Arts: Just keep playing the music

MUSIC: MUSICALLIANCE '99; BARBICAN, LONDON
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The Independent Culture
IF IT hadn't been for the wiles of the music business, the Full Monty strip would have happened to Rod Stewart's "Do you think I'm sexy?" Not quite the same oomph, somehow. According to an executive speaking at Sunday's Musicalliance conference session, EMI jumped in with "I believe in Miracles" when rights negotiations were stalling. But they let the film producers have the song cheap: not much mileage in a film about unemployed steel workers, apparently.

Half a million Hot Chocolate sales later, the company man was all too happy to tell the story with a smile. Moral: keep at it, and believe in the value of your music. It was taken to heart by the crowd of less famous music business people who had occupied the Barbican for the weekend. Since Musicalliance started five years ago - with the unappealing title of Non Pop, and in Basingstoke - it has found its feet as a forum for the sectors of music that are neither corporate pop nor subsidy-devouring classical.

That's most of music: anything from bhangra in Nottingham to surf rock in Southampton had its voice there, with live foyer showcases to back up the talking shop. People who work with these musicians feel they are missing a gravy train. They don't have EMI to sell their film rights, and they see the organised opera and orchestra lobbies clean out the funding system.

This year, with bigger numbers attending, the conference atmosphere was exasperated but positive. Half the point of getting the bureaucrats and record industry people to address sessions is for them to feel the mood. What they hear is part therapy - promoters letting off steam find that everybody else shares their problem - and part self-help. Some of the most popular sessions deal with the nuts and bolts of what goes wrong with contracts and why funding applications fail.

Most people are there to network and keep in touch, and let the world take notice of strength in numbers. Musicalliance lacked a main theme or a grand finale issuing public statements. It still needs to extend its scope: African and Asian music get hived off into minority sessions, and the ambience shares the laddishness of the pop world. If you believed the conference literature, hangovers were compulsory.

But the movement's hour may be at hand. This sector is set to do well out of the transfer of funds from the Arts Council to the regions. The British Council has already updated its attitudes: folk rock and club mixes are better ambassadors than string quartets. It's now up to Musicalliance to shout about the opportunities, because you sure as anything won't be hearing about them from the orchestral world.

And to keep on playing. The weekend did its bit with a line-up of performers around the Barbican. Yoruba Jazz People held the Sunday lunch crowd, and the Anglo-Welsh band Fernhill seduced the audience for a Raymond Gubbay classical night (now there's a promoter who could help, if he knew how big the Musicalliance market is).

The closing session moved over to The Spitz for Salon Oriental, to sample Byron Wallen's trumpet and do some serious belly-dancing. Actions may speak louder than words, but the two together add up to a voice that has to be heard.

Robert Maycock

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