When is a music festival not a music festival? And why is a council that made a commitment to support local creative talent suffocating it?
The recent spate of noise abatement orders issued against live music venues in Rochester hit the headlines last month, with established venues such as the Royal Function Rooms and the Nag’s Head put under sudden pressure to curb their activities due to complaints from residents. The Singapora Lounge, a new and enthusiastic promoter of local music, was also hit.
The complaints came from residents living above, or next to, the venues in question. In several cases, the building or conversion of properties into residential ones came long after the threatened venues had established themselves as providers of live music. The general feeling among local bands, promoters, and live music venues, is that the noise complaints and investigation process overseen by Medway Council is skewed in favour of residents, and heavily against pubs and clubs that have a long and proud history of supporting Medway’s vibrant music scene.
Given that the yearly Castle Concerts at Rochester Castle have escaped censure, in spite of their clear audibility for miles around the venue, there is also a concern that the pursuit of non-Council venues and events is part of a shift against independent live music in Medway. The Council’s own cultural statement claims that ‘Medway Council intends to make the value and the contribution of culture in all its forms more visible and more relevant to people in Medway and to its economy’. It’s not quite clear how the shutting-down-by-proxy of local music venues through noise abatement orders will promote the value and visibility of Medway’s musicians.
On its own, the noise abatement issue might seem like a concerning, but isolated, incident. A bit clumsy and heavy-handed maybe, but nothing to be overly alarmed about. However, when £50,000 of public money is allocated to create a Medway Music Festival, and that festival turns out to be a re-tread and re-brand of the Council’s existing yearly live music offer, then questions have to be asked.
The Medway Festival of Music takes place between June and July of this year. A quick glance over the events on offer shows significant crossover with preceding years’ concerts – from Music Event One, the Castle Concerts and Love Music Hate Racism through to the Under Siege youth music event, most of what’s on offer is not new.
Among the new events is a gig by a Nirvana and Foo Fighters covers band (presumably their hire forms part of the £27,000 spent on ‘Artistes, consultancy and funding‘). Which begs the question how did a festival that started out by consulting local promoters and artists ended up hiring tribute acts, to the near total exclusion of local talent?
You’d also be within your rights to ask my thousands of pounds are being spent on PAs and ‘infrastructure costs’ when Medway is well served with established live music venues that would require a zero spend to put on the events in question. Referring back to the council’s ‘support’ of local venues might answer that question. As would the diversion of revenue streams associated with the Festival of Music into almost exclusively Council-run and owned venues.
Compare and contrast that with the Homsepun Festival, a collaboration between local promoters to put on the kind of vibrant and diverse local music event that they were promised when Medway Council began consultations for its own event. Homespun offers a huge array of local musical talent, and reflects the wide span of musical genres percolating in Medway, as well as acknowledging the history and continuity of the local music scene, with long-established acts such as The Claim rubbing shoulders with the young bucks in Theatre Royal.
Far from £50,000, the costs for putting on Homespun run into the hundreds at most, whilst still managing to put on acts with a national profile, such as Gravenhurst, and supporting local venues. It’s maybe not for the people frantically stuffing cash into Status Quo’s bleached denim pockets, but then filling Rochester Castle with a musical shade of beige year after year for the Castle Concerts caters well for those who like their music served lukewarm and under-seasoned.
However your musical bent swings, the questions surely remains the same: Why isn’t the council supporting local artists, as it promised to? Why is it persecuting local venues? And why, when the Council’s budget continues to be devastated by cuts, did it spend £50,000 on doing more or less the same thing again, only with added fake Foo Fighters?