A new and potentially powerful voice is emerging to represent the music industry across the Sheffield City Region.
It seeks to highlight a wide and creative spectrum of music and to harness the talent and ambition of all those who are passionate about it, from primary school children to established musicians.
While there is an undoubted wealth of musical talent to be appreciated and enjoyed, the Sheffield City Region Music Board also seeks to underline the economic benefits.
“We want people to say ‘This is a place where we can make a living by being involved in music’,” says Laura Bennett, who chairs the board, which held its inaugural meeting last November.
Musicians and others who work in the industry stand to benefit, and so does the economy across Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley, Doncaster and the Derbyshire Dales if the message is delivered successfully to other parts of the country.
The driving force behind the initiative is Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis, the Barnsley Central Labour MP who is working in partnership with London-based UK Music, an industry-funded body that promotes the interests of record labels, music publishers, songwriters, composers, lyricists, musicians, managers, producers, promoters and venues.
Music dovetails into a more expansive strategy of championing arts and culture to inspire the next generation of artists, attract visitors and grow the SCR’s cultural economy – a strategy that Mayor Jarvis has indicated could form the basis for a regional bid to become UK City of Culture in 2025, a statement that was included in his mayoral manifesto.
The board sees artists, venues, music businesses and festival organisers working alongside the Mayor, Sheffield Heeley MP Louise Haigh and councillors and council officers.
Vice-chair is Frank Wilkes, director of Alya Records, who has over 30 years’ experience working in the music industry, running a number of Yorkshire-based music initiatives.
A latest addition is hip-hop artist – and Sheffield’s first poet laureate – Otis Mensah.
Collaborative action comes against a backdrop of an impressive and varied list of artists from across the region – Arctic Monkeys, Pulp, Def Leppard, Heaven 17, Human League, Toddla T, Bring Me The Horizon, Kate Rusby, Nancy Kerr, Martin Simpson, Lesley Garrett, Barnsley Youth Choir, Tony Christie…
Mayor Jarvis said: “Our region is blessed with musical talent, with great venues large and small, and with a host of leading production and technology-based businesses.
“But I know that there is more we could do to ensure we promote these strengths nationally and internationally, creating a stronger culture of creativity and talent development and growing the creative industries’ contribution to our economy.”
The board is taking its inspiration from similar initiatives in London, Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region.
“We will aim high – projecting our region’s huge musical potential onto the national stage, helping to grow our economy and creating new opportunities for our talent to shine,” adds the Mayor.
Ideas were plenty at the first meeting of the SCR Music Board, at the FlyDSA Arena in Sheffield. The next will be at Doncaster Dome on February 7 with a view to a firm set of proposals being presented by the spring.
Dan Jarvis has emphasised that the board will not be a talking shop and will develop a concrete plan of action.
It has the support of Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, the collaboration of the public and private sectors formed to drive the regional economy.
Laura – a board member of the local LEP – is optimistic after chairing the first board meeting.
“I was really encouraged by the support around the table. People were saying this sounds great and how can we get involved. Hopefully we’ll find ways of getting them involved whether they are on the board or not.”
The inaugural meeting was addressed by UK Music CEO Michael Dugher, who outlined the potential benefits of the approach.
In London, for example, it presented an opportunity to tackle the immediate crisis of venue closures, pressing for changes to planning regulations.
Initial discussions confirmed the vibrancy of the music scene at grass roots level, says Laura.
“There is a recognition that there are a lot of artists, whether they be in jazz, folk, classical, rap or other styles, who are making really exciting music.
“There is a lot going on and we don’t always talk about it. Everybody talked about their hopes and aspirations for music in the Sheffield City Region.
“Now we are going to consolidate the ideas as a group. One of the main themes to emerge was helping people to make a living out of music.
“Education is another big part. We want music to be accessible for people of all ages.”
Laura takes heart from the “sheer variety” of top quality performers across the musical boundaries within the region.
Similarly, there are a range of events to raise the area’s profile.
Tramlines has grown into “Sheffield’s biggest party”, now relocated from the city centre to Hillsborough Park and with more than 70 artists across four stages lined up for this year’s event, over the weekend of July 19 to 21
“Tramlines is a huge success and is bringing people to Sheffield in a similar way to the Leeds and Reading festivals,” says Laura. “Let’s capitalise further on that. Let’s get more people travelling here to enjoy the music.”
Other music events are also big attractions.
The third Classical Weekend will see more than 50 of the city’s music groups joined by performers from across the world in a wide range of performances and workshops in Sheffield venues from March 8 to 10 March.
Meanwhile, from its home at the Crucible Studio, Music in the Round has an international reputation as the largest promoter of chamber music outside London. Its spring programme also extends to family and jazz concerts.
There is plenty for the Sheffield City Region Music Board to work with and to shout about.
A snapshot of the local music sector in the summer 2015 – compiled and written by Sheffield’s Sensoria Festival of Music, Film & Digital – illustrated the scale of the industry. It found 465 active bands/artists and 323 organisations in South Yorkshire.
There were 65 recording studios, 69 venues, 21 rehearsal facilities, 24 record labels, 20 sound engineers, 11 producers, 32 promoters, 12 managers, 17 music festivals, ten music educational organisations…
It’s a long and comprehensive list, with Sheffield having the potential to be the UK’s leading Music City, according to the report commissioned by the University of Sheffield, which is represented on the music board.
Frustratingly, many musicians were found not to have the skills, contacts or capacity to ensure their work is released.
It’s early days for the Sheffield City Region Music Board, which continues to shape enthusiasm and ideas into proposals for the short and longer term.
So far it has support from the Sheffield City Region executive team to help get things moving.
One of the key hopes is that a well co-ordinated and well supported strategy will unlock funds from potential sources such as the National Lottery. “There is money available for music – and coming together gives you a better chance of accessing it,” says Laura.
A formal launch of an action plan is being prepared while Dan Jarvis widens the picture to champion the region’s excellence in arts, culture and heritage.
Again, a meeting of local experts was convened to help get the ball rolling. Representatives of art galleries, museums, theatre, cinema, literature, sculpture and other areas met at Barnsley’s Digital Media Centre last November to share their knowledge, explore opportunities to work together and, ultimately, to raise the cultural profile of the region on a national scale.
Mayor Jarvis, a former Shadow Minister for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, says: “Our region is home to nationally significant assets including galleries, museums, the largest theatre complex outside of London, and the soon-to-be-reopened Wentworth Castle Gardens.
“We also have a thriving music scene, a talented community of artists, sculptors and makers, and hugely successful tourist attractions that bring in visitors from across the whole of the UK.
“If we work together and combine this expertise, I believe we can be more than the sum of our parts.”
Laura reflects on the Barnsley meeting as “a fantastic gathering of cultural institutions from across the Sheffield City Region.
“There was fervent agreement that not only does culture enrich our quality of life, but that it also is a driver for growth in and of itself – not as an afterthought, but front and central to any economic development agenda.”
Music has its role to play, creatively and economically, in the life of the whole Sheffield City Region.
UK’s Music’s Michael Dugher, who is now an advisor to the SCR Music Board, believes the approach can bear fruit.
He says: “The Sheffield City Region has produced some exceptional talent which has brought enjoyment to millions of music fans across the world.
“As patron of what was the ‘Live in Barnsley’ festival, I know just how much talent is out there. I remember going to gigs in Doncaster and even sneaking into the Leadmill as a teenager.
“We need to nurture our talent pipeline for the future and safeguard our fantastic venues to keep producing world-beaters in every part of our vibrant and diverse music industry
“We want to provide more and better opportunities across the region so that every young person from every background has access to music and can try a career in music.”