Popular Music Education in Wales: Time to Move Forward. Tramshed Tech, Cardiff January 30th 2020 (9.30-4.30)


Wales has a unique landscape culturally, politically, linguistically and of course musically. Like other Small Nations, the country has a distinct set of challenges in order to ensure it exploits the full potential of music education. In terms of popular music education, this broader landscape is/has been informed to some degree via initiatives funded by Welsh Government, the Arts Council and local councils, with partners such as the PRS Foundation and BBC Wales, all of which are intended, at least in part, to ‘educate’ stakeholders within the Welsh Music Industry – audiences and musicians alike. Most importantly, although these initiatives are positioned outside ‘mainstream’ education, they can be regarded as existing in tandem with debates concerning the place of popular music within the curriculum, which have been part of recent discussions in the Senedd. Featuring a range of expert speakers, this symposium will examine these debates, outlining case studies of good practice and ways in which the Welsh education system can more appropriately include popular music within its remit. To book a place, click here, then click on ‘Symposium’. The event is part of the Immersed in the City Festival, which is headlined by Richard Ashcroft. The £5 includes lunch, with all proceeds going to Teenage Cancer Trust. The outline of the day and speakers are copied below

Arrive: 9:30 Refreshments

9:50 Introduction: Professor Paul Carr

Panel 1: 10.00-11.30

Olivia Gable and James Hannam: Lifeblood: Funding Popular Music Education in Wales

Rob Smith: Reading and Speaking: Exploring Musical Style in the Welsh Classroom and Community.

Luke Thomas: Towards a Ladder of Popular Music Support in Wales: the case of Forté Project

Chaired by Paul Carr

11.30-12.00: Refreshments

Panel 2: 12.00-1.30

Paula Gardiner and Rachel Kilby: Music is Music: a Richer Cultural Future for Wales

Bethan Jenkins: Lewis School Pengam: The Place of Songwriting in the Welsh Music Curriculum

Gillian Mitchell: Musical Futures and National Youth Arts Wales: A Case Study.

Simon Parton: An Equal Opportunity: Using Technology and Pop Music to Engage Young People in Music Making

Chaired by Rob Smith

1.30-2.30 Lunch

Keynote 2.30-3.30

Professor Paul Carr: Rock Music Pedagogy in the UK and US: Ignorance or Elitism?

3.30-3.45: Refreshments

Closing Remarks: 3.45-4.30

Professor Helena Gaunt (Principal, RWCMD)

Posted in Education, Musicology | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Live Music Strategy For Cardiff: Lets Pay our Young Musicians

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 14.32.58

It was interesting to read the Sound Diplomacy recommendations into the ways in which Cardiff can become the UKs first music city. Firstly, I have to say, that if these recommendations are taken forward, there is no question they will have an important contribution to the musical life of the city. The report contains some fascinating information, including statistics of the impact of tourism, numbers of full and part time music jobs, and average earnings of the creative and support sectors. There are also some very sound strategic advice regarding factors such as the establishment of busking and loading zones, not to mention countless  examples of good practice from around the globe.

As this is just a very brief initial response, there is no room to go into detail here. However, just a few standout highlights. I found it fascinating that although there are more recording studios and a similar number of live venues in Cardiff when compared to Bristol, there are significantly less gigs taking place. Why is this (I think the report could have investigated this more)?

I also found it interesting that Cardiff has a similar number of people working in the music industry as Liverpool and Bristol, despite having a lower population. However, many of these workers are part time. Does this mean that it is more difficult to make a living as a full time musician in Cardiff than in these two cities? If so why?

