Loneliness is a social epidemic, but one for which there is no easy cure. Cheryl Julia Lee went to hear George Monbiot and Ewan McLennan at their gig at Durham Book Festival, which sought to use mu…
A few words from Joe Solo.
Berlin based songwriter and musician Gem Andrews crafts beautiful original songs that cut to the quick and speak to the heart. Her work is firmly rooted in her beloved Alt. Country and Americana traditions, with influences from Kitty Wells to K.D Lang.
Tickets are £5.50p from https://www.wegottickets.com/event/368729
Noel Gallagher was interviewed by the BBC at the back end of 2014 and claimed that the working class in Britain no longer has a voice and that he finds popular music increasingly dominated by the middle class.
Paul Weller has also come out and said ‘I’m missing a lot of working class bands; I think there are a lot of middle class bands around. Some of it’s good obviously, but I’m missing the fire and the anger of the bands who have come off a council estate and have something to say’.
Continuing the theme, Primal Scream singer Bobby Gillespie has stated, – ‘When I heard the Sex Pistols and recognised immediately that their music was born of essentially working-class anger and frustration, that in itself was empowering. When was the last time you heard music like that, music that said something so strongly with so much genuine and justified rage?’
These sentiments resonate with me, not just because I come from a similar background but because I want to understand why mainstream music does not reflect the anger that clearly exists in large sections of today’s horribly unequal society. Where is the voice of the excluded that the Sex Pistols and the Specials once so beautifully articulated? Does that voice still have a place in today’s pop culture? Does pop music still have any meaning?
For sure, the world of popular music has changed dramatically since Gallagher, Gillespie and Weller burst onto the scene. Back then it was often left-leaning journo’s, outsiders and the downright feisty who by and large, created, shaped and wrote about music, thus setting the tone. It is my view that popular culture has become increasingly comodified and therefore more fractured. This process means pop music is less culturally important – chiefly because it is becoming increasingly gentrified, shaped by the drift of society towards privilege and exclusion. If you’re a kid from a working class community today, I think the chances of you making it as a successful musician are a lot more limited than they were in the halcyon days of The Jam.
Pop music, we should not forget grew out of the post-war economic shift to re-distribution that gave the working class the means to express themselves though choice. The music they listened to, the clothes they wore and the styles and movements they created, whether ted, mod, rocker, hippy or punk all came about because working class kids, for the first time had some disposable income. As pop historian, Jon Savage noted: ‘It is a cruel irony that just as commercialised youth culture seems to be everywhere – appealing to all ages, and making untold millions for corporations – the demographic on which this was once based is being excluded from society’.
Pop music was also helped by progressive changes to post-war state education. For instance, during the 60’s and 70’s it was a relatively uncomplicated (and free) pathway from school to college. For example, these easily accessible educational environments led to the meeting of John Lydon who at age 15 was kicked out of school and subsequently went to Hackney College, where he befriended John Simon Ritchie, or Sid Vicious as he later became known. Some years earlier, Roxy Music formed out of a meeting of art-school minds (Given Bryan Ferry’s fondness of elitism it’s hard to believe that he’s from a working-class family in the north-east and that his father once looked after pit ponies for a living). The access that smart creative kids from council estates once had to polytechnics and art colleges has now been eroded by un-affordable fees and expenses. Fair to say then that The Sex Pistols nor Roxy Music would have existed had John, Sid and Bryan been school leavers in 2016.
Somehow, it seems fitting that the rise of elitism in pop culture should coincide with the ascendancy of the current Tory government. You do not have to look far for evidence. In 2010, the now redundant music magazine, The Word calculated that more than 60% of that year’s successful musicians were privately educated compared with just 1% in 1990. My guess is that gap has continued to widen.
For example, Florence Welch, Laura Marling, Chris Martin of Coldplay, Marcus Mumford and Ben Lovett from Mumford & Sons and James Blunt (real name James Hillier Blount) are all products of fee-paying schools. It would be churlish though not to acknowledge that there is a long line of innovative and relevant well-to-do musicians, from the likes of Nick Drake in the late 60s to Pink Floyd in the 70’s and Radiohead in the 90s. But the dramatic increase in upper-middle class performers suggests something has gone seriously askew.
I would say this is because success in any sphere is now more than ever a matter of who you know rather than what you have to say or how good you are. To get a foot in the door of the music business you need to know someone on the inside, often through a network of family or elite university connections, or at the very least, know how to go about finding someone; something the middle classes are programmed to do from birth.
People from working class backgrounds just don’t have that kind of access or knowledge and it doesn’t matter how brilliant a singer or guitarist you are, if you can’t get to the people who are able to open doors then you are going to struggle to get your music heard by the masses. And if you did manage to get to the movers and shakers there is every chance they will not be sympathetic to anything that might suggest at subverting their cosy, mutually beneficial structure.
All of this leads me to conclude there is only one option – D.I.Y.
We have to create our own opportunities and create a nurturing environment so that the young people of the north east, who want to become involved in the music scene have the opportunities to pursue their dreams and importantly, we have the responsibility to enable those with something to say to actually get up there and express themselves.