COVID-19 has devastated music venues in towns like Keighley and the musicians who rely on them to build a career.

Venues like Keighley’s Exchange Arts Centre and Studio 5 Live @ Jam On Top have been described as the “lifeblood” of the music industry.

Promoters and musicians in the town spoke this week following the launch of the national #saveourvenues campaign.

The Music Venue Trust, supported by Yorkshire music PR company Republic Media, claims more than 500 venues were at risk of closing down permanently due to the coronavirus shutdown.

The trust says the venues play a crucial role in the development of British music, nurturing local talent, providing a platform for artists to build their careers and develop their music and their performance skills.

One of Keighley’s busiest venues – before the lockdown – was The Exchange in Russell Street, run by the next-door Keighley Musicians Centre. Owner Michael Watmough said the coronavirus had been “absolutely devastating” to small music venues and the bands and artists that use them.

Michael said: “Without a clear exit strategy it’s also very hard for places such as The Exchange to plan how or if we will come out the other side. 

“We have an amazing community around The Exchange and have been selling ‘Exchange Dollars’ as a way to help us try weather the storm – vouchers than people can use to buy tickets or drinks when we hopefully reopen.”

Michael’s business has long been a supporter of up-and-coming musicians, organising Battle of the Bands competitions and recruiting local bands to play Bingley Music Live.

He added: “We do see ourselves and other venues at our level of being an important springboard to musicians, artists and technicians who choose music as their career. 

“These venues often work on a hand-to-mouth cashflow and the effect of not being able to open for months will be devastating to the industry for may years to come.”

Roger “Trotwood” Nowell, Paul Weller’s guitar technician, has played hundreds of small venues during his 40-year time as a member of Keighley goth rock band Skeletal Family.

He this week described independent venues as the lifeblood of the music industry, adding: “It’s where it all starts for a lot of artists. They are a community hub at a grassroots level.

“I feel for Brian and Tracy at Jam on Top, Michael at the Exchange and anyone who put music on. A lot of work and dedication goes into setting up and running these venues.

“When something like this hits, it’s like a chair being pulled from under you. I’m hoping that when we do get back to normal, people will support these places and help get them back on their feet.

“Not just for now, but for the future. It’s taken a while to get places like these for musicians in the area, somewhere to rehearse and play. They need to be kept going.”

Bingley promoter Steve Waite has organised gigs at both the Exchange and Studio 5 Live under the @BAC2LIVE banner.

He said: “Both venues brilliantly nurture local talent and give them a chance to perform, as well as bringing in touring bands, tribute acts, covers bands, something for everyone across all genres, often operating on a tight budget looking to break even.

“As a promoter, I find these venues have the best atmosphere to work in. It’s a real pleasure to see gig-goers coming in, having a chat, asking who’s coming next, telling you who they would like to see next, then off for a beer to enjoy the show – interesting people with real spirit! 

“We cannot lose this lifeline. People depend on these venues for a night out, because arenas are not for everyone. If the venue has a good set up then bands will enjoy playing there and fans will come back.

“Life is on pause right now, and live music will probably be one of the last social activities to return. But when it does return, I will look forward to seeing some familiar faces again.”