MusicHistory

29th August 2014

The History of Music in Leicester

For most of this year I have been writing a book that is about music in Leicester; the first volume of this covers the years 2006 to 2013.  So far I have made first drafts of the chapters on the years 2006 to 2011. I am now working on the chapter for 2012.

The material for these chapters is being drawn from the articles and reviews of bands, singers, festivals and music events that took place in Leicester and Leicestershire and which were published in the Arts in Leicester magazine.  When Arts in Leicester website was revamped, pretty much all the music content was taken off-line and stored in an archive. It is that archive material that I am now editing into a book, which I hope to publish next year.

When it becomes available, the book will offer a detailed day by day account of live music and the happenings on the Leicester music scene.

The book, which has the working title – The History of Music in Leicester – will also have a volume that covers the music history of the city from Roman times up to the present day.

See also:

My post about local music

Local music: does it matter?

Trevor Locke asks if local music really matters

If you watch the television you might choose to watch a programme about rock music in the 70s or 80s. If music is your thing, there is no shortage of programmes in which famous musicians are interviewed and clips of bands and singers playing songs of the time are shown. These programmes are very interesting and informative but they are all about the big bands that made it into the charts.

What is largely neglected by both the media and by historians is music at the local level. It is assumed, most probably, that anything about live music in one town or city will be of interest only those who live there. Unless of course it is about Liverpool and the Beatles or possibly even Sheffield and the Arctic Monkeys or Manchester during the days of the Hacienda. These are subjects worthy of programmes or books because, in the opinion of their producers and authors, they have had an impact and influence on the national music scene.

I want to argue that music at the local level is both fascinating and important, in its own right. I would say that, wouldn’t I? After all, I have spent over ten years of my life writing about the music of Leicester for the magazine I created and now am compiling all that work into one enormous book on the subject.

Given that I am engaged in writing about local history, why is it that historians largely ignore music when they analyse and discuss the life of local communities? Local history has established itself as being an area of study that is credible and interesting, as much as the history of the nation as a whole. Local history of any kind is not just of interest to people who live in the area; those who research and write about local history like to consult works by others who are engaged in similar projects. Local history is a legitimate branch of learning in its own right. The life of any nation is not just about kings, politicians and battles. No understanding of a nation is possible without an awareness of the culture and life of people whose daily lives creates that nation. We cannot understand England without understanding the ordinary common folk who comprise it.

People who write about local history often focus on the areas of human activity that have been established in the accounts of the nation as a whole: commerce, industry and economics, politics, transport (trains and roads), women, race, battles and armies, etc. You do sometimes get studies of art or culture at the local level and that, by and large, concerns itself with pictorial art and sculpture. That stance on local history is often bolstered by the view that something at local level is of national importance. That take on history pivots around the assumption that something must have that magical national significance to justify it and give it credibility. Who arbitrates what is of national significance?

My interest is in music; my two great passions in life are music and history. So, writing about the history of music would be completely natural for me. The shelves of libraries are well stocked with books about periods of musical history, accounts of specific bands, studies of specific genres and so on. If, like me, you want to read about music in a town or city, you will have to search extensively to find anything. The shibboleth about local needing to be national haunts music and art history as much as anything other aspect of life at the level of street and town.

This situation needs to change. Historians and musicologists alike need to recognise that music has always been an important part of the life of any local community. If you want to understand what daily life was like in the past, as now, you have to look at the music that the people in a community were listening to. Art is about painting and statues, but it is also about music – and not just classical music. There are endless books about the great classical composers but almost nothing about the work of the countless men and women who have made music, composed and invented it throughout the ages at the local level. History is organised around notoriety. It is the legacy of how academia has been organised since Greek and Roman times that only the great artists and composers are worthy of study because they have defined the cultural landscape of The West, Europe, England … well of course that is true but I want to see credibility given to the study of the art and culture of common people, everyday country folk, the people, the masses, what ever you want to call them – the people whose lives come and go but leave little behind them. Historians tend to work with what is stored on library shelves. What gets on to library shelves is arbitrated by the shibboleth of national significance.

Archaeologists however are much more likely to unearth the remains of everyday life. Modern approaches to history are becoming increasingly concerned to reveal what life was like in the streets of a village, town or city. We can have a fairly detailed view of what happened in the streets of a Roman town, how food was produced and distributed, how people were housed, the tools they worked with, what people ate, how they dressed and cooked, how they were entertained and, to my mind, what music they listened to.

