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Rock'n'Dole Music

PostPosted: Sun Sep 14, 2014 9:05 pm
by Pete Fowler
Hugh cited on FB the other day an article by Nick Cohen in The Guardian (or The Observer) that bemoaned the lack of opportunities now evident for working class performers and artists. He mentioned, in passing, the impact of the hugely tighter benefits regimes on closing down the time and the space so needed by young performers as they honed their skills.

There have, of course, been recent celebrity pieces on this subject: J K Rowling, as an example, was pilloried by The Mail for 'confessing' that she had written the first Harry Potter books whilst receiving benefits.

It made me think. When I taught in an Art School in the early 1970s, I would regularly meet young wannabee rockers. You would expect this: such schools were a clear cradle of rock groups in the 60s and 70s. I would always tell them the same thing: if you're serious, I would say, you need to focus, entirely, on that: much better, I would subversively say, to drop out of here, sign on and get to 'work'. And then give it a year: you can always go back to your education, but you'll never make it in music unless you give it everything.

My question is this: has anyone ever done a study on the impact of the dole on the British rock scene of that period? Or on any other art form? I know, anecdotally, that a whole pile of rock musicians signed on at some point in their formative years....and it would be fun to know, and politically explosive, if the JK Rowling case study was not a freak occurrence but almost a norm for many of the great British groups as well as working class successes in other related fields.

I'm far too old (and, anyway, was never remotely academic) to do this kind of thing, I tend to run a mile at the thought of proper research. But someone, somewhere, really ought to do a PhD on this.....

Apologies if someone's already done it....because the other huge weakness from which I suffer is a lamentable tendency not to keep up to date.

Re: Rock'n'Dole Music

PostPosted: Sun Sep 14, 2014 11:05 pm
by AndyM
Pete, there is an interesting Facebook page called Subcultures, Popular Music and Social Change, run by those whose research specialisms are those areas and the linkages between them. Your query would. I'm sure, be answered there

Re: Rock'n'Dole Music

PostPosted: Sun Sep 14, 2014 11:44 pm
by Adam Blake
Pete Fowler wrote:I know, anecdotally, that a whole pile of rock musicians signed on at some point in their formative years....and it would be fun to know, and politically explosive, if the JK Rowling case study was not a freak occurrence but almost a norm for many of the great British groups as well as working class successes in other related fields.


Good lord, I thought this was just taken as a given. Everybody I knew in bands in the late 70s and early 80s, very much including myself, signed on and off the dole all the time. You might take a part time job for a while, but you'd have to chuck it in eventually when you got a run of gigs that meant you couldn't turn up for work. Plausibly engineering your own dismissal (you couldn't sign back on the dole if you resigned) was an art form in itself. It was just understood. Getting a "proper" job was a sign of weakness, a capitulation, a terrible personal defeat from which there was no climbing back. The fact that this is no longer possible is a DEVASTATING development for British music. It has led, inexorably, to the rise of Mumford & Son. Artists have always needed patrons and the dole was regarded as a form of state patronage. I remember doing the Enterprise Allowance scheme - which was just a scam to get people off the dole by calling them self-employed - until it ran out. This is one of the bitter ironies of the loathsome Cameron professing a love for The Smiths. Can you imagine a band like that even being conceived without the dole? Of course not. (Not to mention The Sex Pistols or The Clash or The Specials.)

Re: Rock'n'Dole Music

PostPosted: Mon Sep 15, 2014 8:33 am
by Pete Fowler
Adam, I know only too well that this is 'taken as a given' by those of us here - but I don't think anyones actually researched it and got it documented...I 'take it as given' that, under capitalism, the very rich get richer and leave the poor further and further behind - but it took Piketty to nail it. On a much, much smaller stage - the dole and rock - it would be absolutely fascinating to know how much money was returned to the state as a result of the dole paid, say, to 100 artists...

The bloody thing was a veritable pump-primer. And, Adam, I agree with everything you've put there: a world of Mumford and Sons is a world of giving up the ghost...

Re: Rock'n'Dole Music

PostPosted: Mon Sep 15, 2014 8:46 am
by Adam Blake
Pete Fowler wrote: a world of Mumford and Sons is a world of giving up the ghost...



Well, yes, but it IS all over now. The only interesting British music I've heard in recent years has been made by decidedly middle class undergraduates and graduates of music colleges - the kind of people who, forty five years ago, were forming prog bands but who are now in the business of re-creating a British strain of jazz. This is all well and good, but music as a vehicle for working class expression? I dunno. I don't want to say it's dead but I suspect it might be.

As for how much the state got back by investing in the tiny percentage of musicians who became financially successful, that's a fascinating question. I am not sure it would be possible to answer it.

Re: Rock'n'Dole Music

PostPosted: Mon Sep 15, 2014 12:03 pm
by Rob Hall
I'm pretty sure there's an active underground hiphop/street scene that is fuelled by an 'underclass' (for want of a better term) of kids seeking a creative outlet. I don't think it's all over by any means. The sounds may change but the process remains the same. Caveat: I'm not talking about the music business which - as I'm sure you know - is something else altogether.

