Abigail Gilmore

"'City beats' – local popular music and cultural policy."

The International Journal of Urban Labour and Leisure, 3(1) <http://www.ijull.co.uk/vol3/1/000018.htm>

ISSN: 1465-1270


In mid- to late-nineties Britain, popular cultural activities and the cultural industries took on an increasingly central position in the dialogues and dictates of public sector cultural policy. Popular music, as one of these industries, has been recognised for its potential generation of social, cultural and in particular economic capital, and has enjoyed a more-or-less 'benevolent' relationship with the state on this basis. This article examines different examples of popular music's relationship to the local state - in Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and Leicester - as popular music is drawn into the sphere of urban policy and cultural restructuring.

Key words: popular music, cultural policy, urban regeneration, local state, local cultural production


Popular music poses particular problems for policy makers. The commercial success of popular music has meant that policy makers often consider it outside the remit of cultural policy, firstly because it is often assumed that arts policy equals subsidy and pop does not require this, and, secondly, because of the dichotomy between art and commerce presiding over the value systems of arts policy organisations. As an activity, popular music traditionally does not earn the same esteem as other forms of music. Popular musicians are seen as less skilled than others such as classical musicians, pop and rock promoters are seen as shifty and exploitative predators, preying on the young and innocent for a profit, and pop audiences are caricatured as young and fickle enough to be wasting time and money on such base pursuits. In terms of urban cultural life, popular music audiences have previously been portrayed as a necessary evil - going to see bands and visiting nightclubs are the prerogatives of youth, and can bring into the public domain problems which need to be contained, such as alcohol, noise, litter and violence. Until recently, the relationship between government agencies and popular music has been one of control and regulation or at least one held at a distance.

More recently however official culture has embraced popular music in ways which represent an epistemological break in pop's relatively short history. The relationship between politics and pop has previously been most easily summarised as taking one of two trajectories. Firstly, the relationship is characterised by protection on behalf of the public, through regulation of popular music practice by governing agencies. In the case of what Negus (1996) calls 'malevolent states', music policy is intended to control cultural practices, so that those which threaten the dominant ideologies are eradicated, constrained and replaced by those which uphold and promote approved national values, for instance in the case of Nazi Germany (see Negus 1996: 201-7). State regulation can also be protectionist under more democratic conditions, where national, regional or ethnic identities are perceived to be threatened by the cultural imperialism of imported products and the development of global economies. Music policy also addresses the moral health of inhabitants of nation states by filtering the content of popular music, for example, in censorship of lyrics or associated imagery.

Secondly, pop's relationship with politics is one of representation, where the meanings and messages found within popular music are mobilised to act on behalf of political ideologies and movements, or when the purveyors of the music, the pop stars themselves, are used by association to give politicians populist kudos (Street 1986; Cloonan 1996). Whilst these often uneasy associations continue to be made, as is apparent in more recent collusion between pop stars and politicians in the case of Britpop's embrace by Tony Blair, this relationship shifted to be grounded in a more substantive rather symbolic base, as popular music and the recording industry became recognised for their contribution to national economies. Popular music is now seen by both local and national governments to have estimable value, primarily in an economic sense, but also socially and culturally, and this recognition has encouraged cultural policy aimed at the development of the music industry, both nationally and locally.

In British society the second half of the 1990s saw the music industry embraced by policy makers at a national level, not least in terms of its economic and symbolic contribution on the crest of 'Cool Britannia'. Mapping exercises of the newly esteemed 'creative industries' focused attention on music industry's revenue of £3.6 billion per annum, with an export value of £1.5 million (Creative Industries Mapping Document 1998, DCMS). Government ministers and music entrepreneurs came together to discuss and advocate the conditions for their respective interests within milieu such as the Creative Industry Task Force and Music Industry Forum. With business firmly on the agenda, the music industry has been particularly well represented in lobbying for protection of artistic rights in the digital era, and training for popular musicians has been accommodated into Welfare to Work programmes such as the New Deal for Musicians, in part through the fierce lobbying by industry members such as Alan McGee, who argued that pop's success is rooted in the subsidy of its creators by social security benefits.

One reason for this shift stems from the development of local government cultural policy, which began to address the 'culture industries' in the 1980s. Local authorities took their cue from the Greater London Council (GLC), whose radical policies re-evaluated the role of popular culture and the cultural industries to include economic development and the support of equal opportunities until its abolition in 1986. Frith (1993) suggests that these changes were influenced by the need to develop service economies in the 1980s, following the decline of heavy and manufacturing industries and the need for the mainly Labour local governments to form alternative policies to the long-reigning Conservative government (Frith 1993:15). The public provision of local resources for popular musicians, such as studios, rehearsal and performance spaces, development, training and education, although from a variety of motivations including social cohesion and inclusion as well as the development of alternative economies, can be traced to these times.

My interest here is in the relationship between pop and policy at a local level, and with particular regard for new emphases on cultural restructuring and urban rejuvenation in British cities. As local manufacturing industries have decreased, the demand for cultural tourism and cultural amenities which attract investment has increased and local authorities have turned to consider what cultural assets they can rediscover or establish. Popular music, despite its misfit with traditional 'high culture' frameworks for cultural policy, has the advantages of youth, vitality and the recent recognition of its exportability and economic success on its side. It also has a particular place in British pride and a deep association with locality, in terms of the origins of scenes and sounds. At a local level, pop music can be and is accommodated into urban cultural policy in a number of ways. This paper discusses some examples of the relationship between popular music and urban policy through a typology of different approaches to popular culture in the context of urban governance.

Looking for popular music policy in the city of Leicester.

