Phew what a scorcher!
Phew! Isn’t it strange that Britain itself seems unable to deal out hot weather the way other countries can? France, Spain, Morocco, California … top down, arm on the window, cruisin’ in shorts and feeling groovy. Here, suddenly humid, muggy, everyone grumpy, extra virgin sweat stippling your forehead and from there gradually impregnating your T, your skin, your bum. No socks on the Riviera means cool as f…k; here it means your feet stick to your insoles and when you take your shoes off you wonder who forgot to throw out last Tuesday’s Pizza quattro fromagio.
In the great tradition of my meaningless blog intros it’s time to ask “where is he going with this for goodness sake”. Actually it’s the hapless comedian warming up the crowd before the heavy debate. Last minute nerves. How do I approach this? How do I take this on?
Today I have to prepare for tomorrow. I have two hundred pages of notes for a panel on which I sit. The panel will interview the last four candidates for a huge government role. If we choose well, millions of young people will benefit.
I have to start this work now. Reading two hundred pages takes me three hours. Making notes another two hours. Memorising them another two hours. Adaptive tech is good but not as quick as eyesight for this gig.
I stepped up and asked to be part of this panel. Two months ago, Chris Holmes published a review. Chris is a good friend. Our most successful ever Paralympian. A hunk. A man. A babe magnet. A thinker. The Holmes review is about increasing the number of people with disabilities in important roles. Not difficult! There are hardly any.
And this is where this essay becomes hard to sort out in my mind and arrange – ironically because the one thing I do find hard not seeing, is spreading six ideas in front of me and glancing across them to re-order them.
Ok. I’ll start with the hard one. I’m sixty seven, look like a god, have multi talents, amazing qualifications from the best places, loads of relevant experience and a pretty cool track record..and yet, in 45 years I have only ever been offered one job by the whole of the UK music industry. One. That was my first job when I was 21. At Polydor. I didn’t mention my eyesight. It was pretty ok for what I needed to do but I still couldn’t do it well enough without resourcing and they weren’t going to resource me. So I left. That’s it. Finito. After 3 years of trying I got a job as a tape jockey – in France. The studio owner just said ‘ok cool you can start’. Not that confident about my disability then I mumbled ‘you know I might not be able to see all the buttons or where to plug a microphone in a dark space’. ‘That’s ok I think you’ll work around that’ said Pierre. I did.
I had a bunch of hit records over there. I got married and came home. Still couldn’t get a job. I mortgaged my flat and went round the city looking for partners. Most of them said ‘No. you’re blind. You’ll mess it up’. Now a pretty well known story.
The thirty sixth venture capital trust said ok go for it. I did. Power Plant, Sade and the rest followed. A string of hits, another studio acquired. Maison Rouge. Still no UK company offered me a job.
The phone rang in 1989. It was Jerrry Moss the M of A&M Records in the States. ‘Meet me at the Ritz I want to talk to you about running my label’.
I turned up. He was edgy. ‘Shit this dude’s blind! Why didn’t anyone tell me?’ He couldn’t get away quick enough.
That was thirty years ago. Since then I’ve been unpaid MPG Chair, voted by peers, unpaid PPL board rep for producers, voted by peers, unpaid director of APRS, unpaid board member of Creative & Cultural Skills – still not a single job offer or board offer. In that time record producers with a fraction of my sales and zero business experience have been offered dozens of highly paid jobs running labels, publishing companies and tech businesses. How did I get to become chairman of Chrysalis? Because Jeremy and I bought the bloody company, that’s how.
So back to tomorrow: the reason I stepped up is the Holmes Review states ‘it’s important to encourage people with disabilities to be confident in stating the facts.’ Yeah right Chris, look where that’s got me in the job market.
But it goes on to point the finger that a candidate who is a woman and sees no women on the board, a candidate who is BAME and who sees only white faces on the board, will not think they have a chance and will not give of their best in the interview. A candidate with a disability, especially if hidden, who does not see any sign they will be valued and provision made to resource them, will not feel confident and will not give of their best.’ Ain’t that the truth. So here I am, preparing for that board. Because if one of the final four has a disability my presence may help them shine.
When Black Rod blocked my passage to the House of Lords in 2008 saying they couldn’t resource yet another disabled peer, I should have been hurt and angry. I was both those things but I wasn’t surprised. Chris is now in The Lords – appointed by the PM so Roddy couldn’t blocky. Reservoir Media Management have put a huge investment into Chrysalis on condition I remain Chairman – wow thanks guys, still comes as a surprise.
Ah yes, back to my reference to Britain in the heat. Glastonbury. Stormzy. A great show and a great band Michael. The first Black British person after 49 years to headline. Let’s say that again shall we? The first Black British person after 49 years to headline.
Will I live to see the day we can say the first British person with a disability to headline the Pyramid stage’? The fact is, I can tell you that if that day comes I will cry and sob and shake and tremble and wish my mum and dad were here.
Michael will have sobbed and shaken and felt numb with pride and awe. He’s had to do it for himself. He’s financing kids to go to Cambridge. I still put money into my Cambridge College for the same reason. Because we know in 2019 it’s really tough being one of us. And the complexity is that the suggestion that if you are a white male it’s all easy is flawed. If you are a white, middle class, heterosexual, able bodied male you are still only as good as you are but you will face a smaller cohort of talented opposition, because keep the white and male but remove or change one of those other adjectives, even one, and the white male domination thing just evaporates.
Jerry Moss, Black Rod, all the execs and bankers who turned their backs on me – it wasn’t about colour or gender. It was about a completely endemic, mostly subliminal fear that you’re not going to be quite up to it, or you’re going to make them or other people a bit uncomfortable in the work place, or you are going to need resourcing, or they won’t be able to fire you if you’re crap.
In this hottest of hot weeks, on Tuesday, I’ve been asked – well sort of dragged – to sit on a panel about ‘barriers facing people in the creative industries’.
‘Surely you can get someone else to do this?’ ‘Like who? We can’t think of a single other person with a severe disability who is successful in the music business.’ I started trotting out a list of great great people but then thought ‘Hang on, they are all self-employed – I think I need to do this’.
Buy the way, the three people who texted me during the Stormzy gig, overcome with emotion, were all Black and British. The three people the BBC trotted out to say how marvellous Stormzy was on Friday were Adele, Ed Shearon and Jeremy Corbyn. Really? I ask you!
PS I send these essays into the ether hoping to get at least one response ignoring the entire context and furiously offended at my use of ‘babe magnet’ to describe Chris.