Delving into the history of music can be very difficult; the further back we go the harder it becomes to find remains because music just happens and unless people at the time wrote about it, nothing survives from music-making, apart from a few instruments or fragments of them that happened to be preserved in the earth. Such investigations become easier in recorded history when we can find manuscripts, writings, music scores, accounts of concerts or festivals to give us an idea of what people listened to. With the advent of film, recordings and the Internet, there is now a huge amount of material to work with if we want to write accounts of the musical culture of today or recent times.

At the local level however material about music is ephemeral and volatile. Vast quantities of videos, tracks and gig flyers flood through the pages of social media but few people see all this as being grist to the mill of historical research. Like many with an interest in music, I spend many hours of every day on Facebook, Twitter or websites watching what is going on, mainly in my own locality but also at national level. As a music journalist, my task is to watch, record and annotate musical culture in my local area.

The present is what is happening now. What happened yesterday is history.

Music, in my view, is an integral part of local history, just as much as food, buildings, clothing, work, politics, trade or anything else that forms an understanding of the life and experience of a community. This is not a perspective that I see in the output of the majority of local historians. Local history, I would argue, is the poorer for its lack of recognition of the significance of music to accounts of what happened at the local level in the lives of everyday people.

Anthropologists, who went out to study and research the life of tribes, cultures and peoples in foreign countries often recorded and noted the music that they made. They, like archaeologists, got down to the nitty gritty of everyday life and they found music in every social group they visited. Anywhere in the world. Whether it was part of religion or ritual, part of social gatherings or the transmission of culture and collective memory, or the expression of collective identity, musical activity was found everywhere that anthropologists went. From the Trobriand Islands to the high mountains of the Incas, anthropologists went to see people living their ordinary everyday lives and to record what they saw, whatever it was, and they all saw music being made.

Academically, local history shares many interests and sources with anthropology and archaeology. It is therefore somewhat odd that local historians have neglected music as much as they have in their understandings of the life of local peoples. Researching the history of music in an area can be challenging and difficult because of the dearth of source material with which to work. The further back in time that one wishes to go the less there is to work with and the harder it is to unearth. Yet, the more fascinating and informative it becomes. Music is an activity that tells us a lot about the people who make it and those that listened to it or took part in it, through religion, ritual, dance, social gatherings or just plain old entertainment. Music is a key definer of social identity; what music you like marks you out as a person. The gigs you go to are part of your social identity. The kind of music that is found in a community defines much about its culture, belief systems and cohesive tissues. The lyrics of songs are capsules of what people believe, celebrate and remember. The status given to music makers tell us something about the way a community is organised. This is as true at the local level as it is at that of the nation state.

Even when not focussing specifically on music, local history is incomplete unless it has tried to account for the everyday life of a community and that must, I argue, include how people were entertained, fed, clothed, educated and how they socialised. Music should be a topic that is always included in accounts of life at the local level. Without an account of a people’s music, the picture is inherently incomplete.

Trevor Locke

9th August 2014.

 

About this article

It might appear that I have assumed that no one has ever written about local music. I know that not to be the case because I have found studies in my own area of Leicester and have searched for and read material relating to other towns and cities in the UK, both in the form of books and articles on the Internet. The present article forms a précis for a more substantial article that I have planned. I offer it at this stage to see if I can evoke some comments or even make contact with like-minded individuals who share both my agenda and my interest in this topic.

History of Leicester part 1

20th June 2014

Part 1 of our series of articles on the history of Leicester

The History of Leicester

2000 years of continuous habitation

Leicester’s pre-history

By Trevor Locke

The relationship between people and the buildings they occupy has always been a fascinating topic of research and debate. From the time when men ‘lived in caves’, to the times when they built their homes from mud and dung through to today’s gleaming spires of steel and glass, buildings have shaped the lives of the people who lived and worked in them.

Humans have lived and died in Leicestershire for many thousands of years. More and more evidence is coming to light about the pre-history of our local area. Humans have left traces of their existence in the area we now call Leicestershire, since they first arrived in the area, probably after the end of the last ice age.

Before and after the Ice Ages

Evidence of man’s presence in our country can be dated back to before the Anglian ice age, around 500,000 years BC. Our knowledge of pre-historic Britain has developed considerably in recent years with new finds from the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods being unearthed.

Hundreds of artefacts have been gathered from sites around Leicestershire, giving us some insights into the life of people before they began to construct buildings, when they were primarily hunter-gatherers, living off what the land could provide for them.

The start of houses

After the end of the ice age, around 10,000 to 8,000 BC, humans began to form settlements. It was in the Mesolithic era that permanent dwellings began to be erected.

In the bronze age, people began to build homes, plant crops and tend cattle, sheep and pigs. They built round houses that were constructed from local materials.

