The last decade has been a tough time for music as the way we consume it changes and generating revenue becomes increasingly challenging. One consequence of this change has been less funding being made available for promoting new talent, both from record companies and also from grassroots venues, many of which in London and across the UK have been forced to close. However, fighting against the tide and proving the tide can turn, trendy Tooting’s newest venue offering,
The Sound Lounge, provides a generous and welcoming space for independent artists to blossom and thrive. It opened in January, largely thanks to and following people’s generosity through a crowdfunding campaign, with word spreading quickly that it was a great place to be. So far the venue has been host to a plethora of rising artists including up-and-coming British country singer Katy Hurt, as well as receiving support from a few well-known locals including Geraint Watkins and the Mosquito’s.
It is not difficult to see why the venue’s popularity has escalated since its opening. Not only is it a music venue, but a local community and arts space, cafe, bar and restaurant serving delicious ethically sourced vegan and vegetarian food. It’s a space where people can meet, talk, and hang out all day and feel welcome. I met up with The Sound Lounge’s passionate owners, Hannah White and Keiron Marshall to discuss what motivates them, and how they feel six months into the venture….
What is the story behind The Sound Lounge and your motivations?
Keiron and I both come from quite difficult backgrounds. We were both brought up in environments where crime, drugs and violence were part of day to day living. It is through music that both of us found our voices, good people to surround ourselves with and our place in the world. We have also seen how music affects others in really challenging situations: in homeless shelters, in centres for vulnerable women, and in refugee camps. The power of music traverses cultural and language barriers in the most amazing way.
As a result we are both passionate about bringing music to as many people as possible. William Morris said “I do not believe in art for a few, anymore than I believe in education for a few; or freedom for a few”. And we feel the same way. Art and music are human rights that we should all be able to enjoy because (as cliché as it sounds) music can change people’s lives, sometimes for just for that moment, which is wonderful, but sometimes it’s for a lifetime.
How are you feeling now a few months following the opening?
Exhausted and very proud. It has been an incredibly steep learning curve and we are still learning a lot. It was a really ambitious undertaking, particularly as we had no funding (which is why we ran a crowdfunding campaign to set up) so we have no financial cushion to allow for any bad periods. Because of that we’re working insanely long hours and taking on an enormous amount. We still have a long way to go before we are running in the way we want to, but my gosh we have achieved so much!
We’ve had coverage from The Evening Standard, Time Out Magazine and we were guests on BBC Radio London. We have attracted some wonderfully creative, involved and incredibly prestigious patrons in Tom Robinson, Paul Sexton and Baylen Leonard. We have hosted some mind-blowing touring artists from both the UK, from USA and from all over Europe. We’ve heard the most amazing musicians from concert pianists and classical cellists, to pumping bands with unusual instruments.
We have had our venue jam-packed full of people young and old, of different colours and classes, all captivated by the performance they’re seeing. In addition we have our local community police come in every month to meet and answer questions from the local community, we have had film screenings and we have also hosted events for a local refugee charity, for a cancer charity and for a mental health charity, as well as being proud hosts to a lot of Labour Party events including a gathering in which author and journalist Owen Jones came in to meet the local community.
Has the initial success been what you expected?
To be honest we both launched into this with a blind faith that it would be amazing from start to finish! We are both very similar people and neither of us are risk-averse and we don’t tend to worry too much about ‘what ifs’. This has its benefits and its challenges. It means we aren’t afraid to try new things and to get stuck in, but it also means that when we hit an obstacle, it tends to come as a bit of a shock. We’ve had quite a few of those!
Not only is The Sound Lounge a music venue, but also a cafe serving delicious vegetarian food. How do you handle so much?
Well I am a vegan and Keiron is a passionate chef and obsessive foodie vegetarian. It has always been Keiron’s dream to run a kitchen and he blew me away by designing a commercial kitchen layout, researching the Health & Hygiene standards, doing the training, getting the licensing applications done and designing an amazing menu with gorgeous recipes. To run lots of music events AND to be a café which takes its coffee and cakes really seriously, AND to be a vegan kitchen which takes its home-cooked food really seriously, is a massive undertaking. It has been really hard.
We rely on a small team of employees and an even smaller team of volunteers. They all see us as being in it together which is just amazing and they have all come to mean so much to us. But to be honest, London venues have been closing across the capital because being a venue is really hard. People don’t come to your space to spend loads of money on alcohol and have a party, they are there to appreciate the music. This is exactly what we wanted, but we are aware that fulfilling that role alone is no where near enough to survive. It is very expensive to have a commercial site on a high street and we’re under a lot of pressure. We are constantly innovating and working at bringing people in because we simply can’t afford to be complacent.
Tell me a little more about the crowd funding that assisted the opening of the venue?
