The last ever gig at the Square, Harlow this weekend will be a bittersweet occasion for broadcaster Steve Lamacq. The 6Music DJ has long associations with the venue and will be back in his home county for its final hurrah which features Eddie And The Hot Rods, Newtown Neurotics and The Orphans on Saturday, January 28,
“It’s a place which is terrifically important to me. When I went to Harlow as a student – I studied journalism for a year – I didn’t really know anyone so the Square became my second home,” he says. “I met loads of really amazing people there. Harlow was very tribal at the time and I found my tribe at the Square.”
As well as studying journalism, Steve was running a fanzine at the time and through that he got to meet bands and even helped out with a record label. It was that passion and enthusiasm for new music, sparked by the Square, that helped him get a job writing for NME and eventually lead to him being one of Radio 1’s top DJs. He now fronts the early evening show at BBC 6Music where he continues to champion new music.
Steve recalls there were loads of bands that were part of the scene at the Square and he fears for the future of new music in the town and across Essex with the closure of the venue. Steve is heading out of the studio for a quickfire tour of the UK for Independent Venue Week, taking in the Square along with the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds, the Jericho Tavern in Oxford, Sticky Mikes in Brighton and The Sunflower Lounge, Birmingham.
These small, grassroots venues are the lifeblood of new music and Steve is looking forward to getting out and about.
“I love getting out of town, it’s the only way you can find out what’s going on. Last year I came back with a 100 demos. I really want to shine a light on this, because a lot of venues have shut or under threat. Small venues are such an important part of the infrastructure of the music business.”
With the Square closing (Circle Housing recently won a court battle to develop the site into 69 properties), Steve fears for the future of the Essex music scene particularly.
“I think Essex is incredibly poorly served for venues and bands. There aren’t as many as there should be. I think there is a direct link between bands coming through and venues. If you think about a group of 18 year olds getting a band together, the first thing they’ll want to do is play a local venue and play in front of their mates. Then their mates will start bands do and pretty soon you’ve got a scene going. But if the venues aren’t there, that can’t happen.”
“Don’t get me wrong, there are some great venues in Essex and have been over the years. The Colchester Arts Centre is great, the Army and Navy and Y Club in Chelmsford were good, and Southend has had some really good venues over the years.
“I want to see bands playing Essex, I want to champion Essex venues. My message to them is ‘don’t ignore Essex!’”
In the meantime, Steve will be visiting the Square for its last night on Saturday and witnessing the end of an era for him and many other Essex music venues.
“You do wonder what happens next,” says Steve, lamenting not only the fate of the Square but thinking more broadly about small venues across the country. “It’s costly running a venue and promoters find it hard to balance the books. I think it needs things to happen at the council level, it’s hard for a community of musicians to keep things going. It seems like the establishment hasn’t got an interest in giving people creative spaces but that’s where we build the future.”
Steve Lamacq’s show is on BBC Radio 6 Music from 4pm-7pm on week days. Find out more about Independent Venue Week here
Seymour, an early incarnation of Blur, play the Square in 1989