One of the first homes to be discovered in the UK was built in the Bronze age, in 4,000 BC. The round house was made of wood and probably had a roof made of thatch or turf. It was discovered in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, at Flag Fen, by the television archaeological programme Time Team (Series 7, Episode 9). It was set in a landscape of fields and track ways. Based on what the dig discovered, a re-construction of the roundhouse was made. It was a significant find; it suggested that people were beginning to form a settled way of live, based on farming. This was around 1,500 BC. They established fields with boundaries and kept animals to provide them with meat. Settling in one place allowed people to spend more time on the creation of artefacts, including jewellery and tools and many of these have been discovered in burials. The dead were buried close to the places where people lived.

The new discoveries at Star Carr in Yorkshire threw new light some of the very earliest evidence of buildings. Hunter-gatherers are believed to have created permanent settlements in which ceremonial and economic activities took place.

As the ice melted, sea levels rose and the low-lying bridge of land that connected ‘Britain’ to the European continent was flood and created the islands we know as the British Isles, around about 6,500 BC (or BCE – before the common era.)

Man was active here at a time when our country was still connected to the mainland of continental Europe. The first humans arrived here about 25,000 years ago. In that time, between ice ages, Britain was connected to Europe by an area called Doggerland. People were able to walk here from Europe, prior to the time when the land became an Island separated by the English Channel.

The very first buildings

The people who lived after the end of the Ice Age were predominantly hunter-gatherers who lived a largely nomadic life-style. People chose the sites for their settlements carefully, based on the needs of the community – for access to water for drinking, washing and fishing – to avoid water (by choosing higher ground that would not get flooded) and where they could grow crops and tend animals.

Being on higher ground they could also command a view of the surrounding land, enabling them to keep an eye out for intruders or groups that might attack their settlements.

New discoveries have overturned the belief that the construction of domestic buildings in Britain did not begin until around the time of the Iron age, 5,000 years ago.  It was common for people to build round houses in this country; in other parts of Iron Age Europe, people lived in rectangular houses [British Museum.]

In fact one structure was discovered in North Yorkshire that dates back to the Stone Age, 8,500 years BC (the Star Carr site.) Archaeologists believe that they might have found one of the first ‘houses’ to have been constructed in the British Isles.

The Star Carr site

Tombs (barrows) were constructed in the Megalithic period; the burial of the dead preceded the wide-scale construction of permanent domestic structures.

Stone Henge, in Wiltshire, is thought to have been constructed about 2400 and 2200 BC. A roundhouse was discovered in Orkney that is thought to have been constructed about 700 BC. There is some evidence that suggests that the earliest prehistoric groups lived a nomadic existence, sheltering in tents made from animal skins. In Neolithic times people began to erect long houses as early as 5,000 to 6,000 BC (on mainland Europe.)

It was during the Bronze age that pottery began to appear. Vessels have been found that were decorated with distinctive groove patterns dating back to 3000 BC. This beaker period goes back to the end of the Neolithic and early Bronze Age periods. The first figurative art appeared in the late Neolithic period.

In the bronze and iron ages, people built their houses from the materials they found around them – trees, straw or reeds or turf for roofing, mud or clay to fill in the holes and cracks.
Apart from houses for people to live in, enclosures were also constructed for animals, such as cows and sheep, and these could have formed an integral part of the early settlements.
When these buildings were abandoned, they rotted back into the earth, leaving only tell-tales signs (such as post-holes) as to how they had been constructed.

There were no sewers; people dug pits into which they put their refuse and broken pots and other unwanted materials.  Archaeologists discovered a lot about the life-styled of Iron and Bronze age people from the rubbish they left behind.

The dead were often buried close to human habitations (indeed, sometimes even inside them.) How people dealt with the dead changed over time, customs changing from burial to cremation but other practices have also been discovered.

It was not until the (much later Roman times) that people began to use stone in construction. Early houses were invariably round; it was the Romans who brought the idea of square or rectangular buildings to this part of the country. There is evidence that some rectangular houses were built before the Romans but it  is the round floor plan that is the most common.

Early houses were built without plans being drawn. There were no architects, quantity surveyors and probably no people who specialised as builders. Knowledge of how to construct buildings was handed down from one generation to another. What materials to use and how to put them together was part of a group’s traditions. People would probably have known how to fell trees, which trees to cut, what materials were available in the woods or from the swamp areas or from river banks.

Tools were relatively primitive; saws and hammers were rare but some kinds of tools must have been used to shape wood or to cut reeds to the desired length. Examples of bronze age axes have been found – the adze was used to work wood and had a bronze head attached to a handle made of wood. Ditches were often dug around the outskirts of houses or settlements and implements must have been used for this.

