Andrew Dubber, Jon Cotton, Robin Valk, John Mostyn and Lisa Meyer were all kind enough to share their perspective and ideas for this post – I’ll publish their comments in full on my blog so none are wasted. I also drew, with permission, on the Birmingham Music Network’s recent 10 Questions survey.
The comments on the current state of the scene were very encouraging, suggesting there’s more quality, active musicians in the city than ever before and a number of hardworking and creative promoters as well.
So what improvements might be made to encourage some of the many talented and dedicated individuals and groups to progress further on a professional and national level?
Venues and Noise Abatement
We picked out Kings Heath’s Hare & Hounds as an example of what a good local music venue can be (great location, facilities, standard of acts and size of audiences) but felt there’s too few live music venues around for a city and scene of our size.
Recent issues between property developers, the council and independent venues such as the Fiddle & Bone, the Spotted Dog, the Nightingale and most recently the Rainbow and Moseley’s Price of Wales are all situations in which the city and the community have had the opportunity to act clearly in favour of culture over profit – if we are to have the courage of our convictions going forward, common sense prevailing in any similar situation is of vital importance.
Jon Cotton suggests that these issues could very often be solved by small grants for acoustic improvements to venues – possibly around £1000 per venue for simple materials and an hour or two’s consultancy with an acoustician.
We are fortunate to have some small, quality festivals such as Moseley Folk and Supersonic and efforts should be made to support them as needed as well as identify other existing and emerging festivals and support them too. On the larger scale, Gigbeth was admired but perhaps fell short of its full potential, whilst the value of ArtsFest is questionable due to its very broad reach and the policy of not paying artists.
Organisational issues aside, a Festival lives or dies on the quality of its curation – there is a lot of experienced promoters in Birmingham and they are a resource that should be tapped as much as possible by any future large scale efforts. As valuable as good intentions might be, its quality that ultimately counts.
It seems bizarre that our local radio stations do so little to engage with the local music community. This is both our loss and theirs, since, as little more than pale imitations of much bigger national operations, their audience figures are dropping rapidly. So its to the grass roots that we might best look to the future. Rhubarb Radio is steadily expanding with well programmed and sequenced automated play lists offering a variety of moods at different parts of the day combined with programmes presented by fast developing local talent and all using West Midlands music. Support for Rhubarb and the likes of South Birmingham Community Radio should be encouraged and need not be financial.
Likewise in the world of print media, the Birmingham Post is down to a weekly and the Evening Mail, whilst its news coverage is ultra local doesn’t seem to cover local talent until they are proven on the national stage. Fortunately, we have Indies such as Area, Brumnotes, Radar and Night Times taking up the slack.
Focal Web Presence
There’s good stuff going on the web such as Live Brum (for listings), review and photos from Brum Live, long running bloggers such as Russ L, The Hearing Aid, the directory and blog at Birmingham Music Network, a terrific playable online library of music at the Pilot Project and archive projects such as the Birmingham Music Archive and Home of Metal.
That said, I still feel something is lacking which could be well filled by something modelled on Created in Birmingham. CiB rarely mentions music for the good reason that if it covered every decent new album, gig or video, music would completely swamp the other content. Is there a case for a sister Music in Birmingham site?
Facilitation, Not Control
Its very tempting to try and fix things with big, top down initiatives, but often they fail to deliver and given the current financial climate, there’s not likely to be much public money around for a while. Andrew Dubber suggests that the smartest thing that could be done now is to identify and support already existing and naturally forming scenes and connections, and draw goals and strategies from those communities’ own ambitions.
Proud to be Independent
A lot of very exciting music and events are happening through the efforts of people taking initiative and responsibility for their own success. We should be proud and encouraging of this rather than waiting for an authority figure from either the public or private sector to come along and validate our efforts with an official seal of approval. John Mostyn goes so far as to suggest that a small pot of public funding should be used to encourage the term ‘Unsigned’ to never be used within the City in any way, shape or form by anyone… ever.
The diversity of our music and culture may have slowed progress towards a cohesive and structured scene or community, but maybe that very diversity has the capability to power us forward to a time of unparalleled musical output and cultural harmony.
By Rich Batsford
Rich Batsford is a booking agent and a composer/performer of meditative solo piano music and reflective songs www.richbatsford.com