On embarking on the doctoral research from which this paper is taken1, I began to realise that my interest in examining local popular music practice in the city of Leicester was organised not so much in the business or private sector aspects of music making and consumption in the city, but rather in the ways in which such practices were perceived and received in the public sphere and in how public sector approaches and resources might affect and influence the kinds of music played and enjoyed. Working from a 'realist' grounded theory perspective (Layder 1993) which prioritises the emergence of issues through active research over pre-formed hypotheses, I examined the provision of resources and influence on structural conditions offered by such public sector agencies as the local authorities and regional arts board in an attempt to ascertain how they favoured popular music (as opposed to classical, folk or jazz music per se, although this is a political rather than strictly musicological distinction). I also considered case studies of music making and participation with regard to their relationship with the public sector, whether through the intrusions of licensing laws and noise levels on live performance in city venues or through the platform offered local bands and artistes at publicly funded city festivals and events. Thus, gradually and not before time, I realised that my examination into 'what the city could do for popular music' and 'what popular music could do for the city' was focused on the dialectical relationship between urban cultural policy and popular music.

Examining cultural policy as an object in itself in Leicester at the time of my fieldwork (1995 - 1997) proved not as straightforward as might seem apparent from the lofty perspective of the enlightened 21st century, when cultural strategies and culturally-led regeneration initiatives seem far more embedded in the civic rhetoric and attitudes of local authorities. Despite being only a few years ago, and indeed a decade after the work of the Greater London Council and the beginning of what McGuigan terms the social-democratic politics of 'investment' in the cultural industries (1996: 75), fieldwork in Leicester at the time uncovered not so much a rejection as an absence of sensitivity to the regenerating and contributory qualities of the creative/cultural industries claimed elsewhere. Hence I encountered responses which questioned the existence of cultural policy in the city or which qualified it, when found, to have 'aspirations to modesty'.2

Cultural policy is the political mediation of processes of cultural production, consumption and distribution. Markers as to where cultural policy begins and ends are somewhat problematised particularly when viewed with regard to popular cultural activity as, Rutten astutely points out, governmental popular music policy cannot be constrained to the official label of cultural policy since the actions of other political and discursive domains take affect on production, distribution and consumption of popular music (Rutten 1993:37). For example, as mentioned above, licensing and environmental regulations can affect where music can be heard, protective legislation on the commerce of intellectual property rights affects the free use and performance of works and, with particular relevance to popular music practice, social security benefits operate on the premise of the search for 'legitimate' work and the payment of taxes. The latter two examples are more pertinent to national policy making; the former however is situated far more in within local domains and has very direct effects on the local music activities examined in my research.
Street (1997) emphasises three aspects that are central to the formation and character of cultural policy. These aspects are institutional practices, policy process and ideology. They highlight: the organisations involved in policy making and their structural characteristics, histories and positions within the process; the relationship between policy making and external factors and influences; and the surrounding and driving values, perspectives and ideals behind these practices and processes (Street 1997: 79-83). Looking for the impact of and influences on local cultural policy therefore entails examining the people, political parties and persuasions, and traditions and approaches of the places they are situated, within as well as their surrounding economic and social conditions.

Urban cultural policy and popular culture.

There has been a broad shift in British arts and cultural policy over the last fifteen years as state intervention has moved from supporting participation in the arts through subsidy to addressing the many different ways in which cultural production and consumption impact on social life. Culture is now significant to a number of diverse areas of local and national policy, from social integration to tourism, urban regeneration and local economic development. Bianchini (1993) argues that rather than new policy replacing old, it is the expansion of its remit, particularly in cities, which marks the difference between cultural policy in the 1970s and today. He identifies reluctance on the behalf of the English and English speaking to use 'culture' when discussing related issues to policy-making. 'The arts' has been the preferred term, separated from economic activity chiefly by the Romantic movement of nineteenth century, which idealised artistic endeavour and felt materialistic intentions and commerciality to threaten art's spiritual purity. Using the word 'culture' also implied by connotation the other meanings for the word in the English language which possessed too much association with class-based notions of civilisation and refinement (Bianchini 1993:1). The language of cultural policy has changed in recognition of these shifts, from emphasis on 'arts' and 'heritage' in national policy discourse to one on 'culture' and 'cultural industries'.

These changes are perhaps best symbolised by the creation of a government ministry responsible for culture in 1992, which also marked the shift in language when its name was changed from the Department of National Heritage to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, under the new Labour government in 1997. One of the most important ideological shifts these developments recognise has been the emergence of the economic significance of cultural production and consumption. Following the funding crisis for public arts institutions in the early Thatcher years, the comparatively small but significant success of initiatives such as the employment-based cultural policies of the Greater London Council in the first half of the 1980s and studies such as Myerscough (1988), the economic impact of the arts in Britain has been increasingly foregrounded (Hewison 1995; Bianchini 1993:1-3).

During the 1980s policy makers and urban planners began to think of the importance of arts and cultural industries to urban economies and the development of urban regeneration strategies. De-industrialisation, the growth of the service class and technological advances have accompanied spatial shifts in cities, and encouraged policies which seek to regenerate their physical and economic fabric. The success and popularity of strategies such as 'downtown revitalisation' and the development of 'cultural quarters' in the United States and in cities in Europe have encouraged British local authorities to devise similar schemes, in partnership with other public agencies and private and voluntary sectors. Projects such as city arts and media centres and museums are no longer seen in isolation as the remit of arts and leisure departments, but are put forward for consideration to economic development units and regional development agencies as methods of making cities more physically attractive and economically competitive.

This has involved a move beyond the 'exhibition culture' of museums and art galleries, to develop strategies that utilise culture in new ways. Local authorities, often in partnership with the private sector, examine how cultural activity can be used to animate city centres by promoting venues, re-inventing public space and freeing up the time zones in which cultural consumption occurred. As well as enhancement of cultural consumption and the tourist industry, cultural production is encouraged by the support of creative industries such as printmaking, design, music and broadcast media to create jobs and enhance the 'soft infrastructures' of cities' cultural lives (Montgomery 1990). The creativity and innovation of arts and cultural sectors is also hoped to influence growth and development of new ideas in other areas, in particular knowledge and communication industries, as the organisational structures and employment cycles of developing industries increasingly mirror those found in arts and cultural production.

