The cover story for the current New Statesman is about the falling numbers of working class people in public, from the arts to politics, Britain is increasingly dominated by posh people. Stuart Maconie starts his article by describing the musical revolution that came from the poor of these isles, noting how tourists are shocked at the tiny homes of McCartney and Lennon. “From these little houses, from terraced streets across the north or unlovely London boroughs, from mill towns and ports, factories and coalfields, came working-class kids who’dshake the world with every shake of their head. …
The great cultural tide that surged through Harold Wilson’s 1960s and beyond, the sea change that swept the McCartneys, Finneys, Bakewells, Courenays,Baileys, Bennets et all to positions of influence ad eminence, if not actual power, has ebbed and turned. The children of the middle and upper classes are beginning to reassert a much older order. In the arts generally – music, theatre, literature for sure – it is clear that cuts to benefits, the disappearance of the art school (where many a luminous layabout foud room to bloom) and the harsh cost of further and higher education are pricing the working class out of careers inteh artrs ad making it increasingly a playground for the cofortably off. The grants are gone and the relatively benign benefits system that sustained the pre-fame Jarvis Cocker ad Morrissey is being dismantled daily.
The actress Maxine Peake (Bolton-raised, resides in Salford, went through RADA in the 1990s) told me recently that she could not afford to train for the stage now. Ad the actor David Morrissey told the Radio Ties : “We’re cretng an intern culture – it’s happeing in ournalism and politics as well – and we have to be very careful because the fight is not going to be there fort people from more disadvantaged backgrounds. …It’s happening even in the once resolutely proletarian world of football. Frank Lampard, Will Hughes, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Victor Moses are just a few of the Premier League players who atteded fee-paying schools. ..
When I worked at the NME in the early 1990s, writers from the leafy suburbs wold affect proletarian tropes, trousers and vowels to igratiate themselves with Oasis, New Order or Happy Mondays. Nowdays, adroit navigation of he wine list or the ski slope is probably a more useful way into a band’s confidence. …
To be fair, I should point out that I am referring to mainstream rock and pop. Grime, hip-hop and dubstep are still rooted in an urban milieu of zero hour contracts and pound shops. .. Damon Albarn of Blur was mocked as the posh boy of Britpop when in fact he’d gone to a comprehensive in Essex and his family was just mildly bohemian. … Sandie Shaw, who emerged from Dagenham in that region and social upheaval of the 1960s told the culture select committee that a career in pop had become unviable “unless you’re Mumford & sons and come from a publc school and have a rich family that can support you.”
To Mumford & Sons you can add the likes of Coldplay, Laura Marling, Eliza Doolittle, Lily Allen, Florence Welch, Pixie Lott, La Roux and Mark Ronson, as well as talent-school academy graduates marshalled by one Simon Cowell, an old boy of … Dover College. Unscientifically, but still persuasively, it is detectable in the names on sleeves. Teh top indie act the Maccabees include a Hugo, an Orlando, a Felix and a Rupert. ..
In 2010 the Daily Mail reported on the gowing gap in music provision betweent the state and private school systems. In the state sector local authorities were spending less than half the amount on music teachng that they did 20 years earlier: as little as £1.15 a child per year. “On top of this, families who can afford private school fees are often affluent enough to pay for extra music tuition, for equipment such as drum kits, guitrs, amps, and also for rehearsal space, ” it said. …
Does it matter? Surely Noel Gallagher is no better than Nick Drake just because he went to a Burnage comp rther than Mrlborough? Of course not. But pop culture should reflect the lives of its people in all their vibrancy, challenge and hurly-burly, not the rarified interests and experiences of a few. Most modern indie bands’ lyrics seem to be either turgid chunks of half-digested philosophy or indulgent disquisitions on the singer’s fragile emotional microclimate. It is tellng that the last alterative bands to emerge with lyrics that observed the world aroudn them wittily and pungently were Kaiser Chiefs and Arctic Monkeys, both from working-class backgrounds in Yorkshire. One can go further. The best art, and the best pop music certainly, has always been made by smart, impassioned outsiders such as Cocker or Morrissey, or by the cussed and ornery: the likes of Lennon or John Lydon. Conflict, be it generational, geographical or economic, is the turbine that drives art forward, the grit in the oyster that makes the pearl. At the risk of sounding like a classic gimp, grittiness is surely not the prevailing ambience t Bedales and Harrow. Teh silencing of other, rougher voices brings with it a creeping blandness.
The current economic climate is returning the practice of art to what it was 300 years ago – a rich felllow’s diversion, a pleasant recreation for those who can afford it., rather thant the cultural imperative it should be. Nicky Wire of Manic Street Preachers, one of the last great bands to emerge from working-class Britain, put it memorably: indie should not be gap-year music.
Hand-in-hand with the fading profile of the working classes in pop culture has come an increased worship of wealth. Capitalism porn saturates our TV schedules. Shows such as The Apprentice, Dragons’ Den and the ubiquitous talent contests explicitly reject collectivity, preferring to celebrate rampant individualism and the acquisition of wealth and fame above all else. The heady mood of freedom, change and equality that characterised pop culture in the 1960s now seems as remote and naive as the spirit of 1945. Turn on a TV or radio in the decades before the millennium, and from Eric and Ernie to Lennon and McCartney, from Lulu to the Spice Girls, from “Tarby” to Oasis, you’d her and see the faces and voices of working- or -lower-middle-class Britain. People who’d gone to the same schools as you, walked the same streets, lived in the same sorts of houses but become celebrities by the miracle of social mobility that entertaiment and sport had always promised.
You see ever fewer of those faces now, unless you watch Jeremy Kyle or Benefits Street or Saints and Scroungers, where the lower orders are held up for ridicule. ”
This is brilliant but there are so many aspects to the subject – the closure of small venues, the cost of gigs, the gear required to start out as a musician. I heard an interview with a member of the punk band The Stranglers who for years travelled to gigs in an icecream van, the housing shortage, so I is harder to practice at home, lack of cheap rehearsal spaces, no squats to live in cheaply. And Maconie & co at 6 music can also claim some of the blame for this – they are constantly promoting new music, which is good, but it seems there are more people chasing smaller markets, so harder for all but the most determined to make a living from it. And so it goes.
And yet, Maconie ignores the thriving music of folk, country, bluegrass. Celtic connections in Glasgow is a huge and varied music festival that goes from strength to strength. These are also fields where women do very well. I think it was last year that the BBC folksinger of the year award had 4 females nominated. As big money and posh kids have taken over pop, there are still a lot of real performers out there and speaking for the ordinary people. So, not all gloom and doom.