Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin made a passionate and inspiring speech celebrating music in West Yorkshire, and the incredible power of music to level up and change lives.
“I’m really pleased to be here with all of you today. This conference is the Venn diagram of everything that I love. It’s culture, it’s music, it’s trade unionism, it’s Labour values, it’s freelancers.
“But it's also equality, diversity, and inclusivity, which is at the heart of my plan, and my mandate from the public as the Mayor of West Yorkshire. I’m really pleased that is happening here in West Yorkshire and in Leeds,” she told members.
Celebrating Music in Leeds and West Yorkshire
Mayor Brabin highlighted the extraordinary talent to come out of her region, saying: “I know that the other mayors all boast about their music scene. Andy Burnham likes to talk about Manchester. Steve Rotheram talks about Liverpool – and they do have the Beatles so, you know, fair enough. But here in West Yorkshire, we have a thriving music scene.
“And this is just a short list in the heart of the North, all these musicians: we’ve got the Kaiser Chiefs, we've got Alt-J, we've got singers like Mel B and Corinne Bailey Ray and Zayn Malik.
“We’ve got incredible grassroots venues like the Brudenell. We've got Roundhay with the Rolling Stones and Madonna, and that smaller homegrown scene that we really do cherish here in West Yorkshire. Student areas like Hyde Park; those incubators of fresh and new talent where music is not just an artistic expression, it's a political gesture.
“And I don't know if anybody's been to the Hyde Park Book Club, but there's some really tasty graffiti on the back of the toilet about Boris Johnson. Because it's about music and politics together, isn't it? Making the case that they're writing about what matters and what's important. And really, that's why we're here today: what matters, what's really important.”
Music Has Always Been Political
“Music has always made demands of the political establishment and they really have to be felt today,” Mayor Brabin told members.
“This chaotic, Conservative government is primed yet again to unleash more austerity on our communities. And we know where that lands. It lands on communities like ours in West Yorkshire who have already been hit hardest by 10 years of austerity and then Covid.
“We are already home to sadly some of the highest numbers of food banks, a third of children living in poverty. We will not stand by and yet again be the fallout from their chaotic experiments in Parliament.”
MU members worried about the cost of living crisis can find a list of useful resources and support in our cost of living guidance hub.
The impacts of Covid-19 and Brexit
In her previous role as MP for Batley and Spen, Mayor Brabin was a strong advocate for musicians and creative workers in Parliament. Her work included pushing for MU members excluded from Covid-19 financial support, and for free movement for musicians working in the EU:
“During Covid, we know how hard it was. As soon as there was a lockdown I knew straightaway: we are going to be the first locked down, the last to come back, and the most misunderstood. They didn't get us, they don't understand us, and they didn't know how devastating it was going to be.
“[As MP for Batley and Spen] I put a call out on social media for people to tell me in the creative industries what had happened to them. I was absolutely swamped. My team in the office were like ‘Tracy, why have you done this?’ 4000 emails from people and going through them, you would weep.
“So many of my friends red saying we've got to sell our house, we've got to move in with my parents, that second baby? We're not going to have it. This is life changing for us as creators is Covid, and I really hope we don't lose those musicians forever.”
On Brexit and the Trade and Co-operation Agreement, Mayor Brabin couldn’t be clearer: “It is wrong that a new generation of talent can't experience what their grandparents or their parents did, which is go to Europe sharing ideas with other European musicians, selling merchandise – which is often the only way you can make an income – and testing out new songs and finding new audiences.
“I mentioned the Kaiser Chiefs earlier. They had to reconsider the tour in Italy after facing that 10% withholding tax. Smaller bands having to negotiate and navigate 27 different sets of rules in 27 different countries. I know the MU have been really valuable there, so I just want to thank you for your support. Because where else do musicians go if they can't go to their trade union?”
Explore all the union’s advice on working in the EU, including the flowchart guide, case studies and video resources.
The role of music in levelling up
As a former writer and actor, Mayor Brabin highlighted the role music played in her life and work – and the role it can play in levelling up.
“We know, don't we, how important our music industry is. And it's not just for health and happiness and wellbeing, but it's also for our economy. It's about jobs and training and skills and regeneration. Everyone here like me, you've all got skin in this game,” she said.
“Music is a solace when you're growing up, and certainly transported me out of my two bedroom council flat in Batley. I was really privileged to be of an age where Batley Variety Club was open and seeing so many amazing artists there. Going into disco – I was a huge fan of disco. Going to the local club in Mirfield whenever I could as the West Yorkshire Area Disco dancing champion.”
“Music gave me that sense of identity and that sense of belonging. It is a gift handed down from one generation to another. We all have those tracks, don’t we? The one that reminds us of our ex that makes us want to scream into a pillow, or that the song that was the first dance at our wedding, or the song that reminds us of our parents that might have passed away.”
Mayor Brabin spoke movingly about those at the heart of the UK’s creative industries – you: “There is nothing without a musician or composer. There is a blank page. You are the creators and all of the people around those music creators, those engineers, those video directors, those promoters as engineers, the technicians on tour, all of those people, we are a family of creators and we change lives forever. It's an extraordinary power, and I know no one in this room takes it for granted.”
Supporting West Yorkshire’s musical talent
“One of the reasons why it's important is because I know the economic argument is imperative for our region. And that's why as the Mayor coming in, I've set up a Culture and Sport Committee.
“We've got £11.5million that we are investing in culture with partners. So we've got Leeds 2023, we’ve got Kirklees Year of Music in 2023, Calderdale Year of Culture, Wakefield Year of Culture and then, the climax, Bradford City of Culture 2025. This whole region is going to be a creative crucible of talent. So if you don't live in West Yorkshire you better start moving to West Yorkshire now, because this is where it's happening!”
While funding opportunities is one thing, Mayor Brabin spoke about her commitment to making sure public funding supports opportunities for progression: “If you're an intern in Leeds 2023 or Kirklees Year of Music, you will be a producer by the time Bradford City of Culture comes up.
“When I invest in projects, part of that investment asks the companies to make sure that they roll over their intel, their talent, to the next music festival or the next festival because we want to make sure that people in West Yorkshire are going to be employed at least until 2026.
“We know that Kirklees Year of Music will bring £6.5 million to our region. I mean, that's incredible investment. We know that this brings money, and it brings talent, and also it brings people to our region because you're more likely to choose somewhere to live because of its cultural offer rather than good schools even.
“So I do think we have a case to government: you want us to level up? We know culture is the tool to level up. Give us the power, give us the money and we can level up West Yorkshire.”
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