29 January 2018 | Community

“Come to as many gigs as possible”: Five minutes with the New Cross Inn

In honour of this year’s Independent Venue Week we caught up with Paul Smith, the Event Manager at one of South East London’s best loved grassroots music venues, the New Cross Inn

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Written by Rosie Dodds

With up to six live music nights a week, the New Cross Inn has opened up its doors to a fair few number of musicians over the last few years. Catering to bands of every genre, shape and size, the New Cross Inn’s open door policy and dedication to keeping London’s music scene alive has earned the venue the reputation of being one of South East London’s go-to spots for uncovering fresh talent.

Today marks the beginning of Independent Venue Week, an annual, seven day celebration of small music venues around the UK. As you’ll probably know from the news, social media, or maybe even our blog from last week, Britain’s smaller music venues are seriously under threat. And thus, the survival of venues like the New Cross Inn where bands big and small, of every genre imaginable, are given access to a stage has never been more important.

Ahead of the New Cross Inn’s involvement with Independent Venue Week - during which it will host the likes of Fightmilk, The Violent Hearts, and Dr Syntax - we managed to grab five minutes with the venue’s Event Manager, Paul Smith, who shared some advice about what you can do to keep Britain’s smaller music venues on the map.

How did you get involved with Independent Venue Week?

My predecessor, Katy Oliver, got the ball rolling with Independent Venue Week, and this is what she said: "I contacted them and then the following year they contacted me. We were involved in the first year of it running I think and I found out about it by going to Venues Day and doing a bit of networking there. There was a big push from the Music Venues Alliance to start getting people and government to look at venues in the same way and with the same cultural importance as theatres etc. and I think Independent Music Week was part of that campaign"

Over the past 2 years I've worked here, we wait to get told the confirmed dates, and take it from there.

Why do you think independent music venues like the New Cross Inn are so important?

There are many reasons, but the main ones for me are the sense of community that doesn't exist with mainstream venues, and most of all, the opportunity to see grassroots bands of all levels and abilities. Some of the best bands I've ever seen have played at 3pm on an all-dayer at an independent venue. These venues are vital for giving bands platforms that wouldn't get the opportunity elsewhere, and almost all keep entry and bar prices affordable for punters.

Tell me a bit about the kind of events you hold at the New Cross Inn. What are some of your most memorable experiences as the Event Manager there?

We do all sorts, all the way from chilled acoustic to the thrashiest of metal. Primarily we concentrate on guitar based acts, but we have a couple of hip hop events coming up, to keep things fresh. Most of the current events team are into punk rock and all its various sub-genres, so we're getting more of a reputation as a punk venue, but that's by accident rather than design.

"These venues are vital for giving bands platforms that wouldn't get the opportunity elsewhere."

My memorable experiences are all mainly based around persuading agents to let me book big bands for New Cross Inn, rather than taking the safe option and going with the more established (not-so-independent) venues. Something that I doubt I'll ever beat, was booking a ska-punk festival. A genre that was popular for about 6 months in 1999, with my friends at Fishlock Promotions and El Topo Bookings, in July 2017. We had 31 acts over 3 days, with 2 dates selling out completely. That was pretty mind blowing. Here's the highlight reel from that.

What do you think poses the biggest threat to independent venues across the UK?

Building developers, for one. Flats go up near an existing music venue, the complaints flood in, independent venues can't afford a lengthy legal process and it's easier to shut up shop. So many London venues have closed down recently, mostly for reasons that could have been avoided with a little help from the government. Music Venue Trust are doing amazing work with schemes like Agent Of Change.

What do you think can be done to prevent venue closures?

Music Venue Trust say it better than I could: “The Agent of Change Principle is not complicated or controversial, it’s simple common sense: Agent of Change says that the person or business responsible for the change is responsible for managing the impact of the change.

"Come to as many gigs as possible. I've booked 100s of bands in the last 2 years, many of which I've not previously heard of."

This means that an apartment block to be built near an established live music venue would have to pay for soundproofing, while a live music venue opening in a residential area would be responsible for the costs. A resident who moves next door to a music venue would, in law, be assessed as having made that decision understanding that there’s going to be some music noise, and a music venue that buys a new PA would be expected to carry out tests to make sure its noise emissions don’t increase.”

What can lovers of live music do to help and support independent venues?

Come to as many gigs as possible. I've booked 100s of bands in the last 2 years, many of which I've not previously heard of and there's so much amazing music out there. If you like Blur, go to your local indie night and discover the next one, if you like Green Day, go to your local punk night and discover the next one. Buy tickets so venues can pay bands and the bands can continue, buy drinks so the venue can pay their bills.