Music Venue Trust hits back at Co-op Live chief’s criticism of grassroots venues

Music Venue Trust (MVT) has taken aim at Co-op Live’s chief after he challenged calls for a grassroots music levy and said many small venues are “poorly run”.

Gary Roden, Co-op Live’s executive director and general manager, described the £1 levy idea as “too simplistic”. MVT is campaigning for £1 to be added to ticket prices at all large venues in the UK.

In an interview with the BBC over the weekend – just ahead of Manchester’s £365m Co-op Live delaying its grand opening – Roden added that some small venues are poorly run and said the campaign for the £1 surcharge has been “quite aggressive”. Roden said that he was “very aware it’s a hot topic”, and that he was “embracing the conversation”.

He added: “If the conversation stops being ‘Give me a quid’ and quite aggressive – if it changed to be, ‘What can we do together to help?’, that’s where I think we start to get into that apprenticeship conversation and all those different things that we want to work through.

“We’ve got a list of ideas that we’re currently forming, and I think once we’ve been open six months or a year, we’ll be really able to add something very significant to the grassroots system in Manchester.”

UK’s music talent pipeline threatened

In response, MVT’s Mark Davyd took to X to focus on the threat to the UK’s live music pipeline. He pointed out that the average age of performers at Co-op Live this year is 50 years old, with some 21.7% of all the shows led by artists over retirement age.

Davyd added: “Final Bonus Fact: Coop Live have publicly stated that they don’t believe there are problems with the UK music talent pipeline.”

In a statement issued to the NME, MVT said: “This lack of willingness to play a role in that ecosystem unfortunately leads them to make ill-judged and poorly considered comments about the sector’s approach to the discussions, the professionalism of the people running the venues, the possibility for Oak View Group to financially support them, and about any obstacles that might prevent that financial support getting to where it’s needed and doing the work it needs to do.

“It’s simply not true that the approach to these discussions has been ‘aggressive’. They started with the music industry in 2018. Requests for meetings with Oak View Group, so they could play an active role in the conversation, started in 2022 – they so far remain unsuccessful.”

Support for UK music

“The UK’s grassroots music venues are not ‘poorly run’, and it is disrespectful and disingenuous to suggest otherwise. This is a highly skilled and experienced sector facing almost insurmountable and highly specialist challenges.

“Obviously, the irony of making ill-judged, unnecessary and misleading comments about grassroots music venues on the day that the launch of their new arena has unfortunately fallen into such difficulties is not lost on anyone in the music industry, on artists, or on audiences. We still wish Co-Op Live all the very best in delivering the forthcoming shows. Hopefully tackling these challenges might give them a chance to reconsider their position on supporting the UK’s music talent pipeline with meaningful actions which would actually make a difference.”

Last week, Davyd took part in a panel session at TheTicketingBusiness Forum where he suggested that a levy is certain to be introduced in the UK. He explained that this will either be the £1 voluntary surcharge on tickets for large venues, or will be more expensive if imposed by government.

Meanwhile, Co-op Live has today announced plans for its first sporting event. UFC 304, the mixed martial arts organisation’s first European event of 2024, will be staged on July 27.