Cries & Whispers: All work and no play makes Liam a plumber

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Indy Lifestyle Online
PICTURE a land without Shed Seven. Imagine a country bereft of Menswear and the 60 Foot Dolls, a people trying to struggle through life without the glories of 18 Wheeler, the Diggers and Three Colours Red. It doesn't bear thinking about, does it? But this is the bleak picture painted in this week's NME.

The issue is devoted to putting the Clarks Wallabee into Tony Blair and the New Labour Government. Under such headlines as "The stars kick Blair's arse", NME rails against numerous less-than-socialist policies, although it focuses - and fair enough, it is a music paper - on the statements made in February by Alan McGee, boss of Creation Records. McGee's opinion, backed up by most of the Britpoppers NME spoke to, is that aspiring rock stars should be exempt from the Welfare to Work programme. Bands, he says, have to spend years writing and rehearsing before they can start earning, and they shouldn't be forced to sweep roads in the meantime. They should be given grants equivalent to dole cheques while they practise their scales and memorise their Beatles albums. Push the young soul rebels into low- paid jobs and all the ambition will be sucked out of them. The Government will have "put the next generation of Liam Gallaghers into jobs doing plumbing".

McGee's heart is obviously in the right place, but this seems an awfully naive view, not to mention an insult to the artistic spirit of young people (and to plumbers). Are the Gallaghers, Albarns and Ashcrofts of the coming years really going to be so content with their jobs at McDonald's that they won't squeeze in hours of rehearsal every night? Does it really require complete freedom from any work in order to get a band together? And does McGee actually envisage a time when the NME is full of blank pages and Top of the Pops is taken off the air due to a dearth of new bands? I don't think so. And besides, every week I receive press releases from dozens of nascent groups. I wish it were so easy to get in touch with a plumber.

The McGee scheme is also insulting to the rest of us. If, to quote John Power of Cast, a songwriter's job is to "sit on his arse, smoke dope and daydream", why should we be expected to pay for it it? Unlike so many areas of the arts, the popular music industry is hugely, obscenely profitable. We already subsidise it by buying CDs at inflated prices, so why should we do so with our taxes as well? It's about time record companies did some subsidising of their own.

Being realistic, the Government isn't likely to change its mind on this matter. If, as McGee believes, young bands need grants to develop their abilities, it's the record companies who should be putting their hands in the pockets of their leather trousers. It is, after all, the record companies who stand to gain. A corporation that rakes in millions upon millions of pounds a year shouldn't just sign bands after they've been practising in penury for years, only to drop them if their first album doesn't get into the Top 10. Bands should be nurtured, given a living wage, before they've even learnt how to punch a photographer, and the record labels should be prepared to wait a while before they get anything in return. They have much more of a responsibility to invest in the future of the music industry - their own future - than the Government does, and if they spent half the money on cultivating talent that they currently spend on the produce of Columbia, British pop music in the next millennium would have nothing to worry about. How about it, Alan?

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