Matthew Herbert’s Brexit Big Band Receive Government Export Funding

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Jazz-influenced experimental musician, composer, conceptualist and now political protester Matthew Herbert is among 12 musicians receiving a grant from the UK Department for International Trade (DFID) to help export musical talent overseas. Herbert will receive a £5,000 grant to help his Brexit Big Band complete its ambition of releasing an album on the day Britain is expected to leave the EU in March 2019. It's ironic that the DIT is headed by pro-Brexit MP Liam Fox.

Other artists sharing the £181,944 grant money, awarded via the Music Export Growth Scheme, include Mercury-nominated rapper-songwriter Ghostpoet and Public Service Broadcasting. DFID, which aims to promote international trade and will seek free-trade agreements after Brexit, has so far awarded grants totalling £2.4m to support musicians who could "become the next Adele or Ed Sheeran". Contrary to these export plans, the Musicians Union and The Guardian have reported that there are big issues with UK and European musicians continuing to work as freely as they do now. An example of this is the European Union Youth Orchestra leaving its base in London, "in part due to concerns over restricted freedom of movement for working musicians".

Herbert performed with his Brexit Big Band at the Barbican in October, with the concert featuring numerous UK jazz musicians as well as percussive sounds created by copies of the pro-Brexit Daily Mail being torn up on-stage. Herbert stated on his website that: "The message from parts of the Brexit campaign were that as a nation we are better off alone. I refute that idea entirely and wanted to create a project that embodies the idea of collaboration from start to finish." The composer has already set Article 50 to music and will conduct a series of Brexit-related concerts and workshops right up until March 2019. Commenting on the project he said: "I want to create something that's the opposite of Brexit – about collaboration, about creativity, about love rather than hate."

UPDATE: Since this story was first published Matthew Herbert has released a statement clarifying his position on Brexit and his motivations for initiating this project:

“Most importantly, this is not an anti-Brexit project. This is a project that, having accepted Brexit will occur, attempts to work out what a new kind of relationship with our European neighbours may look like. That relationship I believe should be founded on respect, curiosity, creativity, empathy, collaboration and love. I am unclear which of those ideals are controversial.

This project is not simply one person’s vision or pet project; it has already had contributions from over 1000 people from here and from all over the world who think those values are worth nurturing.

One of the things I value most about this country is its tolerance for dissent and, having performed with my big band in places such as Syria, China and Russia, I feel like the project is representing some of the very best things about Britishness abroad whilst at the same time providing hundreds of people with jobs or income in the creative industries - one of Britain’s biggest and most respected exports.

Having recently successfully applied to the BPI for part of a grant to assist with exporting British music abroad, some of the musicians fees will be covered by this. None of it is a wage or money to me. According to the BPI website every £1 they invest brings a return of £10 so it is clear that they consider this an investment
 rather than a subsidy.

The state subsidises many things in this country, including a lot I don’t agree with: wars in the middle east, the arms trade, processed food manufacturers, giant American tech companies who avoid tax, the DUP, fossil fuel companies and so on. If parts of our democracy can’t cope with an industry body supporting musicians in trying to bring ideas of tolerance and hopefully even some joy to others then maybe we’re in worse shape than I thought.

I reserve my democratic right to hold the government accountable in public and to propose an alternative comment that reflects what I believe to be important British values such as inclusiveness and kindness. I created this project to be part of the conversation with ourselves and with Europe about what it means to be British post-Brexit. This and any plan should aim to bring people of all identities and beliefs with it. I reject the forced distinction between Remainers and Leavers, and all are welcome to contribute or be part of the show. It’s up to others whether they wish to be part of this expression of common values or not.” – Matthew Herbert, November 2017

 – Mike Flynn

For more info visit www.matthewherbert.com/brexit-big-band/

See the December/January double-issue of Jazzwise out on 23 November for a further discussion of this issue in the Way It Is – subscribe here to order your copy today.