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Manifesto for Moles: An encore for a Bathonian icon

Moles, a beloved grassroots music venue in Bath, recently announced that it was closing its doors, after 45 years of being a stepping stone for some of the music industry’s most successful. The list of Moles alumni is long and brilliant, including, to name just a few, Ed Sheeran, Oasis, The Killers, Eurythmics and Tears for Fears, all immortalised on the Moles’ Wall of Fame.

Moles has survived through periods of crisis before, filing for bankruptcy in 2012, experiencing a devastating fire in 2014 that shut the venue for 21 months and the Coronavirus pandemic, but it is the ongoing cost-of-living crisis that has “crippled” the venue.

Music Venue Trust (MVT), a UK Registered Charity dedicated to protecting, securing, and improving UK Grassroots Music Venues, has published A Manifesto for Moles, a six-point plan of action focusing on “the long-term future and sustainability” of the venue.

Step one is to get the building granted status as an Asset of Community Value by the local authority. This would impose restrictions on the purpose of the building and dictate that it must be sold as a music venue for the next six months.

Step two is to buy the building. Music Venue Properties (MVP) is a Charitable Community Benefit Society established by MVT to purchase the freehold of Grassroots venues and place them in “a form of protected status”. Founder Phillip Andrews signed a lease for £2,000 in 1977, but the MVT estimated that the fund “would need to raise £1.4 to £1.9 million” to achieve this goal. Methods of raising finance include community shares, music industry investment, support from Bath & North East Somerset Council, donations as part of a crowdfunding campaign and match funding (already secured by MVP “up to £500k depending on various scenarios”).

Step three is to restructure the venue as a Community Interest Company (CIC) to better align with the goal of Moles as a Grassroots Music Venue and obtain economic benefits, such as VAT exemption on ticketing, offering greater opportunity for profit to be reinvested.

Step four, after establishing the CIC, would be to bring back the existing management team, retaining both their local and industry experience for the benefit of the venue.

Step five is to galvanise the “wider live music industry” to support the Pipeline Investment Fund (PIF) to finance grassroots development. Established by MVT, the Fund allows venues to apply for funding to better fulfil their role within the industry as “research and development hubs for new and emerging talent”. MVT suggests that it is in the “self-interest” of the music industry to support the Pipeline, and that “£1 from every ticket sold at Arena and Stadium level” should be contributed to PIF as a “Grassroots Levy”.

The sixth and final step would be to ensure that Bath Moles has access to Pipeline Funding, allowing the primary focus of the venue to remain the support and development of new talent. Establishing a permanent grant scheme by January 2026, not only gives Moles the chance to apply for funding but would “enhance venue resilience” by subsidising costs.

Twin Skeletons, a band who recently played Moles as part of their Autumn Tour, described their devastation at its closure and the impact it will have on up-and-coming artists.

“Moles has provided a platform for us to play since we started as a band and has done for many other bands and artists in its prestigious 45-year history. Having played over a dozen shows there in the past couple of years, we are heartbroken that we might not get to play there ever again.

We’ve always referred to Moles as our second home, because it is, and always has been, our favourite place in Bath, and the local music scene will not be the same without it. Urgent action is required from the government to support grassroots music venues across the country. […] There’s no chance for the next Radiohead, the next Oasis, or the next Wolf Alice to grow and climb to the top. This is a national crisis for artists and music.”

The phrase ‘you could be next Ed Sheeran’ is one that Moles helped make a reality, but without rapid intervention, the future of grassroots music is bleak. Over 120 other venues have closed in this past year alone (15% of the industry), and of the estimated 366 venues that Ed Sheeran performed at before selling out stadiums, 150 no longer exist.

Music Venue Trust has produced a manifesto. They are asking the community who treasure Moles and the industry that relies on them, and venues like them, to put their money where their mouth is. Words of sympathy and devastation are not enough: it is time to act.

You can find the online petition to save Moles here.

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