20th Oct, 2020

Music Matters - Hoping the Empire strikes back for Coventry's live scene

Coventry Editorial 9th Oct, 2020

THE Director and Curator at The Coventry Music Museum Pete Chambers writes for the Observer…..

AS A MUSIC fan, it’s a crying shame to see the live music industry suffer as it right now (that goes for theatre and all types of live arts). So, it was great to get a look at the embryonic stages of something a bit special in our city, the development of the new Coventry Empire venue.

A big thank you to the face of the project Phil Rooney for showing us around the new site at the old JD Sports shop in Hertford Street, bedecked with amazing artwork by artist and Specials bass man Horace Panter.

We ventured into what is still much of a building site, but the vision is there and what a vision it is. The place is huge – as we walked from room to room I listened to a glimpse of what the future holds for live entertainment.

I asked Phil: ‘Why the move from the Far Gosford Street site?’.

He said: “We came to the end of our lease and the landlord who owned the building had an offer from a local developer which wanted to put in for planning permission to have it demolished and turned into some student accommodation.

“We got the heads-up for that about a year before it was happening and with a little bit of searching we found the old JD Sports.”

I’ve been inside it looks amazing. Are we going to see touring bands playing the venue?

He added: “Absolutely, that’s how I see these Empire existing.

“The heart of Empire is always touring bands and we have a bigger capacity now.

“We’re putting in space for another 500 people, compared to the old venue, which means it can accommodate between 1,300 and 1,500, making it one of the biggest in this area and certainly the biggest in the city centre.

“I think, we’ve done enough with Empire to build a reputation with the right people within the industry so we can continue to get the great artists in – bands that we’ve been getting you know the Peter Hook, Half Man

Half Biscuit, Tom Clarke and Tower of Power?

“We’re doing a deal I can’t talk about at the minute with a certain organisation, which if that comes off will really, really take us up a level.”

But the venue will be more than just live bands?

“We’re also doing a lot of work with engaging with the community, we will have an outreach officer whose job will be to go into the community to speak to schools, universities and colleges.

“As well as communities within the suburbs of Coventry. It will have a bit of everything for everyone.”

I asked him about his involvement with the City of Culture.

“Yeah. I have been working on their Music Steering group for the last 18 months to two years with John Davis and various others.

“They’ve been very good to us.

“They made a great donation to help us build audience development.

“We’re already talking about test events. They are very open to it.

“Obviously, Coventry is a music city, so we will be a big part of it.

“There will be exciting times ahead.”

That’s the sort of new we want to hear right now – roll on a Covid free world.

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