History of Scottish Music Funding – Intro

This is a side-project where I interviewed the last 3 Heads of Music at SAC/Creative Scotland.
See the three interviews with Matthew Rooke, Nod Knowles, and Ian Smith in seperate blog posts below, along with a text synopsis of each interview:

The last 30 years in the Scottish Music scene have been quite a rollercoaster. The recent hoohah over Creative Scotland funding coincided with the completion of a side project of mine which is laid out here.

I feel that the history of Scottish music funding is very specific – we got here for a bunch of specific reasons and the road was quite winding with some significant winners and losers along the way. I thought it may be important for younger musicians and interested people to know how we actually ended up here. I think it is fair to say no one planned it to happen this way!

Anyway rather than just chunter about my own opinions of this ( I will do a video at some point of my experiences of the last 30 years and my views on how things have gone) I thought it was important to document what has actually happened – at least 3 very knowledgeable versions of what actually happened by the 3 men who were Head of Music at SAC/CS from 1992 to 2016.

Each video has a text synopsis of what each interviewee talks about if you don’t want to listen to the whole thing.

One of the biggest moments was the change from SAC to Creative Scotland and the 3-4 years of limbo that caused.

The way funding is “done’ has also changed massively:

1) with a move to Portfolio funding (where separate artforms now don’t have their own budgets – everyone applies for the same pot),

2) where there has been an apparent retreat from the funders taking a strategic leadership role – by that I mean strategy when you view the world from an ArtForm/Sector/Genre perspective, and

3) an apparent move away from specialist knowledge and engagement with the complexity of the world out there and the different contexts and needs of different genres.

Whilst one can understand the reasons in favour of this shift ( there has been a move towards focussing on delivery of public access, diversity and vulnerable groups, and social equity), none of the 3 Heads of Music certainly feel these trends have been positive.

One other point to make is this. Despite all the genuine intentions about “equality of opportunity” that was front and centre for Nod and Matt – and that was equality of opportunity for artists and musicians from different genres living in Scotland – and the need to redress the balance etc laid out in these interviews, that intervention/re-balance agenda seems much less prominent in current music funding policy – and many things haven’t changed as much as maybe we think.

If you just focus on National Bodies and Regularly Funded Organisations – ie music organisations funded on more than an annual or project basis- ‘Classical’ Music still actually gets 95% of that type of state music funding (which is roughly £30 million a year).

Obviously there is another £13 million or so given out per year in open project and targeted funding, but Creative Scotland doesn’t even list what Artform the recipients are ( ie whether Dance, Music, Visual Art etc) let alone which musical genre – so it would be quite a research job to get an overall figure for all funding. That in itself – that not even Artform is listed in the list of Project/Open Funding Awards – shows how far the modern funding culture has moved away from thinking in terms of Artforms and Genres.

Anyway I hope someone finds these interviews useful. There were enjoyable and educational to do.

History of Scottish Music Funding Part 3

Apologies for the sound quality in this interview:

Ian Smith took over from Nod Knowles in 2005 and retired in 2016.

In this interview he talks about how:

  • He was a gigging musician in Scotland for 20 years and then worked in the Scottish MU from '93- '05. So he knew the business inside out..
  • He had worked with Nod Knowles setting up the YMI and wanted to move from the MU to the SAC job whilst continuing to fix things for gigging musicians.
  • When he arrived he had to adapt to the bureaucracy and admin processes.
  • He inherited the approach from Nod and wanted to take focus more into commercially aware direction and to focus on what musicians and educators needed to do their work.
  • In working with organisations, as well as quality in the musical product, he also wanted similar quality in admin and infrastructure.
  • The base of the music funding pyramid had been exapnded to include folk and jazz and now was expanded further to included rock/pop indie.
  • He continued the work on showcasing - continuing to develop Showcase Scotland and adding in SXSW and Womex.

Major structural organisational changes happened during Ian's tenure as SAC changed into Creative Scotland.

Within a year of taking up the post the transition from SAC to Creative Scotland started and took 3-4 years. Ian says "the gestation period of Creative Scotland was far too long" and saw this as being difficult both internally and externally with the main negative impact being confusion. There was a limbo period that was very difficult for everyone - and he cited this as a reason why the SJF wasn't successful.

