ALL PHOTOS: Unsplash
The Fume of Sighs: An Alternative (Musical) Christmas Message
THE last couple of pieces today…
will look at some things that have been on my mind for a while now. Riding high into the spotlight is the way the country has been divided this year. This is the equivalent of my (Alternative) Christmas Message – with a musical flavour and component. The pieces I will write before the end of this year will round up the best of the year; the videos and new albums; maybe a piece about the most disappointing records – a few other things sprinkled in. I have been looking back at the year and noting the splits and cracks that are running through the spine of the land. I think music has made an impact and helped change things but, even here, there are separations and gulfs that need to be counteracted and addressed in 2018. If one looks at the political fabric of the U.K., we can see so much disagreement and argument. People cannot get on the same side and the General Election result has shown has divided we are as people. I feel slightly aggrieved as I voted for Labour and wanted us to remain in the E.U. That combination of votes is common in people my age and situation – the younger working-class- and we have had to rally against the Tory-voting public who voted Leave. The ‘majority’ meant Labour were in with a shout of gaining power but, rather than that sensible option materialising; we have seen the Conservatives on shaky ground; the P.M. has lost confidence and her cabinet have gone through changes and shifts – including unceremonious and embarrassing exits.
The elected elite who have been charged with running the country have made questionable decisions and shown they have little idea of what the people want and how to keep Britain dignified and progressive. The smoke is clearing and, whatever arguments are levied, you cannot help notice the people of this country do not want to be part of the world. Call it ‘xenophobia’, ‘racism’ or ‘stubbornness’ – it shows we are not as evolved and loving as we make out. It is a sticky political situation – so I shall not wade into the swamp wearing good trainers – but I feel we have made a real mess of things. I am not saying a clear Labour win would radically solve the issues we have with the NHS, Europe and the U.S. The Americans have hardly had a smooth year so it seems two of the most powerful and influential nations on the planet have set a hugely terrible example. My wish for 2018 is that the musical landscape does not follow the same one as the political. One of my biggest concerns is how centralised and nationalised music is becoming. The divisionism we are seeing between the public and areas of the nation is starting to seep into music. The more influence streaming services exult; the more, I feel, music is losing its tangential qualities.
Music is at its best and most inclusive when sentient and broad-minded. I think too much of our music revolves around London: everything gravitates towards the capital and artists elsewhere tend to get a minor acclaim. I am writing a piece tomorrow that looks at Manchester and how the city, next year, will gain more ground and respect (that is my hope). My dream is we adopt a more structured and disciplined musical cabinet that employs those who put parity and quality above all else. Although we do not have a bespoke musical government; one gets the impression that would be a good way of solving so many issues. One could have someone (a minister) designated to look after venues and their health; others who involve international music and make it easy for artists overseas to play in Britain; others who preserve older music and bring it to new generations – someone who looks at sexism and racism in the industry; is charged with strictly regulating the industry and it operates. If our own government is making a hash of things – who thought privately-educated toffs would be disconnected from the voice of the masses?! – it seems music has a big role to play as we head into 2018. The year needs to start better than this one ended. We have seen the Grenfell tragedy and the immense loss of life; how it could have been prevented and the ineffectual reaction by our government.
There has been terrorism and domestic issues; weakening foreign ties and a creaky, ill-advised move away from Europe – if we ever get around to leaving the European Union. Music has not been exculpated from problems and responsibility. We have seen more and more accusations feed into the entertainment industry: who knows how many musical figures will be accused and named next year? Another problem I have seen is how few national and international artists have been brought into a rather London-centric scene. I know I am guilty of promulgating London artists but they are the majority – those we have pushed into the forefront and want exposure. There is that assumption people will not take you seriously if you are from outside London. I am worried artists are having to fight hard to get recognition and being overlooked. We need to start broadening the scope and looking at the extent of great music in the U.K. Naturally, for a nation that seems intent on isolating itself (always good for an island!); should our music industry incubate and exclude those on the outside? I know we have foreign artists play here but I have been looking at the mainstream media and seeing more and more British artists proffered. It is always good promoting the home-grown but that should not come at the expense of international musicians.
There are great artists in the U.S. and Canada; Australia is always fertile whilst lesser-known countries for music – Sweden, Germany and France among them – do not get a sniff. I have mooted the idea of a musical government – should this extend to foreign sounds? The same way we have various departments looking after domestic and international quarters; should we have a mirrored musical cabinet that has an assigned Foreign Minister? I feel our media needs to be more conscious of the great worldwide scene and assimilate that into the British saucepan. The only way our own music industry is going to grow, inspire and compel on the international stage is if we welcome those in from other countries. Venues and fans, of course, have a welcoming bosom but the media is more reluctant when it comes to foreign musicians. The reason my five-part series of acts to watch in 2018 was British-heavy was the fact the national media have taken a similar approach – their rundown of artists to look out for has fewer international names than you’d hope. If P.M. Theresa May has been banging on about bringing back our blue passports and promoting the ‘Christian’ ethic of the nation – laughable and slightly ironic considering how keen we are to push others away – music could instil Buddhist/Christian tendencies to its practice. I feel the industry is getting too closed-off and concentrated on London. If the rest of the U.K. and world has to shout louder to get some seating-space; should that be something we need to tackle next year?
I feel there are key topics that need expunging next year. There is rife sexism and racism; there is the North-South divide (combine with the U.K.-world split); venues are suffering and there are too many key areas seeing deprivation and financial stress; the mainstream charts need restructuring and organising – so that certain genres are giving exposure; less reliance on Pop acts and the same sound we are all growing bored of. It is not going to happen overnight – or in a year – but it is clear there needs to be a proactive and together approach to the problems in music. This piece is not designed to sermonise and accuse: I wanted to show how much love and support there is in music. Although, creatively, there are fewer risks being taken than I would like – more on that later today – there is a definite community that embraces one another and shows compassion. I have seen so many musicians share the work of others; venues go out their way to support the best local acts; a host of blogs and writers sharing music and supporting upcoming acts. This Britain of ours is a kind-hearted country that has lost its way a bit. Maybe that has always been the way but, against political distress and balkanisation; the music industry needs to counteract that odious smoke and show greater resolve.
If we can get rid of the problems and imbalance in the industry; promote that warmth and sense of unification I know there is. Music is a huge and broad industry that is hard to properly police and regulate. Although problems and drawbacks are present; the combative wave of affection and love is a good way of remedying. I know many will want a happier and more settled year to the one we are saying goodbye to. We have lost some great musicians – including Tom Petty and Chris Cornell – and there have been problems, for sure. This Christmas; we will see the survivors of Grenfell provide a message to the people. It is this year’s Alternative Christmas Message and is an apt and timely one. The fire might have dampened by the smoke still lingers in the air – a fetid and carcinogenic smog that has blighted the country. The music industry has not faced anything as challenging and monumental as this but there is a collation of smaller conflagrations that, together, make me a little worried. All the good that has come from this in music has provided heart and encouragement. The artists and writers; the D.J.s and producers (and other creatives) who have helped provide a wonderful 2017 of music should be congratulated. I know the music world will continue to grow, evolve and strengthen. There are so many great artists coming through and predicted albums that will certainly get people excited. Despite some of the problems and division we have seen – in music and the country as a whole – we should be proud of producing a year that has seen…
MORE good than bad.