I'm assuming that almost everyone reading this absolutely loves going to gigs. There aren't many better feelings than going to a venue to see one of your favourite bands and singing and dancing the night away. The three most important ingredients to help make a successful gig are quality bands (of which there a many in the punk world), a great crowd and an excellent venue. This column is about what I think makes the latter.
First and foremost for me is the ability to get a good view of the stage. I'm not the tallest so it's very frustrating if I'm at a gig and I have to try and watch over somebody's shoulder or just stare at the back of their head for the entire set. This means I always find venues with a higher stage better. Sure it makes it harder for people to get on the stage to stage-dive but I can see and that's more important to me. The Montague Arm in South London has a perfect stage for seeing gigs. I've been to a number of gigs there (including a sold out RVIVR gig) and have never had a difficult time seeing the stage. Something else I always find to be quite frustrating at gigs is when stages have a gigantic pillar in the middle of the stage. I assume most of the time they are there for the structural integrity of the building but it can be annoying if you are towards the back of a room and have to keep peering round a pillar to see the stage.
Another important part of a good venue is the sound. Music is obviously something you listen to so sound at a gig is everything! There is nothing worse than a gig with terrible sound. Admittedly I don't want to hear a band live and it be a exact replica of the CD but I also want to be able hear the band properly. Too often I've been to gigs when drums have drowned everything out or the singer’s voice is at a strange pitch or the sound person can't set up horns properly. It's not good for the bands and it's not good for the fans if the sound at a gig is bad. If you're hearing a band for the first time and the sound is terrible it's quite probable you will come away from the gig thinking that band wasn't very good. Having a good sound person at a gig is so, so important. Not only do they make a band sound great but they play a big part in making sure the whole gig runs smoothly. It's important for a gig to run on time, especially the support bands. A lot of places have very strict curfews so if the support bands are delayed or even overrun that means the headline act will have to cut their set short or even skip their encore, and that's definitely not good. One venue in particular that I think does a great job with sound and also running a show is the Camden Underworld. I've been to that venue more than any other and I can't remember ever thinking that the sound is bad.
For me personally, location is another important factor in a good venue. The majority of gigs I go to are in London so obviously I use the tube to get around. Also my sense of direction is terrible, if I didn't have Google maps on my phone I would never find any venues. When I'm looking at gigs I've often had doubts about going to a gig that's hidden away or is a good walk from the nearest tube station. One venue that comes to mind is The Windmill in Brixton. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love The Windmill as a venue, some of my all time favourite gigs have been there but it's such a long walk from the station. To be honest I'm not such a big fan of walking around Brixton in the middle of the night, often by myself. I like to feel safe and sometimes if a venue is a long walk from the tube I don’t.
Lastly something that is quite important to me in a venue is how they treat their customers. Something I've found from going to gigs in London and then going to gigs in other parts of the country is how expensive the drinks are in London compared to elsewhere. I'm completely tee-total so will probably only buy one or two drinks a night but I know that for gig goers who enjoy an alcoholic beverage and will often buy a lot more it must cost an absolute fortune! I was at Retro Bar in Manchester last October and bought two soft drinks and was shocked when the barman said it was £2. I was and am still amazed by that today. Having friendly door and security staff also makes a big difference at venues. Admittedly I'm sure they can meet some real idiots who make their job difficult and unpleasant but that's not everyone. If someone is rude to me it really sours me towards the venue. Everyone is there to have some good-natured fun so there's just no need to be rude or unhelpful.
So there we go, a good venue should have a visible stage, good sound, be located well, well priced drinks and staff who look after you. Seems quite obvious really.