Monday, 24 September 2012

Is It Time Wakefield Music Collective Called It A Day?

The idea of a collective is incredibly appealing, especially to those involved with niche artistic endeavours or people who do things for love, not money. It means small groups of people working closely together to create something greater than the sum of their parts. It should also mean learning from one another, making friends and, oh yeah, having fun. It’s a thought that crosses a lot of people’s minds at one time or another.

The most natural type of collective is one based on geography. So, over twenty years ago a Wakefield Music Collective was formed. Essentially that meant peoples of any musical taste or background coming together to promote their own individual interests but also try and achieve something bigger, for the good of all. That is exactly what Rhubarb Bomb believes in, and I’m sure you do too. But this isn’t what Wakefield Music Collective represents anymore. Over the years it has slowly wasted away, to a point where its very existence is actually detrimental to Wakefield as a whole.

As a non member my understanding of the history is patchy at best. But I gather that in the ‘90s there was a healthy and diverse group of people involved. This was a collective more in the commune style; a mash up of ideas from sublime to ridiculous, some crazily ambitious, some neatly simplistic. From this melting pot of ideas, things emerged. As with any creative venture, some of them worked, some of them didn’t. But it was vibrant, diverse, busy - and at least did what it said on the tin.

Compare that to now. Membership is in single figures. Mainly it deals in booking Brass and Blues bands and with the administration of the bandstand in Clarence Park on behalf of Wakefield Council. Members are rarely seen attending gigs, not even their own. I hear from numerous sources that their meetings are dull treads through agenda notes. “You want to talk about putting on a gig? Erm, is it on the agenda?” Their engagement with 95% of Wakefield music is non existent. It hardly seems like a vibrant entity. It doesn’t even sound fun.

The ‘jewel in the crown’ (my term, my italics) is Clarence Park Festival which has taken place pretty much every year for over twenty years. I had a couple of great days at Clarence when I was a teenager, but that was mainly because I could get drunk on a hill. Back in those days, the line-ups were insanely diverse. I saw Wakefield’s Nailed there who are probably the heaviest thing I’ve ever heard. A Death Metal band at a family festival?! Nuts – but it kinda worked.

These days? Well I guess little has changed. Personally, I always felt that Clarence should represent what was happening in Wakefield because a) it was our only festival and b) it was organised by Wakefield Music Collective. I think when I was a teenager it came closer to doing that. But it doesn’t any more. This failing, as I saw it, led to me creating Long Division Festival, to better represent what I thought was happening in Wakefield.

Long Division was not intended to replace Clarence; it was just my personal take on things, and everyone is welcome to represent what they think is happening. Clarence continues to roll on. As a free festival in a park, it naturally draws decent local crowds. It is more akin to a family fun day, in my opinion. There is nothing wrong with that at all and judged on its own merits, it is a harmless date on the calendar. But is it the kind of event that Wakefield Music Collective was set up to do? Their website states that Wakefield Music Collective :

“Formed in 1991, the aim was to promote local live music as well as providing help, advice and information for both established and new bands looking for a break, whether on a local level or nationally.”

Personally I don’t see how Wakefield Music Collective is doing this now. A Blues Festival, some Brass bands and a family fun day are fine, but if you set yourself up as THE place to go in Wakefield for help, advice, encouragement, support, inspiration and guidance you need to do a lot more.

Where did the spark go from Wakefield Music Collective? It’s our age old enemy: money. The collective, as it grew, needed more funding to continue putting on this large scale free event. Funding bodies have changed over the years and anyone who has tried to squeeze a few pence from the Arts Council et al will be all too aware of the current labyrinthine process. But for a lot of the bigger sums you also need to provide evidence that you are a working group, with meeting agendas and minutes, power structures with important sounding titles filled. That’s the reality of being a volunteer, work-for-the-love group.

This is what happened with Wakefield Music Collective. It became a complete bureaucracy. It has had an unhealthy turnover of members over the years. The most obvious pattern seems to be;

-          Creative person frustrated with either Wakefield or the Collective itself joins with good intentions of changing things for the better.
-          Reality of the restrictive methods of the Collective kick in.
-          They knuckle down and try to stay positive.
-          It all becomes too much and they leave, even more disillusioned than when they joined.

And this stems from people not being allowed to express their opinion amongst the red-tape required to attain funding. So with all the creative types being forced out through sheer frustration, you are left with a group of people who are simply brilliant at reading from agendas and booking meeting rooms, but have little to no understanding of what is required in Wakefield.

But why does Wakefield Music Collective need to end? Everyone involved in this years Clarence Park Festival did a great job. It was well organised and even promoted pretty well for once. As individuals, they should be very proud. Each member of the collective is part of that setup because they want to make a difference. I am not saying they should stop doing what they do – the absolute opposite. This is not a personal attack. It is the entity of Wakefield Music Collective itself that needs to die.

For one, the title Wakefield Music Collective is misleading.

