A surge of support from fans of Bush Hall, the Shepherds Bush music venue whose survival is under threat because of the pandemic, has led to £30,000 being raised via crowdfunding.
An appeal to the public for help keeping the independent music venue afloat during lockdown saw donations pour in for the former Edwardian dance hall.
The aim has been to preserve a stage that hosted Amy Winehouse, Kings of Leon, Adele and Florence & The Machine in some of their earliest gigs, underlining its grassroots importance.
Charlie Raworth who, with Emma Hutchinson, restored the venue at 310 Uxbridge Road as a 350-capacity auditorium in 2001, said the money raised had been vital to short-term survival but that with no firm date for live music to restart, there was still real uncertainty.
“When we began the appeal we thought we might lose business until September,” he said. “We hoped we might reopen after that, but now it looks unlikely we’ll be functional in 2020.”
He said that even if restrictions were suddenly relaxed for music venues (and Bush Hall has joined forces with the Music Venue Trust to lobby for help keeping 500 UK performing spaces alive), there would have to be a lead-in time before resuming concerts.
“It’s impossible for us to work on 20 or 30 per cent capacity, because it’s just not viable,” he said.
Charlie Raworth said he was enthusiastic about being in Hammersmith & Fulham and said the council had been supportive. “I hope H&F will continue to help out businesses that have been here for quite a while,” he said, adding that it was vital to continue to try to regenerate the area.
“We feel we’re part of a community here, and the local market is significant,” he said. “Not everyone comes to the gigs, but they do recognise that we’re a good business for the area and for Shepherds Bush.”
Addressing the uncertainty that still hangs over music venues such as Bush Hall, a Government spokesman said this week that he was working to ensure gigs can resume ‘as soon as possible’ and that they involve ‘very difficult decisions about the future of social distancing’.
For Charlie Raworth and Bush Hall, that means that the waiting game continues.
“At the moment there’s very little planning we can do,” he said. “It gets harder as everyone feels the pinch; we just have to keep plugging and rely on everyone’s generosity and support.”
One local supporter was John Horton, founder of independent estate agent Horton and Garton in Hammersmith. He booked a 50-person party in the private bar and terrace once the venue re-opens. Cost? £1,200. “Bush Hall is a treasured community venue with a long and storied history in Shepherds Bush,” he said. “I couldn’t stand to see it disappear and for west London to lose another venue.”
Ups and downs
Down the years the ornate 1904 hall has served as a Second World War soup kitchen, a snooker hall, a bingo club and a rehearsal room for the likes of The Who, Cliff Richard and Adam Faith, but it has also built important income from wedding receptions, cabarets, comedy nights and for TV filming.
“We’ve faced many peaks and troughs down the years after running gigs and events for nearly 20 years,” said Charlie. “But never has the business been stopped in its tracks like now.”
Musicians have joined the campaign to keep the venue in existence. Mike Batt, who had been due to play in May, performed instead via Facebook, with fans urged to contribute to the survival campaign.
Regulars Ben Moss and Grace Petrie livestreamed a virtual gig and raised £4,000, while a former barman ran a marathon in his back garden to add £1,600 to the total.
“We’ve had countless artists grace our stage, such as REM, The Killers and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds,” said Betsy Harley, events manager. “Seeing Amy Winehouse perform for her first headline show in 2003 was one of the most memorable moments.”
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