There has also been growing attention given to the inclusion of cities' populations through arts and culture, and the civic responsibility of representation of different social groups with cultural policy. This can be recognised for example in the extension of the National Lottery to include a 'sixth good cause' under the 1998 National Lottery Act. This has suggested a widening of the remit of local provision to include activities which attract new audiences to arts and culture and which reflect the differentialised cultural demographies of turn-of-the-millennium urban localities. Such strategies are in part a back-lash against the spatial monopoly of leisure and entertainment resources ordered by global economies which has left inner-city areas and outlying estates neglected and deprived. National policy recommendations emphasise the social benefit of arts, culture and sports activities to neighbourhood renewal and inclusion of deprived communities through the partnership of public, voluntary and private agencies and the development of action delivered at a local and regional level. These recommendations are not necessarily new: local authorities, in particular those led by Labour councils, have stressed equal opportunities and social inclusion through cultural activity for some time. Their positioning as part of a nation-building ethos placing diversity, access and participation alongside vitality, innovation and meritocracy is however very much new, as in New Labour (and the hopeful re-branding of 'New Britain').

In turn this celebration of access and vitality has encouraged a 'new populism' as urban cultural policies systemically bring together the different social, cultural, political and economic objectives outlined above to challenge, ignore and alter traditional cultural value systems perhaps irrevocably.

Finally cities have stepped outside the 'high arts' of museum and galleries by sponsoring festivals of community arts, popular music, circus skills and the like (Griffiths 1993:41)

Popular cultural practices and products are deemed more important than ever in policy contexts, as they present the means to combine the different intentions intrinsic to cultural policy and offer their benefits to the widest number of people. Popular music is one example alongside fashion, new media, design, film and entertainment software, of an industrial sector that, for the purposes of such policies, can combine contemporary notions of both art and commerce.

This next section offers examples of the relationships between public sector agencies, city images, economies and demographies and popular music.

Then God created Manchester…

Manchester's effusive relationship with popular culture has recently been documented in popular literature (for example, Champion 1990; Garratt 1998; Haslam 1999). The capacity of its original and adoptive inhabitants to stake their claims on cultural integrity and supremacy has done much to enhance the city's self-proclaimed status as comparable to Barcelona and other 'Culture Capitals'. Similarly, the city has been portrayed on television as a site for alternative cultural pursuits and lifestyles through programme series such as The Cops and Queer as Folk. 'Play and spectacle' became part of the regeneration of the physical and economic city, as management of city centres by local authorities has aimed to encourage leisure and entertainment services as well as work to animate areas of cities left barren after dark (Mellor 1997). The physical structure of Manchester city centre has been allowed to open up to display a public arena of promenade and drama by facilitative intervention and a 'hands off' approach towards organic commercial cultural activity on the part of Greater Manchester City Council (Brown 1998a). The result is an approach which takes notice of the cultural rhythms and themes already extant in the city, and has in turn used this vitality as a selling point.

This 're-imaging' set out to highlight the strengths of the city, rather than its declining industrial base. It came out of a shift in local authority focus towards positive partnerships in the late 1980s, including the formation of city centre development corporation (Central Manchester Development Corporation in 1987) and a cultural review of Greater Manchester commissioned by the City Council and the regional arts association and conducted by the Manchester Institute of Popular Culture (MIPC) at the Manchester Metropolitan University. There was a move to showcase Manchester's potential on the global stage, in sports, arts and as a host for such activities - the city bid for the 1996 and 2000 Olympics and built the G-Mex and the Nynex exhibition and concert arenas (Brown 1998a). There was also move towards popular culture away from high culture after perceived failure in drawing in audience:

It was then doubtful whether the promotion of the cultural industries would favour upper-income cultural aspirations. Perhaps the weakness of the Hallé Orchestra, once the city's declaration of worth to a national audience, symbolised the shift to a pluralistic urban culture (Mellor 1997:59)

Popular music was one theme chosen to represent the city's lively cultural profile, alongside drama and the city's expanding gay scene, and the emerging underground music scenes in the late 1980s were used in advertising campaigns. Manchester City Council offered a 'hands-off' approach coupled with selective support and physical regeneration investment in terms of popular music: whilst some support was given to events, such as festivals and the 'In The City' music industry convention, the indigenous industry was considered healthy enough to survive without hefty state subsidy.

Regeneration schemes such as the Castlefield area have helped sustain small businesses such as record labels and music promoters and the zoning of licensing of venues and premises assisted the nightclubs which were crucial to the development of the world famous 'Madchester' scene. The concept of the 24 hour city was introduced and promoted by the city authorities to maximise yield from expensive land through multiple functions (for example residential, business, service and leisure sectors all sharing the same space but operating at different times), and the city has earned a reputation as a European clubbing capital and the site for innovative music scenes, based around venues such as the Hacienda club.

Arts festivals and carnivals representing different communities (for example gay, Chinese and Irish) are given high profile and priority in the city's streets: it is however popular music and sport that are known as Manchester's biggest assets outside of the city. There is a strong relationship between local cultural policy, organic cultural activity and the city's Universities, both in terms of the large student population and academic research carried out into city activity, for example, by the Manchester Institute of Popular Culture at Manchester Metropolitan University.

As well as carrying out consultative work for local authorities, the institute is also involved in canvassing and supporting cultural practitioners in a number of spheres including the music industry, small to medium enterprises and networks and affiliations based in cultural quarters in the city. This relationship, between local academics, policy makers and practitioners serves to valorise local activity as well as feed back the findings of contemporaneous research. It also serves to supplement the conditions for graduate retention of students of cultural practice and production by adding to discourse of competence and legitimacy in local cultural scenes.

Liverpool - Beatles City: The Cavern Quarter.

The Cavern Quarter is a 'quarterised' zone in Liverpool city centre, comprising of a lattice of small streets of the main thoroughfare. Its status as a cultural quarter is assumed from the famed attendance of the Beatles to the area rather perhaps than through current cultural activity. The area does not feature the small cultural businesses found in other cultural or creative quarters but hosts large-scale retailers (some of which are party to the private partnership which has led this initiative since 1993), bars and architectural features such as a Wall of Bands, Beatles chairs and various statues and reliefs of the Fab Four. Although bands and acts play in the quarter's venues, there is less an atmosphere of organic music-making than sanitised tourist glaze, particularly if the current quarter is compared to its status as original site of the Cavern Club and in the 1970s of Eric's, a seminal punk venue. Music can be heard in the bars and pubs in the area, including a large Irish pub which features dance bands regularly. The area's chief contemporary musical purpose is however as a shrine for Beatles memorabilia, and also as the host site for the annual Beatles festival.

