Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Ozzy as Brum Rock Tsar! Nooooooo.....

Where are the dead megastars with mansions in Moseley when we need them?

Every so often, our elected and appointed leaders stir their stumps, look around blinking, and cry: “Music! Aha! Yes! That makes money! Let’s DO something to exploit our rich heritage!” 

They form committees. They write reports. Sometimes they do a bit of research; not much, though, that costs money. They witter on about music tourism. They print glossy brochures and pat themselves on the back; job done.   

Then it goes quiet. Something else grabs their attention. Politicians must have the worst cases of ADD. At the coalface, where today's musos toil away, nothing changes. And once in a while the press gets hold of this stuff and pulls out the most headline-grabbing story it can. It happened this week. 

Some bone-headed functionary at Oxford Economics, in a Government-backed report, has put forward the notion of music ambassadors for our major cities. And the ambassador for Birmingham would be… Ozzy Osbourne.  The Independent has jumped on this. 

Now, Ozzy's a nice chap, but come on. It’s not a great idea; really not. My reasons after the jump.

I’ve interviewed Ozzy several times. He's a nice guy: not an evil bone in his body. Before Sabs fans start frothing at the mouth, let me state that I acknowledge, and have nothing but respect for, the pleasure the band has given to millions, and what they mean to blokes my age (and younger). But that is where it stops. 

1: Localness 

Ozzy and his mates in Black Sabbath have not lived in Birmingham for decades. They have not kept their business in the city; they have not paid tax or business rates in the city; they have not hired people in the city; they have not gone out to support other bands in the city in all this time. They have not contributed financially or otherwise to the city’s well-being, unlike, say, UB40  or many members of ELO or The Move. Ozzy doesn’t live here; he has properties on the US West Coast and Buckinghamshire.

2: Cultural relevance 

The Metal Monsters of the late 60s and early 70s did have a strong connection with the city’s industrial heritage. It ‘fits’ to have metal music originate from a metal-bashing city. But the city is not just made up of metal-bashers any more, and contemporary metal music is a far sleeker and more muscular beastie. More importantly, the Birmingham music scene is not made up, any more, just of exclusively white young men with their shirts off setting out to nuke your eardrums while throwing shapes and ingesting industrial quantities of Remy Martin and cocaine.

3: Notoriety  

Ask yourself: why exactly is Ozzy famous? Was it that glorious dumb guitar riff on Paranoid? Nope. Ozzy wasn’t responsible for that; Tommy Iommi was. That riff is perhaps the single most important building block in Sabbath’s music history – so much flowed from that one figure, and all Ozzy had to do was to yelp cheerfully over the top. 

No, Ozzy’s fame of late stems from a car-crash reality TV series which ran ten years ago on MTV, with unlimited footage of Ozzy bumbling around, Ozzy’s incontinent dog relieving itself, his children, and above all, his extremely shrewd wife Sharon. Sharon used that series to revive Ozzy’s career, first in the US, and then worldwide, while also using it as a platform to launch hers. Ozzy is now famous… for being famous. There is little to choose between the antics of Katie Price and Peter Andre and Ozzy and Sharon. Sharon made Ozzy tabloid fodder, and, coupled with regular gleeful press tales of rock star excess, her plan has worked a treat. But is that what we want for the city? 

So do we actually need a figurehead? 

I’d have liked to think that someone from UB40 could have been terrific in the ambassadorial role – but their financial shenanigans appear to rule that out. At least they haven’t driven into trees on their quad bikes. 

But going back to the Independent’s article – fanciful at best – it is interesting to see that in their all-white ambassadorial list they nominate Adele for London. Good call. And here’s Nicola Benedetti picked for Scotland. She’s a fabulous classical fiddle player, in case you haven’t heard of her. But if we are to recognise classical impact, there’s a screamingly obvious candidate in Solihull's Nigel Kennedy, who has rattled through a string of hugely successful milestones in his career. Pity about the cod-cockney accent, though; he never used to talk like that. 

My money, for what it’s worth, would be on Laura Mvula – young, inventive, intelligent, brilliantly rooted in multiple genres of music, and someone who I expect to have a fabulous multi-faceted career for possibly decades. Or Ruby Turner, who has already been faultlessly fabulous for decades and is by far the best deep soul diva this country has ever produced. If she's good enough to play, repeatedly, for the Queen, she's good enough to big up her home town.  

Music Tourism? What's that? What do we get to sell?

As for music tourism – great. There’s a teeny little snag, though. Let’s think about our music heritage. 

The Incognito, where Steve Gibbons used to strut his stuff? Gone. 

The Golden Eagle, where Robert Plant and Noddy Holder came to watch an underage Steve Winwood? That’s a parking lot now. 

The Rum Runner, where Duran Duran and their pals played and preened? Gone. 

Barbarellas? Buried somewhere under Brindley Place. 

The Railway? Buried under the new BCU building on Eastside Park. 

Hmm. Not a lot left to remember, is there? And who was responsible for the planning applications that let this carnage take place? 

Hell, at least Memphis still has Graceland – but then Elvis is dead and that’s usually good for business. We just don’t have any dead megastars with mansions in Moseley.

