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The Great Get Together shows we have more in common than divides us

The Great Get Together are events and street parties happening up and down the country this weekend which aim to bring people and communities together to celebrate all that we have in common.

These community events are inspired by a former parliamentary colleague of mine, Jo Cox, who was killed on June 16 last year. Jo always believed "we have far more in common than that which divides us" - something I thoroughly agree with.

There are some fantastic Great Get Together events happening in Cardiff including some in Cardiff West. This event
here in Canton is being run by local businesses including St. Canna's Ale House, The Apothecary, Cardiff, Crafty Devil Brewing, Venn School of Sewing, Cherrybomb Tattoo Studio, Peartree Languages, Calabrisella Cardiff, Fair Do's/Siopa Teg CIC and The Canton.

I will be attending, so why not come along? Get together, have some fun and show we have more in common than divides us!

Rhodri Morgan: A tribute from a Friend

Rhodri was the most extraordinary person I’ve ever known and I was extremely fortunate to have been his advisor through the intense political years between 1995-2000.

In that era of political spin some couldn’t comprehend how a politician so free-range and organic as Rhodri Morgan could have the kind of political reach with voters of which well-groomed perfectly packaged politicians could only dream.

And Rhodri really did have reach. He could knock on any door in Wales and be recognised – the only question was if those he met would express delight and amazement at a visit from the First Minister, or simply say

“Hello, Rhodri”

and invite him in for a cup of tea like a longstanding friend or long-lost uncle.

Long before he became First Minister I went with him to a one-day cricket cup-tie at Sophia Gardens. We had a couple of tickets in the cheap seats. At the time, there was a BBC Wales campaign in support of the team with the chant

“We love Glamorgan-Morgan X 2”

which had been adopted by the fans.

As we arrived late to take our seats the crowded stand stood and started chanting:

“We love that Rhodri-Morgan – We love that Rhodri-Morgan”.

Of course many have mentioned his sporting obsession, particularly his interest in Rugby and Welsh Athletics. In fact the last time I saw him, with Julie, the Saturday before he passed away, he leaned over during a scintillating Indian Dance performance at the National Museum to ask me to look up the score in the European Rugby Cup Final on my phone.

Famously at the Hay Festival a few years ago the late, great poet Dannie Abse was remembering the Cardiff City line-up of his youth but could not remember the final name, a voice from the back of the audience helped him out – it was of course, Rhodri.

But our friendship was at root political one, and it was the events before and after the 1997 General Election that forged his place in Welsh History. He was blunt and profane when he rang me up to tell me that Tony Blair had not appointed him to government after the years he had put in on the Welsh Affairs Shadow team preparing for devolution.

But as Julie said last week – Rhodri never dwelt on things for long – he didn’t look back in anger.

It always amused me when he was First Minister, that he liked to take visitors out on the balcony next to his office to show them all the things he had unsuccessfully opposed like the Barrage, or this building which he called ‘The Lean-to’.

He never wasted time brooding on a setback – he embraced it as an opportunity.

So in 1997 he quickly decided that he would stand for the Assembly and the Welsh Labour Leadership. He understood, more than anyone, that devolution would change everything – and that it would fail – and Labour in Wales would fail – if it was believed to be s branch office of Labour HQ in London. In a real sense that was the moment that Welsh Labour was born.

He saw the real potential of devolution before anyone else – and even when intense pressure came on him to stand down to allow the then Secretary of State for Wales Ron Davies a clear run he was determined there should be a contest.

I remember being told that the Secretary of State would not have time to do any debates with Rhodri. I explained that this was not wise. Two or three set-piece debates were all that was needed – but if that was refused Rhodri would get himself invited to every Labour Party Branch in every little village in Wales – he would drive himself there – know half the people in the room – be related to the other half - drink a swift half – eat fish & chips and enjoy himself immensely whilst the busy Secretary of State for Wales would be run ragged trying to keep up with him – and so it proved.

The rules in that contest did not allow for a fully democratic vote, but there was no doubt who the people of Wales really wanted.