Re: Rock'n'Dole Music

PostPosted: Mon Sep 15, 2014 1:39 pm
by Paul S
Also remember that there was just so much spare time in the 70's.
There was very little to distract you, because there was no internet to waste the hours away.

One of the music monthlies ran a feature a few years about bands who'd lived/formed in squats and one of the musicians interviewed made that very point. They had the time to listen to albums day after day, to form bands, to practice, hustle for and eventually get gigs.
I don't know how I got by at some points in the 70's when I was out of work, but I can't recall ever being unable to afford a drink or finding somewhere to stay.

They know that if it were these days, all that available peaceful time no longer exists.

Re: Rock'n'Dole Music

PostPosted: Mon Sep 15, 2014 2:24 pm
by Hugh Weldon
Paul S is right about time - at University there was plenty of it. Student grants probably funded almost as many bands as the dole. I nearly ended up playing drums for the Noise Toys in Newcastle, amid other short lived ventures!

I notice someone on Facebook mentioned Sara Cohen in Liverpool as the person to go to - I should have remembered her, had a couple of really helpful conversations with her when I was doing my MA dissertation. Her Rock Culture in Liverpool: Popular Music In The Making
(which seems to have disappeared but I'll have a search later,) probably covered the ground. She now heads up the Institute of Popular Music at the University which seems to be thriving:

http://www.liv.ac.uk/music/research/ins ... lar-music/

I also recall at the same time coming across a comment by Adrian Henri that the 300+ groups or however many it was active at the peak of Merseybeat owed their existence to the dole, and putting this to Spencer Leigh at Radio Merseyside, who thought it was nonsense. Late 50s/early 60s were very much times of full employment and the vast majority of the groups had day jobs but there was conceivably a lot more live music around than the 'dole queue rock' era which people like Jon Savage and Simon Frith used to talk about. It would make an interesting comparison anyway.

Re: Rock'n'Dole Music

PostPosted: Mon Sep 15, 2014 9:04 pm
by Pete Fowler
You sure, Hugh? I take the point from earlier - and, absolutely - of the importance of student grants: even Jagger had one of those as I remember from my LSE days when he was in the year above me....but I'm not at all convinced that those really determined to make it had 'day jobs' as well. I don't know, though, I'm just guessing.

Bloody hell, if I were younger and had ambition at my core, I'd work on this one...after all, it's such a wonderful irony: that benefits, the very heart of the rottenness of the British disease, had such an amazingly positive effect on GDP and exports...and that this pariah produced the profits that propelled the proles into the plutocracy....

Re: Rock'n'Dole Music

PostPosted: Mon Sep 15, 2014 9:55 pm
by Adam Blake
Pete Fowler wrote:this pariah produced the profits that propelled the proles into the plutocracy....


Pretty profligate plying of the plethora of plenitudes there, Pete!

I wonder what kind of music Iain Duncan-Smith listens to... (Judy and I once agreed that George W. Bush had "Achey Breaky Heart" on his iPod.)

Re: Rock'n'Dole Music

PostPosted: Wed Sep 17, 2014 1:00 am
by kevin
Adam Blake wrote:
I wonder what kind of music Iain Duncan-Smith listens to... (Judy and I once agreed that George W. Bush had "Achey Breaky Heart" on his iPod.)


http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/desert-island-discs/castaway/069a7204

Re: Rock'n'Dole Music

PostPosted: Wed Sep 17, 2014 1:10 am
by Adam Blake
Thanks, Kevin.

Re: Rock'n'Dole Music

PostPosted: Wed Sep 17, 2014 3:53 pm
by Garth Cartwright
Dole culture may have benefitted UK music in the late 70s to mid 90s - doesn't the legend go that Joe Strummer met other Clash mates in the dole queue? Noel Gallagher claimed to have written the first 2 Oasis records on the dole - but before Thatcher surely most Brit musicians came from the ranks of students or workers: even Steve Jones of the Pistols worked as a window cleaner...

If one looks at the US - where it's very difficult to get welfare - I can think of few musicians who launched a career on it. Ole Dirty Bastard of Wu Tang was one. When he got successful there's footage of him going and cashing his final food stamps.

As for interesting British music today- there's lots of it, I'm sure, but we're too old to hear it. Or seek it out. Mainly made by people who don't play instruments.

Re: Rock'n'Dole Music

PostPosted: Wed Sep 17, 2014 5:17 pm
by uiwangmike
Adam Blake wrote: (Judy and I once agreed that George W. Bush had "Achey Breaky Heart" on his iPod.)

Seems possible Billy Ray is there:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4435639.stm

Re: Rock'n'Dole Music

PostPosted: Wed Sep 17, 2014 11:10 pm
by davidt
Having followed the thread I can't get this tune out of my head.
Hope it doesn't interrupt the academic flow.

"Down tools, and Go, man, Go"

http://youtu.be/hlycwX1vTeg

David