Finally, although this has a personal perspective, I could not help but notice that in my opinion, the report needed to acknowledge the long ‘backstory’ of the research that has already taken place into the Welsh Music Scene. Alongside colleagues such as Sarah Hill, Pwyll ap Sion and a few others, I have documented a number of reports into the relationships of live music and higher education, not to mention a report into live music in Wales for the Welsh Music Foundation several years ago. Many of the recommendations included in the Sound Diplomacy report were also documented in this 2011 report. These included

  • That Cardiff council has a dedicated music representative to action the recommendations in the report
  • The challenge of Bristol
  • Issues associated with the ‘classical’ music sector obtaining more funding
  • The lack of music industry awareness into funding that is available
  • The need for more rehearsal studios
  • The need for a mid size 2000 capacity venue
  • Consideration of why many artists still decide to bypass Wales when touring
  • Consideration of transport issues that prevent people from attending concerts
  • Issues around developing relevant training
  • The development of under age audiences

I was very surprised not to see my 2011 report referenced, considering the similarity of findings, as it would have highlighted the fact that the Sound Diplomacy concerns are not new. Indeed, many of these concerns were in place long before I moved to Wales in 2003. However, if the  Sound Diplomacy report ensures these recommendations happen – it is great news! It is a good report and I can see a lot of work has gone into it. With my education hat on, I think the idea of setting up an education board that looks at the challenges throughout the city is an excellent one. This would enable stakeholders from all levels to speak to each other, ensuring there is no overlap and most importantly, we can investigate the most appropriate ways to develop and assess both our young people and older music industry employees/employers.

Here is a talk I done in 2012 on the relationships between higher education and the live music industry in Wales. The research was completed for the Higher Education Academy and was presented as part of the excellent Live Music Exchange network headed up by Martin Cloonan and Simon Frith.

In closing, aside from the importance of ensuring that Wales keeps its income from live music, probably the biggest outstanding issue issue for me for the Cardiff Music Scene is  the importance of ensuring grassroots musicians are paid for their work. Although I have not conducted any official research into this, I can say firsthand that many young musicians performing in Cardiff’s grassroots venues are not remunerated in the ways they need to be. I know my son’s band, who have performed in many Cardiff venues, rarely get paid for the hours of rehearsal and dedication they put into their music. His particular band have just finished university, so it is hard to understand how  bar staff and cleaners are paid far more that them in the grassroots live music events they partake in. They have found however, that when they play in Bristol, they do usually get paid, so I think this is a factor that requires more research and action: What can we learn? Young bands simply wont hang around the city if they are not getting paid at least a minimum wage for their creative efforts. An important ‘fair play’ initiative is included from page 70 in the Sound Diplomacy report, but I would personally have liked to have seen the plight of many aspiring young musicians in the city highlighted more.

Considering all of this, the report is still an excellent start, so lets hope it has a big impact over the next several years, so we can  ensure creative musicians can continue to live and work in the city.

Posted in Live Music, Music Industry, Musicology | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Music Persona and Authenticity

In last weeks musicology session, we considered three main ways in which the person singing a song can be identified. These were

  1. The ‘Real’ Person/Performer singing/playing a song: For example David Jones, Reginald Kenneth Dwight, Gordon Sumner, Saul Hudson,
  2. The Performance Persona: The character the performer ‘puts on’ when performing – distinct from the ‘real person’. David Jones = David Bowie, Reginald Kenneth Dwight = Elton John, Gordon Sumner = Sting, Saul Hudson = Slash.
  3. The Protagonist: A character that is portrayed in a song – often no identity outside of song, but sometimes based on ‘real events’.

When we consider the ways in which these areas can interrelate, it leads to questions such as

  • What is the relationship between the ‘real person’ and the persona and protagonist?
  • Is the Protagonist based on real or imagined characters in the singer/songwriters life?
  • How does all of this relate to notions of authenticity?

We then looked at artists such as Bob Dylan, Lady Gaga, John Lennon, David Bowie, Bruce Dickinson and Billy Holiday, and considered how there image and music output resonates with areas 1 – 3 above. Most importantly, we considered how they resonate with notions of authenticity. Are they authentic? Why/Why Not.

Some interesting discussions took place in the class which are too numerous to outline here, but one of the main themes we discussed was the importance of a persona being an ‘extension’ of the ‘real person’ – if it is to be considered authentic!

We finished the session with the following questions and it is these I want you to comment upon and give examples of for next time. Please comment here on this.

