Friday 29 March 2024

Greater Manchester Music Commission / The Mill / Night And Day

As a member of the Greater Manchester Music Commission, I've been made aware of an article circulating on The Mill behind a paywall that makes accusations and statements about the Commission and its activity, particularly around the Night And Day debacle. The article has a number of factual inaccuracies and deals with subjects that I feel strongly about to the extent that I feel compelled to give my own personal opinion on this.  These do not represent the views of the wider Commission, even though some members may agree with what I'm about to write

After the judgement was made on the Noise Abatement Notice served on the Night And Day by the Council earlier this month, a majority of the members of the Commission put their name to a statement criticising Manchester Council's approach to this whole saga and the implications of the Northern Quarter being designated as a mixed use area and the impact this could have on both grass roots music venues and the wider hospitality industry on which the NQ has based its legacy. The statement can be read below.

This statement has been published by multiple media outlets including the BBC, Manchester Evening News and The Mill.  The Mill has since published another piece focusing on the Music Commission itself and the statement and made some provocative allegations about the chairman and conflict of interests.

The article stated that less than half of the members of the Commission signed the article. This is factually incorrect. The source of the information would appear to be the GMCA website that introduces the members of the Commission and lists 28 individuals.  One of these sadly passed away, one has resigned, one has not attended a single meeting or participated in activities around the Commission and one has been employed by the GMCA and now attends the meeting in that capacity and is not a member of the Commission.  So effectively 13 / 24 (54% - higher than the Brexit vote and the % vote of our current government) signed the statement.  

Further to this, at least two individuals who supported the statement are not allowed to put their name to such articles by their employers.  One member of the Commission is the City's Director Of Culture and others lead organisations that are funded to significant extent by the City Council and therefore would be conflicted in putting their names to the statement even if they did agree to it. None of this context is given in the article.

There is a personal attack in the piece on Jay Taylor, the Chairman of the Commission, as his day job is with the Music Venue Trust. The Commission is designed to represent all aspects of the Manchester music scene and of all the members only two of us are doing this as independents and not linked the organisations we work for. It is also important to make clear here that Jay took on this position as none of the other Commission members were able to commit to the position of Chair when we were asked to self-nominate when the Commission was set up. As an independent, I've observed multiple instances of members raising issues that directly impact the organisations that they are there to represent which is the purpose of the Commission - to pull together the diverse strands of the ecosystem and provide an advisory body to the Mayor outside of that of his political advisors. We are not there to rubberstamp and be a nodding dog.

There's also an accusation from an anonymous Commission member that we have solely focused on the Night And Day issue in our quarterly meetings. This simply isn't the case from going back and actually reviewing the meeting minutes.  For instance the following subjects were discussed in our last meeting in January

  • renewal of Commission membership which is due later this year as people were appointed on a two-year basis. We recognise there are areas that are under-represented on the Commission - in particular in the areas of access and artists - that need addressing in the refresh of membership
  • a project focusing on Music and Health and how music can help address Mental Health issues that was being piloted in the NHS and upscaling musical therapy to help reduce the burden on the overstretched capabilities of the NHS.  The Commission is also supporting Nordoff & Robbins on the Northern Music Awards taking place in April as they seek to set up a centre in Greater Manchester to support the North Of England
  • the Commission's input into the wider GMCA Cultural Strategy for 2024-29 that will be launched in June, increasingly important as Greater Manchester gets wider devolution from central Government
  • Mayoral agreement to funding for five blue plaques as the first phase of an initiative to recognise black musicians whose contribution to the city's musical legacy is historically overlooked and consigned to footnotes at best
  • artist showcasing opportunities at SXSW (The Lottery Winners represented GM at the March event with financial support from the GMCA after being selected from a group of applicants by the Commision) as well as WOMEX, Focus Wales and Cambridge Folk Festival. The discussion has been ongoing about how we best support GM artists to export both nationally and internationally with the limited funding available
  • the launch of the Inspire funding pot which has £250k over five funding rounds in the next two years to support artists at grassroots level for small grants for everything from buying instruments to recording and releasing records. It is also open to other cultural activities
  • planning guidance, the Commission has worked with MVT and the GM Night Time Economy team to produce best practice guidance to help try and avoid future recurrences of the issues that triggered the Night And Day saga. This is threatening music venues not just in GM but across the country regularly - they don't all make the news
  • Jay provided copies of the MVT Annual Report to all members to read
  • protection and safety of performers at venues in the GM area. This was agreed to be escalated to the Night Time Panel that sits in Manchester as the Commission does not have any powers to impact this. A statement will be forthcoming from the Commission about the issues of misogyny in the region's cultural spaces in the next week
  • Projects at the Wythenshawe Culture Hub / The Oldham Mural / Manchester Music Live in Hulme Park
  • the need for more rehearsal and recording spaces in GM was raised by the Mayor and how multi-functional spaces (doubling up as youth centres for example) could be the answer
  • nominations were sought for a Music and Health nominee for the Northern Music Awards
In a two-hour meeting all these subjects were discussed. At the next meeting which is in a couple of weeks I am going to propose that in the interests of full disclosure we publish minutes of what we have discussed. The Commission's remit is a fairly open one given we are an advisory body so subjects discussed are generally those that are brought to the table by its members or where the GMCA has specifically asked for our advice, Externally, we are planning to improve our socials as we have recognised this is a weak area - however, building an audience from scratch is a thankless task without significant investment that would not be the best use of public money.

We clearly also have to work on our internal communications given that an individual has felt the need to speak anonymously to The Mill rather than to the group as a whole. The Night and Day statement was circulated to everyone before publication and we were asked if we had any issues with it and if we wanted to put our names on it.

To summarise my personal opinion is that The Mill's article is poorly researched and seeking to drag out a story with an accusatory headline that ends up as a personal attack on someone who has the health of the GM (and national) music scene's best interests at heart. The body of the article, unlike the one it's following up, is behind a paywall and leaves people with just the misleading headline. It feels sad to say that because I've found previous articles to be informative, well written and not afraid to challenge the City Council on issues that very few publications would go after for fear of losing access.

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