The result is a heritage zone by design imposed on what is essentially a shopping mall. The network of streets contains a caricatured history of Liverpool's musical legacy combined with an overwhelming push for consumption which is startlingly not geared towards music but towards consumption of the place through one's own presence. To go to the Cavern Quarter is to be a witness to its musical history, perhaps without even hearing any music.

The sponsorship of the area by the retailers within it has led to the design of the quarter which encourages the consumption of more mundane commodities, such as sportswear, on sale there. It is thus more likely that a by-product of a visit to the Cavern Quarter will be shopping rather than cultural endeavour per se, so that the Beatles end up marketing trainers and sweatshirts, rather than representing Liverpool the city. At the Albert Dock, another bastion of cultural regeneration in the city, the Beatles Experience constitutes a similar queasy homage to the band amidst a range of gift shops and tourist cafes.

Liverpool 2: Cultural Industries Development Agencies on Merseyside.

A different example of the Merseyside region's relationship with its indigenous cultural production, in this instance contemporaneous rather than historical, is that of particular agencies and organisations which champion the cultural sectors of the city. In Liverpool, agencies have been developed to look after the city's film and music industry (the Moving Image Development Agency and the Merseyside Music Development Agency respectively) and support of arts and culture overall in the area is under the remit of Arts Culture and Media Enterprise (ACME).

These agencies have been almost wholly realised through European funding. Merseyside as a region was classified as Objective One in 1993 by the European Commission, meaning that it requires economic specific assistance in order to be found equable with the rest of Europe, and a funding programme with a potential of £630m from the EC has been in place since 1994. The opportunities presented by this programme, the lack of indigenous industry after the decline of the city's status as a port, its history of both poverty and pop music and, crucially, the presence of a group of arts consultants in the city have led to the development of a particular form of sectoral support.

This last element - a group of people who worked together in Merseyside Arts, the local arts board abolished in 1990 - has been very influential on arts and cultural policy in the region, in particular through their economic approach to the arts. Members of the group developed and promoted an emphasis on the importance of understanding and support of cultural production to the economic impact of arts and culture. The first implementation of this approach was the Moving Image Development Agency for the promotion of the TV and film sector in Liverpool, particularly to provide locations for filming and in terms of using local labour.

The consultants behind this initiatives were also commissioned to explore the potentials of the music sector and joined forces with the local music trade organisation, the Merseyside Music Industry Association in 1994 to develop a bid for Objective One money. This bid initially aimed to secure £1.3m to fund a development agency, in partnership with a range of local public sector agencies, aimed at building on the local music industry infrastructure to encourage investment from outside the region into production of popular music by local music services, utilising a mechanism which draws down funding according to the amount of investment generated.

The bid for the Merseyside Music Development Agency was eventually successful (in 1997), although for a lesser amount of money and after difficult and protracted relations with both the consultants and central government agency on Merseyside. The agency builds on other previous initiatives providing advice and training in popular music developed with local authority involvement, but the model of the development agency, particularly with regard to the draw-down mechanism, and the use of European funding, are unique. Complications arose over a misfit between the model presented by the consultants (previously applied to the film industry development agency) and the realities of local music industry operations. There was also suspicion on the part of the local Government Office in its treatment of the proposed agency which suggested a characteristic mistrust of the local music industry.

Other problems that the MMDA has faced are connected to the difficulties of developing performance indicators to measure the impact of such a project in an industry which is secretive about its own investments (for example when signing bands) and which employs a high proportion of casual and part-time labour. As such local music services benefit in theory from their classification alongside more traditional industries in terms of recognition for their potential contribution to local economies, but in practice when it comes to evaluative indices music industries are more problematic.

Sheffield's integrated plan and the Cultural Industries Quarter.

Local authority action in relation to cultural industries in Sheffield has received some notoriety and attention, as an example of integrated cultural policy geared towards economic development in a city with a dissolving indigenous industrial base. One branch of this action, the Cultural Industries Quarter (CIQ), has been visited by many representatives from local authorities and municipal economic development units, including those of Liverpool and Leicester. The creation and support of this initiative, based in part around the Red Tape recording studio and launched in 1986, is part of a four stage strategy to develop the city's cultural industries, incorporating support for production and consumption on a regional, national and international basis. Belonging to the last stage of this plan geared toward 'global' recognition of Sheffield as a cultural centre, the National Centre for Popular Music (opened March 1999), aimed to draw visitors from all over the world to learn about popular music via exhibitions, workshops and performances.

The Centre presents educational resources in the history and technicalities of popular music and initial feedback suggested it is successful in these aims, at least to the level of school-aged children. It works in partnership with local training establishments but sits rather awkwardly amongst the new rash of music industry training organisations, and has been criticised for its lack of involvement with local businesses. This return to the exhibition approach represents an attempt to reach a global market, to attract a projected 400,000-500,000 visitors annually and impact on the wider area of the CIQ by providing live performance space and encouraging further services such as food outlets by re-populating the area (Brown 1998b). The Centre has run into trouble within its first year of opening however, due to lower than expected attendance figures, and the exhibition area closed in July 2000 to 'allow for major redevelopment'. According to the Centre's website, the research and design for this redevelopment is being encouraged to take into consideration the urgent need for more partnership and synthesis with its surrounding businesses, organisations of support and environment (www.ncpm.co.uk). Clearly the original aims and expectations of the visitor attraction outreached its potential, though whether this is due to a mismatch between the desire to institutionalise pop in museum form and audience appeal, to the overambitious prediction of expected visitors alone, or to mistakes in terms of the Centre's production and situation in its surrounding environment is unclear without review. Suffice to say at present, it has been referred to in policy circles as 'the Dome of popular music'.3

The CIQ itself is a 30 hectare site on the edge of the city centre which hosts over a hundred cultural businesses, encouraged to start up or move there to benefit from subsidised workspace and organised business support as well as the close proximity of similar businesses. The initiative came out of the development of a number of facilities supported by the City Council in the mid-1980s, although the quarter wasn't officially named as such until 1988. There are now around 150 cultural businesses in the area, providing an estimated 1,300 jobs. The industrial approach to culture was seen as a response to the rapid and devastating decline of the steel industry; whilst jobs created in the cultural sector could never hope to replace those in the steel industry, the initiative presented the opportunity for the development of local creative expression as well as small scale economy (Brown 1998b).

