Publicans encouraged to ‘Make Space For Music’ to help support community groups

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A membership organisation representing leisure-time music groups across the UK is appealing to publicans to help host groups increasingly struggling to find meeting spaces.

Making Music, who represent around 4,000 leisure time groups and support people to come together in their communities to make or present music, is running a #MakeSpaceForMusic campaign to help find new spaces for music groups, including singing and instrumental groups, to meet for rehearsals, workshops and music learning. The appeal comes due to a  growing lack of availability of suitable meeting venues due to closures or rising costs.

Images: Cliff Day

Music groups are struggling to find spaces to meet and many are also struggling with increased costs.

Barbara Eifler, chief executive of Making Music, says: “Pubs have always been spaces for music, especially because making or enjoying music is not just a musical, but a social activity. Singing groups, ukulele ensembles, jazz ensembles or jazz and folk clubs in particular love a pub back room or upstairs space. Groups can be 20 up to 140 attendees. Most groups are acoustic, and not all of them are loud. Whatever your pub’s space there’s a music group to fit.”

She adds: “We think music groups can bring great benefits to pubs, including increased footfall and new customers and a reliable regular clientele. Hosting groups is also good for a pub’s reputation and a great way to strengthen its place at the heart of a community. If you’d like to host a music group, let them know they’re welcome in your own publicity, or reach out to them.”

Multiple benefits to hosting

Among the other benefits Making Music cites is many groups being long-term, regular space bookings and attendees bringing new connections and skills to your pub.

Making Music recommends searching online for music groups in your area or utilising the ‘Find a Group’ tool on the Making Music website:

Folk groups fantastic at The Fleece

At The Fleece Inn at Bretforton, Worcestershire, publican Nigel Smith advocates hosting music groups and events to other publicans. The Fleece’s activities include hosting a weekly folk group, a monthly folk session, monthly Celtic session, a fiddle weekend and a learn to play the melodeum and singing weekends.

The pub has run a folk night, called ‘Fleecy Folk’ since 2002, with the night offering a free to attend open session of music and singing, led by a couple of volunteers. The session can see from six to 30 attendees depending on the session focus, but such is the popularity of the group, that the night evolved from being monthly to fortnightly to now weekly.

A monthly folk session is also attended by around 25 to 30 people and a popular Celtic session is also led by a couple of musicians who approached Nigel about hosting it The pub provides a room for the session and some supper, such as sandwiches. A monthly ceilidh group, hosted through the winter, also sees up to 30 attendees.

Nigel says: “Music is important to the pub. The folk night has become so valued at The Fleece, that when we had a fire in 2004 and temporarily set up the pub in the barn, we ran a weekly folk session and when we reopened the pub a folk session was the first thing we hosted.”

He adds: “Because people know about our music sessions, people come and ask if they can run ad hoc sessions. The successful fiddle weekend, learn to play the melodeum and singing weekends we also host, all have come about from the folk sessions.”

Spin offs for the pub also include being introduced to musicians who go on to play gigs at the pub.

Nigel says: “Things grow quite quickly from hosting music groups. We started a wassail 15 years ago which now sees 1,000 people come to it, with the folk music a key driver and also now have a big Winter Solstice evening with Morris dancers and folk musicians.”

Blues group brings joy to regulars

Another pub which has successfully welcomed music makers is the Tafarn y Plu (also known as The Feathers) in Llanystumdwy, Gwynedd, North Wales. The pub, which Pub is The Hub supported with help and advice and a grant from The Royal Countryside Fund (formerly The Prince’s Countryside Fund) to help extend its community garden and allotment area, hosts a regular blues group.

Tegid Jones, co-director of Menter y Plu (the community benefit society who run the pub) welcomed a suggestion from a local harmonica player to host a group at the pub.

He says: “There are lots of sessions and groups in our area around traditional folk music, but not so much on blues. I love blues music and play the guitar so welcomed the idea of a regular group.”

The monthly group is hosted on the last Thursday of the month, with a growing attendee base aged from 30 to 60.

Tegid adds: “The group use space in our quieter bar for a mix of playing and chatting. Their music can be heard by customers, and we always get positive comments from customers as it adds to the atmosphere in the pub.”

He adds: “Hosting the group has led to other things, as we are now introducing open mic sessions to give the group a chance to perform.”

Choir hits right note with locals

At The Rose & Crown in Ashbury, Oxfordshire, Community Hero Award finalists in the Great British Pub Awards 2023, choir rehearsals are hosted on Monday evenings in the pub’s function room. The ‘Rose & Crooners’ choir has around 54 people signed up, with an average of 30 people, across a wide variety of ages, attending weekly rehearsals.

Manager Holly Royle says: “The pub’s choir is wonderful and now has its own fundraising concerts for local charities at the pub and village hall and sings at weddings etc in the village church. The choir has raised awareness of the pub and helped attract people in who would have been apprehensive coming in on their own before.”

Find out more about the campaign here: Make Space For Music | Making Music

*Don’t forget to check out if a music licence is required for any recorded music or group/ band performances in your pub.

Making music work for your pub – tips from publican Nigel Smith of The Fleece at Bretforton

  • Be open to people making music at your pub. You need to be able to manage it, but don’t discourage it.
  • Get out there and talk to musicians and groups and see what they are looking for. Think about different ideas.
  • Reach out on your social channels to see if anyone is looking for a space to set up a music night.
  • Have a pub guitar on the wall and let people play. We have a guitar and accordion, and it is great when people play them. People who were great have come back to gig for us.
  • Look after music groups well. Ensure you talk to them when they are in. Make them feel special and wanted, such as giving them some simple supper.
  • Be flexible to their needs. If they are starting at 8.30pm then make sure you haven’t booked any diners in that area on your booking system.