To be honest that was a bit of an experiment. We dreamed of a perfect venue which was wholly focussed on music & art, the community and ethical food. But we had no money. We decided to run a campaign even though it was coming up to Christmas, a time when people don’t really have any spare cash. We were in no way expecting people to react the way they did. We received the most incredible financial donations, as well as people donating their time and their skills! We had builders, painters, plumbers offer support, we had PR consultants, graphic designers, artists, photographers, videographers, all offering to help us for nothing in return. It was then really that we realised that it wasn’t just our dream.
Our vision was shared by Londoners everywhere. We are living through really challenging times politically and economically and life in London for most people, is quite tough. Our crowdfunding campaign is proof that people want community and are prepared to make it happen. People need a forum to express themselves and to connect to others who are expressing and representing ideas and standing up for what they believe in. The campaign raised over £14,000 in just over 40 days. It was amazing and exciting and just brilliant that without corporates, grants or brands, normal people were able to come together to realise something that was seemingly impossible.
What has been your most exciting event so far?
We have had so many. We had a Canadian YouTube and TV sensation come over as part of the Wandsworth Fringe Festival, which was amazing. We had an album launch from a BBC Folk award winner who dressed the entire venue in foliage and greenery. We had a women’s event in which speakers of all ages and from all over the world spoke of their journeys overcoming the most unthinkable circumstances to fight for justice. We have had dancers, poets, young bands from a local secondary school, a MOBO award nominee and a young girl all the way from LA, who had shared a stage with Adele. In just a few months we have had the privilege of meeting the most amazing artists, activists and community people and we are loving every second of it.
Why did you choose Tooting as a location for the venue?
Firstly because Tooting is our home and home means a lot to us. Also Tooting made sense to us because it is one of the most independent high streets in the whole of London. It has a wonderful, vibrant and active community. It has a beautifully diverse population of different ethnic, religious and national backgrounds as well as a mix of classes. We have already seen people literally come together within our walls: We saw a Greek man and a Turkish man who met in the Sound Lounge, one offering the other ongoing support whilst the other settled into a country that was so new to him.
We have seen BBC producers share drinks and conversation with some young, homeless friends who have recently left the care system. We run a weekly music class for pre-school children and every week we have carers and guardians come together to share a moment and offer each other some mutual support and friendship in a session that has not cost them a penny. We want to keep doing more for this very treasured part of South West London! Tooting is different to other parts of London, it is a real community hub and we absolutely love everything about it.
What can we expect from the rest of the year, and beyond?
We have some really shows coming up including Michelle Stodart from The Magic Numbers, chart topper Thea Gilmore, BBC folk award winners Philip Henry & Hannah Martin. We have some fantastic art exhibitions coming too: an amazing photographer, Nahwand Jaff who travels the world capturing unbelievable scenes, The Friday Collective which is a group of print designers, and a local mosaic artist and therapist Concetta Perot, who is using her art to help people through trauma and is putting on an Art & Wellbeing Exhibition and music / spoken word event. We’re also hosting some great comedy from the amazing Josie Long in just a few weeks time. It’s all very exciting.
What would be your ultimate gig at the venue?
Keiron and I both have our favourite artists who we would love to bring to The Sound Lounge. We are in conversation with some of them already so hopefully we’ll be making even more exciting announcements soon. It is an incredible honour to be able to seek out artists and have that conversation to bring them to this part of Tooting. So if any reader feels the same way about a particular artist, make sure you let us know! We want to represent the people who live around us, particularly when they have supported us so much. We are happy to reach out and start a conversation. Tweet us all your ideas and we’ll keep you posted (@soundloungesw17).
I believe it will also be an exciting year for you [Hannah] personally, with an album set for release in August and a number of tour dates this summer. Tell me a little more about your music…..
I’ve just finished recording an album with a wonderful team and I’m excited to be releasing it. The Sound Lounge is inextricably linked to what I do as an artist, because I’ve been in the independent music scene releasing my own music from our own label for a number of years. It’s an incredibly difficult scene to be part of and it takes an awful lot of commitment and resilience. But I am someone with a burning need to make a difference and a compulsion to write songs so the two keep me in the game.
My music is a cross between americana, pop, folk and country. A lot of my songs are politically motivated and they are all deeply personal (because the political is always personal), but I try to make my messages more palatable by writing catchy songs which are easy to sing with plenty of up tempo to balance out the tragedy haha. I enjoy the connection I make with people through songwriting. When people I have never met, write or approach me after a show to share with me their most personal stories because they feel compelled to because of my music, it makes me so emotional, I can’t even explain it.
I have had countless messages from school children, one even wrote a speech about me being an inspiring woman to read in her assembly, to retirees, both in the UK and overseas. I’ve even had an entire school in Peru sing one of my songs in a school concert. It is an incredibly humbling thing. My music is my ultimate passion. Songwriting is something I’ve done since before I was 8 years old, and I know I will do until the very end 🙂 I’ll be launching the album in The Sound Lounge so that will no doubt will leave me an emotional wreck.
Hannah White’s music page can be found here:
The Sound Lounge is located at 210-212 Upper Tooting Road, SW17 7EW.
Feature on the Sound Lounge by Lauren Patel