Popular music, policy and success.

It is noteworthy that the three cities employed in case study above each have a reputable output in terms of popular music 'product' in the national music industry, diachronically in terms of legacies and histories of local pop artistes over time, and synchronically in terms of their association with particular styles and music scenes. For example, Liverpool's Merseybeat provides the background to the pride in the city's more recent successes in Indie music (e.g. the bands Space and Cast) and Manchester's fusion of Indie and Dance produced the template for Acid House, sited in the venue (the Hacienda) which grew out of the success of Factory Records and New Order. Sheffield in turn has associations with a particular 'industrial' take on music produced synthetically, from the experimentation of the Human League, to the 'Bleep' scene of Warp records and the recent mainstream success of Moloko.

These 'rock family trees' are important to the association of music with place, not least because of the networks of activities they represent, but also because they are grounded in the actual physical conditions for the production, distribution and consumption of music that are used and created in their sites of origin. As documented by commentary on these 'music' cities described above, music scenes which become successful outside of their own domains feed back into local activity through the actions of those involved, whether economically through the funding of recording and performance facilities, (for example the creation of Factory Records and the Hacienda by Tony Wilson and New Order) or symbolically as role models for those to come.

These 'feedback loops' do not happen in isolation however, and it is the relationship between activity found predominantly in the private sector and the policies of the public sector that I am interested in here. The fieldwork in Leicester endeavoured to discover what policy implications contribute and come from the successes of local scenes and practitioners, by looking at both elements in tandem. Research questions included: how much of the character of a place is intrinsic to its popular music output, and how much is this character resonant in the conditions supplied or regulated by local cultural policy? Are there connections to be made between the attitudes, intentions, resources and approaches found in local provision for cultural activity and the popular music scenes and histories produced in these locales?

The city of Leicester and popular music.

My examination in Leicester of the support, provision and regulation of popular music that characterised the city's approach to this form of cultural production foregrounded different types of activity. The principle forms of provision and support that I found were organised around the development of musicians at ground level - i.e. at a the point between amateur and professional artisanship - and around displaying the production of popular music locally through performance.

Leicester is one of the first cities to support a Popular Music Development Officer, as part of an East Midlands Arts Board initiative. In 1993 a partnership was formed between East Midlands Arts and the local authorities of four adjoining counties in the East Midlands region: Leicestershire, Nottingham, Northamptonshire and Derby (excluding the High Peaks). This partnership established the posts in each county of Rock and Pop Development Workers, funded by a combination of local authority and Regional Arts Board money. The workers have the responsibility of developing popular music in their localities as they see fit, meeting as a regional network periodically. Leicester has also developed its own city-wide Network, chaired by the City development officer, which grew out of a series of public meetings from February 1997 aimed at bringing the city's private sector into a more sustainable partnership with the already established East Midlands Network.

The network was set up to support popular music across the East Midlands. Much of the initial work was involved with promotion of the service itself, and with developing information on public sector funding, finance not normally associated with rock and pop music. Finding money for local bands and acts does not constitute all of the work of the partnership however, since much of its purpose lies in providing information and advice, support and promotion for the local music scenes. Workshops and seminars on popular music practice and the music industry have been co-ordinated in the region, and projects such as the production of compilation CDs, work with schools and colleges and the showcasing of up-and-coming bands in local venues.

The city also has a number of City Council supported venues, and runs a series of festivals and carnivals over the summertime which act as platforms for local acts.4 The venues are however multipurpose in that they are intended for not specifically for popular music but for a variety of performing arts. They have associated problems for young musicians wanting to get into 'gigging' locally: the largest, DeMontfort Hall, is too expensive for even a consortium of bands to hire to put on an event, and the other smaller venues such as the Guildhall and the City Rooms suffer from their association with less 'rock'n'roll' events or from unsuitable sound systems.

Despite the development of resources for local popular musicians and audiences, there is little in the way of industrial support for entrants to or existing members of the music industry, on the scale seen in other cities such as Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield.5 Examples of links between the public sector and local music activity in Leicester tend to focused on creating equal opportunities of access to music production on a small scale rather than supporting the businesses and personnel of a local industry. For example, at the community studio at Fosse Arts in Leicester, the City Council subsidises the rates artists pay per hour for studio time, an approach which aims to increase the numbers of people recording at the studio and increase access to facilities which are too expensive in the commercial sector for many to afford. Certain further disadvantaged groups are targeted, such as women, minority ethnic groups and youth from particular residential areas of the city. This was part of the first wave of new art schemes in Leicester after the 1980s riots throughout Britain, which put emphasis upon equal opportunities and on facility arts and recreation facilities for the youth of Leicester.

As with the shift to 'equal access' in national cultural policy, this approach aims to represent a population in terms of proportionate social groups in society, and hence targets and monitors the inclusion of different social divisions. In the field of popular music provision, it emphasises the need to create a level playing field for all participants across genre and style. It appeals to the social rather than musical characteristics of the producers and consumers, so that communities of age, sex, race and ethnicity and ability are examined. Methods usually involve a combination of positive action or discrimination on behalf of the social groups that are perceived to be discriminated against or excluded, and representation of these groups as role models.

