It’s 8am on a bitterly cold Wednesday morning in March and The British Music Experience’s side conference room is bustling. 36 hours prior, an email from Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram’s Office announced that this early-morning convening would see the announcement of a new Liverpool City Region Music Board and the launch of a report into the contribution of music tourism to the City Region economy. Despite the meeting’s timing and last minute announcement, it’s unsurprising to see a strong turn out from the local music community – something which reflects the fact this latest chapter feels like a decisive moment in the journey to establish a new way of thinking about music in our city.
It is worth taking a moment to recap on why we find ourselves here and where we are up to with regards the whole agenda around Liverpool’s music policy. Since we ran an article in our April 2017 edition calling for a new form of sector-led music policy in Liverpool, there have been a series of reports published in the area; the Liverpool edition of the UK Live Music Census, Liverpool City Council’s Music Strategy, the LJMU and Bido Lito! authored ‘Liverpool, Music City?’ report and now this latest offering focused on music tourism from UK Music, the national lobbying body.
A year down the road and it is clear is that the message has been heard. The political agenda has shifted and the idea that Liverpool’s music community is a sector which needs to be understood, protected and supported to grow is now accepted. What has been unclear up until this point is the form that any local authority support would take. Though currently absent of detail – a situation which we are assured will be addressed in the coming weeks – the announcement that a new Liverpool City Region Music Board will be established (and is likely to be followed by a complimentary body within the City Council to pursue a collaborative agenda) is a welcome development.
The idea of a music board is based on the model currently in operation in London and supported successfully by UK Music. Established in April 2016 to “protect grassroots music venues and support London’s grassroots music scene,” the body describes itself as “an influential coalition of the music industry, music education sector, community music sector, local authorities, the Greater London Authority and tourism bodies.” For an organisation not even two years old, the board has had a number of notable successes, including its work on the London Live Music Rescue Plan – which brought the dire trend of music venue closures to a national audience – and their successful lobbying which resulted in the Met Police abolishing form 696 (which discriminated against marginalised music communities, particularly the burgeoning London grime scene). The London Music Board was also a key driving force behind the recent parliamentary move to assume the Agent Of Change principle into UK planning law (the Spellar Bill). This move should see the ludicrous – but depressingly familiar – chain of events that sees music venues making way for new apartments (as a result of developers being unprepared to sound insulate developments adequately) resigned to history.
It is important to note the emphasis on ‘grassroots’ within the London Music Board’s raison d’être. This is not an organisation set up to protect the singular interest of the music sector’s traditional big players. It is not about protecting the status quo. It is there to help shape a city which provides a supportive and vibrant context for music cultures to flourish at all levels. It is tasked with asking difficult and disruptive questions and pursuing a transformative new agenda.
A year ago we called for a new form of music leadership, “run by Liverpool’s music community, for the good of Liverpool’s music ecosystem.” When outlining how we envisioned such an entity to be run, we described it thus: “It will be democratic and transparent. It will not serve self-interest. It will be a truly honest broker. It will work with the city to bring about positive change and develop innovative music policy that sees music valued and prioritised across all aspects of city life.” When you assess the structure, achievements and ambitions of the London Music Board, it is encouraging to see how much they chime with this vision.
On this wild and windy March morning we are yet again presented with the familiar series of platitudes about Liverpool’s musical past; how we’ve had more number ones than anywhere else, how we’re the centre of the musical universe, how we sold American music back to the US and changed the world in the process. Indeed, that once was the case. But at the moment, it plainly isn’t. Our sector is struggling and our city is missing out on a transformational opportunity as a result.
The major difference between then and now is that, now, we have the academic reports and evidence; we have the political appetite; and we have demonstrated in our work with LJMU that the Liverpool music community is ready to take its place at the table. Now is the time for action. Now is our moment to shape our music future.
We await the detail on the proposed Liverpool City Region Music Board with great hope and cautious optimism.