He describes having a good working relationship with Andrew Dixon who he respected, but said that he refused to work on areas outside his specialism and even declined the traditional arts portfolio - including folk music. Ian says the portfolio management culture - where different Art forms competed for the same budget - was a failure. He articulates how he had less ability to influence what got funded and be strategic once the Music Department lost its own budget. He also mentions a lot of successive Senior Management plans at CS, which had the cumulative effect of meaning that there was no clear strategy and a general move away from sector specialism and expertise.

As achievements Ian lists:

• Developing Recording Fund and touring.

• Supporting the development of SNJO to become an RFO - and he feels it should be a National Organisation alongside RSNO and Scottish Ballet.

• Having a good team with a complementary set of skills and knowledge to his.

• Promoting awareness of intellectual property awareness within CS.

• How the education sector has grown including consolidation of the YMI, and looking at the wider range of students leaving the RCS including jazz and folk musicians coming out with a very high skill level.

Towards the end Ian talks about how a coordinated investment in a sector like jazz could have a lot of positive benefits -  and when I asked "Why hasn't that happened" he said again "Portfolio management was a mistake."

At the end, following the recent controversy over RFO funding , I asked Ian what he felt about the tension between supporting existing organisations and the need to create new organisations  and infrastructure - especially in sectors where they don't currently exist - in a world of decreasing budgets.

Ian points to the SNJO, AC Productions, and SWG3 as signs that new high quality organisations are being created and supported in Scotland but also points out that the demand is too high for the available money and the sector needs more investment. He recommends making SNJO, NYOS and NYCOS national organisations- and that status needs to be more broad and inclusive. He also questions how it is possible to produce world class opera in Scotland and whether the current approach is right. He leaves us with the question:

"If there isn't enough money to go round, how do you fix that..."