This approach quite clearly advises the work of the Network Rock and Pop Officers in Leicester:

This is a rough guess, and I haven't actually made a graph or a pie chart - but I'd say about 60-70% white male, which is interesting. The market is dominated in that respect anyway, but I think I have had 2 Black artists total, 2 Asian artists total, probably only about 15-20% females, come to talk to me. Particularly in the younger section. If we are talking about teenagers it is even more prevalent. It's quite disturbing really (A Rock and Pop Development Officer in interview).

The use of workers as role models who 'represent' underrepresented sections of the target audience is also part of this and other Equal Opportunities practice:

Well, I suppose out of all the workers - you know Norman in Derbyshire is black, and obviously I am 'the women' - and we take the piss out of it, like - 'we've got one queer, one women and one black guy - we'll do it all for you' [laughs]. So I sort of feel that maybe we have got more of an understanding of what actually Equal Opportunities might mean in practice, and what a long and painful process it is going to be to actually start in ten years in having a different demographic profile of musicians, if you see what I mean. My understanding of it is that just because there aren't loads of girls playing guitar and just because there aren't millions of black rock musicians doesn't mean that they can't do it and that they aren't interested… when you put musicians in school I want there to be some women, I want there to be some black people… It is a real chicken and egg situation - if they haven't got role models on the telly and they don't want to be like them then there is not going to be the motivation (Rock and Pop Development Officer in interview).

This method has been taken up by Popular Music Development workers offering the opportunity to see practitioners in action who have the same demographic qualities as those targeted. These opportunities are aimed at combating the lack of representation in wider society:

Similarly, recent success of Cornershop, an indie band heralded as leaders of the 'New Asian Scene' who first 'broke' onto the international stage whilst based in Leicester, is frequently upheld as being a major influence on the increased interest of and collaboration with Asian communities and youth in the Leicester Music Network. Until this point there had been a push for incorporating Bhangra into the Network's activities, coming in part from East Midlands Arts, who had previously successfully funded a number of visiting Indian traditional music artists to the region and viewed a commitment to Bhangra as one to the younger members of the city's Asian communities. This approach was criticised by a former Popular Music Development officer, who felt frustrated by what he saw as a blinkered approach which equated 'Asian' with 'Bhangra'.

If you asked any of the funders, from Leicestershire in particular, why the Network was set up and why they need a Rock and Pop Officer, they wouldn't be able to give you a proper answer. That is the difference, they didn't know why and they still don't know why. I used to get things from the city council, they used to say things like "can we make sure we don't give grants to thrash-based white rock bands, we ought to be concentrating on some Asian music or black music", forgetting how the industry works, but also forgetting the fact that in a lot of cases, the music is blind to race and ethnicity. So one of the biggest challenges is to get like an Asian rock band recognised, not to concentrate on Bhangra, but to see where there are Asian and black music actually making mainstream music and giving them the chance to become visible…That is the challenge: not to make sure Bhangra funded and Calypso gets funded. There is just no recognition of where the needs are and all the 'whys' and 'wherefores' behind it (A former Rock and Pop Development Worker).

Cornershop are one band who distance themselves actively and politically from Bhangra, although they will admit to using and liking Punjabi folk elements which brought them international acclaim as a 'crossover' band in 1997. They are the type of band the former Development Officer cited hoped for as a role model for young Leicester Asians, coming from style of music outside of Bhangra and achieving major success in the national music industry. The irony here is that although the band have given one interview for the Leicester Asian Network radio station, they make little or no allusion to their time in the city in press releases or interviews.

The 'equality of opportunity' approach mirrors the ethos of Leicester City Council more generally, and has been one arm of local authority culture, if not cultural policy, that has been consistently prioritised. In Leicester, where 28% of the city's population is classed as being of an ethnic minority (OPCS Census 1991) with an Asian majority predicted by 2010, the City Council places much emphasis on the inclusion of all ethnic and social groups in the targeting of arts and cultural resources. The festival programme of the city includes events to celebrate the Asian communities' religious festivals such as Eid, Diwali and Ramadan and supports the Caribbean Carnival, one of the largest outside of Notting Hill. Indeed, the support of festivals, open air events and carvnivals constitutes the majority of public sector provision for popular music in the city, so that performance of local musicians becomes a key mechanism for representing sections of the city population in the public sphere. Through the local authorities' contract with equal opportunities, music and dance at events in the city's parks and squares are the vessels of representation and inclusion, according to particular themes of youth and ethnicity.

The culture of policy.

In Leicester, the local government's relationship with culture has roots in the city's history, with primary emphasis on the city's changing population over the last forty years, the history of local government, radicalism, democracy and party politics, and the political inclusion of ethnic minorities in the city. The city combines a history of relative economic stability with an ethos of education and self-improvement from political reform and the influence of non-conformist religious movements. Religion and politics are strongly linked in the history of the city; the city's Corporation had been exclusively Tory and High Church until radical reform in the 1830s when non-conformist churches gained purchase on the Corporation, reflecting the number of different churches in the city. In 1836 the membership of the Corporation featured Anglicans, Baptists, Congregationalists, Quakers, Unitarians and Wesleyans, and it was the Unitarians that amongst others supported the Temperance movement which featured prominently in Leicester during the nineteenth century. The non-conformists were seen as 'prudent, intelligent, utilitarian and frugal' (Ash 1995). There was also a small but influential Jewish community, members of whom engaged in local politics and presented labour opportunities in the late nineteenth century in clothing manufacture and trade (op cit).

Leicester's main industry had been the hosiery trade since introduction of the stocking frame in the seventeenth century. Shoemaking also joined the industries that formed the city's industrial base, as did engineering and knitwear. Leicester has not suffered the major economic decline of other cities due to the decline of heavy industry, and the strength, scale and variety of its indigenous industries continued this relative prosperity until the mid 1970s, when unemployment rose above 3% for the first time since the second world war (Nash & Reeder 1993: 75). This stability also served to attract what constitutes the most radical change in the history of Leicester's population: that of the influx of New Commonwealth immigrants. Leicester has been a major destination for migrants from the 1950s and has one of the highest percentage Asian populations in Britain, as well as substantial numbers from the Caribbean and Europe. An estimated equal number of Asians from the Indian subcontinent and from East Africa settled in the city between the 1950s and 1980s, migrating due to 'push' factors, such as the political expulsions from East Africa in the late 1960s and early 1970s and 'pull' factors, such as recruitment by the British Government after the war and, in particular in Leicester, the attraction of stable employment, a range of industry, including factory work suitable for women and cheap housing (Narain 1995).