Tools used by farmers have been found, dating to the iron age. These were used to harvest crops. Axes have been found dating to this period. ‘The main frame of roundhouse would have been made of upright timbers, which were interwoven with coppiced wood – usually hazel, oak, ash or pollarded willow – to make wattle walls. This was then covered with a daub made from clay, soil, straw and animal manure that would weatherproof the house. The roof was constructed from large timbers and densely thatched’ [BBC history.]

Buildings and art

For centuries buildings have reflected the cultural and artistic values of each generation. We see the ornate carvings and elaborate stonework of the Gothic era, the middle ages and the Victorians and marvel at the embellishments that adorn some of our notable public buildings and monuments. How do we recognise and appreciate the message that modern and contemporary buildings gives us? Today’s architects look for beauty in simplicity. Buildings are designed to be machines for living and working. Functionality determines their layout and external appearance. There is no evidence that Bronze or Iron age huts were decorated in any way; the ornamentation of buildings probably did not start until the Romans radically changed the way buildings were constructed.

When we look back at the Leicester of our forebears, much of which we can still see on our streets, we can glimpse the lives they used to lead. Buildings in our city centre suggest a past of wealth and prosperity, economic and commercial success and the desire of the powerful and successful to aggrandize their social status.
Leicester is a place that has seen human habitation since before the Romans arrived and has always been a major point on cross-country routes. There are indications of settlements on the banks of the Soar in the Iron age. If this is correct then Leicester is a place that has seen over two thousand years of continuous human habitation.

As we look through the buildings that stand as milestones in the history of Leicester/shire, we can see them telling us about the history of England. From the Roman invasion, through to the Wars of the Roses, the Dissolution of the Monasteries, The Reformation, the Industrial Revolution, the rise of Modernism, these epochs reflect changing attitudes to art and culture as well as being a testament to the political and social currents of their times.

We can tell a lot from the rubbish tips and cess pits of our ancestors. One wonders if future archaeologists will be digging in the land-fill sites of today’s world for clues to the life of everyday people.
The excavation of the past is often about buildings and artefacts – the things that people have left behind them in the earth. A lot is also learned from the burial of the dead; if you want to understand the life of people in the past, grave yards are a good place to start.
If we want to understand the artistry of the past, we have to understand the social context in which artisans worked and in which people consumed and used their products and creations. It is only through painstakingly collating and piecing together a mass of evidence, that we can develop a picture of the earliest inhabitants of the area we now know as Leicester.

Prior to the Iron Age, humans were largely nomadic hunter gatherers. The only evidence we can find are their stone tools, left behind as they moved from place to place, together with indications of how they disposed of their dead.

From around 50 B.C. a settlement developed along the east bank of the Soar and this can be seen as the origin of modern Leicester, argues Malcolm Elliot. The Iron Age and the era of Roman settlement saw the earliest formation of Leicester. In the year 2000, an open-air ritual site was discovered in Hallaton in East Leicestershire.

It was one of the most important discoveries in recent years from the Iron Age and Early Roman Britain. Over 5,000 Iron age and Roman coins were found on the site. Most were made locally and issued in about 20 to 50 AD. These coins were probably made by members of the Corieltavi tribe.

The Romans in Leicester

Prior to the Roman Invasion of A.D. 43, the settlement on the banks of the Soar seems to have become an important centre for the Coritani tribe (Corieltavi or Corieltavauri.) They would have had trading connections with south-east Britain and beyond, perhaps extended into other parts of Europe. Excavations have revealed pottery from France, Italy and southern Spain. The Coritani ranged across what is now Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and parts of South Yorkshire. They were a collection of like-minded people who shared the same outlook and social practices.

Whilst it is likely that they had a settlement on the banks of the Soar, this was not their principal centre. Ratae Coritanorum was the capital town(civitas) of the tribe, lying on the route from London to Lincoln.
The Roman settlement is thought to have been a rectangular area, surrounded with perimeter fortifications in which there were four gates. There is doubt about whether the river side of the enclosure was walled, like the rest. The Romans frequently established their forts on (then) pre-existing Iron age or Bronze age sites. Beneath the remains of Roman forts is it common to find much earlier  archaeology.

The Fosse Way was an important Roman Road linking the fortresses of Exeter and Lincoln. This passed near to Ratae Corieltauvorum. Following the Roman invasion, the Fosse Way marked the western frontier of the Roman area. The current A46 follows the path of the Fosse Way between Lincoln and Leicester. Nearing the city its route is now marked by Melton Road and Belgrave Road. It would have terminated roughly at the position of Clock Tower and continued along the line of the present Narborough Road.

