Open Letter from Scottish cultural figures about BBC Radio Scotland’s decision to axe ‘crucial’ music programmes

“The effect of these cuts will be devastating for Scotland’s classical, jazz and piping scenes.

Tommy Smith has co-ordinated an open letter from a high-profile list of cultural figures in Scotland, including violinist/ Director of the Edinburgh Festival Nicola Benedetti, composer Sir James MacMillan, Director of Scottish Opera Alex Reedijk, poet Kathleen Jamie, and from the jazz world Dr Martin Taylor, Laura Macdonald, Georgia Cécile, Fergus McCreadie…, to protest against the BBC’s decision to axe Jazz Nights, Classics Unwrapped and Pipeline. We re-publish the letter and the list of signatories here:

“A grey day in Scotland”. Musicians protesting outside the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. Photo credit: Derek Clark

(Text of letter begins)

We write to you with extreme concern following news that BBC Radio Scotland plans to axe crucial parts of its cultural musical programming. 

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Recently, BBC Scotland has confirmed plans to wind up shows: Classics Unwrapped, Jazz Nights, and Pipeline. As Alan Morrison. head of music at Creative Scotland, said to the Scotsman: 

“The loss of expertly curated shows such as Classics Unwrapped and Jazz Nights, and a reduction of piping programming, would be a conspicuous blow to the musical diversity of Scotland’s airwaves.”

In recent years, jazz has flourished, with up-and-coming artists achieving national and international recognition. As the home of the Edinburgh International Festival, Scotland is at the centre of the global classical music world, and piping is critical to representing national identity at home and abroad. But, for a small country, we punch well above our weight. 

The continuing success of our music industry – at the centre of cultural life here at home and in representing Scotland on the global stage -depends entirely on the infrastructure to support and champion emerging artists. 

In recent days, many artists have spoken out about how crucial the support of these threatened programs has been to their rise to success. 

Scottish Album of the Year winner and Mercury Prize Nominee Fergus McCreadie said: “When I was 15, I made my first radio appearance as part of the Young Scottish Jazz Musician; when I was 17, I played my composition live on air for the first time; when I was 19, the programme was the first to play tracks from my very first album.”

This decision comes at an enormously difficult time for all areas of the cultural and creative sectors; the pressures on the music industry are acute. However, we must do everything possible to protect the infrastructure supporting our fragile yet world-leading ecosystem at this pivotal time. 

The Scottish Government, through their meticulous study of other countries’ cultural sectors, clearly understands that Art and Culture contribute significantly to a free and healthy society, and already in Scotland, the creative arts industries contribute 5.5 billion directly to the Scottish GDP. 

The BBC have a long and laudable history of supporting more minor genres and up-and-coming artists, as well they should. Their doing so is their civic duty. However, these cuts run contrary to the BBC’s statutory mission to act in the public interest, serving all audiences through the provision of impartial, high-quality and distinctive output and services which inform, educate and entertain. 

The effect of these cuts will be devastating for Scotland’s classical, jazz and piping scenes. 

We have engaged directly with BBC leadership at the highest level to reverse this terrible decision. We have been invited to meet the Head of Commissioning, Director of BBC Scotland, and Commissioning Editor for Radio, Music and Event.

Yours Sincerely, 

The Folk, Jazz, and Classical musicians of Scotland

This decision will have a devastating impact on Scottish music. Without JAZZNIGHTS, new and established artists will struggle to find a reputable outlet to broadcast their art and reach audiences. I hope our First Minister Nicola Sturgeon takes action to save these vital programmes!” Georgia Cécile – Jazz FM Award 2022

“I, and many of my contemporaries, have spent decades working with the BBC to find a forward-thinking voice for Scotland’s diverse cultural output. It’s a real shame to see this apparent back step. I hope that considered and respectful discussion might bring about an alternative resolution to the proposed situation.” Phil Cunningham

“The thrust of your new policy is like a self-inflicted BBC Radio Scotland suicide pact to push you further into the tailspin of a death spiral. We musicians have to band together to save you from yourselves.” John Wallace OBE

“I feel it’s imperative that BBC Radio Scotland supports jazz, other forms of music, and performing artists based in Scotland. Scotland has so much young talent that needs to be heard.” Dr Martin Taylor MBE

“BBC Radio Scotland’s support of jazz in this country is an essential part of the infrastructure in developing as a creative and performing artist living in Scotland. The presence of a Scottish-based Jazz Radio outlet expands our identity as a country worldwide and is integral in developing our home-grown artists.” Laura Macdonald – Saxophonist

“We must fight to save this and the other shows. The BBC is renowned the world over for its support for culture and the arts. Why is BBC Scotland abandoning this vital activity and damaging its own reputation?” Sir James MacMillan

“I say “Now is the Time” to expand Jazz, Classical, and Folk, on BBC Radio Scotland, not cut its head off and make invisible a music which is flourishing in Scotland and internationally.” Tommy Smith

“Axing these programmes is to perform a heartbreaking disservice to the irreplaceable role they have played in the lives of musicians and music lovers across the country and all parts of society.” Nicola Benedetti

“We at Scottish Opera stand in solidarity with those across the musical community, who are petitioning to reverse this decision. We urge BBC Scotland not to turn their backs on Scottish art forms and audiences, particularly when things are almost back to normal after the pandemic.” Scottish Opera, General Director Alex Reedijk

“Radio Scotland seems to be in full retreat from Scottish culture. Where is the poetry and literature? Now they are threatening to cut jazz, classical and piping programmes. We have a thriving arts and music scene in Scotland – why not on our national radio?” Kathleen Jamie, MAKAR of Scotland

“Cutting the support at home and removing opportunities for young and established musicians to showcase their music is a very regrettable mistake at a time where we should be championing Scottish culture and music more than ever.” Fergus McCreadie – winner of SAY Award 2022, Jazz FM Award 2022 (Letter ends)


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