The migrant communities were not however instantly welcomed or assimilated into city life: in the early 1970s there was a high level of National Front activism in and surrounding the city. In 1972 there were riots as a result of National Front demonstrations, the same year that the Labour council took the unprecedented move to put an advert in East Africa newspapers warning migrants not to come to the city, and in 1974 the party polled the highest number of votes in Leicester in the general election (Nash & Reeder 1993; Jewson 1995). However, as Jewson (1995) states there existed certain social factors which allowed this situation to be at least partially redressed. He describes twentieth century Leicester as a relatively open city, in that 'it has a diverse local economy which includes manufacturing and services…[and] a number of industries in which it is possible to launch an entrepreneurial career (Jewson 1995: 113).

These factors, coupled with diverse housing sources and good transport links to the region and the nation, have allowed for economic, social and geographical mobility within immigrant groups. Perhaps most importantly to this examination was the relative permeability of the local council by some minority ethnic groups due to number of factors such as the geographical concentration of ethnic minority groups in key wards and the long term success of the Labour party in Leicester. Asian immigration in the 1970s reconstructed the already dominant Labour party in Leicester and altered the boundaries of party affiliation within the city from class and religion, to class and race, introducing equal opportunities as a defining factor in local Labour party politics (Nash & Reeder 1993: 92). There is a strong representation of Asian communities on Leicester City Council and the local authority also has a long record of race relations initiatives. These factors go a long way in explaining the profiling of Leicester's cultural diversity in tourism strategies and the priorities placed on social and ethnic inclusion in cultural activities, despite and in the face of the city and the county's antipathy to immigration in the 1970s.

Cultural programming such as the Abbey Park Festival, the Caribbean Carnival, the Leicester Mela and the Diwali lights on Melton Road thus typify Leicester's political approach to culture. Public representation of the diverse communities and equality of access to cultural participation form the key mechanisms for social inclusion and equal opportunities through arts and cultural activity and in turn constitute the most visible expressions of the city's cultural policy. The foregrounding of such methods suggests that cultural policy approaches stem from particular conceptions of culture which are rooted in historical, social and economic background and conditions of the locality. In Leicester's case this conception of culture leans heavily on culture 'as way of life', involving tradition as well as heritage and in particular, due to the diverse cultural communities inhabiting the city, a respect for the traditions of different cultures. It also places emphasis on support for surrounding conditions of these traditions and values, so that policy directed towards the environment, education, the family, youth, disability also reflects these considerations.

The importance of Asian communities, in terms of political and social inclusion and contribution to the local economy in terms of production and perhaps more importantly consumption, is beginning to be recognised by policy makers in Leicester. A substantial review of local cultural policy and provision has been taking place over 1999 and 2000, and new plans have been revealed which discuss cultural provision in terms of linking different communities and residential areas to each other and to the city centre through public art. There is also a long term strategy to upgrade city performance spaces and venues and to 'quarterise' part of the city centre and dedicate to it to cultural activity with strong South Asian themes, including the existing South Asian Theatre Initiative 'Natak' and Asian cinema.6 How much these involve, challenge and influence city popular music scenes based in both Asian and non-Asian communities remains to be seen; however the policy review and forthcoming integrated arts and cultural strategies do seem to mark a moment when the city's local authorities have turned to embrace local activity anew and with more diversity of appraisal and approach.

The success of local music policies.

But do cultural rejuvenation initiatives and the encouragement of cultural tourism really work, in terms of replacing or compensating for industrial decline in a localised framework, in terms of contributing to local economic development in any substantial form? Lovering (1995) suggests that they act more as compensation for a lack of control over the shape and success of such development on the part of local authorities, and in may reveal a conservative approach rather than an example of radical innovation in policy:

Lacking real influence over significant investment decisions, the apparatus of urban economic governance is often under pressure to "spectacularise" policy…Localisation in practice, largely confined to place marketing, is most unlikely to produce a significant net increase in jobs, but it fuels a certain postmodern inventiveness. The Beatles are now everywhere in Liverpool despite the fact that they left town thirty years ago and one of them is dead. They serve as an acceptable uncontroversial place identifier, as indicated by the fact that Paul McCartney was invited to sign the City Challenge bid (Lovering 1995:118).

A successful partnership between local music industry and activity and the public sector may be dependent on the associations made and the raw materials (in terms of indigenous pop history) available; however it is also often uneasily received on the part of music as co-optation, so that those who side with orthodoxy are ridiculed for their collusion with the enemy.

Similarly local industrial initiatives may be frustrated by differences in timescales between private sector entrepreneurialism and public sector bureaucracy, and by differences in funding indices and units of selection. For example, in the case of popular music the Full Time Equivalent for creation of employment is notoriously hard to ascertain in an occupation with so many part-time activities which cut across different stages of production and distribution. Economies can be difficult to quantify, due to the underground or casual nature of activity and are difficult to categorise under orthodox headings.

In the case of Leicester these problems may be yet to come. The city's sons and daughters have had limited success in the mainstream music industry in recent years, despite a flurry of interest in the 1980s and early 1990s through bands such as the Swinging Laurels and Diesel Park West. One notable exception is that of Mark Morrison, who broke through with British R'n'B and Swingbeat and claimed Leicester as his home, despite a background that includes Germany and Florida. His return to the city on occasions has involved sponsorship of local talent contests, with popular response, however his reputation as a 'bad boy' for various incidents, including a spell at Her Majesty's Pleasure has somewhat marred the potential role of positive role model for city youth. Another exception is that of Cornershop, discussed above.

