2007 - 2022

The History of Scottish Music Funding

This is a guest blog by Tom Bancroft, legendary jazz drummer, who has led dozens of large scale community and education projects, and was behind Caber Music (which released nearly 40 CDs 1998-2006), the Tom Bancroft Orchestra and is currently the drummer with the Dave Milligan Trio (amongst countless other projects). It focuses on the shift in music funding over the last thirty years and is informative in the context of the ongoing debate about Creative Scotland and cultural funding in Scotland.

This is a side-project where I interviewed the last 3 Heads of Music at SAC/Creative Scotland. See the three interviews with Matthew Rooke, Nod Knowles, and Ian Smith below, along with a text synopsis of each interview:

The last 30 years in the Scottish Music scene have been quite a rollercoaster. The recent hoohah over Creative Scotland funding coincided with the completion of a side project of mine which is laid out here.

I feel that the history of Scottish music funding is very specific – we got here for a bunch of specific reasons and the road was quite winding with some significant winners and losers along the way. I thought it may be important for younger musicians and interested people to know how we actually ended up here. I think it is fair to say no one planned it to happen this way!

Anyway rather than just chunter about my own opinions of this ( I will do a video at some point of my experiences of the last 30 years and my views on how things have gone) I thought it was important to document what has actually happened – at least 3 very knowledgeable versions of what actually happened by the 3 men who were Head of Music at SAC/CS from 1992 to 2016.

Each video has a text synopsis of what each interviewee talks about if you don’t want to listen to the whole thing.

One of the biggest moments was the change from SAC to Creative Scotland and the 3-4 years of limbo that caused.

The way funding is “done’ has also changed massively:

1) with a move to Portfolio funding (where separate artforms now don’t have their own budgets – everyone applies for the same pot),

2) where there has been an apparent retreat from the funders taking a strategic leadership role – by that I mean strategy when you view the world from an ArtForm/Sector/Genre perspective, and

3) an apparent move away from specialist knowledge and engagement with the complexity of the world out there and the different contexts and needs of different genres.

Whilst one can understand the reasons in favour of this shift ( there has been a move towards focussing on delivery of public access, diversity and vulnerable groups, and social equity), none of the 3 Heads of Music certainly feel these trends have been positive.

One other point to make is this. Despite all the genuine intentions about “equality of opportunity” that was front and centre for Nod and Matt – and that was equality of opportunity for artists and musicians from different genres living in Scotland – and the need to redress the balance etc laid out in these interviews, that intervention/re-balance agenda seems much less prominent in current music funding policy – and many things haven’t changed as much as maybe we think.

If you just focus on National Bodies and Regularly Funded Organisations – ie music organisations funded on more than an annual or project basis- ‘Classical’ Music still actually gets 95% of that type of state music funding (which is roughly £30 million a year).

Obviously there is another £13 million or so given out per year in open project and targeted funding, but Creative Scotland doesn’t even list what Artform the recipients are ( ie whether Dance, Music, Visual Art etc) let alone which musical genre – so it would be quite a research job to get an overall figure for all funding. That in itself – that not even Artform is listed in the list of Project/Open Funding Awards – shows how far the modern funding culture has moved away from thinking in terms of Artforms and Genres.

Anyway I hope someone finds these interviews useful. There were enjoyable and educational to do.

History of Scottish Music Funding Part One

Matt Rooke was Head of Music from 1991-1997. In this interview he talks about:

  • taking over from the Christie Duncan era, which lasted 25 years, in which music funding had been seen as primarily for building a ‘classical’ music sector and when 98% plus of funding went to ‘classical’ music when there was public debate about the similar audience figures for jazz, classical, and folk at that time.
  • getting jazz, classical, and traditional musicians and organisations “in the same room” at a conference in Stirling in 1991 which was a precursor to starting to fund classical and traditional properly albeit in an era where overall music funding was increasing so he didn’t have to cut too much to add in new stuff
  • the hugely different life pathways and career and education options in Scotland at that time for someone who plays classical violin versus traditional violin and the role of the state in that
  • the issue of national opera and classical orchestras beig seen as a badge of european statehood BUT that in Scotland these organisations weren’t getting enough funding to do that job properly even when they were getting all the music funding. He mentioned Ireland deciding they couldn’t afford a National Irish Ballet and just cutting it because it wasn’t a national priority,
  • How during his period in charge the move began to move the National Bodies (Scottish Opera, RSNO, SCO, etc) to direct funding and management by government – which he feels was a good thing and why – partly because it took up so much time.
  • How during his period in charge there was a clear leadership role and strategy in shifting how arts funding was spent and a recognition og the value of specialist knowledge within the funders.
  • He also says that the trends that became apparent later – 1) move from specialist to generalists within the finding agency and 2 ) retreat from a leadership role were already starting.
  • How it was a soul – destroying job but one that he enjoyed and feels is one of the best things he ever did.
  • He felt his key achievements were: getting a much wider and fairer group of key players ” in the room”, starting to fund traditional music and jazz, Enterprise Music Scotland, increasing commissions and recordings funding, starting the move of National Bodies to direct management
  • His unfulfilled ambitions were around: making the recording side stronger, developing business training in the sector


History of Scottish Music Funding Part Two

Nod Knowles was Head of Music at the SAC after Matthew Rooke and was in post from 1998 – 2005.

In this interview Nod discusses:

  • How Scottish Arts Council (SAC) had become independent of Arts Council of Great Britain in the mid- 90s, and how that new independence was changed further by the devolution vote in 1997. So the cultural climate was changing, culture – except for media and broadcasting – was a devolved power AND an area where the new devolved government had real interest.
    How when he took over Traditional music was still only receiving funding via a Combined Arts budget and a small amount from the music budget, despite being very high quality and at the absolute centre of the musical identity of the country.
  • How the music budget was still tied up with National Bodies and the status quo, of which well above 95% went to “classical” music, but how new Lottery money allowed new ideas to be tried and lanched – albeit within the “everyone and all art forms apply for the same pot with outcomes defined by access and public impact” culture that was the future for arts funding.
  • How he “had the best of it” because while he was Head of Music, all the Heads of Artforms formed the bulk of senior management at SAC and so sat at the top table, had their own seperate budgets and were given a reasonable amount of of free reign to be strategic and fulfil a leadership role albeit within a set of clear constraints and targets.
  • How he knew he was perceived as a “jazzer” initially and had to work to show that he was interested in all musical forms – which he was – and interested in “equity of opportunity’ with a philosophy of “it’s all music”.
  • How the Traditional scene had good leadership and moved from having various factions to recognising that a) they had a common interest in working together and b) that attacking classical music or opera for their funding levels wasn’t a productive strategy.
  • How the theory of what he wanted to do (ie of “equity of opportunity” ) and actually delivering it in practice were 2 very different things. So shifting the balance of where funding went had to be a slow process- starting with directing more towards Traditional music.

Nod cited as achievements he was proud of:

Adding in rock/pop/indie as musical genrse that deserved to receive state funding.
Setting up the What’s Going Audit with Youth Music and the MU and it’s role in stimulating the YMI. He also fills in some interesting stories on how the YMI was rolled out.
Setting up Showcase Scotland – based on his experience of running similar events at the Bath Festival.
Creating and runninhg the Tune-Up touring scheme
Areas of frustration for him were:

• How the jazz scene didn’t have the same quality of leadership and many people tended to work in isolation.
• How at the end of his tenure he called a meeting of the Jazz sector which later became the SJF and the reasons why Jazz found it difficult to organise as a sector following the model of the Traditional Music Forum.
• He talked about the way funding organisations in the UK have gone – including SAC/Creative Scotland since he left – and how the trends in funding haven’t been positive wrt 1) a move from specialism to generalism within funding bodies 2) the loss of Artforms having their own budgets and 3) How artform specialists are no longer in the top tier of management and 4) How funding agencies have retreated from a leadership role wrt looking at the needs of seperate artforms and genres – “we don’t give out grants we receive applications”, 5) How funding agencies have become less “arms length” and more prone to making knee-jerk reactions to the latest political directives 6) How the emphasis on spending more on grants than admin has made it harder for funders to spend time out in the field engaging with their sector.
• He talked about the justification for merging all the separate art form budgets being the accusation that art form departments were in “silos” and competing with each other – whereas he felt they worked better with their own budgets and strategies but also that the different art forms during his tenure worked well together in a collegiate way sharing their expertise.

