Economy and Society: Contribution of Music DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Jeff SmithMain Page: Jeff Smith (Labour - Manchester, Withington)
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms McDonagh, and to follow some excellent contributions. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) for securing the debate. I want to draw attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Interests and also pay tribute to UK Music and the Musicians’ Union, who have done so much at different levels to promote the industry and the challenges that it faces.
Coming from a working-class background, I know the impact of music in my own life. Comments have been made about the importance of music education, and free and affordable music education made a difference to me. I had opportunities as a youngster, particularly with free music education in school, and also through things such as the South Glamorgan and Cardiff and Vale youth orchestras and choirs, which gave me the confidence to go on later in life to perform at venues such as the Royal Albert Hall and the Edinburgh Fringe, and for President Bill Clinton with the a cappella groups that I have taken part in. I would not have had those opportunities and the confidence to perform if I had not had those free and affordable opportunities when I was younger.
I second much of what my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) said about Cardiff’s reputation as a music location, but also about the challenges that we face in terms of live venues. I support the campaigns that she and others have led around Womanby Street, Guildford Crescent and elsewhere. I also pay tribute to the many venues.
I have an incredible creative sector in my constituency of Cardiff South and Penarth. We are host to the Wales Millennium Centre, the Welsh National Opera and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, which is not only an incredible orchestra but provides many film and TV soundtracks, including recently for “His Dark Materials”, which has been syndicated around the world. The music is by a Scottish composer, Lorne Balfe, but the BBC National Orchestra of Wales recorded it. I also pay tribute to the many smaller creatives and others who are generating the next generation of talent: people such as Shelley Barrett, who runs Talent Shack, and, at the other end of the spectrum, Penarth Soul Club, enabling people to engage in all types of music locally. We have venues such as the Tram Shed and the Norwegian Church, which I want to see retained for community and cultural use, including music. We also have more classical venues such as St Augustine’s in Penarth.
I want to add my support to two crucial issues. One is around Brexit and the campaign by the Musicians’ Union on the crucial need for an EU-wide touring visa for musicians who are working, and we want to see that last a minimum of two years, be free or cheap, and cover all EU member states. We want to get rid of the need for carnets and other permits, and, of course, we want to cover road crew, technicians and all the other staff necessary for musicians to do their job.
I also want to highlight the incredible community impact of so many musicians. In my constituency and more broadly, 85% of orchestral musicians who joined the industry in the past 10 years are involved in community outreach, and 97% of all orchestras. Groups such as the Keith Little jazz trio in my constituency in Penarth do incredible work with organisations such as Music in Hospitals & Care. I was able to see the work they were doing, funded by the Waterloo Foundation, during the recent election campaign. Veterans’ choirs also provide opportunities in music to a whole new range of people.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) on securing this important debate.
Growing up in Sheffield in the 1990s, I took access to live music venues for granted, and we had access to not just some of the best venues in the country, but some of the best music in the country. When I was a teenager the Arctic Monkeys were starting to gig at the Grapes, the Boardwalk, and the Harley, as were bands such as Reverend and the Makers, Milburn and Longpigs. Sadly, not one of those venues still hosts live music today, but all those bands would say that without them it would not have been possible for Sheffield to produce the groundbreaking music that it is now internationally renowned for. I am told that when Radiohead toured with their debut album, “Pablo Honey”, they played 400 music venues of around 500 capacity across the UK. Only three of those music venues are still open today.
Those venues are the incubator of talent and we are feeling their loss across the music industry in the UK today. What is more, arts and culture funding too often gravitates towards prestige and towards London, rather than flowing towards talent. Jon McClure, the “Reverend” of Reverend and the Makers, said to me ahead of today’s debate:
“It is certainly true that the arts have become the preserve of the rich kids, for boys and girls like me are now excluded in the main, through a lack of access to the networks of power, combined with a lack of resources.”
That is why today’s debate is so important, as is the incredible work of UK Music and other bodies, such as the Musicians’ Union. They have fought to save threatened venues, which they recognise as the heart of a revival that must come.
I am incredibly proud to sit on Sheffield city region’s music board, which was set up by UK Music and our Mayor, my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis). It is the first to be set up outside London and is an essential part of the revival. It promotes work such as that of Higher Rhythm, which delivers the breakthrough artist development programme to give intensive support to six Yorkshire artists annually, with a package of opportunities to help them to make tangible progress in their careers. However, we must do more. We have heard about the importance of music education, and I hope that the combined authority will look at UK Music’s proposal to create six music education hubs across the region. We must ensure that the agent of change principle is properly implemented in all our communities, and the Government should look at extending existing relief schemes to cover live music venues.
Finally, no Government can claim to be serious about global Britain while cutting off our greatest cultural export at the knee in the Brexit negotiations, so I hope that the Minister will look carefully at the musicians’ passport. I want the kids in my constituency to have the same opportunities that musicians had in past decades. I want them to be rewarded based on talent, and not on networks or how many followers they can buy on social media. I want them to be able to showcase their talent on stages in Sheffield so that they can then showcase it to the world. Those things are not “nice to haves”. They are fundamental to our economy and culture, and they tell the world everything about what it is to be British.