A burgeoning underground dance music scene exists in Leicester however, tied to the legacy of sound systems, the emergence of pirate radio networks and Midlands jungle/drum'n'bass impressarios. Musicians, producers and DJs offer a balance to the predominantly white demography of Leicester popular music, with Reggae, Swingbeat, Soul and other 'black' music practices cutting across the perceived divide between African-Caribbean and Asian communities in the city (see Gilmore 1995). The multicultural and intercultural practices desired by local policy makers are visible here, but are distanced from the public sector by entrepreneurial logic, suspicion and mistrust. A mutually profitable relationship seems hard to arrive at, despite the involvement of many scene members in the city's formative legitimate platforms for multicultural display, the Caribbean Carnival and the Leicester Mela.

The use made of local popular music production and practices to revitalise local image and economy is therefore at present somewhat limited in Leicester, since the extent of industry and activity is partly obscured by its underground associations and since local policy approach has favoured the less dynamic medium of public display to satisfy its equal opportunities remit. Future policy, as mentioned above, is embracing the forms of strategy - cultural quarters, flagship media centres, affordable space for artists and small businesses - highlighted by the other urban policy examples I have examined through the filter of interculturalism, and a site-specific emphasis on Leicester's large and growing Asian population, a reworking of equal opportunities for the 21st century. Time will tell how these developments alter or enhance the relationship between popular music and local authority agencies in the city, and how they serve the multiple intentions of cultural policy


The language of cultural policy has shifted to reveal the rearrangement of priorities lying behind new developments, initiatives, strategy remits and policy research briefs. Hence we get attention to the cultural vibrancy of an area replacing a more stolid assessment of arts provision, and homage to cultural diversity and social inclusion as an expression of the equality of opportunities formerly sought in public sector directives. This is not to say that there is no change in policy formation and review; rather, local cultural policies are quite radically different from those of two or three decades ago, not least due to the shotgun wedding of private and public sectors brought on by the ideologies of neo-liberalism. The economic impact of arts and culture, seemingly discovered mid-Thatcher era, but also heralded by the GLC and other Labour controlled local authorities has changed the face of cultural policy forever, in part by justifying the subsidy of popular culture in its role as replacement for dying manufacturing industries. New Labour, with its Cool Britannia, New Audiences and new rhetoric, has also supplemented the expectations on cultural practices by blessing this marriage between art and economy as if one of its own, and giving culture a conscience as well as a job as a wedding present. By opening up access to the arts for everyone, claiming its charms as a tool against social exclusion and prejudice, public sector support of (all sorts of) arts and (high, low, folk) culture stands to gain kudos for its nation-building project as well as symbolic and economic revenue for its cultural institutions.

In terms of music policy and the city, these developments offer potential for popular music practitioners and audiences, opening windows of opportunity for administrators, funders and developmental workers to broach the gap between pop and the public sector. Pop music is recognised for its earning capacity, for its ability to lend a lasting reputation to localities through the success of their children, its animation of space and time as part of the 24 hour city, the occupation of youth and the soundtrack of city festivities. Popular music has a special relationship with new technologies, print and broadcast media and can be used as a medium itself for the communication of social and cultural issues and meanings.

As this article has attempted to show, localities have different relationships to popular music embodied in their policy approaches and strategies. The origins and longevity of these approaches can be linked to social, cultural and historical conditions of their production - the 'local structures of feeling' (Taylor et al 1996) from whence they came. The policy approaches and personnel who espouse and fulfil them are only one side of the coin however and cannot be extricated from their relationship with popular music activity and industry in place. Thus particular networks and relationships - between and within the public sector, the private sector and the public - can enhance or destroy initiatives and themes by championing them or by closing the door to negotiation. Also, local popular music activities and industries are far from homogenous, and rarely renowned for their positive appraisal of council and arts boards schemes, unless there are signs of a guaranteed profit, symbolic but more often economic, from a mutual social contract. Urban policy can affect all types of local activity, music scenes and communities through regulation, but only some benefit from 'benign' popular music policy, particularly with those close to or receptive to the incursions of the public sector. In the case of the re-imaging of cities, however, urban cultural policy can be seen to profit from its association with popular culture, as it feeds off the successes of local music industries.


1 Doctoral thesis entitled ‘Popular music in the city: an examination of local music scenes, popular music practice and cultural policy in the city of Leicester’. As suggested in the title, the research focused on Leicester as its main fieldwork site, but also considered other locales, in part through desk research and in part through a period of research undertaken as Research Assistant on the ESRC project ‘Music policy, local music industries and local economic development’. This project was conducted jointly by the Institute of Popular Music, University of Liverpool, and the Manchester Institute of Popular Culture, Manchester Metropolitan University, and considered the relationship between popular music policy and practice and local and regional development in the cities of Liverpool, Sheffield and Manchester. I am indebted to my colleagues Dr. Sara Cohen, Dr. Justin O’Connor and Dr. Adam Brown for use of material from the project here and elsewhere.
2 In the interests of simplicity, I have omitted the names of respondents, contacts and interviewees cited in this paper. It is however important to note their capacities and roles as criteria for selection for interviewing and quotation: the qualification made here was by a senior academic in the area of urban cultural policy, who is based in Leicester and who has a consultative relationship with Leicester City Council on a number of occasions.
3 Thanks to Karen Pirie for reporting this remark to me, made by the programme director of a Leicester City Council-sponsored music venue.
4 For a discussion on the importance of supporting venues for local popular music production and consumption see Street (1995).
5 During fieldwork interviews, particularly those involving members of Leicester’s small but hopeful music industry a recurrent theme was the somewhat envious reference to these three cities in particular, in terms of their success in presenting local challenges to the London- based national industry.
6 Performing Arts, Film, New Media and Visual Arts in Leicester: City Centre Capital Options, a Summary Report, Leicester City Council, prepared by ABL (Arts Business Ltd) May 2000


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Abigail Gilmore was awarded her doctorate by Leicester University, Sociology Department, in March 2000. She is currently Research Associate at the Department of Social Sciences, Loughborough University, on a project examining cultural policy and culture in the public sphere in relation to the Millennium Dome. E-mail: A.J.Gilmore@lboro.ac.uk.

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