Ghost Town (slight return)

According to The Coventry Evening Telegraph some people seem to have a ‘Field of Dreams’ philosophy to the lack of a city centre music venue. I wouldn’t expect them to appreciate the finer details but an assumption that this much-needed centrally placed venue would instantly solve all of the city’s entertainment woes is almost certainly misplaced.

The debate was sparked by two Coventry bands who have omitted the city from their current touring schedule. It’s not the first time they’ve done this and the lack of an appropriate venue certainly plays a part in the process, but it’s not the whole story. Touring cycles often alternate venues/towns/cities in order to avoid over-playing in a certain territory. Thus Wolverhampton/Birmingham, Liverpool/Manchester, Glasgow/Edinburgh can often be swapped dependent upon where the act played last.

Clearly a band would always want to play their home-town but nothing would be more embarrassing than failing to sell out in your back-yard, having a guest list that’s bigger than the box office sales print-out may also be a big issue. Tours take a number of factors into consideration from regional popularity to an area’s general population and prosperity.

Artistes have a tendency to favour certain venues as well, usually due to previous experiences at those halls. If The Specials are repeatedly playing Wolverhampton Civic Hall (as they are) it’ll be due to the fact that the room is right for them and the gig has always gone well. The other benefit of playing Wolves Civic is that they have an experienced and able management team, a long history of gigs and the knowledge and means to reach their audience. Put simply, they know what they’re doing. The same is true of Birmingham Town Hall and Symphony Hall. These people know their venue, their market and how to target it. Any Coventry venue of a similar size due to its geography would instantly have to compete with ridiculously skilled opposition. I could draw a football analogy but, given the regional sensitivities, I won’t.
There have been venues in Coventry before of course but few that were purpose built and a few that weren’t fit for purpose. The Kasbah is a fine venue but its main room is rarely used for gigs. It’s been so long since I was in there that I can only assume it is generally saved for the clubbers. Maybe logistically the work that needs to be done to use it as a concert hall makes it financially unviable when you can easily use one of Birmingham Academy’s three rooms or even The Institute, better still Leamington Assembly has really taken off and is a great place to see a gig.
The nature of the touring beast (for a mature act) is that – unless you’re at arena level popularity – you’re coming round every two to three years. It can go stale playing in the same places so you switch them around. At arena level there used to be less choice so repeated visits to the LG Arena or NIA would be expected. When Nottingham Arena entered the frame and Manchester Arena opened this became less so. Artists at that level have a tendency to want to play somewhere that is new to them so new venues go through a ‘honeymoon period’ where they see a lot of big names. This has been the case for Leeds Arena and will continue to be for a year or so at least.
Coventry will have been familiar with the honeymoon period for venues, having enjoyed it with The Ricoh Arena who played host to Bon Jovi (twice), Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pink, Take That, Bruce Springsteen and others. That this did not extend to the Jaguar Exhibition Hall in the same building suggests that you can’t just call a hall a concert venue and expect to succeed, particularly when the LG Arena and its excellent events team are a 20 minute drive away.
What Cov does have and should be the envy of every city is an incredible free festival, The Godiva is a great event, particularly when the weather’s good. Most cities with similar events have either abandoned them or introduced ticketing and fees, Coventry should be rightly proud of this festival.
All is not lost and this story is not over since the development of Brown’s and the nearby Drapers Hall could dramatically change the city’s fortunes. Of course it’ll need to be well run and fit for purpose, it is simply not the case that if you build it they will come.