The Blog

Why Sandie Shaw's Posh Bashing Misses the Point

But moaning about posh popstars and the inevitable response from the media of championing "real artists" is a self-perpetuating cycle. For every Mumford and Sons, there's a Jake Bugg waiting by to call them out on their accents.

Sandie Shaw, who chairs the very worthwhile Featured Artists Coalition, told the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee at the end of March that finance "was the biggest barrier for emerging artists," adding that the best music "comes from challenging backgrounds."

She's half-right about the finance thing and many would agree with her call for tax relief for artists. But she patronises people from challenging backgrounds. Background doesn't determine quality, it determines audience.

To which audience would you market a lifestyle product if it was your job? A gap year student from Bath or a plumber's apprentice from Rochdale? We fetishise privilege just as often as we sneer at it. Made in Chelsea, My Super Sweet 16 and endless column inches dedicated to kids with famous parents are testament to this.

But it's only a matter of time before that capricious fancy turns on a sixpence and we once again turn our attentions to 'proper music made by lads with proper working-class haircuts.'

"The best music comes from those in challenging backgrounds, it comes from Glasgow it comes from Manchester, it comes from Essex," said Shaw, ignoring the fact that the biggest band out of Glasgow in recent times - Franz Ferdinand - formed at art school and the last Manchester band to get to number 1 were The Ting Tings, whose singer's dad used lottery winnings to set up a music management company. And as for Essex, it just feels churlish to bring up Daisy Dares You, daughter of a Duran Duran backing singer or Pixie Lott, graduate of the Italia Conti Academy of Performing Arts when countering that point.

But it's not just access to funds causing the over-supply of dry-haired, winsome boys and girls from fee-paying schools. Even with financial support, The Ting Tings' first iteration, Dear Eskiimo, suffered the sort of label woes that Shaw protests about.

The bigger issue is that connections count for a lot in the record industry, whether your brother is president of a major label , your dad is Sting, (or Sting's guitarist), it helps in the short term to know the right people and you've got more chance of knowing them if you're posh.

When asked by Exposed Magazine if, given her background, it was inevitable that she'd end up in showbiz, Eliza Doolittle, granddaughter of the founder of the Sylvia Young School responded with faux-humility and that unshakable confidence you only get from knowing the right people.

"I think so. People tend to evolve to their environment. Being around celebrities and the whole showbiz environment made that sort of life more normal. I knew nothing different so I considered it the norm. I honestly believe though that, if I wasn't brought up like that, I would still have ended up doing what I'm doing. It's what I need to do."

The people whose job it is to discover and nurture musical talent - the a&r scouts, lawyers and agents - are often (not always, and certainly less so when you look beyond the major labels) from the same background as these well-heeled pop stars Shaw bemoans, and that's where the real disadvantages are.

To be in a position of influence in the record industry today, you need good ears, good business sense, huge amounts of patience and probably a good deal of unpaid work experience under your belt. For every artist that is poor enough to take a badly structured publishing deal, there's an aspirant A&R who can't afford to do an unpaid internship. It's not Mumford and Sons per se, it's behind the scenes where the real inequality lies.

Things are changing, but the entire entertainment industry (and banking and other desirable industries) have traditionally been places where connections and the financial freedom to work for free are just as valuable as talent. Two years ago, you could have bought a record label internship at auction.

But moaning about posh popstars and the inevitable response from the media of championing "real artists" is a self-perpetuating cycle. For every Mumford and Sons, there's a Jake Bugg waiting by to call them out on their accents. Before that we had poor old Keane, then The Enemy's Tom Clarke, mouthpiece for the down-trodden grafter, popped up to cut them down to size.

If we keep having the same tiresome debate, we'll get the same answer. Surely it's not a surprise that people with parents rich enough to send them to a school with actual cloisters and a Latin department typically have a better chance of success in their chosen profession.

Sandie Shaw is right to raise the finance barrier issue, but it's not a debate worth having if the answer is just another working-class musical backlash.