Opinion “Reducing opportunities for creatives outside of the capital is choking the airwaves”

Lily Fontaine of Leeds band English Teacher on why, in the wake of this month’s BBC Introducing closures, it’s integral that we unblock the regional pipeline.

“You know, there’s never been a good band from London,” shrieks Freddie of the Leeds band Thank in their song ‘Dread’, which sees the protagonist - be it sarcastic or not - hoping that his awful living situation might catalyse musical creativity. You have the “Leeds side streets that you slip down”, and you have “the white witches on the Moors with pre-raphaelites down in Broomhall”. You have all these gifted wordsmiths, musicians, rappers and producers, outside of London, from Bradford to Berwick-Upon-Tweed, inspired by the social issues and the scenery around them. But what you don’t have is many of them making it big. The last eight winners of the Mercury Prize were from the capital, and 75% of 2023’s shortlist are made up of Londoners. That’s not necessarily a criticism of the Prize itself, but a sign that somewhere north of Oxford there lies a blockage along the pipeline to success.

In my opinion, it was the growing music network at the time of our first releases that allowed English Teacher access to the wider industry. Not only local organisations, but national institutions like PPL with their Momentum Accelerator fund, throwing money into areas lacking in access. Similarly, the local BBC Introducing show - presented by one of the most avid gig-goers in West Yorkshire, Emily Pilbeam - provided a direct funnel to national recognition. It wasn’t just having a place to upload music, it was having a group of people who knew the industry, milling about in the local scene and shouting about it. It didn’t feel like networking, it felt like a golden era of regional creativity in the limelight - and it was. But, removing the romanticism, it was also fewer degrees of separation.

However, in January of this year, the BBC announced it would be making changes to its radio scheduling from August onwards. These changes include a heavy restructuring of the BBC Introducing network that will see local Introducing shows merged. One example of a proposed change is the fusing of Hereford and Worcester, Stoke and Shropshire’s shows - reducing available slots from 16 hours of new music to just two hours; that’s 14 hours of music every week that won’t get heard. In most cases where shows are being merged, the amount of music content being broadcast will be halved, and most of these cuts are also focussed on areas above London.

Somewhere north of Oxford there lies a blockage along the pipeline to success.

Success in the music industry relies on talent, yes. But it also relies on access to the right people. Those outside of London must make the expensive move, or book costly travel and accommodation to the capital for shows, work experience and networking opportunities. If you’re not from inherited wealth, you’re either working this second job around your full-time one, or you aren’t able to participate. With these barriers already in place, further reducing opportunities for creatives outside of the capital chokes the airwaves and thus, the industry is doomed to monotony as the same stories are recycled.

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got. I want to see a Brit School in Bradford, which, as announced earlier this year, could potentially become a reality as the BPI has submitted a bid to the Department for Education for a new specialist creative arts college in the town that gave us Nia Archives and Zayn Malik. I also want to see labels like EMI, who have just opened branches in the north, pull through on their promise to nurture local talent. And, as Elton John said in a recent Instagram statement: “I look forward to seeing the BBC make good on their promise to continue to support up-and-coming acts and not compromise the essence of BBC Introducing”.

There are good bands from London, but I think what’s really exciting about music is when it takes you to Batley, Blantyre or Barrow-in-Furness; when it takes you to a place you’ve most likely never visited before.

Tags: English Teacher, On The Record, Features

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