  • Read suggested texts by Allan Moore, Edward Cone and Phil Auslanda.
  • Consider and give examples of artists who depict ‘real person’, persona and protagonist – in particular the later. Who are the characters displayed in the text?
  • Give examples of a song where the persona and or protagonist changes mid song
  • Give examples of where the real person is outlined in the persona and or protagonist. Why do you think the artist may do this. Remember the notions of ‘strategic anti essentialism’ we discussed.
  • How does all of this make the music more/less authentic?



Posted in Musicology | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The Decline of Instrumental Tuition in Wales

Although it took place a few months ago, here are a few links related to the report I wrote a few months ago into the decline of instrumental teaching in Wales. The event took part at The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and drew attention to a factor that has been gradually taken place over many years – the erosion of the musical opportunities of our young people. I will not document my arguments here, as they are all outlined in the report which you can read below.  I have also attached a couple of photos from the event, a short documentary and my short speech. Please also read the recent government document Hitting the Right Note – which I think has the potential to improve this situation, providing the recommendations are accepted! Aside from equal opportunity for all, I feel one of the most important changes that are required is the inclusion of popular music and MOST IMPORTANTLY – a means of assessing it correcting. I have just submitted an 8000 essay for a new publication coming out next year – and will be blogging more about this soon.



Paul Carr Speech

Posted in Decline of Instrumental Tuition, Musicology | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Impact of Musical Environment on Lyrics and Meaning

This post is directed mainly to my undergraduate musicology students, but I am sure other readers will find it of interest to. This week in our class, we discussed the various ways in which the ‘musical environment’ (the sounds and textures of a piece of music) impact and infiltrate the lyrical content. Based largly on Allan Moore’s thinking in his book Song Means, I proposed three environments to consider.

1.Inert: Where the music has no significant impact on the lyrics of a song

2.Active: Where the Lyrics Support the position of the singer or lyrics (Protagonist in song)

3.Oppositional: Where the Musical Texture actually conflicts with the lyric

The examples for ‘Inert’ arguably include the majority of the popular music we listen to, but Active and Oppositional are more interesting. For Active, I used the following examples

  • Annie Lennox ‘Walking On Broken Glass’ (1992)
  • Feist ‘The Water’ (2008)
  • Joe Cocker ‘With a Little Help from my Friends’ (1969)
  • ‘Machine Gun’ Jimi Hendrix (1970)
  • Zappa: Rhymin Man

Zappa in fact, for me at least uses this technique more than any other, describing it as ‘American Musical Icons’ in his biography. Essentially, all of these examples include the music working in a symbiotic partnership with the lyrics/singer, to substantiate the meaning of the words.

The Oppositional approach is different, as the musical texture actually conflicts with what the listen is hearing. Having recently wrote a book on Sting, I noted this is a technique that he deliberately employs as a songwriter, with his old hit ‘Next to You’ being a great example – essentially a love song juxtapositioned against a punk rock rhythm. This can’t help but indoctrinate the song with a certain amount of ambiguity.

My task for this students is this: 1) provide examples of ‘Active’ and ‘Oppositional’ in the comments of this post. Provide 2) How does this impact the ‘meaning’ in the song?

Posted in guitar, Musicology | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

Zappa at the Paris Philharmonie:Report and Some Questions


I have spent the last few days at a conference in Paris at the Paris de Philharmonie. Although I have not focused on Zappa’s work for a couple of years, it was great to reconnect again  with friends such as Manuel de la Fuente and Michel Delville, both who contributed to Frank Zappa and the And and are established ‘Zappa academics’. It was also investing to meet many new colleagues, who are determined to understand Zappa’s legacy. You can download the programme of the conference here.

My paper was an updated version of an essay I had published a few years back in Contemporary Theatre Review, which mainly focused on the impact of restricted copyright rights in performance and also positioning Zappa against certain areas of postmodernism. The first page of the 50 min talk is copied below.




