Economy and Society: Contribution of Music

Louise Haigh Excerpts
Tuesday 21st January 2020

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Jeff Smith Portrait Jeff Smith (Manchester, Withington) (Lab)
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21 Jan 2020, 3:19 p.m.

Thank you for calling me to speak, Ms McDonagh. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) on securing the debate and for giving me the opportunity to plug my former profession. There are not many former nightclub DJs in Parliament. In fact, I might be the only one. While people rightly talk about the importance of the live music scene, I note the importance of electronic dance music and nightclubs in making our cities destinations. Twenty years ago I used to visit Cream in Liverpool and Gatecrasher in Sheffield—for research purposes—and I remember they used to attract people from all over the country. The same applies now to the Warehouse Project in Manchester, which makes a big contribution to the music scene that Manchester is so proud of, and to our economy. It is a key part of our identity in Manchester, and it is certainly key to the economy.

I am grateful to UK Music for leading on the Greater Manchester music review last year. A couple of figures were produced. In 2017, live music events in Manchester had 1.7 million attendances. In 2017, Greater Manchester had 703,000 music tourists. That gives some indication of the importance to the economy of music in Manchester and Greater Manchester. There is an ecosystem that sustains the music scene, from very big venues such as Manchester Arena—one of the most successful large venues in the world—down to the smaller grassroots venues.

That brings me to two asks. First, we are pleased that business rates relief for grassroots music venues was in the Tory manifesto and the Queen’s Speech. I know the Minister is passionate about that and I am genuinely pleased to see him in his job. I hope that he will have a word with the Chancellor before the Budget in March to make that point. Secondly, I want to repeat the point about the importance of the EU-wide touring passport, ahead of Brexit.

The Greater Manchester music review is a very good report. It came up with a number of recommendations, and I will pick some of them. The first was for the establishment of a Greater Manchester music board. I am pleased that our excellent Mayor, Andy Burnham, has pledged to set that up. I look forward to progress on that when Andy is re-elected in May, as I am sure he will be. Secondly, there is a recommendation about the agent of change principles, which are important. It is great that city centres are now thriving as places to live—I remember that Manchester city centre was pretty much empty in the ’80s—but it should not be at the expense of our much loved music venues.

I shall have to leave my remarks there, but I recommend that people read the report on Greater Manchester as well as the report from UK Music, which makes some very important policy asks of the Government.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab)
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21 Jan 2020, 3:21 p.m.

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.

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) (Lab)
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21 Jan 2020, 3:24 p.m.

This is my first time speaking in a Westminster Hall debate, and I am grateful that it is on a subject so close to my heart. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) on the way he has led this important debate.

Last week I gave my maiden speech, in which I waxed lyrical about how my constituency gave the world the Welsh national anthem, Cwm Rhondda, and Sir Tom Jones. The south Wales valleys are built on industry and music: both go hand in hand. Were it not for the coal mines, we would not have our world-famous brass bands, which are synonymous with culture and heritage. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) mentioned the Grimethorpe Colliery Band, and my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North referred to his constituency’s bands, and I pay tribute to them, but in Wales we have the world No. 1 brass band, the Cory Band—a fantastic symbol, spreading Welsh culture and heritage across the world and at home. Were it not for our chapels, we would not have our choirs, whose hymns and arias are synonymous with rugby.

Speaking of my other love, we all know that Wales is a mecca for sport tourism. The Principality stadium is the rugby venue envy of the world. I am sure that anyone here who has had the privilege of being in the stadium on match day, hearing the anthems belted out, will agree that it is nothing short of spine-tinglingly awesome. However, for all the sporting glory that Wales has to offer, Members may not know that in 2018 Wales welcomed more than 350,000 music tourists, who helped to contribute £124 million to the Welsh economy. That figure is growing.

We need to do more to protect grassroots venues, helping them to thrive in our communities. My hon. Friends have mentioned some of the work they have been doing to protect such venues in Wales. Just before Christmas it was announced in my constituency that Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council will be working with the Awen Cultural Trust and the Arts Council of Wales to totally transform the much-loved Muni, in Pontypridd. Plans to improve the arts centre include investing £4.5 million to create a first-class arts and entertainment venue for residents in my constituency and beyond. That is wonderful news, and I cannot wait to attend the first concert, once the Muni reopens in the summer.

One of the things that I am most passionate about is nurturing future talent, including reversing the decline of music education, so that children from every background have access to music. I am extremely fortunate that I was able to learn not one or two but four different instruments at school. I do not profess to be a concerto-worthy soloist—I am more of a jack of all trades as a performer—but I would never been able to have those opportunities were it not for the vital funding of peripatetic music education in my comprehensive school. I welcome the strides that the Welsh Assembly’s Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee is making in that field, and support the Welsh Labour Government’s feasibility study on the options for delivery of music services and the creation of a national plan for music education.

Wales has a long tradition of inviting performers from Europe to play at festivals, venues and eisteddfods across Wales, and other hon. Members have mentioned the impact that Brexit could have on that. I know that the Welsh Labour Government will do all they can to ensure that Wales remains open to performers from across Europe after Brexit, and will look at all avenues to ensure that such cultural exchanges can still take place.