History of Scottish Music Funding – Intro

April 7, 2018

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

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History of Scottish Music Funding Part 3

April 4, 2018

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..."




History of Scottish Music Funding Part 2

Nod Knowles was Head of Music at the SAC after Matthew Rooke and was in post from 1998 - 2005.

In this interview Nod discusses:

  • How Scottish Arts Council (SAC) had become independent of Arts Council of Great Britain in the mid- 90s, and how that new independence was changed further by the devolution vote in 1997. So the cultural climate was changing, culture - except for media and broadcasting - was a devolved power AND an area where the new devolved government had real interest.
  • How when he took over Traditional music was still only receiving funding via a Combined Arts budget and a small amount from the music budget, despite being very high quality and at the absolute centre of the musical identity of the country.
  • How the muusic budget was still tied  up with National Bodies and the status quo, of which well above 95% went to “classical" music,  but how new Lottery money allowed new ideas to be tried and lanched - albeit within the "everyone and all art forms apply for the same pot with outcomes defined by access and public impact" culture that was the future for arts funding.
  • How he "had the best of it" because while he was Head of Music, all the Heads of Artforms formed the bulk of senior management at SAC and so sat at the top table, had their own seperate budgets and were given a reasonable amount of of free reign to be strategic and fulfil a leadership role albeit within a set of clear constraints and targets.
  • How he knew he was perceived as a “jazzer” initially  and had to work to show that he was interested in all musical forms - which he was - and interested in "equity of opportunity' with a philosophy of "it's all music".
  • How the Traditional scene had good leadership and moved from having various factions to recognising that a) they had a common interest in working together and b) that attacking classical music or opera for their funding levels wasn't a productive strategy.  
  • How the theory of what he wanted to do (ie of "equity of opportunity" ) and actually delivering it in practice were 2 very different things. So shifting the balance of where funding went had to be a slow process- starting with directing more towards Traditional music.

Nod cited as achievements he was proud of:

  • Adding in rock/pop/indie as musical genrse that deserved to receive state funding.
  • Setting up the What's Going Audit with Youth Music and the MU and it's role in stimulating the YMI. He also fills in some interesting stories on how the YMI was rolled out.
  • Setting up Showcase Scotland - based on his experience of running similar events at the Bath Festival. 
  • Creating and runninhg the Tune-Up touring scheme

Areas of frustration for him were:

• How the jazz scene didn't have the same quality of leadership and many people tended to work in isolation.

• How at the end of his tenure he called a meeting of the Jazz sector which later became the SJF and the reasons why Jazz found it difficult to organise as a sector following the model of the Traditional Music Forum.

• He talked about the way funding organisations in the UK have gone - including SAC/Creative Scotland since he left - and how the trends in funding haven't been positive wrt 1) a move from specialism to generalism within funding bodies 2) the loss of Artforms having their own budgets and 3) How artform specialists are no longer in the top tier of management and 4) How funding agencies have retreated from a leadership role wrt looking at the needs of seperate artforms and genres - "we don't give out grants we receive applications", 5) How funding agencies have become less "arms length" and more prone to making knee-jerk reactions to the latest political directives 6) How the emphasis on spending more on grants than admin has made it harder for funders to spend time out in the field engaging with their sector.

• He talked about the justification for merging all the separate art form budgets being the accusation that art form departments were in "silos" and competing with each other - whereas he felt they worked better with their own budgets and strategies but also that the different art forms during his tenure worked well together in a collegiate way sharing their expertise.

Nod, like Matt, described his 7 years at the SAC as "one of the best times in my entire life" and talked several times on how the English Arts funding sector failed to learn lessons from pioneering work in Scotland.

History of Scottish Music Funding Part 1

April 3, 2018

Matt Rooke was Head of Music from 1991-1997. In this interview he talks about:

  • taking over from the Christie Duncan era, which lasted 25 years,  in which music funding had been seen as primarily for building a  'classical' music sector and when 98% plus of funding went to 'classical' music when there was  public debate about the similar audience figures for jazz, classical, and folk at that time.
  • getting jazz, classical, and traditional musicians and organisations "in the same room" at a conference in Stirling in 1991 which was a precursor to  starting to fund classical and traditional properly albeit in an era where overall music funding was increasing so he didn't have to cut too much to add in new stuff
  •  the hugely different life pathways and career and education options in Scotland at that time for someone who plays classical violin versus traditional violin and the role of the state in that
  •  the issue of national opera and classical orchestras beig seen as a badge of european statehood BUT that in Scotland these organisations weren't getting enough funding to do that job properly even when they were getting all the music funding. He mentioned Ireland deciding they couldn't afford a National Irish Ballet and just cutting it because it wasn't a national priority,
  • How during his period in charge the move began to move the National Bodies (Scottish Opera, RSNO, SCO, etc)  to direct funding and management by government - which he feels was a good thing and why - partly because it took up so much time.
  • How during his period in charge there was a clear leadership role and strategy in shifting how arts funding was spent and a recognition og the value of specialist knowledge within the funders.
  • He also says that the trends that became apparent later - 1) move from specialist to generalists within the finding agency and 2 ) retreat from a leadership role were already starting.
  • How it was a soul - destroying job but one that he enjoyed and feels is one of the best things he ever did.

He felt his key achievements were:

  • getting a much wider and fairer group of key players " in the room", starting to fund traditional music and jazz, Enterprise Music Scotland, increasing commissions and recordings funding, starting the move of National Bodies to direct management

His unfulfilled ambitions were around:

  • making the recording side stronger, developing business training in the sector



India Trip Video Diary

March 18, 2018

Thoughts on Wind Resistance by Karine Polwart

November 12, 2017
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.

PIE 7 moments

October 1, 2017

Su McKenzie and PIEMASTER Martin Green

George Burt & c'est moi..

Pete Furniss and his computer in dialogue...

Members of the PIE audience jam on Martin Green's rig in the interval.

The great George Burt and Su McKenzie

Dolphin Boy & Playtime Trio 3

September 15, 2017

At the Edinburgh International Jazz Festival at Soundhouse.org stage. July 2017. DJ Dolphin Boy on decks Graeme Stephen guitar Martin Kershaw saxophone Tom Bancroft drums filmed by Betty Boop

Dolphin Boy & Playtime Trio 2

At the Edinburgh International Jazz Festival at Soundhouse.org stage. July 2017. DJ Dolphin Boy on decks Graeme Stephen guitar Martin Kershaw saxophone Tom Bancroft drums filmed by Betty Boop

Dolphin Boy & Playtime Trio 1

At the Edinburgh International Jazz Festival at Soundhouse.org stage. July 2017. DJ Dolphin Boy on decks Graeme Stephen guitar Martin Kershaw saxophone Tom Bancroft drums filmed by Betty Boop