Music tourism is of course a very vague term. It covers people flying in to catch big international acts playing in enormodomes, and we have a couple of those. It covers people coming in for big festivals, and we have a couple of those too. Good for business, but let’s not pretend they come for the hot new local talent.

And that is, in my view, what we need to shout about. Hot new local talent. People go to Austin Texas to hear fabulous players; they go to New Orleans to drink in music (and alcohol). They go for the vibe. That is where we need to work: to bring people in to the city to check our brilliant local scene. Our future is rooted in the new talents of our city, from wherever they come. It is not rooted in bands who mattered forty years ago, and who, if they still come out on the road, do so for one last pay-day. 

We need to respect and support our cities’ potential. Not flog half-dead musical horses. 

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Anthony Hughes said...

In my opinion, we don’t need ambassadors for music, art or any form of creativity …. If they are civic elected or funding driven.
I agree - what are we celebrating and shouting about? Old legends. Do they really need a Tsar to shout about them as they are already household names across the globe – and for the most part, rightly so.
I disagree that we are the home of metal, but that’s just the musicologist semantics of the music anorak in me and I think it is lazy labelling that has led to such a claim. The argument that we are the home of Heavy Rock is more apt but even that is flawed…but anyway…
So what is it that this mysterious role would shout about? Music trail, heritage?
The problem with heritage and tradition is that they are culture in stasis. Birmingham has always been good at supporting creativity retrospectively and bemoaning it’s worth after it has made way for ‘civic’ development opportunities and land grabs, or promoted ‘city living’ with ‘rural living’ noise abatement orders.
Birmingham has always been good at innovation in music and the melting pot (to use a cliché) of cultural creative impetus has led to truly original sounds, genres and performances … exported, supported and celebrated around the world in the absence of meaningful support here.
Music (GB USP) - sort of had a music tsar role under the last administration in the form of Fergal. What was it he achieved again…?
We are not and never have been our own great ‘ambassadors’ so why do we need a figurehead to build it up, only for us to knock it back down? In fact why do we need one at all? In any city?
If you want to raise the profile of music in the region (If that is the aim) then stop closing venues, let people busk, relax music performance limiting noise abatement draconian laws…etc and stop trying to justify creativity by a measure of economic impact policy or cultural tourism… in fact just stop! and let it get on with it – especially if it is led by civic local authority or councillors (‘good intentions’ or self promotion is irrelevant)
It will lead to the same outcome discussion papers, meetings, mapping, discussion, arguing it’s financial impact, pitting it against manufacturing, agreeing to review it, hiring a consultant who has an industry background by virtue of owning a CD or having received funding to put out a CD, to evaluate the work (Not music) and map the region again and this will, surprise surprise, lead to something that demonstrates the need for more funding for that persons ‘unique’ skills to have a job over a 2 year funded ‘pilot’ and the cycle will begin again.
However, I am hopeful of a different approach that will truly support music and will follow none of these predictable repeats – that would be great, the musicians deserves that. In my opinion.

Sue Nicholls said...

I saw Nicola Benedetti on the South Bank Show recently (which of course is no longer on terrestrial telly, source of another gripe) and she was all into getting music into schools and practical music making, not the poor excuse I see for music lessons (i.e. a CD player operated by someone who is tone deaf, just don't get me onto my soap box about that one).
You're right, it's the whole vibe thing not dusting off past glories, it needs to reflect what's happening now and the potential contained within any postcode beginning with the letter B. But, and I'm fairly sure we've had this conversation as well at BMN before now, it's the shortage of right sized venues that needs to be addressed as well and not building bloody apartments next to and closing down existing ones (which the same council has also done - bow your heads in shame councillors, if you were responsible for the demise of the Fiddle & Bone and threatened closure of the Hare & Hounds). I went out for a meal a few weeks ago with the kickboxing girls at what was The Jug of Ale, where Little Red Schoolhouse played many a time. And wasn't it Oasis who played there in the early days with a queue of fans round the block? Now an Indian restaurant. Okay, going off at a tangent now so I'm going to stop.
It's the venues, the vibe, the funding, the opportunities, the radio coverage, I fear there's a whole lot more that has to be done before appointing some guy as a music tzar to this city who has long since left the streets of Aston for the tree-lined boulevards of LA.

Anonymous said...

Brilliantly written and expressed. Cheers Robin.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your points around the worth of a Tsar and the value of new talent.

When I comes to music heritage though I would happily flog the ground under which a musical horse has fully decomposed if the business model made it worthwhile!

Anonymous said...

Surely new talent and heritage activity are totally separate enterprises. Perhaps they only become linked if those seeking to advance them are intending to do so from the same funding streams and are in competition.
I see the value of both.
If presenting and developing new talent is profitable then it is as likely to flourish as a well done heritage project.
I also view the Ozzy for Tsar headline's as unhelpful for all the reasons you advance.

Anonymous said...

Well put, Robin. Looking back on the history of Brum Rock is an entirely different game from creating regional music "tsars" for today. For instance, Raymond Froggatt keeps the city and region alive in his songs - unlike Mr O - but it might not be appropriate to ask him either. It's just another example of academics and politicians wanting to rub shoulders with celebrity regardless of the consequences or the level of common sense involved.