1) It does not accurately represent Wakefield, or even attempt to. They would say that anyone is welcome to join and express their interests, but after all these years of nurturing such a backward and uncompromising reputation, why would anyone want to? All the bands that have got record deals, played large scale festivals, released amazing and well received records – routinely and consistently ignored. So, Music Collective.

2) It does not represent a range of different music types. Because the membership is so small, the members simply do not infiltrate enough musical circles for it to be able to claim it covers a subject as broad as ‘music’ within our city. Yes, Clarence has a diverse lineup, but that only clouds further what the collective are trying to do. Is it simply a family fun day made up of bands from anywhere in the country who are happy / daft enough to play for free? That doesn’t scream ‘passionate about music’ to me. A more accurate description would be ‘Blues Collective.’ I’ve heard their leader Kate Honeyman speak in length, with passion, about Blues. Why not focus on that? So, Collective.

3) How many people maketh a collective?  And what is Wakefield Music Collective a collective of? It is not a collective of people that do different things; promote gigs, play in bands, run venues, run sound-desks, review music, enjoy live music, release records etc etc etc. THAT would be a collective. It is, in fact, a collective of people who are just members of the collective. It’s self perpetuating madness.

The title leads to incredibly annoying situations such as the council holding well intentioned reviews of the state of live music in Wakefield. And they invite Wakefield Music Collective, whose involvement, as pointed out, is minimal. But they get invited BECAUSE OF THE NAME. We have Wakefield Music Collective perform a talk at the shareholders launch for Unity Hall because, it is assumed, they are the ones who know about music in the city. Instead we get one of the most toe-curlingly awful speeches I’ve ever seen or heard, about printers, hot-desking and that bloody Blues Festival. Why don’t I just change the name of Rhubarb Bomb to The Wakefield Music Encyclopaedia, then I might make some money, right?

Wakefield Music Collective was created with good intentions. It exists today with good intentions. But, by monopolising the concept of a collective in the city, by sucking the creativity and vision of its members, by failing to change Wakefield and its musical community in any way of any note for two decades, by diverting the attention of officials and moneymen away from genuinely good projects and movements and by failing to even be willing to pay bands for playing… Wakefield Music Collective is simply making Wakefield a worse place to be.

99 times out of 100 I would say live and let live. Let Rhubarb Bomb and the rest do what we do and leave them to it. But if you are using the word ‘Wakefield’ and alleging to represent me, it makes it my business, so I felt the time had come for something to be said.

Disband now. Rename yourselves the Clarence Park Festival. Hold fundraisers throughout the year. Do other gigs, offer help to other people. Come together as a group, but do other things with other people, as individuals too. Engage with other people. I believe in the collective frame of mind. I believe Unity Hall will show the power and potential of that model. But I think, in the case of smaller organisations, like Rhubarb Bomb, Philophobia Music, Wakefield Jazz, The Orangery, The Art House, Creative Wakefield, Unique Wakefield, and larger ones like The Hepworth, Wakefield Express, Wakefield Theatre Royal and many, MANY more, a ‘collective’ is a state of mind. It is an attitude, an outlook. It doesn’t need to be written in triplicate and sworn in with an oath. If we all have an open mind, a positive outlook and a pinch of vision we already ARE a collective. Wakefield is evolving. And we can achieve so much for our city. But I believe, in order for this to happen, Wakefield Music Collective as an entity must cease to exist. Forever.

Dean Freeman

I offer Wakefield Music Collective a right to reply to this article. If anyone has any feedback, email at or look at our Facebook page here where I’m sure a few people will make their feelings known.

This article was followed up a couple of days later, using responses from others, and clarified Rhubarb Bomb's position: see it here.


  1. As a big supporter of the Wakefield music scene for many years now, I once attended a Wakefield Music Collective meeting last year. I never returned.

    Everything appears to be stuck in routine. I don't know whether they are frightened to try new things, whether they can't be bothered to try or simply think they 'know better' but it was not an inspiring experience.

    After previously spending some time putting on gigs for about a year in Wakefield before heading to university, an acquaintance and I made many a suggestion of potential projects. None were taken seriously.

    I do believe their intentions are good but, as it stands, their existence is somewhat stifling.

  2. I set up the Wakefield Music Collective and Clarnence Park Festival in 1991 and ran it until 2005 when I left. Interesting blog and still happy I programmed Nailed that year. As a small child shouted at his parents... "Make the nasty monsters go away!" Result.

    Tony Wade

  3. ...and after so many years my computer still insists on spell checking Clarence as Clarnence. hey Ho.

  4. Mine always changed it to Clearance...

  5. I'm doing a degree in managing major and cultural events, so went to a few meetings early this year maybe from a personal point of view I'd like some experience for my CV, but that's why we volunteer, right?

    ..But I wanted to help, I wanted to change things, make it a bit better, make it a bit more fun. It's something I've grown up with, and loved, & maybe joining might even try to bridge obvious & unnecessary divide between Wakefield music 'scenes' - there were a lot of positives about this years Clarence, a hell of a lot of hard work went into it by certain members, against most odds!

    not me though, sadly, I just gave up. sorry.