Missing out on Duffy

John Rostron complains that Cheryl Gillan just doesn’t get the Welsh music scene

Just over a week ago I was invited to a tenth birthday reception for the Welsh Music Foundation. I promote the SWN (Noise) Festival in Cardiff, and many live shows in the City. I am also on the board of the Foundation, one of three such board members elected by Foundation stakeholders to represent their interests. The ‘stakeholders’ of the Foundation are any small or medium business working in the commercial music industry in Wales. At the last count they numbered just shy of 300 individuals or companies.

The reception consisted of several speeches – first by Dafydd Roberts, chief executive of Sain, Wales’ largest recording and music company and a Foundation board member. He was followed by Edwina Hart Minister for Health and Social Services in Cardiff Bay, and then Cheryl Gillan, Secretary of State for Wales. Her speech was a shambles.

She may have been badly briefed, she may have tried to wing it, or she may not have given the event proper consideration. Whatever the story behind it, she spoke about the Foundation with absolutely no understanding of its history or purpose. It was embarrassing.

To celebrate Wales’ success as a musical national she mentioned six musical acts. The first four were opera and classical music stars. Of course, the Welsh Music Foundation caters for all genres, but it’s well documented by the logs of enquiries that come into the organisation, as well as the member list of stakeholders, that classical music and opera barely register.

That’s because organisations such as Welsh National Opera are funded directly by the Arts Council of Wales to the tune of millions of pounds. If you’re a classical or opera act, its relatively easy to call on the Arts Council of Wales and have a stab at getting funding. It’s not so easy, in fact it’s nigh on impossible, if you’re a rock and pop or folk or dubstep or techno or electronic or indie or any other act working in contemporary music.

There’s a nice anecdote that someone once called the Arts Council of Wales to try and get some help. “You’re working with a Rock act?” said the voice on the phone. “I’m sorry, but we can’t help. We only work with quality music…” I know that to be true, because I’ve received the same response.

I don’t want to criticise the Arts Council of Wales. But my point is that this is exactly the kind of attitude which the Foundation was set up to change, as well as to find ways to support the huge range of music this is being overlooked by traditional forms of funding, and by those in positions of power over the arts, including MPs like Cheryl Gillan.

She mentioned two more acts. Now remember she is at an event to celebrate ten years of the Welsh Music Foundation. That’s a decade of music from 2000-2010, a decade which has seen successful bands and acts emerge like The Lost Prophets, Funeral for a Friend, Los Campesinos, Bullet For My Valentine, The Automatic, Marina and The Diamonds and Duffy and probably many others I’ve overlooked. Bullet For My Valentine’s last album debuted at number three in the Billboard Charts. They’ve sold 2,000,000 albums. Duffy has sold 6,000,000 albums. She has won three Brits. She was the first Welsh woman in 25 years to chart a number one in the UK. Oh, and she was discovered by, and some of her songs were written by, Richard Parfitt who was lead singer in the band which the founders of Foundation were managing when they realised there was a need for an organisation to develop and retain talent, industry and intellectual property in Wales.

But Cheryl Gilllan didn’t reference any of these. Instead, she referenced Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey.

She continued to say nothing of any consequence until finally mentioning just one of the 300 existing stakeholders. That was Green Man Festival, who were co-hosting the event at which she was speaking. Green Man was established almost a decade ago by Jo Bartlett and Danny Hagan, two musicians who had relocated to Wales from London. Gillan’s gaffe, however, was in thanking the Foundation for “creating events such as The Green Man Festival”, thereby completely misunderstanding what Green Man Festival and the Welsh Music Foundation were all about.

This isn’t mean’t to be a personal attack on Gillan. It’s not motivated by her or her politics. It’s just that she demonstrated exactly the lack of understanding about the music industry in Wales which is one of the reasons the Welsh Music Foundation exists. Her speech provided enough reason for the Foundation to ask for its funding to be doubled so it can continue to work for the commercial music sector which is so often overlooked. She talked about wanting to come back in ten years to wish the Foundation a happy 20th birthday. I would hope she could return a lot sooner with a better understanding of the huge economic and cultural impact that the stakeholders it nurtures and represents have made in Wales

As a postscript it’s important to mention that the final speech was by Feargal Sharkey, chief executive of UK Music. This is an umbrella organisation representing the collective interests of the UK’s commercial music industry, from artists, musicians, songwriters and composers, to major and independent record labels, managers, music publishers, studio producers and collecting societies.

Feargal’s words punctured through to everybody in the room. He has worked with the Foundation for the past eight years. He understood what they were about, why they were important, and how they have a vital role in supporting and developing the creative industries in Wales and across the UK. It was stark contrast to Gillan’s speech, and underlined just how big a divide there still is. But it was good to hear that the most powerful man in UK music wholeheartedly supports and values the Welsh Music Foundation and the Welsh music industry it represents.

This post originally appeared on John Rostron’s site, Mostly on a music tip.

John Rostron runs My Kung Fu, a Cardiff-based record label, and is co-curator with Huw Stephens of the SWN Festival.

Also within Culture