So, another year, another Tory conference, one of those things that I'd never normally pay any attention to. The words 'Tory Party Conference' have the same lure, the same attractiveness for me as 'Hitler Appreciation Social' or 'Jehovah's Witness Cheese And Wine Evening'. But last week, on Wednesday night, while working on my playlist for Friday's show and farting about on Twitter, I saw 'New Radicals' trending.
Now, I'm on record as saying that 'You Only Get What You Give' is an example of pop songwriting perfection, so I had a look. It turned out the Tory party had used the track at their conference, one of that shower of bastards walked on, or off, stage to it.
My first thought was one of utter horror, like my mojo had been sucked out. If this tune is now associated with the Tory bell-ends, I can't play it when I DJ any more. It's been the personal highlight of many a 'wedding set' at a festival, so I was dismayed.
Then I saw Primal Scream trending, seemingly for the same reason. Had a Tory really taken to the stage to the sound of 'Rocks'? Surely not. Well, as it happened, no they hadn't, someone (not The Primals, they're even less likely to be watching a Tory Conference than me, unless, perhaps, a bomb had exploded there) had got it wrong. Though, so eager were the band to distance themselves from any association with Cameron and his cronies, they'd issued a disgusted statement before that fact became clear. In the end it turned out to be The Dandy Warhols that had been usurped by the Tories, to add a little glamour to the most dull event of the British year.
While seeing this all unfold on Twitter made my evening that much more entertaining, there's a back-story to all this that perplexes me greatly.
First, the Conservative Party doesn't need to get permission before using any songs at their events. They can ruin tracks like 'You Only Get What You Give' for a whole generation without even giving the artist a heads up. This is because music played at a party political conference is covered by the same 'blanket licence' as a football match, shopping centre or local pub. All those organisations need a licence from two separate rights bodies in order to play music - PPL and PRS - so money exchanges hands, but they don't need to get permission from any one artist or songwriter before using their music.
In most scenarios this is sensible - and it's a similar blanket licence which means I don't have to phone every single artist for permission before I play their records on Xfm, but at the same time I know they'll get some pennies (or pounds) from the station's owners for gloriously filling some of our airtime.
But surely it's different if its a political party using a track? I mean, if McDonalds wanted to use a New Radicals song in an advert there's no blanket licence that can help them, they'd have to ask the band's record label, music publisher and - assuming they'd got a decent record and publishing contract - the band themselves. But for many artists being played at the Tories' big bash - on live TV in front of the world - is worse even than being synced into a McDonalds ad. Surely the blanket licensing rules should be changed?
Though, and this brings me to my second even more worrying point, would that change have actually rescued New Radicals and the Dandy Warhols? Possibly not, because I have a suspicion the Tories did actually ask the two bands' record companies before using their songs, even though copyright law says they don't have to. Possibly because they are aware nearly every band in the world is likely to take to Twitter or Facebook and point out all the Conservative Party's many flaws if their music is used without advance warning.
The reason I suspect this is because I was once on tour with (one of my favourite bands) Delays, several years ago, and on day two a message came through from their manager to the effect that Tory Reichstag had called asking for permission to use their sublime track 'Wanderlust' at their conference that year. The band, who have staunch socialist roots, all howled "no fucking way" in unison. But I said: "Hang on a minute... why don't you say yes, but only for the part of the song that goes 'you don't listen'". And amid the howls of happy laughter that's what was relayed to management and hopefully to the Clearance-Oberst who'd made the request.
So if Delays were asked then, why wouldn't Gregg Alexander of New Radicals and Courtney Taylor-Taylor of the Dandy Warhols be asked now? Did both these artists give the all clear when they got a phone call from their manager telling them the British equivalent of the Tea Party brigade wanted to use their songs at a big televised party? Or is it more likely that the record companies who released these two records - both multi-national majors, unlike the London-based indie Delays were signed to at the time - chose not to pass on the message, instead looking forward to the few pounds in royalties they could expect to receive from Cameron and his mates?
We know for certain Taylor-Taylor had no idea his song was being used, because - again thanks to Twitter - he soon discovered what had happened and responded via his website. He was disgusted, as I'm sure 99% of the people reading this would have been had their song been hijacked without their permission by an organisation that you would not cross the street to piss on if its members were collectively on fire. Yet Courtney isn't the first and won't be the last to experience such disgust, when the system allows political parties to use songs at events without specific permission, and when - even if the parties do approach the major music companies who distribute a song - said companies give the green light without consulting their artists and songwriters.
So we're relying on politicians and major music companies here, what are we to do? Except, hang on, what about the BBC? Because the cursory thumbs up we are assuming Tory HQ was given by the New Radicals and Dandy Warhols' labels or publishers only applied to the room where the conference was taking place. But the association the wider public then makes between the song and the Tories comes about because the conference is filmed, by the BBC, and that footage is broadcast, in prime time, to a massive audience via BBC News. TV in the UK is also covered by a blanket licence, so under law the BBC only has to fill in a few PPL and PRS forms after the fact, and pass a few pounds over to the collecting societies. But - when unfair political association is involved - couldn't and shouldn't they do a check with the artists first?
All in all, a right little comedy of errors. Perhaps there's nothing we can really do about this - or, more to the point, any campaign that involved getting Tories, major labels and BBC bigwigs on side possibly isn't worth pursuing, but I'm just shining a little light on it now, just in case there are any people out there who think that Courtney Taylor-Taylor or his band The Dandy Warhols (or Gregg from New Radicals) would ever condone such a rampant abuse of their music by a political organisation.
The only up side of all this is that it gives great artists like Courtney the opportunity to issue statements like the one he posted last week, and which I've included in its entirity below. I have to say I adore the guy, we got on like a house on fire the numerous times I interviewed him or his band on TV and radio in the late 90s and early noughties, and I admire the fact that he's an artist that is zen enough to be impartial, balanced and never take a side. I'm not strong enough to do that.
Take it away Courtney:
WTF? Where do I bitch about this? I'll tear their fuggin heads off. Well maybe not but this happened to us in an Arkansas gubernatorial race and it makes me super angry. And then I wanna puke.
Why don't these assholes have right-wing bands make them some right-wing music for their right-wing jerk off politics? Oh, because right wing people aren't creative, visionary or any fun to be around. Nor are they productive or even introspective about it. Wait, I live in Portland, Oregon... neither are left-wingers come to think of it.
Jesus, I tend to really dislike ANY people who take sides in politics. It is the single greatest contributor to getting nothing done. Fuck "politics". What a joke. I give my charitable donations to people who get on a plane themselves and go to Haiti or Africa and help other people. Do you? NEVER to a political machine. I like to get shit done. You do too.
Fuck, now I'm pissed off.
This blog was first published by CMU in the UK, where I have a weekly spleen-venting column. I put it up here because I feel strongly about it and feel the issue deserves a wider audience. If you're in any way interested in what I have to say, mostly about music then feel free to have a look here: http://www.thecmuwebsite.com/eddytm/
Thanks for listening.