What If We Lose Regional Introducing?

 When 6Music was threatened with the axe a couple of years ago I objected on about three grounds, if I remember correctly.

– First was self-interest, because almost no-one else ever plays the stuff I release on the radio.

– Second was about the damage to the arts caused by effectively cutting adrift musicians and bands at lower levels by removing one of the only feasible remaining ladders to the higher levels, meaning the only way to financial viability now would be to leap from a few local blogs to Radio1 all in one go.

– And thirdly, I pointed out that the BBC has a remit to not overlap too much with the commercial sector, and to support the arts in the UK on a basis of artistic merit, the cultural health of the nation and some hazy notion of the public good.  They seem to rather inexplicably take this to imply cutting BBC4 and 6Music, channels not competing with anything out there in the commercial landscape, whereas I personally think it directly implies cutting Radio1 and Strictly Come fucking Dancing.

Now their excitable axe-man has turned his eye on the regional shows which make up the BBC Introducing network.  For those who don’t know, BBC Introducing has a flagship show late at night on Radio1 presented by Huw Stephens, a show on 6Music hosted by Tom Robinson, and then three regional Introducing shows in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and it is these three which are being threatened with closure.

Now, first things first. I don’t know Ally McCrae, who presents Introducing in Scotland, all that well, but he and his producer Muslim Alim are nevertheless people I would consider to be pals.  So from the very start, my feeling about this is ‘hey, fuck off, those people are my friends, you fuckers’, so I am not entirely objective on this topic.

Also, the self-interest clause still very much applies: Introducing in Scotland have probably played more songs by artists on Song, by Toad Records than anyone else, with the possible exception of Gideon Coe.  Also, Muslim and the show’s previous presenter, Vic Galloway, were absolutely instrumental in getting Meursault a Maida Vale session a couple of years ago, a daytime playlisting on Radio1 and a prominent slot on the BBC Introducing stage at Glastonbury.

So one thing you can be certain of, is that someone like me is absolutely never going to support the closure of BBC Introducing in Scotland, to the extent that I suppose I should barely need to even say it.  People in Newcastle and Leeds and places like that, however, must be laughing at us just a little bit.

In Scotland we get a whole Introducing show all to ourselves, for a population of something like five or six million people.  In Wales they get one for three million and in Northern Ireland a whole to show to represent just under two million people.  In England they get one show to represent a country of nearly fifty-five million – I have to say I far prefer our odds of getting played!

The English music media is incredibly London-centric, too.  I don’t mean that as an insult or an accusation either, it’s just the inevitable consequence of the size of the population, the fact that it is a massive cultural hub, and the fact that so many music people down there end up knowing one another, going to the same shows and stuff like that.

But it does mean that if you’re from Plymouth and you’re awesome you’re going to have the same difficulties breaking into the ‘British’ music scene as a band from Scotland would have, only without all the benefits we have courtesy of being a quasi-independent nation and having a mutually supportive and relatively inward-facing (alright, call it parochial if you want to) music media of our own.

So apart from Manchester bands (who might feasibly end up bumping into Marc Riley, Jo Good or Michelle Choudhry at a gig, although they face the same obstacles of cost in their efforts to engage with London) we in the officially recognised regions are in a particularly privileged position when it comes to BBC Introducing.  I wouldn’t think bands would have much sympathy with us if they come from other regions, like the North-East, which is less clearly-defined or pandered to, yet equally out in the sticks as far as the London music media is concerned.

And, in fact, say the regional Introducing shows do go, what then?  Well I was discussing this with a friend yesterday, and he pointed out that even if the regional shows themselves are axed, it would almost certainly be politically salved by a significantly increased emphasis on those regions in the remaining Introducing shows – Huw Stephens and Tom Robinson.

So instead of a very likely play to the population of Scotland, we’d end up less likely to be played, but still at a significant advantage to a lot of people, and the audience would now be able to reach would be a portion of the six-odd million population of the UK, rather than simply the tartan tranche.

There are political questions of course, such as what it says about the regard for the independence and national identities of the member states of the increasingly loose-knit United Kingdom.  There are questions about just how London-centric the BBC actually wishes to be.  There are personal questions about friends of mine losing their jobs, and the loss of a group which has played a significant role in the development and support of a music community of which I am a part.

So I will sign any petition you ask me to to help save BBC Introducing in Scotland, and I most certainly don’t want it to go, because that would be insane, particularly for someone in my position for whom Introducing has done so much.  But for some reason this week I have found myself looking at the other side of the coin, with a sort of morbid fascination.

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