Not since our notorious feature on The 10 Best Songs To Fiddle The Expenses On Your Second Home To has the name of this esteemed publication rung so resoundingly around the halls of power.
Last Thursday, Labour MP Kevin Brennan put a question to Conservative Leader Of The House Of Commons and the most insidious of all sentient haunted dolls, Jacob Rees-Mogg, about a piece we’d published that day detailing the devastation wreaked on international touring for UK acts one year into Brexit, and the Government’s “clueless” approach to trying to solve the myriad problems making EU tours unviable for most. Rees-Mogg batted aside Brennan’s request for a debate to solve the issue claiming negotiations were ongoing, adding: “May I confess, Mr Speaker, that I have failed in that I have not read the New Musical Express this morning, or indeed any morning that I can ever recall.”
Can’t say we’re surprised. Any appeal we might have had to Rees-Mogg likely expired when we stopped publishing on goatskin parchment in 1823, then separated from our sister publication Stovepipe Gentleman Monthly around the Great War, losing our regular advice columns on the social etiquette of breast-feeding into your 30s and how best to exert merciless rule over a workhouse. Indeed, the entire point of our seven decades of existence has essentially been trying to stop people like Jacob Rees-Mogg from reading us.
But his dismissive response to the suggestion he might take any interest in a pop culture outlet like ours when it lays bare a cultural crisis of his doing spoke to a far deeper governmental malaise. Like his party at large, he revealed that he has nothing but bare-faced disdain for popular music, even more so the future of it. It might be an industry worth £111 billion and one of the few things since (to speak in terms he’ll understand) the fall of the Empire that has made Britain a source of global envy and pride, but it’s beneath him. Unless ‘Chaise Longue’ is a lost Chopin sonata, he probably couldn’t care less if anyone on the continent gets to hear it. If Dry Cleaning isn’t a firm he can send his tailcoat to after a particularly energetic Prom, I doubt he gives a toss if it remains viable post-Brexit. If Charli XCX isn’t the ninety-tenth Queen Charli, why would she be of interest to him?
It wasn’t just the NME and the music it covers that Rees-Mogg was dismissing out of hand, of course. It was all of the concerns in the piece from industry figures highlighting the clear and present threats to the future of British music in Europe. At the bottom end, carnets, visas, custom duties, travel limitations and endless paperwork and red tape are putting paid to the idea of small bands broadening their audiences on the continent and becoming international stars we can be proud of – the new engines of the British music industry, no less.
At the top, increases in the cost of cabotage (getting people and gear around, basically) and a lack of trucks promise to see European tours by larger acts edge closer to unprofitability too. Across the board UK bands will suffer, from Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs to – oh yes, Mr. Daltrey – The Who.
That so many in our original article complain about the Government providing hopeless or non-existent support, guidance or advice is sadly about as surprising as Laurence Fox tweeting bullshit. As Rees-Mogg’s attitude exposed, to the Tories popular British music is disposable, valueless, unworthy of help. It’s vulgar. That’s why government packages to keep venues alive during the pandemic were so late and insufficient, why support for musicians and crews barely existed at all and why the country’s arts creatives were told in no uncertain terms to stop gadding about enriching our lives and bally well “retrain and find other jobs”, as Rishi Sunak put it in 2020.
To put the future of UK music in the hands of people who aren’t even bothered enough to rise to their usual level of incompetent in protecting it is a truly hopeless cause; the Tories are fast becoming the party of anti-culture, happy to gas British music as cheerfully as a bothersome badger sett. We understand it’s difficult to get the internet on a zoetrope, but I’d happily have our article delivered on papyrus scroll to Rees-Mogg if it’d make him face up to his errors and failings and grow some responsibility.
Because believe me, Jacob: you don’t want thousands of ex-musicians and tour crews filling all those lorry driving vacancies. They’ll dog themselves to death in a week.