South Bank Awards – A wasted opportunity

The three music categories in the South Bank Awards are

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How totally, mind-numbingly narrow just to follow the money, and not to include some kind of award for non-mainstream music, where most of the excitement in British musical life is. A missed opportunity. Sky Arts, Lord Bragg, get back in your cloud – a total lack of inspiration. Meuh.


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16 replies »

  1. I just spent half an hour trying to work out how to email them and complain, but they are very careful not to offer any way of doing it! If anyone can work out who to complain to I'd like to know!

  2. Terrible, and if you consider opera to be a sub-section of classical music (oops that'll probably wind someone up, somewhere) it seems even worse. Somehow not that surprising though.

  3. We had a prompt response from Manisha Ferdinand who is Head of PR for Sky Arts

    Cheers for that. Valid, and will pass onto the SB team. Although how honouring opera & classical music can be deemed to be following the money, I'm unsure.

    Jazz something Sky Arts will be exploring more in 2011 (NB this is not PR bullshit.) PS – what'd be your ideal music categories?

    Here's my first response, let's see where this one goes:

    I think that if one has just three categories, then Classical/Opera is one, Rock/Pop as another and some “Non-Mainstream” or “Other new music” category would enable the panel of judges to take the blinkers off, and to achieve something more creative/ imaginative/ pro-active, and make a difference to music which gets less exposure.

    I thought Richard Godwin in yesterday's Standard summed up the way a lot of his generation listen to music well, and how they are less scared of surprise than older generations:

    The MP3 player, with its random collisions of genres, deepens these pleasures.

    Often, I set all the songs on mine end to end, A-Z, listening for similarities between tracks beginning with the letter K, say; hearing John Coltrane blurring into Schumann into Dizzee Rascal from the top of the 243 feels like a more thoughtful interaction with the city than, say, listening to Alan Bennett reading Winnie-the-Pooh, which The Times suggests as an acceptable use of the iPod.

    These are ways of listening to music that are to my generation far more natural than traditional concert-going, sat next to some ossified sweet-sucker who scowls at you when you cough and will scowl at you again if you clap between movements, which is when he coughs. Most younger listeners range freely across genres and periods.

    The implication is that, with a touch of imagination on the part of concert promoters, the future of all music could be still more exciting than the present.”

  4. Non-Mainstream is a good category – it allows Jazz, Folk, World Music, Electronica, Blues, Country – all those things that are rooted in making music rather than making money!

    And if Manisha Roberts genuinely doesn't understand “how honouring opera & classical music can be deemed to be following the money” then perhaps she would like to look at where all the Arts Council money goes!!

  5. Peter (and Seb) – wholly agree that Non Mainstream is a good idea. As I said, will pass your feedback onto the SB team.

    In terms of opera and classical music; I appreciate that a lot of money is poured into these areas for productions / development. But they still, not by any stretch of the imagination and certainly not to a TV audience, are considered mainstream. Sky Arts shows three operas or classical musical pieces, in full a week; compared to the terrestrials, this is a significant amount. Why? Because the audiences for them are still small – but we think that it's more important to serve those smaller audiences with content they love than chase ratings.

    Which brings us full circle, as completely take your point that there should be more music coverage of other genres. Honestly – we're trying our best – and will be back on here in 2011 as soon as we've got any update on what that will look like!

  6. I agree with the sentiment here – but surely it hinges on finding a better way to describe “non-mainstream” music than “non-mainstream”? Apart from making it sound as if jazz deliberately shuns popularity and enjoys its ghettoised status (in some cases all too true, I fear, but not a mindset that's particularly deserving of an award)… how do you group together jazz, folk, world, electronica etc. when all they really have in common is that most people aren't interested in them? “Specialist” (which is what HMV goes for) sounds faintly medical, “Alternative” puts me in mind of homeopathy (and has associations with indie rock anyway)… “Off-road”?

  7. Edward, that's a fair point. The labelling is a tricky issue.

    One solution has come from http://www.theartsdesk.com

    Their three categories are:

    -New Music

    I'm waiting for someone to get back at them. If some music is “new,” then – surely – by simple antonymy, they are pigeon-holing both classical music and opera are “old.” Hey ho.


    But in the end, there is a decision to be made by the organizers of such awards ceremonies. Do they want to use categories which help them to stay blinkered, to have their choices limited to some amalgam of the safe, commercial and predictable?

    Or do they want to increase the chances that they might stumble upon something genuinely interesting?

  8. Based on the discussion so far, why not go for these three categories:

    – Corporate Music
    – Old Music
    – Unpopular Music

    That settles it, no?

  9. It is pleasing to see that Manisha Ferdinand has admitted to the need to invest in other musical genres. The current Southbank programme provides 185 Classical events compared to a meagre 26 Jazz and Blues concerts and one of those is Elaine Paige tenuously classified as jazz on the grounds that her repertoire includes a rendition of ‘Cry Me a River.’
    The Southbank Centre has an unashamed bias towards Classical Music as do the Arts Council. To reinforce the research conducted by Jazz Services, Jazz receives £1.7 million from the Arts Council compared to £73.9 million for Chamber Music. The Southbank Centre has an Arts Council budget of 23 million and it is clear from its programme alone where its musical priorities lie.
    This is part of a broader picture and surely it is imperative to campaign for a Jazz Category as it enables the profile of artists to be raised and without an umbrella term I fear a further erosion of a genre already chronically under-funded.

  10. Thanks Debbie. These awards are in fact from the South Bank Show and the Sky Arts TV Channel, which are not directly linked with the Southbank Centre.

    But your point about funding is well made (I think you mean classical music rather than chamber music though.)

    Ollie Weindling has just put a post on his site which serves as a reminder of quite how few people in jazz are able to speak fluent Artscouncil.

  11. Yes, realised that after hurriedly posting and some subsequent research – The correct figures are 73.9 million for Opera and 140.2 million for Classical, including early and chamber music.

  12. Thanks Debbie. Nice to see some specific figures that underline just how under funded Jazz really is! Sobering to say the least. This type of reasoned and informed post is what keeps me reading blogs such as these..

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