As the invading legions pushed northwards, it is thought they would have crossed the Soar near to the present West Bridge.  Early in the second century, the town was being built up using a grid pattern. It was around 125 to 130 A.D. that the forum, basilica and baths were constructed, the ruins of which can now been seen at the Jewry Wall site. Substantial town houses were also built, having central heating, floors of fine mosaics and painted walls. This signifies that Ratae was an important seat of government and continued to be so right into the fourth century.

As the great Roman buildings fell into ruin, their stone was used to build new structures, such as the church of St. Nicholas. The regular pattern of the Roman streets began to be overlaid by the buildings of later centuries as ground level rose several feet above what would have the level of the original Roman town.

Leicester – 2000 years of diversity

Discovery of pagan burials from Roman times in Leicester
A fascinating documentary on Channel Four TV tonight (1st May 2013) throws new light on Roman life in fourth century Britain. In the series Stories from the Dark Earth, archaeologist Julian Richards looked at the pagans of Roman Britain. What stood out for me was his depiction of Romano-British society as being ethnically and culturally diverse. He looked in particular at two burials: a wealthy man from Roman Winchester and a lavishly appointed grave of a woman in the heart of London. The Winchester man had received a pagan burial. He was someone who had been born and bred locally. The wealthy woman found in London, however, had come to this country from Rome itself. Artefacts found in the grave site suggest that she might have been a follower of the cult of Bacchus.
In his narrative to the programme, Richards suggests that those who inhabited major Roman towns, such as Venta Belgarum (Winchester) and Londinium (London), were not just a mixture of indigenous peoples and Romans from Italy, but a much more ethnically diverse community of people who had arrived in this country from a very wide range of European origins and, in all likely, from other parts of the Roman Empire including the Middle East and North Africa.
By the time of the decline of the Roman Empire in Britain, from the fourth century onwards, many indigenous inhabitants had become Romanised, so that their way of life, religious beliefs and culture characterised them as Roman.

If this was the case in towns like Winchester and London, then we might surmise that this would also have been the case in Leicester. There is evidence that suggests that larger Roman towns and settlements were cosmopolitan places in which we would have found people from all over the empire.

The presence of people from North Africa in British Towns is well documented. Dr Simon James has commented: Before Roman times ‘Britain’ was just a geographical entity, and had no political meaning, and no single cultural identity. [The Peoples of Britain]
Arguably this remained generally true until the 17th century, when James I of England and VI of Scotland sought to establish a pan-British monarchy.

The British Isles have always been the home to people who have moved here from other parts of Europe, Africa and the Middle and Far East, ever since the time when the first settlers walked into our land when it was still joined to the European landmass, prior to the formation of the English Channel.

From the decline of the Roman empire to the Norman invasion of 1066, the area was dominated by the Anglo-Saxons, people descended from the Germanic tribes of Europe.  Evidence from the archaeology of the rest of the UK suggests that the Roman army was made up of people from many areas of Europe, North Africa and Middle and Far Eastern places, such as Syria and parts of what is now Turkey.

Walking around what we now call Leicester (back in the times of the Romans), you would have seen a variety of faces: white, brown and black skins and witnessed an astonishing melting pot of ethnic and cultural mixes.

The Dark Ages

After the Romans had gone, The Saxons came. 1,400 years ago the country was invaded by people from the area of Europe now called Germany. This period is sometimes referred to as the Dark Ages. So little is known about this period that it appears to be a dark hole in the history of the British Isles. The archaeology is so frustratingly difficult that you might as well call it The Dark Stainages; The Saxons left so little behind, that much of the evidence comes from stains in the earth. Painstakingly scraping through layers of soil, dark patches appear where post holes were made, or red patches where fires once burned. There was however, pottery. One of the most important excavations took place in Leicestershire in 2008 when Time Team came to Knave Hill and Tony Robinson lead the team in digging up part of a hill South West of Leicester.

People walking in the fields found pieces of pottery and noted down exactly where they had been found. This gave the diggers a clue to where they should put in their trenches – where there was the highest concentration of pottery finds.

This is what modern archaeology is all about – taking a systematic approach and using well established techniques; It’s not about luck, it’s about methods. Digs are frequently about finding tell-tale traces in the soil – pits and ditches – that tell us that there was human settlement there once and if we are lucky we find pottery shards in them to give us dating evidence.

At Knave Hill there was excitement when archaeologist Matt Williams found several large pieces of pottery from the late Iron age – the period before the Romans arrived. Both the Romans and the Saxons often settled on sites previously occupied in earlier times, from the Bronze Age through to the late Iron Age.

