Practical Bravery: TOM GRAY



Can artists change the world?

Should they?

And should it be through their art or through their activism?

In this episode we’re charting the course of a journeyman whose guitar has graced stages worldwide, and whose convictions have spotlighted the corridors of change.  From the euphoric highs of indie rock stardom with his band Gomez, capturing hearts and the Mercury Prize in 1998, to the critical acclaim and UK Top 40 albums, his artistry has been undeniable. But it’s his transition from artist to advocate and activist that makes him stand out.
Elected as the Chair of the Ivors Academy and sitting on the council of the Performing Rights Society, he’s not just playing tunes; he’s setting the tempo for change. And in 2024 (after we recorded this interview), he’s seeking a place in the mother of all parliaments.
Our guest is rockstar, campaigner and – who knows – maybe a future prime minister, Tom Gray.

Key quotes:

“I always saw myself as a side man, I was the guy stood next to the guy, I loved writing songs. I never saw myself as being a leader.”

“Actually music wasn’t my goal at all, hilariously, music was just my way of slowing down my racing brain.”

“I actually had a choice: do I get on a plane and work for a senator, which is what I wanted to do — I wanted to be a speechwriter — or do I get Madonna’s private jet? A ridiculous thing to choose between.”

“By the time I was twenty-four or twenty-five I felt like I was on my third thing.”

“I realised there were all kinds of problems facing my friends in music and a lot of the organisations representing them, although heartily trying, weren’t necessarily getting there.”

“I had this curious superpower which was that I understood politics, I’d grown up in politics, I knew loads of people in politics. If didn’t do something, who was?”

“I realised they didn’t have a policy unit, helped them build a policy unit, helped them develop a public affairs strategy, actually employ people to do policy, which they didn’t have. They were kind of shaking their fists in the air but not doing this stuff.” 

“So, end of February 2020 I became a one man campaign, called Broken Record. And three months later the MU and Ivors Academy ran my more traditionally designed campaign called Fix Streaming.”

“I was the guerrilla ground offensive, and then the air attack came later.” 

“There’s a series of levers, there’s a series of relationships, there’s a way to change the world, there’s a path and, boringly, that’s how you do it.”

“We got all major labels agreeing to forgive debt of artists who’d been in debt for more than twenty years, which was huge.”

“We’ve got an industry-wide transparency agreement that is about to be signed.”

“My entire thing is, hold the industry in a headlock and force them to improve. People will say government process takes you out of that campaigning mode, it takes you out of holding their feet to the fire. That’s true but you’ve also got the institutional grip. They have to keep saying the right things, there’s no easy exit for them.”

“We are one of three music net exporters on the planet. We have this huge benefit of our language and our unbroken history of music learning, conservatories, the Beatles, you wouldn’t have the Beatles without the Education Act, that’s clear. Public policy changes the world. John Lennon going to art school was a profoundly important thing that needed to happen, in order for the world to experience the Beatles.”

“Resilience is 100% the lesson of being a musician, because it’s been pretty hard, the past twenty years, working in that sector. There’s always someone who’s making a buck out of everybody but for me I think these fights can be won, still. And if that’s optimism, that’s optimism.”

This episode was recorded in September 2023

Interviewer: Richard Freeman for always possible

Editor: CJ Thorpe-Tracey for Lo Fi Arts


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