The rules of the second contest were a little better but again all the stops were pulled out from the top to stop him But if Rhodri was anything he was determined –  actually he was stubborn – he believed passionately that he was the right person to make a success of devolution precisely because he didn’t fit the model candidate mould.

He knew that for Wales to embrace devolution the leader would not just have to be from Wales but would have to be seen to be have been made in Wales.

I remember once when the umpteenth Cabinet Minister that week was sent down to tell Welsh Labour Members why Rhodri was the wrong choice, he quoted an American General from the Battle of the Bulge

“They’ve got us surrounded, the poor bastards”.

it was another setback but he threw himself loyally into his work as an Assembly minister.

When he got the top job I was his special advisor and our first visit was to Ireland with Paul Murphy. The Irish loved him because he was loquacious, learned, witty, and as my father used to say “could talk the hind legs off a donkey”.

It made me think that perhaps the real reason the London establishment never took to Rhodri, at least at first, was that he was absolutely not, an Anglo-Saxon. They seemed to think he was joking when he was serious – and that he was serious when he was joking – l

ike when the London media reported it straight when he said he enjoyed being driven around in his First Minister’s car with the number plate “Taff 1”.

The Irish got his enjoyment of the  playful art of seemingly pointless but actually deeply illuminating conversation in a way that the efficient functionaries of the modernising project never could.

Many people have spoken about how in later years, Rhodri randomly gifted them produce from his garden. One woman said to me, rather memorably, last week –

“he honoured me with his rhubarb”

And in a way that’s how I feel about the many hours of meandering conversation he and I had in the office or the pub, at the rugby or on long car journeys or down the Riverside Market.

“He honoured ME with his rhubarb”.

 It was a privilege to converse with someone so genuinely interested in everyone and everything – for whom conversation was an art to be explored and enjoyed and for whom the most painful pun like ‘Last Quango in Powys’ – was a treasure to be celebrated like the finest poetry.

Not that there was anything shallow in Rhodri’s cultural life – he enjoyed Art, Music and Poetry as he loved Sport and Politics.

Ironically, words cannot adequately encapsulate this remarkable Welshman – this everyman – this sometimes somewhat dishevelled figure with his unique, unruly hair – who treated everyone equally, who loved people of all races and backgrounds, who loved life, loved his family, particularly his grandchildren, who loved nature and loved to grow things in the soil, and swim with dolphins in Cardigan Bay

– no words can capture him but when I thought of Rhodri and his sudden passing and of the mortality we all share with him.

These words of Walt Whitman came to my mind

“A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full

How could I answer the child?. . . .I do not know what it
is any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful
green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,

A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped,

Bearing the owner's name someway in the corners, that we
may see and remark, and say Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child. . . .the produced babe
of the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,

And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow

Growing among black folks as among white,

Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the
same, I receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Thank you Rhodri, for honouring us all with the gift of your friendship and company and with the legacy of your life and freedom.

Hwyl Fawr

Giving artists their fair share for streaming: we can work it out

When you listen to a song on Spotify, how much money is paid and to whom is it paid? Don’t know? Odds are, the artists and songwriters don’t know either.

Music streaming services have become so ubiquitous that it’s hard to imagine life without them. However, streaming is still a relatively new technology, and the music industry is often slow to adjust to technological change.

When music was mostly bought on vinyl, cassette, and CD and there was an HMV on every high street, music contracts were purpose built. A chunk of money went to the shop for its overheads and profits, then a variable percentage was taken by the record company to cover distribution, packaging, breakage, and marketing costs, profits et cetera. A small percentage of the remainder then went to the artist, to the music publisher, and the composers based on contract. Plenty of music is still purchased in this way, and Record Store Day is a great reminder that the industry is going from strength to strength.

When music is downloaded or streamed the costs mentioned above are much lower - sharing a sound file costs the record company considerably less than shipping CDs. However, some artists claim these fees are still being deducted from artists’ profits, although these services are often obsolete.  How can a record company claim for packaging deductions of a digital download? How is ‘breakage’ on streaming relating to minimum guarantees actually calculated? And when managers try to find out who’s getting the money, how much these deductions cost, and what services they’re being charged for, they often don’t get the answers they need.

