That’s Better


I’ve just returned from the Guildhall Square – MRA and I took some bags of clothes, blankets etc in the “Don’t Hate, Donate” collection for people in Aleppo – the number of people there was quite astonishing and was certainly Pompey at its best.

It’s cheered me up but I’m going to make a couple of comments about yesterday’s debate which made me very SAD:

Firstly I don’t need to be told that if I choose to play for nothing, I’m saying my music (art) is worthless because it isn’t. There is a always a context and while I’m not interested in being ripped off, I’m willing to work for nothing in the right context. I finished my painting degree 40 years ago and I still paint, I’ve been playing music for 50+ years and did a gig today, I still work with performing arts students at the University and over the years I’ve worked with the Arts Council, British Film Institute, Crafts Council, etc as well as local galleries and theatres – and I’ve published regularly about art, music, film etc. I have a pretty good grasp of what’s involved in the various creative and cultural industries and if I choose to accept a gig or give a painting without payment, that’s my business – it doesn’t mean for a minute that I think my work is “worthless” because there are more things to ‘get back’ from a gig than a couple of tenners in my hand. The best thing by a distance is a strong relationship with the audience.

There is a similar point about “exposure”. I don’t (necessarily) mean by that word exposure in the sense of loads of gigs coming from the performance for free. I mean exposure as a performing musician because no amount of practice will ever prepare you to play live in front of people – and at a Festival it’s tough because your audience is not ‘captive’ – If you don’t cut it, they can move on to someone else. You can’t buy that experience, it’s a craft and it takes most of us years to crack. I’m not bad at it now but it wasn’t always like that and sometimes it’s worth doing a specific gig because of the quality of that experience. I’m a qualified teacher and over four years in the early 1970s I spent three terms in schools as an unpaid student learning that craft. Musical performance is no different – it needs to learned and very few of us are ‘naturals’.

However in case people think this is all a bit ‘soppy’, a bit ‘liberal’, I have another very important point to make. The reason people don’t always get paid (or paid fairly) for what they do is called CAPITALISM, and dreaming that a single pop festival is suddenly going to start operating outside those parameters is just that – dreaming.

I believe all workers should be remunerated fairly for their labour. I very rarely talk politics on this Blog, and I might never do so again, but now I shall. I’m a member of the Labour Party which I first worked for as a school kid in 1966 when Frank Judd won Portsmouth West and I joined the party in the 1970s. In case you’re wondering, yes I did vote for HIM too in the leadership elections and I look forward eagerly to the day when the socialist revolution transforms this country and all the bands at the gloriously revolutionary festivals are paid appropriately.

In the meantime I’ll give thanks that I’m lucky enough to have such a blessed life living in Portsmouth while people are murdering each other in the name of freedom all over the world. And if a few local musicians have to buy their own strings it won’t trouble me as much as the utter ineptness of the UN over Syria or the threat to the world posed by the games of the USA and Russia or the rise of the nationalist far right in Europe or …

Merry Christmas!


Author: pompeypop

University lecturer, longtime local musician and recently historian of popular music - especially in and around Portsmouth. My blog is entirely about that topic

14 thoughts on “That’s Better

  1. The problem is we are going back to the days of bands being exploited at a time when capitalism is really showing its worst and nasty side!
    It really doesn’t matter whether you’ve voted Labour all your life and even support that insipid little man ,it doesn’t change the fact that to encourage young musicians they need paying at least a token fee !!!
    And let’s make it plain,this is NOT the way most festivals operate and saying it’s just CAPITALISM Is an excuse!
    You talk of Pompey at its best ,which is something Victorious certainly isn’t!!!

  2. The answer is very clear to me although perhaps easier to identify than to implement. The biggest issue to address is perhaps the implicit assumption in all this that anyone can form a band and then demand payment for their labour which is not the case in most other jobs, where people need to train, get qualifications etc first. There’s nothing wrong with that however – I think it would be wonderful if everyone played music, but I’m not sure there are enough venues and audiences to go around.

    But let’s assume that’s all possible and that all the musicians must be treated fairly, which is what you are demanding. Back in the 1960s when I started out, many of us joined the MU because it was required to play in some venues. But the MU never gave much of a damn about guitar bands so we rarely if ever got the going rates – that was true for me even as a recording, professional musician playing all over the country. I’m no longer a member.

    So what to do? The answer – and this could certainly apply with regard to Victorious – is that all the local bands need to form a collective, and it must be all of them, or there will be undercutting going on. Then they agree a minimum acceptable payment which could simply start with the current Minimum Wage legislation (and I’m stressing MINIMUM). Then the collective informs Victorious that no local acts will perform without that payment. I’ve no idea what the reply would be but either way no acts would play for free. I think any such policy should apply to any venue that charges for entry or any pub that uses live entertainment to boost business. Charity gigs should be separate.

    I’m not interested in taking any kind of lead on this because I have other priorities, but if you or any of the other people who feel so strongly about it take the lead, I am willing to represent either or both of my bands at any meeting and I’ll abide by the collective agreement for as long as no undercutting goes on.

