Most of us would be unhappy if our DVD collections were limited to the same twenty films as everyone else, or our bookshelves the same 20 books. Yet because of a noise abatement order on a popular live music venue in Digbeth, we may now be limiting the city’s musical diversity.
The noise abatement order was served after complaints were made about The Spotted Dog, a pub that has had (with the exception of the factories and warehouses of Digbeth) no residential neighbours for the last 22 years, until the Abacus housing development was built over the road and 178 new flats were sold. The flats were designed with enough acoustic insulation to cope with the noise of the roads outside, but not to block out the sound of the pub, famed for its loud late nights.
When the Environmental Health Department was asked to investigate, they did not consider the lack of acoustic insulation in the flats, neither did they check whether this was the fault of the developers or Birmingham City Council Planning Department. A noise abatement order was still issued.
The same piece of legislation that was designed to tackle rowdy neighbours is now being aimed at a pub with a rich history of entertainment. This brings about an important question: How many more residential developments are going to be allowed to go up near cultural venues in Birmingham? And how many of those cultural venues are going to be forced to stop live music? John Tighe, the owner of The Spotted Dog, believes The Custard Factory, The Rainbow and The Sanctuary amongst others in Digbeth could face the same threat. These distinctive venues that attract people to visit, live and work in Digbeth could be stopped from playing music, causing the area to lose its uniqueness and vibrancy.
The rise of inner city living is not just affecting Birmingham’s music scene. The building of apartments has already caused the closure of several venues in Leeds and London1. When business rates and property prices go up, selling a pub or venue to a developer becomes a lot more attractive, even more so if the music that attracts people to the venue in the first place has been banned.
So what will we be left with if our small venues begin to disappear? Will we still be able to find the intimacy that comes from a few people standing round a stage listening to an un-amplified acoustic set, or the feeling of discovering a band before they get big? It seems that the experience of listening to unheard-of bands in small venues has not been quantified by City Council Planning Chiefs, or Environmental Health Officers, yet some of these bands go on to break into the mainstream. Would Ozzy Osbourne be on our television screens if it was not for Black Sabbath being able to get those first few small gigs in Birmingham pubs?
Independent shops, cafés and restaurants are also affected by big developments, rising business rates and land prices, which brings the loss of a music venue into a wider debate. What happens when we lose our independent businesses? What do we lose with them? The charity Common Ground2 describes what we would lose as ‘local distinctiveness’, which is “essentially about places and our relationship with them. It is as much about the commonplace as about the rare, about the everyday as much as the endangered, and about the ordinary as much as the spectacular… Many of us have strong allegiances to places, complex and compound appreciation of them, and we recognize that nature, identity and place have strong bonds.”
Digbeth’s vibrant character is being marketed by developers, but they misunderstand or refuse to care about why people want to be there in the first place. This is leading to the destruction of the historical identity and essence of the place. The situation is not hopeless though, and there are ways that we can act to keep our music venues, and stop Birmingham from becoming a ‘Clone Town’;
You can visit the Keep Digbeth Vibrant website3 and sign The Spotted Dog petition, which asks for the Noise Abatement Order to be lifted.
You can vote for The Spotted Dog’s landlord, John Tighe, to become Brummie of the Year4, or the ‘Capsule’ girls, who have worked for years promoting live music around Digbeth.