Ask any avid music fan or any artist and they will be able to tell you their first gig, their favourite gig and when and where they both were.

Every single gig is totally unique. The set, the way the band plays, the way the audience responds; it can never be repeated.

But venues up and down the country are facing a tough and challenging time. The ‘sticky carpet’ venues are finding it harder to compete with venues backed by sponsors or major corporations (O2 Academies).

Likewise, bands are finding it harder to justify touring as much as they’d like given rising fuel costs and limited revenue from venues and record sales.

This has been highlighted by the recent closure of various venues around the country e.g. of the Bull and Gate in Highgate – home to early gigs from the likes of Coldplay, Pulp, PJ Harvey, Muse, Blur and the Manic Street Preachers.

We spoke to the team at The Forum Tunbridge Wells, all of whom volunteer at the venue to enable it to keep running.

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“In 1993, after years of putting on gigs in various pubs and village halls, the lease was secured on a disused council building on the common in Tunbridge Wells.  Over 20 years and 20,000 performances later The Forum survives on the volunteers that work there, the musicians that play there and the audiences that listen there.”

“11,000 watts of amplification fill a bare brick room just big enough for a 250 standing audience facing the metre high stage.  Musicians, poets, and comedians vent on battered Shure microphones on both national and international tours.  Local performers depend on the venue too, often playing their first ever gig here, and then returning to support other bands or to play headline shows.  Many of the world’s biggest musicians took their first steps towards the limelight on our small stage: Coldplay, Oasis, Muse, Green Day, Adele, Mumford & Sons, The Vaccines… the list goes on!”

“Like all unfunded entertainment establishments in the changeable music industry, The Forum has had to adapt.  Years of peeling paint and sweat soaked plaster was stripped and the main hall refreshed, the P.A. system overhauled and a full digital recording studio constructed during 2012.  All of these improvements were done by the people who work at and use the space and facilities.  Artists can now rehearse, record and then perform their next album here live.”

“There is a bar – but this isn’t a pub – and when the doors open, with everyone singing and dancing to their new favourite band only an arms length away, it becomes clear this is far more than just a building.  It is very reassuring that other people feel the same way and The Forum was awarded the ‘NME’s Best Small Venue’ in 2012.  It is with this kind of support, and that of Independent Venue Week, that we can help raise awareness of The Forum and the handful of independently run venues that remain in the UK today.”

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