Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Much ADO about the city and its musicians. And a significant first birthday.

Two events on two successive Thursdays, both significant and promising in their own ways. Last Thursday, the admirable Birmingham Music Network, which runs on a budget of nanopennies, providing a very useful platform to meet and talk about all things musical in the city, hosted a discussion/debate at Creative Networks in Millennium Point. The discussion was about Birmingham City Council’s sudden discovery that, hey, there is music being made in the city, and that, with a bit of luck this music thingy might, er, generate a bit of money. You didn't hear about that either? Wow. Funny, that.

I was on the platform in my capacity as local media and music industry dinosaur, along with the sagacious Dr Paul Long from BCU, local video maker Anthony Hughes, and the brilliant Abi Seabrook from Lady Georgiana. Abi and moderator Andy Derrick were the only full-time music professionals. 

My take? The only constructive thing the council can possibly do is to foster a legislative climate that allows local independent grassroots music events to flourish, instead of messing around with dodgy property developers who get venues closed down. In other words, let the musicians and promoters and music professionals in this town go about their business, so that new local talent can flourish. That done, the council should stand back and wait for the results to emerge, as they surely will. Any other kind of early intervention is fraught with danger.  But when those successes appear, that's the precise moment the council's business development boys should be on hand to help, to make sure that these fledgling busninesses can build securely from their initial successes. UB40 have been part of the business landscape as well as the music landscape of Birmingham for well over 30 years. That translates into millions of pounds in earnings and taxes, and hundreds of jobs over the decades. We should aim to repeat that pattern, on a yearly basis if possible - success being the qualifying condition. 

In short: wait for the successes to prove themselves on their own terms. Don't intervene before then. Then, once a proven proposition, offer solid business help

Our industry – I’m being a bit presumptuous here, calling it ‘our’ industry, but I do feel part of it, most of the time – works in a chaotic manner, and long may that state of affairs continue. That industry is driven, first and foremost, by ideas. That creativity and those ideas may well be empowered or made more solid by spending a bit of money, but money does not produce the ideas.  The core of it all is the relationship between performer and audience. Yes, I know there are people who work in splendid isolation… but ultimately their music will see the light of day, to be listened to and reacted to. Any effort the council makes should protect that artist-audience relationship. That lets the council sit back and bask in the glory of long-term successes, once they realise their potential. So my advice was: help the grassroots, then back off, and wait for the success to arrive. Keep those successes local, and you'll collect taxes too. And please don’t go glad-handing or back-slapping .
The idea of councillors cosying up to the next talent in our town doesn't appeal. It’s like seeing Blair cosy up to Liam Gallagher or Billy Bragg.

It was ironic to note that virtually all the historic venues in this town have been closed, torn down, buried under concrete, remodelled or turned into car parks. No point putting up a blue plaque if you happen to adore Duran Duran or Judas Priest. Their core venues have long since gone. There’s one exception, of course, and that is the Town Hall, which simply reeks of history and tradition. If you started putting plaques up on the Town Hall, you'd never stop. But I don't see the Council making a big deal about this venue's historic associations. I wish they would - I've just started fantasising a Destroyers blue plaque going up in between Paganini and Dickens...

The debate goes on. Go to the BMN site, and read about it. Fill in the ‘ten questions’. And pass the word on.

That was last Thursday. This Thursday, December 1st, sees the first Birthday party of the fabulous Alternative Dubstep Orchestra, at the Hare and Hounds in King's Heath. ADO is a collective that grew from an idea, and has blossomed and grown in most unexpected ways. I can’t think of anything the council could have done to help this band grow and develop – apart from making it easier for the venues they might be able to play in.

I’ve written, enthusiastically, about ADO before on this blog; several times.  I am extremely pleased to see them hit this milestone. ADO could only have happened in Birmingham, and they have got this far with huge courage, wild imagination, expressive freedom and buckets of energy, goodwill, and effort on all sides. I don’t see what kind of council initiative could have helped them. They’ve done all the heavy lifting themselves, as good musicians always do.

In terms of recognition and spreading the good word about Birmingham music, ADO and countless others are already doing the council’s work. I’d like to see that sort of thing recognised. But, please, no big splashy pompous stuff. In fact, a bit of humility and gratitude for the very existence of the city’s creative sector might be a good thing to see at the Council House.

No comments: