Music education gets a welcome cash boost



Clearing out boxes in the garage recently I came across my certificate for Grade V (Higher) in Music Theory.  I had forgotten I took the exam,  but then again it was back in the day – Elton John was a relative newcomer to the pop charts at the time.

As I (dimly) recall, music education at my alma mater was a patchy affair, but I’m willing to concede I was a far from diligent pupil in most subjects.

So I’m pleased to note that music education in England is to get an  £18 million  shot in the arm.

Last November Ofsted inspectors said music education lacked depth and rigour.  The new cash will be allocated to music education, including to the national network of 123 music education hubs. There are two of these in Sussex – one in County Oak, Avenue, Brighton and one in Lewes.

David Laws, minister of state for schools, said: “We strongly believe that all children should benefit from a good music education and have given £171 million to music hubs since 2012. We have also announced that central government funding for music education programmes will increase by  £18 million in 2015-16, and funding for music education hubs will rise to around £75 million in total. Local authorities will continue to have total discretion about whether to spend any of the ESG they receive on providing music services.”

That last bit is significant as it overturns previous government advice that local authorities should not continue to fund music education.

As for me, I have returned to the fray and I am studying music theory all over again, with a private tutor. It’s never to late to learn the difference between tranquillo and traurig.











Brighton council: never mind the bins, America wants to trash our services

Bin strike last summer in Brighton

Bin strike last summer in Brighton

Councillors in Brighton and Hove want to block a controversial trade agreement between Europe and the United States.

Supporters of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership say it will deliver an extra £98 billion a year to the European Union and £78 billion a year to the US.

But at the full council meeting at Hove Town Hall in Norton Road on Thursday, Green and Labour councillors called for the chief executive to write to Dr Vince Cable to express concern over the effect of the agreement on public services in Brighton and Hove

The Greens says the agreement threatens public services such as the NHS, and could undermine regulations that protect workers.

Ollie Sykes, who represents Brunswick and Adelaide ward, proposed the motion.

He  said: “The proposed deal destroys democratic decision-making. TTIP is a huge threat to our high standards for the quality and safety of our food, the sources of our energy, workers’ rights and our privacy.

“Under the deal, food products allowed in the US, such as chemically-washed poultry, could be sold in the UK – even though it’s been previously banned here. US companies will even have the right to sue governments in secret courts if politicians try to reverse privatisation.

“This secretive deal could see corporate greed trump public need at all levels of government. It must be stopped.”

But Councillor Graham Cox, who represents Westbourne ward in Hove slammed the move.

He said: “I join with many residents in wondering why on earth Green Party Councillors are spending time and council taxpayers money on motions asking the chief executive to write to someone, rather than making sure the rubbish gets collected from the streets of Brighton and Hove where they allegedly run the council.

“This is simply an attack on free trade by a party which wants to reintroduce protectionism and opposes economic growth. While I am no great fan of the way the EU uses trade barriers to prevent, for example, African farmers competing on a level playing field with their subsidised French counterparts, I am supportive of measures which enable more trade to take place between the US and Europe.

“Rather than adopting the ‘UKIP/Green Party stop the world I want to get off’ approach of protectionism, we should be embracing free trade with the whole world. Selling our products in an open market benefits Britain and those with whom we trade, and anti-free trade motions such as this will make our country poorer.”


Brighton council tax payer splashes out for officers’ slap-up meals

Fine dining for council officers

Fine dining for council officers

Council tax payers in Brighton and Hove picked up the tab for two slap-up meals for council chiefs and their clients  which cost more than £900.

The dinners took place at English’s restaurant in East Street and Chilli Pickle in Jubilee Square. They were charged to the credit card of Brighton and Hove’s convention bureau manager as official council business.

In the financial year 2013-14,  24 members of council staff had official credit cards and racked up spending amounting to £137,134.

I unearthed the details of the spending under rules which allow all council receipts and bills to be examined by the public for a limited period.

A council spokeswoman said both posh meals were connected to the UK Meetings Show, an international conference trade show held in London Olympia.

The spokeswoman said that after the show eight of the most promising potential clients were invited to come to the city to “see the conference venues, meet city representatives and get an appreciation of all that our city can offer”.

There were eight senior level conference organisers at Chilli Pickle and  two council city representatives including one from VisitBrighton. At the meal in English’s,  there were eight senior level conference organisers, including two from VisitBrighton.

At English’s the group enjoyed four bottles of St Clair wine from New Zealand totalling  £115.80. At Chilli Pickle the diners chose the table h’ote menu costing £227.50.

Other council credit card costs in 2013-14 included a six month licence for a photograph of a cricket ball hitting stumps which cost £500.51 and a waterfront sailing event for conference organisers which cost £260.

Spending on hotels and hospitality during the financial year amounted to more than £3,800.

Councillor Graham Cox, who represents the Conservative Group in Westbourne Ward, said: “I would expect all purchases on a corporate credit card to be scrutinised and authorised by a manager senior to the council officer making the purchase.”

Leader of Brighton and Hove City Council Jason Kitcat was one of a party of three people who stayed for two nights at the Hotel Gravensteen in Ghent at a cost of £474.80. When asked to comment he told me to put my enquiries through the press office. It has yet to respond.

Council officers’ receipts for meals


Brighton and Hove Credit Card Transactions




Response from the finance department at Brighton and Hove City Council:

“We have had a note from Visit Brighton that reports a successful familiarisation visit following the UK Meeting Show. Lead times for meeting and conference bookings can be in excess of 12 months and Visit Brighton is in dialogue with several of the attendees who may confirm business in the future. To date, one of the attendees has booked two meetings and used two seafront hotels. Another attendee has booked an event with a sailing organisation based at Brighton Marina. A yacht based at the marina has also been chartered by an attendee of the visit.”


Which songs feature on the soundtrack of your life?

I blame Nick Hornby. In High Fidelity, a tale of mix-tapes and tangled relationships, the soundtrack as semiotic signifier reached a high-water mark. Movie directors now like to think that each significant moment in a character’s life can be encapsulated with a few bars of a song that happened to be climbing the charts in the period concerned.

Back in the early 70s, however, American Graffiti set the template for the use of music in the bildungsroman movie and did so beautifully, as kids cruised the streets of Modesto, California, with the radios blaring. Thank God, it was set in 1962, so we are treated to Fats Domino, Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper. Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, in contrast, served up the turgid work of Aerosmith, Deep Purple and Alice Cooper. Linklater’s Boyhood promises us a journey that spans the years between Coldplay’s Yellow and Arcade Fire’s Deep Blue. But do any of us actually know when this was?

More subtle directors know our memories are not shaped by the top 40, but by the sound coming out of a neighbour’s window, the song your first love’s mother played non-stop, the tune that a best friend left behind when they moved to another country.

The subtle and often contradictory associations carried by specific tunes – what the good people in the mood-music industry call its “topology” – are deeply subjective. Mike Nichols, the director of Regarding Henry, no doubt thought Walking On the Moon summed up the disabled state of his protagonist. But if, like me, you can’t think about Sting without wanting to break furniture, then the mood will be soured.

Quentin Tarantino understands that a counterintuitive approach works best when matching music to his characters’ personalities. Everyone remembers his infamous use of a jaunty Stealers Wheel number in Reservoir Dogs, but there are many other examples. When John Travolta and Uma Thurman take to the dance floor in Pulp Fiction, the director could have plumped for something on trend by Snoop Dogg or Prince. Wonderfully, the couple don’t dance to a hip tune, they dance to Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell, making the tune they are dancing to hip. Tarantino pulls off the trick with even greater aplomb in Inglourious Basterds, when the anachronistic use of David Bowie’s 80s hit Cat People perfectly signals the intent of a wartime heroine.

Similarly, when Scorsese piles up the bodies in Goodfellas to the lyrical backing of Layla, or employs Be My Baby to sum up Harvey Keitel’s tortured soul in Mean Streets, we go along with the artifice. We understand that in real life the hard men of Little Italy would probably rather listen to Billy Joel, if they listen to anything, but we are in search a greater truth.

One director who has a tin ear for an apposite soundtrack is Baz Luhrmann. He loads his movies with hip-hop superstars, cool brands and fashionable tracks until the whole enterprise collapses under the weight of its own self-regard. His ham-fisted mishmash of electronica, rap and rock in The Great Gatsby put me in mind not so much of a doomed lost generation as the addled crowd at kicking-out time in Ibiza.


This article was first published by The Guardian on July 9, 2014.

Do cinema staff deserve a living wage?

Far from picture perfect

Far from picture perfect

The Duke of Yorks in Preston Circus Brighton, is one of the city’s best known landmarks.

Although the famous can-can legs are a recent addition – they were acquired in 1991 – the cinema has been in business since 1910 and remains the nation’s longest continually operating movie house. Alongside the Dukes at Komedia in Gardner Street, it is a magnet for cineastes.

The clientele think of themselves as informed and intelligent movie goers, as enthusiastic about a new print of a Truffaut classic as the latest Tarantino gore-fest.

They may be less keen about the fact that bosses at the chain refuse to pay their workers a the Living wage

In December 2012, as reported in The Argus, Cineworld snapped up Picturehouse, in a £47.3 million deal.

According to Bectu, the media and entertainment union,  Cineworld’s  trading figures showed a significant increase in revenue over the four months to the end of March 2014.

It said box office income was up 6.8% compared with 2013, and retails sales, which account for about a quarter of all revenues, was up by 8.2%.

In Brighton and Hove, the city council and the chamber of commerce have joined forces to persuade businesses to sign up to pay their workers a decent hourly wage. The Duke of Yorks is not among the supporters of the Brighton Living Wage campaign.

Workers at the Ritzy, in Brixton, which is also part of the Picturehouse chain,  are taking strike action to to raise wages from £7.24 per hour to £8.80.

Gabriel Swartland, head of marketing and PR at Picturehouse, told me: “We don’t currently pay a base wage matching the Living Wage. We have weekly bonus schemes and sales schemes that mean our staff can earn in excess of the Living Wage.”

The leader of the Green Party nationally, Natalie Bennett, has backed call for a boycott of all UK cinemas operated by Picture House but in Brighton the support for the low-paid workers is more muted. The party spokesman said: “The Green administration has been working with local businesses to persuade them of the value of the Living Wage. We invited the local Chamber of Commerce to spearhead the campaign to get businesses involved and this has helped shape the success of our city with 129 businesses signing up so far. We hope the Picturehouse reviews its policies and starts to pay their employees the living wage.”

Both the Conservative and Labour Groups at the council have said they prefer persuasion over action in order to get a decent wage for the cinema’s knowledgeable and helpful staff.

It took statutory action to get a national minimum wage  guaranteed – the legislators recognsied that non-union labour was vulnerable to the whims of employers who may or may not have been minded to behave decently.

Brighton’s Living Wage campaign is well-meaning but lacks clout. There will always be employers who remain impervious to the most compelling arguments in favour of paying the workers properly.

It’s a fact the cinema’s customers could have pondered as waited for the screening on June 24 of “An Episode in The Life of an Iron Picker”, a hard-hitting documentary about workers struggling to eke out a living in  an uncaring society


This article was first published in The Argus on July 5, 2014