Some say that a contract’s a contract – if it becomes outdated, that’s no one’s fault and you’re still legally bound. This is an issue of transparency. Music is one of this country’s greatest exports, and yet we are falling behind many other places in the world. How can artists and managers go on to negotiate contracts that are fit for purpose in a global streaming market without understanding the agreements they already have? They still expect a percentage - but a percentage of what?

And they do need updated contracts. When an industry changes as much and as quickly as the music industry has in recent years, the accounting model needs to change too. As if the transition from physical to digital sales wasn’t complicated enough, streaming confuses matters even further.

Streaming doesn’t fit neatly into the pre-existing boxes. You’re not buying a track to play at your leisure in perpetuity whether in physical or digital format. When you stream it’s a one-off listen like when you hear a song on the radio. But it gives the listener more control than a radio play, because they choose what to listen to and when, although they don’t own it like a CD sale or a download.

With new technologies and no precedent, the music industry urgently needs to come up with a fair model for who gets paid what for streaming. But at the moment, each deal is different, and they are often kept secret by Non-Disclosure Agreements. Without basic transparency it’s difficult to decide what fair payment for music streaming would look like. Artists can ask for an audit, but this is too expensive for all but the most successful.

For emerging artists, this confusion can be a real threat. In their eagerness to make it, new talent can be ushered into contracts that don’t give them a decent deal. This is why, just last month, the Music Managers Forum, the Musicians’ Union, and the Featured Artists Coalition published a sample management agreement for those entering the industry. This gives newer artists and managers a starting point for negotiations on what a fair contract can look like.

Both pre-digital and streaming contracts need review, so the music industry needs to have an inclusive conversation to hear from the labels and the lyricists alike. And this is where politicians come in. It may not look like it from the Punch and Judy scenes of Prime Minister’s Questions, but brokering compromise is one of Parliament’s greatest strengths. In February of this year, Labour successfully pressured the Government into facilitating a code of conduct between search engines and the music and film rights-holders to help stop online piracy. Now we’re calling on the Culture Secretary Karen Bradley, to do the same for transparency within the music industry.

A good code would be in everyone’s interest, helping improve the reputation of the music industry and the finances of composers, artists, musicians.

As The Beatles might have put it, “we can work it out”.

Music tourism is vital to the Welsh economy

Cardiff West MP, Kevin Brennan, is highlighting the importance of music tourism to Wales after a new report by UK Music shows the huge amount of income it generates.

The Wish You Were Here report shows that 402,000 music tourists visited Wales in 2015 to attend a live concert or music festival. These visitors generated a staggering £113 million in total for the local economy, and helped sustain 1,595 full-time jobs across Wales.

The statistics in full show how important music tourism is to Wales

  • £113 million generated by music tourism in Wales in 2015
  • 402,000 music tourists attending music events in Wales in 2015
  • 1,595 full time jobs sustained by music tourism in 2015
  • 617,000 total attendance at music events in Cardiff in 2015
  • 293,000 music tourists generated £52 million in Cardiff last year

Kevin Brennan, MP for Cardiff West said: "Cardiff’s contribution to music is immense. Not only has the city helped nurture the talents of Welsh bands like the Manic Street Preachers, Super Furry Animals and Stereophonics but venues like the Motorpoint Arena, St David’s Hall, Wales Millennium Centre and Millennium Stadium play host to live music events that bring people from all over the world to the City. I welcome UK Music’s report which highlights the huge importance of music and its impact on the tourist economy in Wales."

Jo Stevens, MP for Cardiff Central said: "Cardiff is the home to many great music venues – ranging from Clwb Ifor Bach to the Principality Stadium. I'm really pleased that our contribution to music tourism is supported in UK Music’s report. That a massive 293,000 music tourists came to our city for live events and gigs, spending £52 million is something that policy makers should acknowledge and find ways to maintain and grow."

Jo Dipple, UK Music Chief Executive said: "The appetite for live music has continued to grow. Last year overseas music tourism increased by 16%, whilst British music events were attended by a staggering 27.7 million people in 2015. What this report shows, unequivocally, is the economic value of live music to communities, cities and regions."