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Miscellaneous - September 2010

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 6 / 9 / 2010

Miscellaneous - September 2010


With the news that he will be hosting a pop quiz at the Conservative Party's annual conference in Birmingham, Ben Howarth in 'Condemned to Rock 'n' Roll' looks at the political career of former Undertones singer Feargal Sharkey that has developed since he quit his solo career

Failure. There, I said it – all political careers end in it, and so do most musical ones. The best bet is to go out at the top or, at the very least, before the Vauxhall Nova of time meets the MOT test of destiny, as former Undertones singer and abysmal solo artist Feargal Sharkey knows only so well. I was reminded of Sharkey this very week when, to my absolute horror, I received an emailed invitation in my day job as a political analyst to a pop quiz he will host at the Conservative Party’s annual conference in Birmingham. For myself, and for a decent smattering of my fellow Pennyblackers, willingly taking a role in proceedings at the Tory Conference is something to be very ashamed of. Even Robert Fisher - mainstay of the consistently outstanding Willard Grant Conspiracy, a band we love so much that we’ve invited him to perform at our forthcoming bands night on October 29th (see what I did there?) – would find a frosty reception at Pennyblack Towers if he accepts a slot on a bill shared with Cameron and chums, though luckily I’m very sure that the great man would do no such thing. Sharkey’s reputation is, however, so solid it would probably survive much greater crimes. Even after following up “the greatest song of all time” (c. John Peel) with solo songs so spectacularly bad they couldn’t help but go to Number One in the UK singles chart, it is still only that good song we really care about. Cleverly, he retired early and let the legend of ‘Teenage Kicks’ obscure the abominations that followed. That one inspired moment aside, his music career amounted to very little, and his solo debut largely relied on other people’s songs (most notably Maria McKee’s ‘A Good Heart’, the aforementioned chart topper). By 1988, he was a former recording artist, but one boasting an undisputed classic song to shore up his legacy. Admirably, Sharkey has resisted the temptation to come out of retirement and sing ‘Teenage Kicks’ one last time. Instead, he has forged for himself a life that still revolves around music but, luckily, doesn’t require him to do any singing. (I listened to ‘A Good Heart’ again today, and I remain glad that he hasn’t been tempted to return to the stage). Post-singing, he initially slipped into A&R (Artiste and Repertoire - what most of us would call going to gigs and bossing bands about), and then found himself as a managing director of the label EXP Ltd (I haven’t heard of it either). Slowly, he slipped away from business again, taking a post as a regulator (on the Radio Authority, now part of Ofcom) and sitting on the Blair Government’s Live Music Forum. Now, he has succumbed entirely to the dark arts as a fully blown lobbyist, the head of UK Music. UK Music, apparently, represents the “collective interests” of artists, musicians, songwriters, major and independent record labels, managers, publishers, studio producers, which seems harmless enough. In fact, you might be tempted to say that it is good to have one of "our people" in a post that clearly has sway with the industry and the Government. Reports in July even suggested that Sharkey could become a member of the House of Lords - the first ever peer to have featured in the John Peel Festive 50. An unnamed Labour MP has even said that his ennoblement is "a certainty", according to 'The Guardian'. But, alas, Sharkey isn’t really the hero we hope for. His approach since taking over UK Music has been depressingly conservative. His opposition to some over-burdensome licensing laws and his support for BBC 6 Music will be naturally welcome, but he has done nothing to speak up for those much traduced listeners (who pay everyone’s wages), for the band’s crippled by record industry enforced debts (paying a fortune to record an album they wanted to make in the garage with just 13 per cent of the royalties for their songs), for passionate hopeful radio DJs (who can’t get any airtime because it is all taken up by 90s indie singers), for gig goers crushed into overcrowded venues (told they can’t even bring a bottle of water in with them) and for hopeful gig goers priced out of the market by touts. Instead, all we get are endless pronouncements about illegal downloading, an issue we might be more tempted to care about if the concerns at our end were given even a fraction as much attention. Aside from jumping on the populist bandwagon, UK Music has simply echoed the commercial whinges we hear from the major label’s trade association, the BPI. Feargal: without fans onside, the record industry will need more than John Peel’s favourite song to survive. A survey on the UK Media website shows that over 60 per cent of us are content to take music illegally from file-sharing sites. Listeners might feel more guilty about this if we were allowed to take bottles of water into gigs and if we hadn’t noticed CDs creeping back up over the evil £13 mark in HMV. Failure. There, I said it again. If he doesn’t adopt a more thoughtful approach to his political career, Fergal Sharkey might finally have to get used to it.

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