A cellist from Manchester has successfully sued a venue under the Trade Descriptions Act for failing to provide live musicians at a “magical familiy musical”. Adrian Bradbury took his family to the Lowry Theatre at Salford, near Manchester, to see a live staging of The Wizard of Oz, only to find the performers singing and dancing to pre-recorded backing tracks rather than a band of live musicians. Outraged on behalf of professional musicians everywhere, he sued the venue.
In court Bradbury produced an expert statement from contemporary composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle, which proclaimed that without an orchestra or musical director â€œa performance of The Wizard of Oz is best described as karaokeâ€. The Lowry argued that of the 133,000 attendees of the concert, Bradbury’s was the sole complaint. But the judge said Bradbury’s expectations of the concert were reasonable and ruled that the venue must repay him the cost of the tickets. (Here’s the original article in The Times.)
While Bradbury has won the admiration of musicans everywhere for staking this small victory for the enduring value of live music-playing over the mass-production approach of pre-recorded music, his win is local and nostalgic. Outside the Lowry Theatre, backing tracks have become endemic to the mass-consumption of music. It’s simply another step in the evolution of musical culture, which goes hand in hand with technology – as it has done for centuries.
In The Political Economy of Music, Jacques Attali says that music “provides a rough sketch of the society under construction” and describes the musical evolution thus:
Fetishized as a commodity, music is illustrative of the evolution of our entire society: deritualize a social form, repress an activity of the body, specialize its practice, sell it as a spectacle, generalize its consumption, then see to it that it is stockpiled until it loses its meaning.