Nod, like Matt, described his 7 years at the SAC as “one of the best times in my entire life” and talked several times on how the English Arts funding sector failed to learn lessons from pioneering work in Scotland.

History of Scottish Music Funding Part Three

Apologies for the sound quality in this interview. Ian Smith took over from Nod Knowles in 2005 and retired in 2016.

In this interview he talks about how:

  • He was a gigging musician in Scotland for 20 years and then worked in the Scottish MU from ’93- ’05. So he knew the business inside out..
  • He had worked with Nod Knowles setting up the YMI and wanted to move from the MU to the SAC job whilst continuing to fix things for gigging musicians.
  • When he arrived he had to adapt to the bureaucracy and admin processes.
  • He inherited the approach from Nod and wanted to take focus more into commercially aware direction and to focus on what musicians and educators needed to do their work.
  • In working with organisations, as well as quality in the musical product, he also wanted similar quality in admin and infrastructure.
  • The base of the music funding pyramid had been exapnded to include folk and jazz and now was expanded further to included rock/pop indie.
  • He continued the work on showcasing – continuing to develop Showcase Scotland and adding in SXSW and Womex.

Major structural organisational changes happened during Ian’s tenure as SAC changed into Creative Scotland.

Within a year of taking up the post the transition from SAC to Creative Scotland started and took 3-4 years. Ian says “the gestation period of Creative Scotland was far too long” and saw this as being difficult both internally and externally with the main negative impact being confusion. There was a limbo period that was very difficult for everyone – and he cited this as a reason why the SJF wasn’t successful.

He describes having a good working relationship with Andrew Dixon who he respected, but said that he refused to work on areas outside his specialism and even declined the traditional arts portfolio – including folk music. Ian says the portfolio management culture – where different Art forms competed for the same budget – was a failure. He articulates how he had less ability to influence what got funded and be strategic once the Music Department lost its own budget. He also mentions a lot of successive Senior Management plans at CS, which had the cumulative effect of meaning that there was no clear strategy and a general move away from sector specialism and expertise.

As achievements Ian lists:

• Developing Recording Fund and touring.
• Supporting the development of SNJO to become an RFO – and he feels it should be a National Organisation alongside RSNO and Scottish Ballet.
• Having a good team with a complementary set of skills and knowledge to his.
• Promoting awareness of intellectual property awareness within CS.
• How the education sector has grown including consolidation of the YMI, and looking at the wider range of students leaving the RCS including jazz and folk musicians coming out with a very high skill level.

Towards the end Ian talks about how a coordinated investment in a sector like jazz could have a lot of positive benefits –  and when I asked “Why hasn’t that happened” he said again “Portfolio management was a mistake.”

At the end, following the recent controversy over RFO funding , I asked Ian what he felt about the tension between supporting existing organisations and the need to create new organisations  and infrastructure – especially in sectors where they don’t currently exist – in a world of decreasing budgets.

Ian points to the SNJO, AC Productions, and SWG3 as signs that new high quality organisations are being created and supported in Scotland but also points out that the demand is too high for the available money and the sector needs more investment. He recommends making SNJO, NYOS and NYCOS national organisations- and that status needs to be more broad and inclusive. He also questions how it is possible to produce world class opera in Scotland and whether the current approach is right. He leaves us with the question:

“If there isn’t enough money to go round, how do you fix that…”



A big thanks to Tom Bancroft for letting us republish these interviews here.

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