Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sandie Shaw appears before parliament

Yesterday the Culture, Media & Sport select committee was doing some thinking about the creative industries, which included an appearance by Sandie Shaw.

It's been written up in some places as an attack on Mumford And Sons, but... well, not really:

Finance is the biggest barrier for emerging artists.

At the moment, unless you’re Mumford & Sons and come from a public school and have a rich family that can support you, you’re on the dole and you’re trying to work and by the time you get a sniff of a record contract you just grab anything that they might offer you.”
That's not so much an attack on Mumfords as the lack of support for people who don't have their private means of support, surely? (And the gap is going to get worse, again, as Duncan Smith's punish-the-poor measures kick in in a few days.)

Shaw's not impressed by the alternative, Cowell-driven model, either:
“So many artists are disadvantaged,” she said. “They cannot start because of their background and the best music comes from those in challenging backgrounds, it comes from Glasgow, Manchester, Essex, it comes from places and people that are really struggling to make some meaning out of their existence.

“So all we’re getting is a load of Simon Cowell-type stuff that is being paid for and owned by people and the artists are just mere puppets.”
Yes. What chance do artists who take their first steps through a mere talent show have of creating great art like Sandie Shaw? Remind me, Daily Telegraph, how did Sandie Shaw's early struggle shape itself?
Shaw, whose real name is Sandra Goodrich, was working at the Ford car plant in Dagenham and as a part time model when she took part in a talent contest at the age of 17. Coming second, she got to take part in a charity concert and was seen by Adam Faith, the singer, whose manager won her a contract and gave her the stage name and topped the charts that year – 1964 – with (There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me.
But that was a totally different type of impressario sweeping up a talent show winner and giving them a recording contract.

Still, it's not like Faith was a Cowell-esque figure forcing Shaw to do work she didn't much care for, is it? Is it, Wikipedia?
Shaw had originally performed the song as one of five prospective numbers to represent the United Kingdom in the 1967 Eurovision Song Contest on The Rolf Harris Show. She had never been taken with the idea of taking part in the contest but her discoverer, Adam Faith, had talked her into it, saying it would keep her manager Eve Taylor happy. Taylor wanted to give Shaw a more cabaret appeal and felt that this was the right move - and also felt that it would get Shaw back in the public's good books as she had recently been involved in a divorce scandal.

Of the five songs performed, "Puppet on a String" was Shaw's least favourite. In her own words "I hated it from the very first oompah to the final bang on the big bass drum. I was instinctively repelled by its sexist drivel and cuckoo-clock tune." She was disappointed when it was selected as the song she would use to represent the country, but it won the contest hands down, though it has always been felt that this was partly due to her existing popularity on the continent (she had recorded most of her hit singles in French, Italian, German and Spanish).

Still, none of that should distract us from her main, valid point: a lot of British creativity has been nurtured by young people using time on the dole to develop a voice. You could argue that a guitarist writing songs while out of work is doing something to help with his "job search" - but the system has no way of recognising that.

It's true that if you force a young Jarvis Cocker to work stacking shelves for nothing in Poundland, he'll get a lot of ideas for songs. But you'd need to give him some space to write the things down.

1 comment:

Robin Carmody said...

Much of this stuff I agree with absolutely and 100%; the closing off of opportunities to the poor is real and should shame all of us. But there are two points that spring to my mind ...

... firstly, there *have* been a lot of working-class people having hits since 2009 or so (they now seem on the brink of being shut off again just as happened a decade ago, but the fact remains that it has been possible), people from the multiracial urban working class who are often written out of the story by doomsayers - could it be that the only working class some people of Shaw's generation (and often the one after it) recognise as legitimate is the white, indie kind?

... secondly, more worryingly, could it be that as big a factor in the elite takeover of pop as the effective ending of social mobility and the reinforcement of social divisions and informal apartheid is in fact the utter *success* of one key New Left aim, the ending of middle- and upper-class snobbery against popular culture and mass entertainment? (New Left and New Right working towards the same ends, again?) One of the key aims of the Left for much of the pop era was to bring down that residual resistance among the privileged class, seemingly under the impression that it would work wholly in their favour; even if we did have a government that increased social mobility and opportunities for the poor, Mumfords et al would still be there. Could it be that, alongside something the Left desperately do want (an end to elite ghettoisation and marginalisation of the poor), to restore pop music as a working-class culture we would also need something the Left desperately *doesn't* want, a resurgence of Hyacinth Bucket-ism and "no ITV in this house"? Could it be that, as the Right has won politically and the Left has won culturally, they have worked towards the same aims and we actually need old-fashioned snobbery back to restore outlets of opportunity for the working class?

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