    • That as you say would be impossible to implement especially with today’s X factor mentality that the youngsters have been brainwashed with for the last 20years!
      Also as my issue is with the organisers of Victorious and they are charging top money for the entertainment,Therefore you would expect that the acts appearing would have a certain competence and therefore deserve payment more than some kind imaginary kudos and promises of career advancement.
      I happen to know that some of what I see as the better local bands will not do it because they want paying and therefore inferior bands are used-used being the operative word !!!
      I am glad to say that there are certain promoters in Portsmouth who always pay support bands a fair fee!

  3. This is a depressing debate to be having amongst a generation who are old enough to know better – most of us have been so grateful to participate in some aspect of the music industry for a four decades or more. Surely we should have learnt by now that that this wonderful industry is made up – mainly – by people who have a passion for it, whether they are artists, or any other part of it – and most all we’re all fans.

    There are as many musicians selling their souls as there are promoters, music industry execs etc – but the great majority of people I’ve been honoured to meet over the last 50 years have all enjoyed a passion for the art – whatever their contribution is.

    Rant over – bring on Madness, and thanks to all – volunteers, musicians and many more who make Victorious one of the best city events I know of – and that’s speaking as a defector!

  4. Well first let me say that I am very impressed by the blog and the fact that debate can take place in a civilized manner. (Can’t say that about some of the forums I frequent). Obviously this is a very emotive subject and of course to each his own on their opinions. I do not know the Victorious concert outside of what I see in the blog and obviously being here across the pond I really don’t have much insight into the scene over there. I think there are good points on both sides of the argument since playing for exposure and a few drinks is an issue over here as well but you also have to offset that with getting the opportunity to learn some stagecraft. There is however a threshold at some point where the musicians feel they have a marketable product and have enough experience to command a fee. Sadly there are bar owners that will work that threshold to their advantage. One thing that defines whether you get the gig is based upon the number of punters you can bring in. If you say you can bring in 50 people and you only get 30 after a few nights you will be fired. There are always people who will undercut the resident band. Plus Blues Bands get paid less because the crowd they pull in are beer drinkers rather than a top 40 band whose followers drink mixed drinks therefore more profit. Capitalism at work. I agree with Dave that it is down to the individual or band to determine their path. Our band decided we 1, were too old to make a career out of music, 2, All had regular jobs that paid pretty well and 3, decided that we would not work for money. If there was a fee we made them donate it to charity. I appreciate that musicians starting out don’t have that luxury. Interestingly we could not get gigs because since we were free people thought we were crap without hearing us first. But to the discussion, Dave you are a gentle spirit and have stayed true to the dreams you had back in the summer of love. That much is apparent. As I have aged I find what impresses me is the integrity of the person and the promise and honor that is in a firm handshake. We are who we are. I am sure that the Southsea Skiffle folks were delighted just to be on that stage. After all the initial goal was to let people pursue music that they never were able to in their lives. It would be interesting to know the % of unpaid musicians at the Concert. A collective would probably just have the promoter either do away with those little side stages and locals or pay locals from Southampton. Kind of a tough situation I guess. The promoter holds all the cards from what I can see whether you like it or not. Not having to provide your own sound system also makes it a plus for many bands especially those just starting out who don’t have much equipment.
    So there you are in the audience watching (Insert your musical hero) and the 2nd guitar is taken ill and they need a volunteer. Do you a, jump at an opportunity of a lifetime to play (For free of course) with your hero and keep the show going, or b, enter negotiations for a fee. A little warped comparison maybe but unless you are a pro musician everyone else is doing it for the love of playing plus some extra cash.
    So I guess as I said at the start Both sides of the argument are valid it’s all about choices.
    Geez Dave I think my soapbox just collapsed under the weight of my own bullshit.
    Wishing you peace and a Merry Christmas from 86F Florida

  5. Right on Dave! Being an academic doesn’t mean that you can’t get back to the basic truths. Keep on being our Dave. Merry Christmas.

  6. Hang on a minute Colin, 10 52pm and you are still up? Should be in Bunny Slippers, Dressing Gown and clutching your Horlicks LOL

  7. All right for you Pete. It’s early evening over there in Trumpville. Not time for my Horlicks yet,but I did wake up dribbling down my wincyette pyjamas.

  8. Hmm. That should be Winceyette.

  9. Wow! That started something, can’t write as eloquently as you all but all have points to agree on. Dave, if you think Labour, Conservitive or Liberal can sort out the world’s problems you will have a long wait.”Power to the People”

  10. “Don’t Hate Donate” certainly showed how much compassion there still is in the country despite of all the crap going on. I’m very proud of my sister Liesl’s who worked hard with many others for the cause. She reckoned that it took a chain of 80 people four hours to load the stuff into the warehouse. One old man came by and asked who they were collecting for and when he found out took off his own hat and coat and gave it to them. My sisters a great fan of “Him” as well. Can’t say I am but we beg to differ.

    • Cheers Malc – it was quite wonderful. Incidentally I voted for HIM not because I’m a big fan but because I wish Labour to force the issue: does it wish to be Centre Left Social Democratic or truly Socialist? It’s too late to stop the Corbyn bandwagon but we need to know. I think he’ll fall short and I would not mind a strong centre left coalition of some Greens, some Labour, some Lib Dems etc if it could provide strong opposition. But unless Corbyn has his chance, we shall never know. OK end of Dave’s politics

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