Kevin McManus: I can empathise with the raw feelings towards 24 Kitchen Street’s future – exclusive chat with UNESCO Music boss

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Kevin McManus (left) with Mary Anne Hobbs at 6 Music Festival in Liverpool – credit Peter Guy

24 Kitchen Street’s future is looking brighter according to UNESCO City of Music boss Kevin McManus, Getintothis’ Peter Guy sat down to speak to the man at the top.

Liverpool’s music venue infrastructure has endured a characteristically roller-coaster year.

The opening of Jimmy’s and the Kazimier Stockroom and cementing of Phase One as a live operation has been countered by the uncertain future of a variety of grassroots venues which are the very bedrock of Merseyside’s gigging community.

With Phase One closing their day time programme and Sound on Duke Street, and the Baltic Triangle’s Constellations and 24 Kitchen Street all delivering clarion calls via social media about their futures – Liverpool is once again facing an uncertain future when it comes to offering first-rate independent venues.

Behind the scenes, the picture is even worse with this writer being told on numerous occasions that other – more significant venues are indeed under threat of closure for a variety of reasons; not least a downturn in trade which has seen footfall of gig goers and regular punters simply not attending.

Further afield venues across the country close each month, with iconic London venue The Social surviving by the skin of its teeth with a fundraiser.

The future remains unclear.

The Agent For Change legislation has brought a much needed safety net for venues under threat from developers building new properties which threaten the very existence of already fully functioning live venues – most notably, 24 Kitchen Streethowever, as has been reported, this new bill seemingly can’t prevent venue owners from worrying that their very livelihood is in danger.

Agent for Change Liverpool at District – you gotta fight for your right to party

With panels at District, Phase One and Camp and Furnace this year all referring to the Agent of Change, it seemed 24 Kitchen Street was erring to the positives – yet this all came crashing down a fortnight ago when an adjacent new build threatened their very existence once again – resulting in an extensive social media post and an outpouring of sympathy, anger and support from the public.

Such was the overwhelming support, 24 Kitchen Street bosses met with Liverpool City Council’s Mayor, Joe Anderson for talks – and he tweeted (see below) giving strong indication their future was safe.

This week, Getintothis sat down with Kevin McManus, the head of UNESCO City of Music at Liverpool City Council to find out more.

Getintothis: Hey Kevin, uncertain times ahead with 24 Kitchen Street looking ever in danger of closing – what’s your reaction?

Kevin McManus: “I’m confident Kitchen St shouldn’t have to close or change the nature of its operation.

I believe that Agent of Change can make a difference and that is why the Music Board is pushing for its adoption across the whole of the city region.”

Getintothis: The team seem to have done everything they can to avoid being under threat – yet here we are – will Agent for Change or any other legislation make a difference – and do you suspect it is too late for Kitchen Street?

The Strategy and Action Plan put forward by the Music Board has just been approved by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and one of the actions in this is to advocate for the robust adoption of Agent of Change across the whole of the city region.

“Liverpool has said it will push the new Government to make Agent of Change legally enforceable.”

The much missed Mello Mello

Getintothis: As head of UNESCO City of Music you can surely empathise with the raw feelings among the Liverpool music community – we’ve been here with beloved venues MelloMello, The Kazimier, Wolstenholme Creative Space etc – do you think Liverpool and those in charge do enough to save our independent culture?

Kevin McManus: “I can empathise with the raw feelings you mention and how emotionally attached you can get to a particular venue. I’ve spent a large part of my life in music venues and understand probably more than most people how central they are to a vibrant music scene in a city.

The reason people get attached to venues is normally a combination of the music policy, the audience that go there, and the general feeling around the place which all means that there is a real sense of community.

Even though venues like Eric’s and Planet X have both been closed for decades a large group of people still speak about them with real affection because of that sense of community. And obviously there are much more recent examples too as you mention and that will always be the case when you get a special venue.

I’d say that as a Council Liverpool has been more supportive than most of independent cultural spaces, particularly at a time when it is operating under real financial pressure.

I worked for three or four years to set up Baltic Creative when I was working at ACME (which was a Council organisation).

I’d argue that Baltic Creative and Elevator were the initial drivers of the creative regeneration of the Baltic Triangle. Mark Lawler and the team at Baltic Creative have gone on to use that initial public sector support to become hugely influential landlords and to have a positive catalytic impact on the nature of the whole area.

What is the future of Liverpool’s live music venues?

I know the 24 Kitchen Street team and they are an important part of the music community in the Baltic and are incredibly passionate about what they do there.

In relation to music in particular I think the Council has come a long way in recent years. They took the brave decision to end the Mathew Street Festival even though it was a really popular event.

The reason for this was because they wanted to create something which featured high quality original content that was affordable and that’s how LIMF was born.

Tabitha Jade – a LIMF Academy graduate

“If you look at LIMF Academy then this Council backed initiative is a real exemplar in terms of a talent development model. More recently following the successful bid to become a UNESCO City of Music, Culture Liverpool supported the development of a music strategy and created the role that I’ve been in for the last year.

This was simply down to a recognition of the importance of music to the city. The City Region Combined Authority understand this too which is why they support the Music Board and our plans moving forward.”

Getintothis: What messages of encouragement do you have for anyone thinking of opening an independent space in the city?

Kevin McManus: “In terms of independent spaces/venues I think the reality is that it will always be difficult for newcomers in any city but Liverpool and the wider city region is generally a more supportive environment than most.

“The Music Board is working to find appropriate ways to make this environment across the city region better for local people who may want to have a career in the music industry.

Tea Street Band

Getintothis: Finally, away from all the doom and gloom – what have been your music highlights of 2019 – both on record and off it – Liverpool and further afield?

Kevin McManus: “Too many too mention really and I have a terrible memory so these are a few random thoughts.

I missed the Nile Rogers at LIMF which I know was a big thing for a lot of people. I was over at the Music City stage watching a tribute to Tony Butler (former owner/manager of the Zanzibar who sadly died last year).

“It was put together by Nick from the Tea Street Band and they, The Zutons and others provided a fitting tribute to Tony. It was great to see Luna playing on the LIMF Main Stage as well.

On a very selfish level I loved putting together the playlist for the LFC victory parade. I’m not sure how many of the crowd along the route could hear it because of the noise but it was a nice thing to do anyway. In a very different vein I enjoyed interviewing local heroes OMD at the opening of their exhibition at the BME a couple of months ago.

“They have had an amazing career and were remarkably open about the ups and downs over the course of their history.

I was lucky enough to spend a few hours chatting to Elvis Costello one morning as well which was another highlight.

“I’d met him a few times before years ago but when he turned up unexpectedly one day I had a chance to have a proper sit down with him. It was fascinating talking to him about music (he knows everything and everyone), family, football and all the other important stuff. A lovely, incredibly knowledgeable, witty man who has a real passion for the city.

Fontaines DC

“Favourite music of the moment includes a load of stuff like She Drew The Gun, The Mysterines, The Coral, Bill Ryder-Jones, Yousef, Pizzagirl, Chinatown Slalom, and Eyesore and the Jinx.

“But if you pushed me for a favourite album of the year I’d have to go outside of Liverpool to Dublin because I love Fontaines D.C.’s Dogrel. Closer to home I really like what  I’ve heard of Wigan’s The Lathums so it will be interesting to hear more next year.”

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