Arts Notebook: Folk music turns industrial hardcore

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The Blairites have evidently not yet penetrated the music industry to judge by a deeply politically incorrect album that has come my way. Industry, by folk veterans Richard Thompson (ex Fairport Convention) and Danny Thompson, no relation (ex Pentangle), is not destined to form the background music for any New Labour rally. Subversive songs like "Sweetheart on the Barricade", which glories in women on the picket line, "Last Shift" about the closure of the Grimethorpe Colliery and "Lottery Land", which tells how a National Lottery-funded museum of industry replaced a steelworks, are sung with great emotion to rousing and eclectic musical backings. The CD booklet even eschews the usual fanzine stuff for an essay on "the descent of the industrial landscape and lifestyle into theme park Britain".

Are we witnessing a revival of the political protest song as a potent weapon of opposition once again? Will teenagers shock their parents by telling them they're just going down the folk club? It's a good 30 years since the political protest song had its heyday. The irony is it seems to be the same folkies doing the protesting now as then: bald, bearded and grizzled but defiantly unmodernised.

The Arts Council is about to embark on choosing a new secretary general to replace Mary Allen, who has been sent speedily on her way to the Royal Opera House. Among the names being considered are insider Graham Devlin, who has been Mrs Allen's deputy; Paul Collard, former director of Visual Arts UK; Ruth MacKenzie, the head of Scottish Opera; and, if he can afford the pay cut, Adrian Ellis, the former Treasury whizz kid who runs a management consultancy specialising in advising on lottery projects.

But I gather that another name is rapidly emerging as favourite, that of the flamboyant and ubiquitous Colin Tweedy. As the man who has successfully run the Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts for 14 years, 43-year-old Tweedy has not only mingled with government ministers, he has also mingled with the Princess of Wales and the Duchess of York when they were going through arts patronage phases. And he is, and doubtless always was, a card-carrying Labour Party member, and has become part of the inner circle advising Labour's arts team. He also came out as gay in the Independent in a feature on the most influential gay people in Britain. Friend of the royals, gay role model, arts and business supremo and Labour activist, Arts Council meetings, should he be appointed to the job, could take on a brighter hue.

One of the things the new man or woman at the Arts Council should look at is the amount of time it takes to make an appointment in the arts. It has now emerged that Heritage Secretary Chris Smith was convinced by the Royal Opera House chairman Lord Chadlington that he should allow him to appoint Mary Allen as general director at the ROH without the post being advertised on the grounds that the institution could not afford to spend 18 months looking for someone when the opera and ballet companies were just about to move out of Covent Garden. 18 months! Down in non-operatic circles it usually takes a fortnight to advertise, a month to sift through the applications and another month to interview and appoint. Why did Mr Smith not question such mind- boggling tardiness?

When humorist Ken Campbell's Theatre Stories opens at the National Theatre in October, Trevor Nunn will have just taken over formally as artistic director. The new boss had better have a thick skin. One of Campbell's stories tells of how he sent out hoax letters to theatre worthies around the world asking them to join The Dickens Company, a new project being set up by Trevor Nunn; and how Nunn called in the Special Branch when the responses started pouring in. "Yes, I do remember suddenly being bombarded with letters," recalled Nunn earlier this week. "As for the Special Branch, well, I don't want to spoil things, anyway I suspect by the time it's opening night, it will be the mafia I called in." Ah, the integrity of theatre.

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