Here is what has been on Twitter. We’re hearing that the band will be booked by the BBC for a fifth of the sessions it previously had, but that the restrictions on the “use of the name” will hamper its ability to get booked externally.
TEXT OF PETITION: The BBC Big Band is a national institution and has been for the last 48 years – they have been the inspiration for musicians all over the world and are the epitome of a world class band. The radio programme “Big Band Special” is being cut and the Maida Vale sessions are being cut to 20% of what they currently do!! A cut of 80%. We are petitioning that these cuts do not go ahead.
UPDATE (3) 7th September: Since we posted on Tuesday night 3rd, we’ve been asking BBC Radio 2 and the Musician’s Union for a statement. We don’t exactly get the feeling that this issue arouses much sense of either importance or urgency. I don’t mean urgency about responding to me, rather having a coherent stance on the action which has been taken. The BBC say they’ll send us a statement as soon as they have it. The MU took a couple of days respond directly. A third party had told us that the union is aware of the situation, and I eventually got a holding response saying they’d get back ASAP. The petition meanwhile is up to 2400 signatures.
UPDATE (4) 7th September 7pm. The Musicians Union has put out the following preliminary statement: (link here)
MU deplores decision to reduce Big Band live broadcasts
The Union, while set to issue a full statement next week, deplores the decision by the BBC to reduce the broadcast opportunities for the BBC Big Band. To a large extent it is studio broadcasts of live music that distinguishes the BBC from its commercial rivals. The dumbing down of Radio 2 in this way is a major blow to the provision of broadcast live music in this country. UPDATE (5) 10th SEPTEMBER The Telegraph online has published a comment piece which contains the first official BBC comment, from Lewis Carnie, Head of Programmes at BBC Radio 2, which appears to indicate that this shameful decision is his : “I wanted to expand our big band programming but, with reduced funds across the BBC, we could no longer afford to commit to regular big band recordings.” UPDATE (6) 19th September Rob Wilson MP has allowed his correspondence with Lewis Carnie of Radio 2 to be published. Read it here. The key sentence as regards the future of the band is this from Carnie: It is also worth mentioning that the band – which is comprised of a group of freelance commercial artists – can continue to call themselves the BBC Big Band and, as such, continue their commercial performing work under this banner. Comment: An issue for the band in the past has been the tight control on such activity. This sentence doesn’t say whether that attitude from the corporation has changed, although it does leave hope that it might. There is of course no individual within the BBC with a remit for jazz across platforms – the BBC’s jazz representative at the EBU is not a BBC employee but an external producer.
Ideally Jazz FM would hire them, and they could readily add more 'groove'to the mix. The remoured axing also of Russell Davies'
Song Show points to Radio 2 drifting from cosciousness of its roots.
this is terrible news and very sad to hear that the bbc big band are to have their airtime cut. I hope that the management keep the band going ,playing gigs, as they have a strong following. If the parliamentary jazz people could intervene and sort this out , they would be doing the whole jazz scene a huge favour. The bbc should know that this orchestra has existed since Henry Hall in the 1930's.
This is ridiculous. There is precious little big band music on the radio as it is. Not yet tried to find a big band station on the Internet. There is little chance of catching live big bands either due to many venues closing down. Apart from the fact I pay my licence fee, and would like something for it. I do not wish to be dumbed down! Furthermore, we all appreciate the excellent musicians featured in this big band!
Updates 5th September.
– The petition, launched late yesterday morning, has rapidly got to 1250 signatures.
– We have sought responses as to what is being done constructively to ensure a continuing activity for the band from our regular contacts both at BBC Radio 2 and at the Musicians Union and await those responses.
Gail Brand Writes Via Email:
“Just a note about the MU. I was activist with the MU for 16 years with 7 of those years on the EC. I know the process of statements and responses to issues. It can take longer than you'd wish as it has to go through a few people before it is issued, especially when it comes to issues about the BBC. It may even need a statement from the Executive Committee or action to be agreed by the EC, which again can take more than few days to process. The MU will not make promises it can't keep and the staff won't comment on anything until they have all the facts to hand. Musicians' jobs are at the centre of this situation (as well as the loss to the audience experience) so I expect the MU will have to be clear about how it responds.
The MU cannot stop the BBC from doing anything it has decided to do, but it can attempt to support and fight on behalf of the musicians who are affected by these proposed cuts. If the musicians in the BBC Big Band are MU members (and some may not be), then it may become an industrial employment matter. The MU are not going to rush out a statement that could in any way affect potential contractual or employment negotiations. Now, I'm not saying this will all happen or is indeed the case, as I don't have the inside scoop any more, I'm no longer an activist. I am just trying to stem a potential tide of unnecessary anti-MU sentiments being expressed if things do end unhappily. It's important to know what is likely rather than what is believed and makes a good story.
Don't kick the MU too hard, you wouldn't want it to break.
Well said, Gail. For the MU to be an effective voice for musicians, it has to follow procedures, to understand the organisations that it deals with (in this case the BBC), their policies and their issues, and then to formulate an approach that is likely to yield the best result. None of this happens overnight; it can be a lengthy process of negotiation as both sides have to refer back to their managements or – in the case of the MU as a democratic organisation – its Executive Committee. Many of those who complain about the MU are not even members; they grumble and snipe about the MU but are not prepared to commit to paying their membership sub and thereby having a voice inside the MU and the opportunity to improve what they view as its inadequacies.
As a long-time, grass roots member of the MU, I wholeheartedly endorse and support the above statements by Gail and Charles. The MU is fully equipped to be able to meet this current BBC challenge head on; both for the working musicians and the listening public. Steve Plumb, Musicians' Company Jazz etc