Most Saxon buildings were built from timber, they had wooden walls and the roof consisted of thatch. All that rots away after the buildings have been abandoned, leaving only faint traces from which the type and extent of the buildings can be analysed, using a great deal of evidence gathered from many sites across the country.

Humans settled in certain places according to the nature of the local countryside. These people began to mingle with the people who were already here – the Celts. The very earliest people to colonise our land – after the end of the last ice age – were people who wandered across from the European continent at a time before the British Isles were separated by what is now the Channel. Between around 45 AD and 412 AD, there were the Romans. It was not surprising therefore that evidence of Roman occupation was found on the same site. The Romans often took over Iron Age settlements and the finds helped to prove this.

Working with the Time Team crew was archaeologist Peter Liddle and a team of volunteers from The Langtons. The Saxons established administrative areas called hundreds. The boundaries of these areas often follow natural contours such as rivers, hills and roads. A study of the local landscape enabled the team to predict where settlements might have been. Rivers were important as a source of water and fish, while higher ridges and hills offered a good place to live to avoid the flooding in the lower-lying river valleys.

The Romans built roads but these would have often followed earlier courses that had been established in the stone age. Those tracks could have been laid down by the migration of herds of animals.
The excavations at Knave Hill suggest that  there had been around a 100 people living and farming in a settlement of huts surrounding a central Hall.

Scientists have plotted the migration of Peoples from Europe, using analysis of DNA. It was suggested that about ten percent of the population were of Saxon and Viking origin. Waves of invaders did not obliterate the indigenous Celtic population but integrated with them. Astonishingly, their DNA can still be found in the people of the 21st century. So, the Dark Ages is perhaps a misnomer. A growing amount of evidence has been dug up to throw light on the people of this time and of course there is the poetry.

About this article

This text is taken from the old Arts in Leicestershire web site. It originally formed the commentary to the pages in the Architecture section. The text on this page had been edited a little from the original. We plan to republished the whole of the old magazine’s Architecture Section, as part of the heritage section of our new Arts in Leicester website.

See also:

Part 2 – The Romans in Leicester

The history of the Arts in Leicester Magazine

News about RichardIII

Music Awards

26th March 2014

This is an archive post; it is not current; it’s here for the record.

archive page logo
This page forms part of out archives

LEICESTER MUSIC AWARDS

NB: the idea of the Leicester Music Awards was never followed up and nothing was ever done about it.  This article won an award: Annual Apathy Prize for 2014.

Should awards be given to celebrate the music of Leicester? This article discusses this question.

First, some background. Society in general celebrates and honours achievements in many ways. The Queen confers honours in the form of OBEs, MBEs and CBEs. Awards and prizes are given in the world of sports, the arts, films and television, literature, science, engineering and so forth.

Second, in the world of music, there are several well-known awards, including the Brits, those given by magazines such as NME and Kerrang and others which celebrate popular music generally. ‘The Barclaycard Mercury Prize promotes the best of UK and Irish music and the artists that produce it. This is done primarily through the celebration of the 12 ‘Albums of the Year’.’ Likewise there are awards made to specific genres of music, such as The Urban Music awards which ‘recognise the achievement of urban based artists, producers, club nights, DJ’s , radio stations, record labels and artist from the current Dance/R&B, Hip-hop, Neo Soul, Jazz, and dance music scene.’

There are awards for classical music, music made by young people, opera, choral music, and so forth. Some awards are given by the big national music industry organisations and some are geared to independent music. The company that manufactures Orange Amps sponsors awards in the world of classic rock as it also does for ‘prog’ music.

These are all national-level awards. At the local level, there are far fewer examples but a few do stand out.

The Liverpool Music Awards ‘honours the heroes of the music industry in our city: not only local musicians, but also those behind the scene, who facilitate and inspire others to create and perform on Merseyside. While the scope of the awards provides opportunity to celebrate musical achievements which have gone beyond the borders of our city, at their core the awards are for those who are currently active in Liverpool.’

In Brighton, the BMA is about ‘Celebrating the best independent music from Brighton and across the region.’

The Manchester Musical Awards honours the world of musicals.

In Nottingham, Nusic selects an artist of the month. The Nottingham Music Awards is about ‘Celebrating the vibrant and eclectic Nottingham Music Scene.’ The Nottingham Music Awards – also known as the Notty’s – will look to celebrate the achievements of the great musicians, singers, promoters, managers and others who play a part in what is a boom time for the Nottingham music scene.’

The giving of awards, prizes and honours is a widespread and long established aspect of human life across all fields of human activity.

