Rock Vocalities

Chapter four of the Bloomsbury Handbook on Rock Music……

In a chapter focusing on rock vocalities, Katherine Meizel points out how the ways in which rock vocalists sing vary not only between subgenres, but from performer to performer. Meizel highlights how singers and listeners use particular sonic cues in the voice to identify music as rock: because those sounds index specific ideas and ideologies of authenticity that matter to them. The chapter, in addressing the production of the rock voice and the scholarship in which it features, investigates how the sounds associated with rock voices correspond not merely to superficial aesthetic values, but rather to concepts grounded in a culturally authenticated, genred, gendered, racialized, classed, and dis/abled framework of singing. They are rock values that celebrate imperfection and flawed individuality, and that at once resist and reinforce white cultural power through the appropriation of vocal sounds associated with black American singing.

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The Definition of ‘Rock’ and Stylistic Overlaps

The third essay of the Bloomsbury Handbook of rock music Research is provided by Taylor Myers and Brad Osborn, who initially examine the music theory, musicological and cultural studies literature that has emerged relating to rock scholarship over the last thirty plus years. Myers and Osborn then assert that a rhizomatic as opposed to arborescent approach is a more appropriate way of philosophically considering the genre formation of rock, which is regarded not as a ‘family tree’ with development branches, but a non-hierarchical construction, with multiple entry and exit points.  The essay subsequently provides a chronology of the literature that has helped define rock’s stylistic parameters, ranging from the work of Fabbri and Tagg in the early to mid 1980s, through to more contemporary scholarship. 

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The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock: Writing About Rock

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The Bloomsbury Handbook of Rock Music Research is now in the ‘post proof’ stage, with the publishers getting back with their various tweaks and suggestions. So I have just spent the day responding to 33 authors, who will soon be finalizing their chapters. As we move toward publication, I will be sharing the abstracts of the chapters, so here is the chapter by Sarah Hill

The second essay of the prefatory is by Sarah Hill, who surveys some of the key themes in academic writing about popular music in general and rock music in particular, considering the commonalities and ruptures that have emerged in the past forty years, and the variety of disciplinary approaches that constitute popular music studies. After outlining how the Beatles garnered positive critical attention in the late 1960s, Hill verifies how rock music entered the realm of academic discourse fairly late in its history—with the genre not fully solidifying until the early 1970s, after the first dedicated peer-reviewed journal, Popular Music and Society, was established in 1971. After the formation, ten years later, of both the International Association for the Study of Popular Music and the peer-reviewed journal, Popular Music, popular music studies is regarded as gradually becoming established into a recognizable field of ideas and approaches. Hill discusses how much of the early scholarly writing about popular music concerned not only ‘perimeters’ (what is popular music?), but the very groundwork of the field, with definitions of genres, audiences, styles, histories and cultural interactions emerging. These early publications of the field’s discursive fabric, alongside their inter-disciplinary dialogues and critical reassessments, are regarded as underpinning the academic study of popular music today.

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Popular Music History: Merthyr Tydfil has a Place!

Well, after two years, one of my most gratifying publishing moments to date is to receive this edited collection today. It features six chapters, focusing on places such as Aberdare, Liverpool, Ebbw Vale, Birmingham, Liverpool and Merthyr Tydfil. I am really proud that three of the chapters are focused on South Wales, with Merthyr Tydfil being of particular significance to me. When I moved here five years ago, it quickly became apparent that this place had a rich musical history, but popular music seemed to have been written out of any documented history. So, I set about a quest to find out about it, document it and most importantly celebrate it. This resulted in a fantastic event as part of the Being Human Festival, where in addition to older generation recording their memories, the younger generation had the opportunity to reenact the music history of the town. This was followed by a one month exhibition at the Redhouse and a one day symposium, which ultimately was the beginning of this edited collection.

So, the fact that this history is now documented in an ‘official’ journal, is another step in the right direction of ensuring histories such as these are not forgotten. All of the histories covered in the special edition focus on musical histories that have been ‘lost’, so I am really grateful to Equinox for providing the publishing environment for this. The introduction is available to download for free here, and I am looking forward to speaking about it at at some conferences over the next few months.

At a time when Wales is in the middle of a government investigation into its live music industry, I think these case studies provide an interesting snapshot of what we can learn from looking at the past, before we look at the future.

To check out some of the images on Peoples Collection Wales, click here

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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)

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Live Music Strategy For Cardiff: Lets Pay our Young Musicians

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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.

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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?



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