In addition to meeting a number of international colleagues I had never met before, it was also good to get to meet some Zappa alumni, namely Bunk Gardner and Ike Willis, both of who were humble nice guys and when interviewed, provided some interesting insights into subject matters such as the formulation of Joes Garage and history of the split of The Mothers of Invention. What is apparent, is that these guys still hold Zappa in great esteem – with Ike Willis confirming that Zappa told him to ‘keep his music alive’ – which he doing through playing in no less than 15 Zappa cover bands at the moment. Here is a photo of the interview and also of me and Bunk Gardner

When I reflect on the weekend, which finished with attending a performance of Zappa’s The Yellow Shark, I have left with a few things to think about, such as:

  • In what ways was/was not Zappa ‘postmodern’?
  • Why do so few women examine Zappa’s work and when they do, are there any ‘conflicts’?
  • Are there actually any new things to say about him – has it now all been said?
  • If the answer to my previous question is ‘yes’, how can we bring the study of Zappa into broader discussions of popular musicology?
  • When one is such a fan, how does one remain objective when attempting to analyse his legacy? This is an issue I tried to grapple with over the years when writing about Zappa, but in particular when writing my recent monograph on Sting.

There are many other questions that came out of the conference that I will be thinking about over the next few days, but what most impressed me was the high esteem his music is held in France, and it was fabulous to engage with his music both aesthetically and intellectually in such a beautiful space. It was also fascinating to see his music being taught to school children over the ‘Zappa Weekend’ – this would have made him smile I would imagine.

My three nights here finished with a performance of some of the compositions from The Yellow Shark which was performed alongside some additional Zappa material, Varese, John Zorn and other music that Zappa would have appreciated – which was nice!








Posted in Frank Zappa, Musicology | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sting: The Last Post

Well, after four years of discussions, public lectures and a number of book launches, I am now down to my last few days of engaging with my hometown of Newcastle, via the lens of Sting. I am looking forward to speaking at the Westbourne Book Binge on Sunday, where I am being interviewed by Paul Kelly, which is followed by what will be my final talk in Cardiff on Monday 30th. Although I only managed to meet Sting  once in the four year period, I would like to thank him for giving me the environment to think about my own relationship to Newcastle – which is equally as complex as his. Like Sting, mine is refracted through distance, time and imagination, but it is a nostalgia that feels very real. It is a nostalgia that reflects the true meaning of the word – a mixture of ‘homecoming’ and ‘pain’.

Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 18.02.52

I went to see the first preview of The Last Ship a few weeks back at the same venue where I first seen Sting play in Last Exit when I was 14 years old, which itself was a nostalgic experience. However, even when I attempted to distance myself from the feeling of being in the same room with several hundred Geordies, watching a narrative of isolation, escape and return, I could not help but feel Sting had tapped into something very special here – far more profound than anything he has done previously – or will probably do subsequently.


It is well documented how the various narrative streams in The Last Ship relate directly to Sting’s own past – such as his relationship with his dad, his move to London, his rejection of of Newcastle, and of course his celebrated reunion. Although Sting is exercising his own ghosts here, he is also assisting people such as myself, who has loved and hated his hometown, and was determined to somehow escape what appeared to be a wall of cultural and geographical restrictions when growing up. At 16 when I left Blaydon Comprehensive, my whole world existed around a five mile radius of the house I was born in – so ‘escape’, was the only alternative for someone who wanted to make music. However, ‘return’ is the most important part of this story to me. When I met Sting, he told me that ‘a word does not exist that describes his [now very positive] feelings for Newcastle’, and I would say the same is true for me. As I said at the start of this blog, we are partially talking about a Newcastle that is in the imagination, with parts of it not existing anymore, but it has been such a pleasure having the opportunity to think about it from a personal perspective, let alone an academic one. I hope at least parts of my book transcends Sting, and facilitates readers to consider the complex relationships we all have with our hometowns, and the ways in which artistic practice can assist both the composers and their audiences engage with the places of our birth.

Screen Shot 2017-03-13 at 16.08.40

Posted in Musicology, Sting | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment