Artist Q&A Nick Roth - The Commons
On the 29th March, a historic day for Europe, some of Britain and Ireland's finest improvising musicians come together for, The Commons, a collective statement by improvising musicians of Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland that, despite potential sea changes politically, music will always flow freely across any borders, and belongs ultimately to no-one. Rather, it is us who belong to it.
The Commons was spearheaded by saxophonist Nick Roth, who told us about the development of the concept, his experience with music which defies borders, and fears for a post-Brexit world.
Q. Can you tell us a bit about how the idea for The Commons developed?
Last October Huw Warren and I were invited to speak on a Brexit-related panel discussion at the Galway Jazz Festival, curated by Ellen Cranitch. Whilst everyone speaking on the panel raised different aspects of the issue, one clear message that emerged from the debate and the response from the audience, was that artists have a critical role to play in political matters. Recent historical events have proven that we can no longer assume that society's default position will be progressive and egalitarian - rather we are facing a resurgence of regressive nationalistic and populist tendencies that must be actively countered by anyone with alternative views.
Q. What connections do you see musically and creatively between the countries represented in this concert; England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland?
I think the main lesson that music teaches us is that there are no real boundaries. These borders that we imagine exist between independent countries are entirely fictional - in Oscar Wilde's words, the fact that people are prepared to sacrifice their lives for them does not make them necessarily true. You cannot see borders from space - those imaginary lines are also entirely porous to music.
Q. Have there been any really seminal moments in your musical life that were dependent on working with musicians from across Europe?
My work takes me constantly all around the world, in collaborations with musicians from every continent on the planet. In particular, I have travelled extensively across Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and been involved in a lot of collaborative projects with music and musicians from these places. The more deeply you move into music, the more you see it all as one thing - and appreciate the unique diversity that exists from place to place. In Arabic this concept is called Tawhid - unity in multiplicity.
Q. It seems like the entire musical/creative community in the UK and Ireland are crying out that being unable to tour freely will flatten their livelihoods. How do you think Brexit restrictions will impact musicians in the UK and in Europe? Is there any chance politicians will start to listen?
What is occurring with Brexit will have much more far-reaching consequences than affecting musicians' touring schedules. If we do not navigate a successful course through the next couple of years, our generation will bear witness to the collapse of Europe as a unified entity and a return to divisive nationalist politics, upon which ground the increasing volatility between the US, Russia and China will play out.
Q. We’re also already seeing issues of originally European musicians, many of whom have their whole live in the UK, being denied settled status, because of income brackets etc. How do you think this will affect the musical landscape within the UK?
The UK in which I grew up, in the 80's and 90's, was a place of multiculturalism and a leading example in the shaping of vibrant pluralistic identity. There were more than 40 nationalities represented in my school year, and this made for rich and diverse experiences for everyone. Any loss of this will be felt across all areas of life in the UK, but perhaps most keenly in the arts, where all of these experiences are fuel for new ideas. The position of the musician in terms of income brackets is an issue everywhere - whilst we dedicate our lives to learning and perfecting our skills, and to sharing these with others, it is rare that this has any reflection in the income that an artist makes from their work. As seen in recent surveys, full-time artists who are world-leading in their disciplines are often working longer hours and earning less than they would in a minimum-wage job. The reality is that in any country, the artist does not fit into the system because ultimately we are not working simply for money, but for art, and this has a value which cannot be measured in purely capitalist terms. Therefore we will always be in a vulnerable position, and an early barometer of impending catastrophe in times of regime change.
Nick Roth, Huw Warren, Neil Yates, Matthew Berrill, Maria Lamburn, Kieran Mcleod, Dave Redmond, and Zoot Warren perform as The Commons, on Friday 29th March, Doors 9:30pm at Arthur's Blues 'n' Jazz Club, Thomas Street, Dublin.
Photo Credit: Tony Carragher