Here in Leicester, Arts in Leicestershire published a Band of the Month to highlight the work of local bands and did this from 2008 to 2012. Later Music in Leicester website continued this by publishing a band of the month. Both also published an annual Gigs of The Year article to recognise outstanding live performances.

What would be the benefit to Leicester?

If Leicester was to follow the example set by other local cities and to create its own set of awards for popular music, what might be the benefits?

My stance on this is that there would be two sets of gains: the national and the local. It is possible that local music-markers would enjoy the recognition of receiving a gong for their endeavours and in particular new bands and rising artists could be given a boost and encouragement from such acknowledgements.

More importantly, in my view, there would be benefits for the music community as a whole. The existence of awards for music would boost the notoriety of Leicester as a centre of musical excellence. Many people have commented that music is one of Leicester’s “best kept secrets” and that much more needs to be done to gain acknowledgement of our music at national level.

In principle, such an initiative would confer benefits far beyond the confines of the city. However laudable it might be to recognise and honour musical achievement at the local level, what stands out for me is the celebration of our music at national level.

There are course a lot of dependent factors in this: not least who is selecting and judging the potential winners. Some of the judges would be local people who have followed the various genres of music in the locality but alongside these should be those who bring a wider perspective – people in the East Midlands region and those who know music at a national level. Local people patting themselves on the back might be good but if there is an equally weighted group of people with a wider take on music, who also have a part in honouring the city’s bands and artists, then this gives the whole thing added credibility.

Some awards allow music fans to vote on nominated acts but, in my mind, this counts for less than the judgement of music professionals. At national level, it might well be fine for the public to vote in large numbers for a music artist but at local level voting reduces favour to popularity and the size of an act’s following. That can be fair enough for local competitions, although some have argued that this is inherently unfair because there is no necessary equation of musical ability and local popularity.

If the choice should rest with a panel of industry experts, it is vital that there is a cross-section of backgrounds that reflects the scope of the music scene. If we opt for a generic Music Award (even one that is focussed only on popular music including rock, indie and urban genres and not classical or choral) then the judging panel must draw in those from a wide spread of ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

As with most Awards, there are likely to be categories and prizes that celebrate specific kinds of music-makers, including bands, singers, rappers, instrumentalists and so on. It is possible that certain kinds of music outputs might also be worth honouring, including best recorded tune or song, best lyrics, best music video, best live performance, etc.

Where general Music Awards are concerned, most would want to honour long-established acts as well as emerging new talent. Some scope also exists to honour the music industry that brings their work into the outside world – venues, promoters, recording studios and so forth.

What I personally do not approve of is a competition in which music acts have to perform in a series of heats and semi-finals in order to gain an award. It think it is much better that judges base their approvals on performance over a period of time, look at the live gigs, recordings and output of the acts, basing their assessments on what an act has achieved over time and not on a single series of live gigs.

Is it worth it?

Any award-making initiative depends, for its success, on a range of factors that must be got right at the very start. Who will be chosen to be the judges is the most important factor, but it is also necessary to factor in elements such as sponsors, backers, financiers, publicists and a plethora of people who can contribute to the whole thing being worthwhile and successful. The kudos of being granted an award might be beneficial in itself but if the awards also confers other forms of value – cash prizes, recording contracts, publicity – then people might see it as being more widely worthwhile.

The potential down-side of sponsorship is corporate domination; independent awards avoid the kick-backs from big commercial organisations using the process for their own agendas.

The critical factors are not just who judges but what criteria they use. This has to be transparent. It’s all very well awarding a prize for the ‘best band’ but the value of that is not obvious unless the criteria is very clearly stated.

The worth of a Leicester awards initiative rests, in my view, on what the music scene as a whole gets out of it. It also has to be an annual process in which its value grows year on year.

Blog changes

Archive page

This blog* has changed again.

26th March 2014

Today, this blog changes again. Having been the blogsite for Arts In Leicestershire, it now becomes the output for music writer Trevor Locke.

The reason for the change is that both websites are changing and hence I have decided to re-position this blog.

This is partly about wanting to have a platform that is independent of those other things, in which I am engaged, and partly about wanting more freedom and flexibility to publish my writings.

I will still have a desire to write about music and most of that will be connected in some way to my local scene here in Leicester. There will be times when I will want to discuss broader aspects of music and this will allow me more scope to do that.

*when it says ‘this blog’ it was referring to the old GYBO blog.

Flash gigs

We have just come up with the idea of putting on a flash-gig as a way of getting people to come to our show.

I don’t know what it is like in other cities, but in Leicester it is really, really difficult to get people to come to gigs.  There are over 8 live music venues in this city putting on gigs nearly every night of the week.  There are over 300 local rock bands all of whom want to play as many times as they can in Leicester venues.

