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This grassroots venue brings ‘astonishing’ music and mental wellbeing to rural Wales

Every week, The Big Issue’s Venue Watch campaign supports and champions grassroots music venues across the UK. This week, we’re in north Wales, where the Tivoli brings in huge bands – including Oasis, Black Sabbath and Led Zepplin. It’s hugely important to its rural community

Sat among the picturesque hills of north Wales under the Clwydian Range (a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), the small rural town of Buckley is an unlikely home for one of the country’s most significant grassroots music venues. Yet the Tivoli (or The Tiv, as locals know it) has a long history entertaining the community, having been first built as a cinema back in the 1920s before becoming a music venue. Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin both played there in the ’70s, while a whole clutch of Britpop – and Britpop adjacent – bands (Radiohead, Catatonia, Manic Street Preachers, The Charlatans, The Lightning Seeds) came through in the 90s.

Oasis’s 1994 gig, one of the venue’s most famous concerts, gained notoriety when it was included in their 2016 documentary Supersonic. Buckley resident Andrew Knox was there when the Gallagher brothers took to the stage. “It was just before they broke,” he remembers, “a month later, they were the biggest band in the country.”

Knox (better known to his fellow Tivoli regulars as Knoxy Boosh) has been going to gigs at north Wales’s home of live music since he was a teenager. “It’s such an iconic venue, particularly for where it is – it’s in the middle of nowhere,” he says. “It’s been such a big part of my life since my teenage years… and I’m now 50. I’ve seen a lot of bands and had a lot of good times in there. Everyone in Buckley is proud to have the Tiv here.”

Among Knox’s favourite recent shows have been Brazilian thrash act Sepultura in 2022 (“To see a band of that size in that venue is just absolutely unreal”) and W.A.S.P. playing back in 2017 (“That will always stick out for me – a massive ’80s metal band, and my childhood favourites”). Already in 2024, the Tivoli has had Public Image Ltd, Martin Kemp and Grammy-winning New York rock band Living Color through their doors. Through its eclectic programme, the venue brings people into the area who otherwise may never have heard of Buckley.

Knox helps current venue boss Rokib Miah with promotion for the venue, putting on some gigs there too. He credits his friend with revitalising the Tivoli, taking it back to its roots as a live music hub following a less-than-successful detour when it was owned by an entertainments company who “basically destroyed the place: they tried to make it into a trendy nightclub, which just didn’t work”.

The Tivoli is once again at the heart of its community, offering live music to locals on their doorstep – saving them the pricey trip to Liverpool or Wrexham. The venue even offers a season ticket for committed gig goers, giving them access to all their shows for a 12-month period for the bargain price of £330. “I know a few that got season tickets and they tend to go every Friday and Saturday,” says Knox. “They may never have heard of the band, but they may come out and they may like the band.”

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When you come through the door of The Tivoli, you’re never lonely, he adds. “The crowd is like a big family in there. You could go down on a Friday night on your own, but you wouldn’t be on your own once you got in there. There is a big community in there.”

That big community came to the fore when Knox was dealing with mental health issues a few years back. He started his #KnoxBooshPlaylist to share the tunes that helped him through Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and launched a campaign: Battling Mental Health Through The Power Of Music. He found a supportive community within the Tivoli’s walls, and Miah offered the space for free so Knox could host charity gigs and open a pop-up record shop in the venue, all raising money for mental health charities.

Brazilian thrash metal band Sepultura
Sepultura play the Tivoli, June 2022. Credit: Swilly’s Photography Service

“When people see a local name putting on the gig, they’ll go down and support,” says Knox. “You get that community spirit there.”

The campaign – now about to mark its 10th anniversary – has raised a lot for good causes. Equally importantly, it created a welcoming space where people felt they could talk about their wellbeing. “What we found with the pop-up shop was, people would come and flick through the records the CDs and then they’d start opening up about their own issues. It wasn’t such a taboo subject, if you could talk about music and then say, ‘To be honest, I’m struggling a little bit myself.’

“We could just have a chat. I think with mental health, talking is the first thing to do.”

Despite its importance to Buckley, the Tivoli is facing “same challenges everybody’s facing” in the grassroots music sector, Knox says. Spiralling energy bills (“there a lot of lights in that venue!”) and the ongoing cost of keeping up to speed on regulatory requirements all eat into venues’ ability to make money. The industry as a whole in the UK made a profit of just 0.5% in 2023, according to Music Venue Trust’s 2023 annual report – which is effectively no profit at all.

On the other side, customers are also continuing to be hit by the cost of living crisis, making it harder to go out and spend on gigs and drinks. It’s a hard atmosphere in which to make a grassroots music venue work, and even more challenging for those outside major population centres. But Knox says that’s why rural venues like the Tivoli are so important. They bring live music to underserved communities. “Most pubs have closed down, and it’s expensive to travel,” he explains. “The Tiv is a cool place for people to go out in Buckley and see some astonishing bands.”

Buy tickets for The Tivoli, north Wales here. Remember, this is the best way you can show your support for any grassroots music venue!

Find out how to join Venue Watch – and nominate your own favourite grassroots music venue – here.

Inspiral Carpets playing at the Tivoli, north Wales
Inspiral Carpets at the Tivoli, June 2023. Credit: Swilly’s Photography Service

Venue Watch analysis: The Tivoli, Buckley, north Wales

By Phil Ryan – musician, writer and entrepreneur

If you know the Tivoli in Buckley, then you’ll know that in its community it’s a beating heart. But considering the artists who play there, it’s of huge cultural and musical importance too. Go check out the website and see the place! It’s absolutely gorgeous, and effortlessly cool. Plus, it’s so wonderful to know it’s still going strong and somehow overcoming the ludicrous recent high energy and spiralling food and drink costs. (Profiteering scumbag corporate companies anyone?)

But as you read Laura’s words above, you can see between the lines, the real-life stories of the extraordinary individuals; champions of the community; caring, wonderful folks who make this place so extra important. This is what makes our grassroots venues so special. The visionary and dedicated people who give their all to keep them open for you and me. To give us the best nights out of our lives. They are up and down the land. Never forget them. Venue Watch certainly doesn’t.

And now to whiz off at a bit of a tangent, here’s a very different music story for you. A horror story of incompetence and madness. In an act of near-criminal stupidity, Nottingham City Council has effectively destroyed this year’s Splendour Festival. The hugely popular two-day music event has been successfully running for 15 years (through DHP Family – the promotion company) and it’s always been one of Nottingham’s biggest outdoor music festivals. A jewel of a festival in fact!

A crowd watch Rag'n'Bone Man at Splendour festival Wollaton Park, Nottingham.
Rag’n’Bone Man plays Splendour festival 2019. Photo: It’s No Game / Flickr

However – in an act that must surely make them leading contenders for the Shooting Your Region in the Foot Awards – the council put the always-successful 15-year event out to tender! Even though the wonderful DHP Family folks unsurprisingly won the tender to run the festival again, the process simply left them insufficient time to actually organise the July event.

Obviously, this was much to their disappointment, not to mention financial detriment too, as well as thousands of local music fans and local tourism and business chiefs. The council’s short-sightedness looks set to cost the area millions in lost revenues. In a time when small local businesses are fighting to stay open, the cost of living crisis is biting hard, and musicians are struggling to make a living with venue closures and low wages, taking away a large festival like this is an act of cultural and financial vandalism.

In my opinion, it’s time live music industry professionals were brought into every council across the UK. They could offer advice and highlight the massive economic benefits live music – from grassroots venues to local festivals – bring to an area.

Musicians’ lives in the UK are virtually at rock bottom financially, with Spotify and the other streaming platforms under-paying them, Brexit cutting them off from working in Europe, low appearance fees, plus the closure of hundreds of local venues and cancellations of so many festivals. We really have to turn back the tide here in the UK.

Do two final favours for me please. Firstly: if you see a busker go tap their Zettle thing. These folks are hardworking and bring joy to the everyday grind. Remember so many buskers turn into the stars of tomorrow and they need your help now. Secondly – please sign up to Venue Watch and show your support. Let’s stop the decline. Let’s start the push back.

Join Venue Watch here.

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