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Big George's Guide To Commercial Success; Letter to Tessa Jowell By Big George
Published October 2001


Big George writes an open letter to Tessa Jowell, the Government minister responsible for music.

Dear Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport... I'm writing to you about a serious imbalance affecting the heart and soul of our country, and the misguided approach your department is taking towards our musical heritage.

This country has a proud tradition of wonderful musicians. In the past, the best have been able to develop into great artists recognised across the planet — from Eric Coates, who composed the longest‑running piece of broadcast music (Desert Island Discs, 1942‑present), a tune which was a massive hit in America in 1930, to the Beatles, four lads from Liverpool who shook the world.

Nowadays aspiring artists have little or no chance to be seen, heard or encouraged. Why? Because over the past 15 years multinational corporations (all based outside the UK) have systematically taken control of this nation's musical output. Where there used to be innovation and creativity, there is now only safe product and market share.

And it doesn't look set to change. I visited your department's web site ( and it seems that the only people you take counsel from are those who wield power and control the restriction of trade in the world of music. I found the site full of meaningless spin and jargon. For instance, it speaks of:

  • Exploiting the opportunities afforded by new technologies.
  • Removing barriers to growth among small firms.
  • Encouraging creative growth.
  • Increasing exports.

What do these buzz‑word bullet points actually mean? Are the new technologies mentioned the same ones that the music industry do their best to close down, while at the same time looking for ways to exploit them for their own gain? As for "removing barriers", who erected the barriers in the first place, and is now sparing no effort to keep them tightly closed against the people who actually make music? As for encouraging creative growth, there have never been fewer new artists signed to major labels, and far from increasing our musical export potential, this country is being deluged by globalised, homogenised (American) imports and trends, pre‑packaged, safe, and meaningless — which get instant access to all media and outlets.

The reality is that if David Bowie were starting out today his career would never have taken off. It wasn't until his fourth album that he started recouping costs, let alone generating profits, and that level of support and commitment from a record label is unheard of these days. The same goes for the likes of Pink Floyd, U2, Elvis Costello, Blur and many more. The British music scene is often cited as a hotbed of influential world talent, but over the past quarter of a century you would be hard‑pushed to name more than half a dozen artists who have sustained a career longer than a couple of years.

There are great artists in this country, such as Kathryn Williams and Kate Rusby (both Mercury Prize nominees, and both outside the mainstream music industry). They are rarely heard on radio, written about in the press, or invited to discuss the harsh realities of the industry with you. There has never been less opportunity for gifted musicians to reach an audience or develop their craft, yet there seems to be a ready supply of young eye‑candy smiling their way through inane radio interviews and magazine photo sessions during their few weeks in the public eye.

The entire industry and related media are centred around a safe, highly controlled and shrinking roster of artists (sic) who seem increasingly interchangeable. Image is all, as long as it is under total control. The retail sector, along with TV, radio, newspapers and magazines, seems happy to support this state of affairs. The music industry has never been so wealthy or so powerful, yet never has there been less investment put into music education and appreciation, or talent development.

My name is Big George Webley, and I have earned my living from music since the age of 15 (1973). I have worked in many sectors of the industry, as a session player, record producer/arranger, TV Musical Director, composer, broadcaster, musicologist, and commentator on the state of the industry. I am not available for birthdays, weddings or barmitzvahs, and I have no vested interest. The feedback I get from my wide‑ranging postbag (letters from schools and colleges I have visited, readers of Europe's most influential music‑making magazine, Sound On Sound, and listeners to my BBC radio show) is almost exclusively concerned with the lack of access for real musicians to any forum. In fact, the overall tone is sheer desperation that there is no outlet or assistance for musicians. It seems the industry has blocked all avenues, unless you are 'connected' and 'on message' to what is currently being marketed.

I would appreciate the opportunity to meet you and discuss how to return innovative music to this country and break the stranglehold of a handful of foreign corporations. We would be a foolish generation if we were to allow our musical heritage to be lost to big business and their blinkered desire for market share.


Big George

Join The Revolution!

Are you in? Or are you sitting on the sidelines hoping to be flicked a crumb from the rich man's table?

Now is the time to stand up and be counted. A massive proportion of the nation's music makers reads this periodical. As a collective, we have no say in how the music industry runs, and it's time this changed. I want your ideas on how Things Can Only Get Better, and Î want to know I have your support. If you're new to SOS, you can read my previous rants at my web site (