chapter  2
26 Pages

Live Music and the State

Over the last few years the streets that once rang with music had become oddly quiet. The guild of ‘Waits and Musicians’ still operated in Newcastle – ‘no fiddler, piper, dancer upon ropes, or others that went about with motions or shewes’ could perform without a licence – and during the American war the Common Council cracked down on subversive ballad singers. In 1781 they even passed an order forbidding singing-clubs in public houses. (Uglow 2007: 121-2)

By the provision of concert halls and suitable civic centres, we desire to assure to our people full access to the great heritage of culture in this nation. (Labour Party Manifesto 1945, quoted in Sinfield 1995: 189-90)


One of the most familiar pieces of post-war British popular music folklore concerns the ‘rock‘n’roll riots’ that supposedly accompanied the British showings of the film Blackboard Jungle. The film featured Bill Haley and the Comets’ ‘Rock Around the Clock’ and, in the words of Wikipedia (summarising common knowledge):

marked a watershed in the United Kingdom. When shown at a South London Cinema in Elephant and Castle in 1956 the teenage audience began to riot, tearing up seats and dancing in the aisles. After that, riots took place around the country wherever the film was shown.1