beloved music venues under threat from developers, we want to ensure the future of The Garage by strengthening ties with our local community.

“We’ve helped set up a Friends of The Garage Facebook group for local residents to express their support of this iconic venue. Our intention is to work with the community have The Garage designated as an Asset of Community Value in an effort to protect its long-term future.”

War Child’s Jim Benner, who used to be a programmer for The Garage, said: “I booked The Garage in the mid-1990s and I’m proud to be part of its great heritage. The Garage continues to be a must-play venue for any act on their way up as well as the go-to venue for festival headliners to play warm-up shows. Future historians will look back in horror and bewilderment, wondering why our generation allowed great venues like CBGBs and The Marquee to be sold to developers.”

Blaine Harrison, vocalist with The Mystery Jets, who played a five-night retrospective at The Garage last September, said: “Live music contributes so much to our culture, let alone our economy, and it is imperative that artists and audiences alike fight to hold onto these grassroots institutions for future generations.

“We played some of our most memorable early gigs there, attended by some of the people that gave us our first breaks in the industry. And yet in less than a year [since it was refurbished] it is already under threat from developers due to sky-rocketing business rates.

“Gentrification has an increasingly important part to play in the 21st century, but developers and local councils must accept their responsibility to protect our cities from becoming sanitised museums. We must not let the music be stifled and de-legitimised as noise pollution. Because if it gets drowned out we will all be going down with it.”

The Garage + War Child’s November 25th Anniversary gigs

November 1: The Garden

November 3: Acid Mothers Temple

November 7: The Blinders

November 8: Here Lies Man

November 9: Brant Björk

November 10: Chainska Brassika

November 12: Mattiel

November 14: King No One

November 15: Cavetown

November 16: Peace

November 17: GARAGE 25 Anniversary Party

November 20: Noah Kahan

November 22: Pitchshifter

November 23: Pitchshifter

November 28: Mouse Outfit

November 29: GURR

November 30: Skeggs

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