Thursday, 6 December 2012

The Hare and Hounds: Keep On Running!

Towards the end of 2012, the Hare and Hounds came under threat, again. The problem was, once again, property developers planning to run up flats right next to a cherished music venue. 

People rallied round. Gaffer Adam Regan was interviewed, petitions signed, and on Thursday 21st December BCC Planning Committee voted to OPPOSE the planning application. But this post, written while the venue was under threat, is well worth re-visiting.

The Hare and Hounds is a great little music venue in boho King’s Heath. Two upstairs rooms, good PA, decent staging, staff who know what they’re doing, a great booking policy with a strong local bias, and drinks at pub prices. It’s been around as a music venue longer than most of us have been on this planet. When I was a baby rock DJ on BRMB, in the 70s (gulp), the Hare was a fixture on the gig guides I read out at the time; it was going long before then. I have been to more gigs at the Hare than any other venue in Birmingham. 

Now it could be compromised. It is essential that the Hare keeps on running. We need our venues, especially those that take a sympathetic view of new talent. Especially those that aren't part of some soul-less corporate chain. A music scene as good as ours needs the right platforms, and the Hare is definitely one of those. Whether you live in King's Heath, or indeed anywhere this blog reaches, you can help. 

Under the current gaffer, Adam Regan, The Hare has hit its stride with a fiercely independent and varied music policy, which supports local music to the hilt. 
Adam Regan: "When we took the place over, six years ago, there was only one venue. The second venue was a junk room, a disused billiards room. The main venue wasn’t used regularly – at most once a week. It was shabby, terrible sound system, bad acoustically. No website, no culture based around it. It took us a year to get up to speed. But the past four, four and half years, we’ve been flying. 
And now? They are dealing with a planning application for flats on land immediately behind the Hare. This might well lead to a repeat of the battles local venues have fought – and in many cases lost – to stay in business. 

Over the past few years, there’s been a spate of such conflicts. The Fiddle and Bone was, allegedly, forced to stop putting on live music because of persistent complaints from one freshly installed resident in a newly constructed block of luxy-plush city centre flats. The Rainbow in Digbeth has had to, very expensively, put in a whole new roof to allay complaints from residents in new flats a block or two away. These same residents have made life very difficult for the excellent landlord of the Spotted Dog, John Tighe. Then, the Nightingale, a 40 year veteran of Birmingham’s gay club scene, has had to fight its ground in order to continue. All this has been documented – here’s a 2009 link – but the bare facts don’t get to the heart of the matter. 

Here’s the bottom line: Birmingham’s music scene is fantastic, diverse, and inspiring. It’s better now that at any time since I’ve been working here, and that’s a long long time. Anyone with ears, perspective, and a sense of adventure will agree. That sort of thing is pure gold, it's stuff you can't buy. It builds the city’s reputation. And let’s not kid ourselves, there are people at Birmingham City Council who are acutely aware of this. 

But all too often, Birmingham City Council looks back rather than forward. The council has has dined out for decades on the likes of Duran Duran and Ozzy Osbourne (neither of whom, let us note in passing, have been local residents and tax-payers for some time), and UB40 (hey; they’re still around), among many others, for well over twenty years. Meantime, one section of the council hobbles another section. 

Music's reputational value to the city is immense, but as far as the city’s image makers are concerned, there’s a yawning gap between past glories and future potential. And that is stupid and myopic. 

So let’s talk hard cash instead. That’s pretty important too. Birmingham’s music scene is a vital and seriously effective multi-million pound a year business, that brings jobs and cash to the economy. So why does the council persist in allowing bone-headed short-term quick-buck flat developments that sterilise the very essence of the city? 

You might have gathered from all this that I’m mightily pissed off. I’m not alone. For his part, Adam Regan is more bemused than anything. He took over a moribund venue, expanded it, improved it – that includes adding a lot of sound-proofing, by the way - and turned it into a thriving music centre the city should be proud of. Now he's got this mess on his plate… 
Adam: This is the second application. We objected the first time… 
A familiar property development story. They're persistent. And does that mean you have to object all over again? 
Yes. We need to get as many as people as possible to object on the council's planning pages (links below) There’s been a lot of media coverage, and the petition we’re raising is pulling lots of signatures. But we need more.
A lot of developers put their flats up, sell their property, and take their profit. Often that then means places like yours are shut down. Doesn’t that represent a cost to the city? 
Of course. The amount of revenue the Hare brings to the area is huge. But what most people are latching on to is the cultural significance. There is no other music venue like it in South Birmingham (make that Birmingham, Adam) the place is unique. 
Most of the crowd at the Hare don’t even realise that the place has been a music venue for longer than they’ve been alive. It’s got a huge history. Lots of important bands got started here.

How many people do business – make a living, or some of their living – through the Hare, do you think? 
Impossible to say. But it must be in the hundreds. DJ s  promoters, bands, our staff, the pa crews. We’ve got a real balance of touring acts, and local acts. It gives the place more kudos for younger artists when you get people like big DJ s, Roy Ayers… 
Worst case scenario – the council waves it through – what are you going to do? 
The longer term scenario for me is to change the law. The law is ridiculous. Somebody who wasn’t living in the neighborhood can come in and have the ability to complain and take away a music license. That needs to change. There needs to be something in place where the flats are sound-proofed and maybe air-conditioned. Or they need to sign a waiver where they accept that they are living in a neighborhood where there might be noise. That might be a difficult one to push through. But there needs to be something in place. 
It’s odd, really. I wonder why the concept of grandfather rights doesn’t apply. You move into a neighborhood, you accept what goes on in that neighborhood. 
Yeah., I just moved into Bournville. I didn’t realise that there’s bells chiming all night – it was a bit of a culture shock. But they were there before me, and I got used to them! I was horrified the first night, but two weeks later I don’t hear them. You adapt.
We’ve had neighbours complain before, but we sat down and met with them, and added more soundproofing, and put stewards at the entrances. And though our licence allows us to play to 1 am, we stop at 11.15 during the week. We’re working with the existing neighbours. The unknown is the new neighbours, who will be that much closer. So unless it’s really really well soundproofed… 
I don’t see builders being willing to throw a few more thousand into their construction, do you? 
Not the way they’re built these days! The problem is whether the council recognises the weight of opinion. I’ve been told that all our petition signatures will count as one. So it’s important to sign the petition, yes, to show support, but it’s even more important to register an objection on the council site – and the public consultation period ended on Monday, 10th December.
If you believe in a vibrant music scene that grows from the ground up, the way it should, and especially if you live in Birmingham itself, let your council know how you feel about threats to our fragile creative sector. Here's the links you need: 

Contacts and Links
BCC Councillors for Moseley and King's Heath
Birmingham Hall Green MP Roger Godsiff's  contact page.

Hare and Hounds website
BCC website: Planning Application
BCC website: Your chance to comment

Hare and Hounds e-petition widget

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