Thoughts on Wind Resistance by Karine Polwart

Thoughts on Wind Resistance by Karine Polwart
Isn’t there a way in which we are all alone inside our brains, brains whose singular purpose from birth is to recognise patterns and make links between things? And as well as seeking help in making meaningful connections between things aren’t we also programmed to seek genuine real connections out of this solitary place to other real, thinking, feeling, caring people in order to feel less alone and afraid?
The way people share their inner worlds with others varies hugely - some never do it or hardly at all. Some do it in a way that reveals something others might call madness - ie the urgent linking together of, and finding meaning in, links that to others seem mere accidents or trivial coincidences. And others share links that evidence a view of the world one just instinctively feels isn’t true or honest, or is actually plain wrong or even malevolent.
Great observational comedians do this thing where they talk about something mundane and done a thousand times and find the humour or surreality in it. Your laughter is one of recognition of truth, of something shared and confirmed, of the comedy of our everyday reality, plus an admiring recognition of “I missed that but you didn’t”.
Karine Polwart (and her collaborator Pippa Murphy) do this wonderful thing of showing us great vistas by sharing what they see when they stare at what is beneath all of our feet. By using their skill, inquisitiveness, craft and intelligence they weave a presentation of the small, the personal, and the local and by doing so they present a compelling view of two great, interconnecting and important arcs - that of human history and progress to date and that of the natural world, our relationship to it, and our effect on it.
And by telling the personal story of the central human protagonists’ journey- a couple named Will and Roberta - through a different turbulent war-riven time, a story gleaned from their daughter Molly who was Polwart’s neighbour - they make those arcs personal and real, and give a sense of both looking back at real people inside their history and how we might contemplate ourselves inside our own.
The other star of this show is Fala Moor itself. We hear from the tiniest waterboatman making shaker noises only audible if a pair of female geeks shove a hydrophone into a small pool in a peat bog not visible from the A68.
We see the different kinds of seed dug up from the archaeological site of a nearby medieval hospital run by monks and midwives, seeds from plants used for pain relief in pre-NHS childbirth.
We see in lovely back projected visuals, and hear the sound of, geese migrating and hear the sound of floorboards and bedsheets burning on a 1920s Midlothian farm’s bonfire.
We hear the story of the birth of Karine’s son Arlo and feel the sense of the frightening timeless mystery of her own body as it enters labour, and how midwives and obstetricians and epidurals helped bring Arlo safely into the world.
And this is juxtaposed with the story of Will’s beloved Roberta’s post-partum tragedy in their farmhouse with her blood soaking the floorboards, which after her death he ripped up and burnt with the bed linen. And we could hear the sound of the cracking and splitting of the burning wood through the speakers and imagine so much more.
And delightfully on the night we went to the show Arlo was in the audience, as was Roberta’s granddaughter.
This isn’t fiction.
Of course they aren’t geeks - there are carefully considered reasons they are collating these sounds and stories and showing them to us. Just looking and listening to what is there is a political act, telling the stories that get missed or forgotten, whether that of the water boatman or medieval healers and midwives, or the brutality of death in childbirth for women like Roberta with no access to modern medicine.
The connections and links you look for, see and then share is telling a story for a reason, and the skill and care in how you tell that story matters. The stories one chooses to tell is a political act, and the bigger darker stories one doesn’t mention directly but alludes to just the same is an act of political skill.
This is a week when 60,000 young people march in Warsaw chanting “clean blood” or some variation thereof. There are nativist stories afoot whose goal is mobilising people, telling them a story as if it is theirs and saying it is the one that has really been forgotten, that the connections they are making are true, the choices they must make are clear, and that they have reasons to march. These young people aren’t irretrievably lost, any more than is an otherwise marvellous young French person I know who supports Marie Le Pen - much to my shock and worry. A story is powerfully speaking to her and someone needs to counter it with different stories. One can feel there are malevolent forces pushing narratives of divisiveness, hatred, and ethnic purity, and we don’t know if we are entering a time as turbulent, bloody, and disastrous as that which Will and Roberta lived through. I fear we really may be.
There is a big complex laugh in the show, a show which has lots of laughs (some much simpler than others), when Karine mentions in passing that her beloved Fala Moor Peatbog is protected by EU legislation.
It was a rare overt nod at the changing uncertain political times we live in actually in the show, and the laugh was part recognition that there was a lot Karine wasn’t choosing to discuss, part relief that we were able to escape from the 24/7 unfiltered churn of our current affairs to this calmly curated journey into a enchanting world of migrating geese and robins with a broken wing conversing with larch trees. And also part recognition that making sense of our dark times was exactly what this show was about. That was my take on the laugh anyway!
The marvel of a Karine Polwart song has always been her skill and craft of choosing and placing words about something local or personal or everyday to make poetry and beauty, partly in the pure pleasure of the words and language itself, but also to reveal something deeper or more widely resonating. This combined with the exquisite choice of chord and cadence and melodic hook, plus her wonderful voice and calm, unassuming, very scottish delivery. And it all happening so perfectly and seemingly effortlessly to make something so richly pleasurable.
And in this show that craft is only displayed on a bigger scale, with a range of similarly skilled collaborators, with no sense at all of overreach. She shows more of herself as a performer, adding a mastery of spoken word, and unselfconscious dance-like movement, and comic timing, and the ability to hold an audience. It is very impressive.
And like a Russian doll, there is a nesting set of core metaphors, or layers of meaning, in this show centred around, and named for, migrating geese.
So a skein of migrating geese are an example of nature’s fundamental belief in socialism because of how these animals instinctively work together rotating who does the hard work of leading the V formation. The lead bird's toil creates the pockets of wind resistance reducing the workload for those flying behind, enabling them together to make incredible journeys no goose could do alone.
And inside that is the vision of two women Polwart and Murphy camping on Fala Moor and looking up at the geese and making these connections to share with us, by their work carving out of our turbulence pockets of meaning, nuance, and clarity for us to fly into.
And inside that is the history of the ecology of that Moor, and the nearby medieval hospital, and the nearby farm where Roberta died and Will and their daughter Molly lived on and the ways those stories and the research set off our present in much-needed perspective.
And inside that is us (or at least me!) sitting in the theatre, escaping from the turmoil and anxiety of the seemingly brand new instability of our world, and the fear and disorientation of recognising that many people in our world are also fearful and uncertain but are either making irreconcilably different connections and identifications to ours, or worse are being manipulated to do so. And they are almost certainly thinking the same about us....
So thank you Karine Polwart , and Pippa Murphy, David Greig and all the other skilled storytellers who contributed to this. Thankyou for sharing the content of an artist’s mind in this way. It felt rare and special.
And for once seeing inside someone else’s head is warm, magical, thought-provoking, inspiring. I found being so skilfully and gently shown these vistas of history and nature, and reminded of our place in these very long arcs, both inspiring, very moving, and somehow reassuring - despite the dark forces and powerful tides that are still there waiting when we leave the theatre.
This too will pass. There are worse times behind us. There is wisdom, constancy, gentle power, and progress in this world.
But there is much work to be done and a long journey ahead, and stories to be heard and told and passionately opposed, and we must find our own reasons to fly in formation and share that load of leading.