How our venues serve communities while creating their own

Nick Stewart of Sneaky Pete’s in Edinburgh writes about the extraordinary musical experiences that create communities

The first time I was told “Sneaky Pete’s is like Cheers for people who love music” I thought “my work here is done,” writes Nick Stewart of Sneaky Pete’s in Edinburgh.Turns out lots of people say it, or something very like it, and each seems to think they’ve coined the phrase anew.Realising my venue had nurtured a community didn’t really mean my work was done. Far from it. It’s one thing to want your business to succeed, that’s the kind of pressure you put on yourself but it’s another to realise that you have the wellbeing of a community to look out for too. No pressure!

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Nick Stewart of Sneaky Pete's (photo: Jannica Honey)Nick Stewart of Sneaky Pete's (photo: Jannica Honey)
Nick Stewart of Sneaky Pete's (photo: Jannica Honey)

I didn’t realise when I took on a late-night bar that I would be able to make it into a full-time live music venue and nightclub. At 100 capacity, I had thought we were too small, but the more shows we put on, the more people came. I had no idea the demand was there until I gave it a shot.

Much later on I found out that the longer you stick around, the busier you get. Our community kept growing and giving back. Twelve years into the business, 2019 was our busiest year. We were awarded Music Week Grassroots Venue of the Year, and then Scottish magazine The List made us #1 in their Hot 100.

I guess our gig community has formed from people having extraordinary experiences here. Those 100 people who saw early shows from Tame Impala, Mumford and Sons, and Catfish & the Bottlemen here came back a bunch of times after.

It’s not all big stars though. There have also been shows by artists at the peak of their career for whom 100 tickets in Edinburgh is plenty: brilliant weirdos like Bob Log III who sailed across the crowd in a rubber dinghy whilst wearing an aviator outfit, or hirsute Israelis Montonix who played drums on top of the bar and in the street wearing nothing but boxer boots and speedos.

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We took a chance on local artists like Honeyblood, who went on to support Foo Fighters, and Young Fathers who later won the Mercury Prize.

There’s talent in every town, and you don’t have to be an award-winning venue to support it - you just have to be there. Venues that give chances to local and emerging musicians will always eventually have a success story, whether that’s Dua Lipa, Ed Sheeran or Lewis Capaldi.

Venues often innovate in their community outreach. The extra uses help pay the bills too. As well as gigs, some host baby discos and life drawing. Many are training places for young technicians’ apprenticeships. The Old Dr Bell’s Baths feeds the homeless, and the Glad Café runs a charity for underprivileged young people.

Live music was in boom time just before the pandemic. 2019 was the first time in fifteen years more venues opened than closed in the UK, and many venues were busier than ever. It’s so important now to support your local venues.

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Whilst we’ve been closed we’ve been given so much support from our community. We get messages all the time and we sold 100 t-shirts overnight last weekend. There are not many kinds of businesses that can offer a sense of shared joy and belonging, so I’m just so grateful to have been given the chance to do just that.

* This article is part of The Show Must Go On, JPIMedia's campaign to support live arts venues

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