This means that competition for the limited number of fans who are prepared to go out and see live bands is fierce. Most of the publicity for gigs is done on the Internet – through social networking outlets and the websites where shows can be posted. Printing vast quantities of flyers and posters is not just expensive – it’s almost non-productive.  If you go into our live music venues the walls are plastered from floor to ceiling with posters and there are always piles of flyers everywhere you look.

You can book a line-up of bands several weeks ahead only to find that by the time your own gig comes round, several other venues have started to publicise gigs that are in competition with your own. This is partly why we came up with the idea of a flash gig – an event date where we spot a date where not much else is happening and then we jump in, book a venue, some bands and then flog the publicity like mad.

It might work.  We shall see.  If everybody starts doing it might loose its edge.  As an idea it had its wow-factor. Every time we have put on a gig we have planned it carefully months in advance.  We have done all the things that promoters are supposed to do. Worked steadily and consistently with the on-line publicity. Printed posters and flyers and trudged round trying to get people to take them.

The big night arrives. We think our bands are really great. We think we have got all the elements right for a top night of live music. We wait for the queues to form at the door.

Then disappointment. Fewer people turn up than we had expected and we begin to wallow in self-doubt, wondering where we went wrong.  This pattern is repeated for touring bands – those who want to come to play in Leicester because they have heard its a place with good venues and lots of popular support bands. They have played up and down the UK but they fail to pull as many gig-goers as the little newbie band that went on first.  It can be a hard life for both promoters and bands.

After several years of putting on gigs I can’t just give up.  There are just so many bands that I really like and want to book for gigs. I want to big them up because I think their music is just so great. I try to think outside of the box, try out new ideas to see if they work any better than the conventional wisdom of how to market shows.

So, we try the ‘flash-gig’.  We will let you know if it works. [In fact it worked really well and was a grat success.]

Postscript

If you want to see what happened to our ‘flash-gig’ you can read the report on our page

Arts In Leicester’s Flash Gig

Major new music festival showcase for Leicester?

At the Mayor’s Arts & Culture discussion tonight, held at CURVE, I asked Sir Peter Soulsby if the city would support a major music festival in Leicester to showcase our amazing local talent to the rest of the world and of course to the people of Leicester.

Sir Peter’s reply was predictable:  yes he would support the idea but don’t ask me to fund it. A city making cutbacks can’t afford to fund a major arts festival of any kind.

Here are some of my ideas to take this concept further.

(1) The city council controls the parks and open spaces where an outdoor music festival could be held. LCC normally charges for a whole range of costs in mounting any event held in its parks.  Could the city council support such an event by minimising the costs due to itself? Rather than providing funds, can the council support it in kind?  Would the Mayor support approaches to private sector investors to take the idea on board? Can the council give added value to potential businesses if they supported the festival?

(2) There are several major national live music companies that already run outdoor music events.  Putting on a music festival is feasible if the right private sector backers could be found to meet the core infrastructure costs.  We could even discuss the idea with the Arts Council.

(3) Leicester has a huge wealth of talent across all genres of music. An inner city festival next year could attract enough of a crowd to fund an event through ticket sales, given reasonable ticket prices.  In an ideal world we would all want to see a free event, like the one that took place a few years ago that was paid for by the BBC’s Radio 1 and attended by a crowd of 100,000 people.  Admittedly this was headlined by big named acts but even Leicester now has some national level acts from our own city that could draw big crowds.

(4) My idea of a showcase festival is one where all the acts are musicians and artists who were either born here or who have moved here and are now active local residents. This would put Leicester music on the map both nationally and for local people to find out more about our most talented bands, singers and rappers.

(5)  The festival could be feasible if it attracts private sector investment but the city council could play a pivotal role in allowing the event to take place (e.g. on Abbey Park or Victoria Park.) It would also have a role part to play in co-ordinating the range of public sector authorities that must be involved in large events.

(6) I know that Summer Sundae and Oxjam Festivals do provide a platform for local bands and acts to get on stage in front of big audiences but this festival would beexclusively for local music and there is certainly enough talent in this city to make a really good music festival.

I would welcome comments from people about this idea, particularly from the music community.  If there appears to be support for the idea from local people then it can be developed into a proposal for the Cultural Strategy Group that is being headed up by the Major’s Office.

Trevor Locke, 16th June 2011

Arts news

Today we asked Leicester’s Mayoral Candidates for their views on cutbacks to the arts. We know times are hard but Museums and Art Galleries play a valuable role in supporting young people, students and community members to reach educational and cultural resources. So, we want to find out what the candidates for Mayor of Leicester think about how the city can continue to support the arts.