Rockdown: closure fears at grassroots gigs pub
Angel music venue is among businesses facing a race against time as coronavirus crisis goes on
22 May, 2020 — By Calum Fraser
Marcus Harris: ‘Grassroots music venues are the foundations for the rest of the industry’
A POPULAR pub and grassroots music venue in Angel has warned it is “on a countdown timer” to a permanent closure after being hit hard by the coronavirus lockdown.
The Lexington in Pentonville Road has grown in the past decade to become a key venue on London’s live music scene, hosting six gig nights a week and giving a lifeline to scores of bands.
All staff have now been furloughed after the venue was forced to close, but the cost of rent and topping up wages has led to a loss of more than £25,000 a month.
In a bid to stave off bankruptcy, Marcus Harris, who helps run the pub, set up a crowdfunder and was “grateful” when £60,000 worth of donations came in from the pub’s loyal following.
But Mr Harris said: “The reality is we are on a countdown timer to the point at which we can’t reopen. It has probably been averted by three months because of this crowdfunder.
“What we have raised so far is essentially going to pay for three months of rent, so that has given us a lifeline. But the reality is that we can’t stay shut forever.”
The government has offered retail, hospitality and leisure operators grants of £10,000 or £25,000 but the Lexington’s business rates bill of more than £130,000 a year means it does not qualify.
Scores of venues across the country are facing a similar hurdle, with the Music Venue Trust warning that more than 550 smaller gig venues could permanently shut down if the government does not step in further.
Mr Harris said: “Grassroots music venues are the foundations for the rest of the industry. Without us you don’t have artists learning their trade, learning to perform in a room and working out their best material and their identity and forming the beginnings of a fanbase.
“Even the networking opportunities in places like the Lexington are huge. That’s what we are really here for.
“The repercussions if we all start closing could be terrible for live music.”
Government-backed loans have also been offered but, as the Tribune recently reported, many businesses are having difficulty accessing them and banks are offering sharp interest rates after the first year free.
The Lexington has also joined the National Time Out campaign which is calling for a nine-month national payment pause, so that no pub pays any rent until 2021. To make sure the landlords do not lose out, the campaign wants all their leases to be extended by nine months.
Pubs, bars, theatres and music venues are expected to be one of the last sectors to reopen.
Mr Harris said: “We’re really hanging on for a vaccine. We are the busiest places, places where you can’t have social distancing.
Tame Impala are among the acts who have played at the Lexington in recent years
“If we were to open with social distancing we would lose more money than we would while we are shut with the increase in costs to get it operational again. We are a high-volume business.”
He added: “We have given a platform to bands when they were just getting going, like Tame Impala and Fontaines D.C. At the same time we have old punk bands like Wire which appeals to an older crowd.”
Under the furlough scheme, the government is funding 80 per cent of wages up to £2,500 a month for workers unable to do their jobs.
But chancellor Rishi Sunak announced last week that businesses would be expected to contribute from August.
This could encourage businesses to reopen and get people back to work, but it has been estimated that the hospitality sector will not return to the capacity it had before coronavirus for months.
• To donate to the Lexington crowdfunding page go to www.crowdfunder.co.uk/save-the-lexington