Brand disloyalty
posted on April 10th, 2011
Creative licence in a new show about the disabled appears to be less than original 

What is music media figure Charles Hazlewood and Jo Brand’s production company What Larks doing apparently ripping off creative work from a small charity for disabled musicians?

In the past Hazlewood has been involved with some genuinely interesting projects, combining a career as a moderately successful conductor with roles in events management and the media.

He’s part of the Somerset crowd, conducted the first symphony at Glastonbury Festival and does good work popularising orchestral music.

But this week I found Hazlewood involved with a bit of media chicanery that appears deeply underhand and leaves me questioning his motives.

For the past five years, small but highly respected disabled musicians’ charity Drake Music has been developing an ambitious large-scale project called Concerto, to launch and support a working orchestra for musicians with disabilities and provide them with bespoke new music to perform.

The project has continued to be actively worked on, even after it was turned down for funding by the 2012 Paralympics fund Unlimited, with a team assembled and plans scheduled.

In fact, in the recent controversial Arts Council England funding round, Drake Music was a rare winner with increasing funding since the value of its work is so clear, broad and evidence-based.

Anyway, last year Hazlewood got interested in making a television show with Drake Music and brought on board comedian Jo Brand’s production company What Larks, represented by co-founder Claire Whalley.

In meetings with Drake Music they learned of Concerto and became excited about it.

Keen to see if Hazlewood could be involved and if What Larks could film the process, although they did start patronisingly referring to it as Paraconcerto.

What Larks, by the way, is the proud progenitor of such masterpieces as Amish: World’s Squarest Teenagers, so alarm bells should’ve rung, despite Brand as a figurehead.

Of course, it didn’t work out.

The charity was not into compromising the people it works with just to get into the telly business, so the two sides parted company. End of story.

Until now. Production schedules just released include a new reality show called Paraorchestra – sound familiar? – fronted by Hazlewood and produced by What Larks, wherein Hazlewood will attempt to launch what they’re calling a “nationwide integrated disabled orchestra.”

With near identical concept to Concerto, now they are reportedly approaching the very same contributors recruited by Drake Music, waving the hefty – yet so often poisoned – carrot of TV fame.

For Drake Music this clearly represents the swamping of several years of commitment and the charity has taken the unusual step of releasing a moving, powerful public statement.

I emailed Claire Whalley at What Larks and her reply, co-signed by Hazlewood, was infuriating.

More disingenuous than ignorant, Whalley confirmed that Hazlewood claims the idea as his own.

She made no attempt to properly highlight differences between the two projects – well, there are none – and instead mis-represented the original Concerto idea as a simple composition project.

But I have seen the same documentation she did.

It is absolutely clear to me the extent of the original project plans and the level to which Paraorchestra is root-and-branch the same concept.

Worse, in a previous email to Drake Music she had already written: “We understand very clearly that the idea was yours – it is this idea we are interested in, not any other.”

Inconsistency shines out.

Whalley pompously claimed to me: “Charles also brought his own ideas to the table,” as if that means anything at all.

I believe Hazlewood walked in with almost nothing and walked out with a brilliant television project.

I wonder what Brand thinks?

I have admired Brand most of my life, she is brilliant and righteous.

I wonder if she knows and, if so, how she could possibly allow this to go ahead?

For me, it is exactly the immoral quagmire that reality television risks heaping upon good works when it steps in to “document” them.

Of course, as Whalley argued to me, the more people who work with disabled musicians, the better overall.

However that paints a weak justification for the appropriation of an important, long-developed outreach project and the mashing of it into a reality show.

I have no idea what the legal position is, or if Drake Music has enough documentation to prove intellectual copyright.

Ideas are nebulous things and ownership is notoriously hard to pin down.

As a stand-up comic, Brand should see this more clearly than most – we all know the infamous stories of Jim Davidson, Joe Pasquale and recently Keith Chegwin taking jokes from lesser-known comics without credit or payment, aided by the slippery nature of what constitutes an original idea.

But law aside, where What Larks falls down is in self-serving ethical bankruptcy disguised as “good” television.

Shame on you, Hazlewood and Whalley.

Shame on you.

Hazlewood has a child with cerebral palsy and I don’t doubt his underlying sincere desire to help.

But in her response to me, Whalley made sure to include this personal detail, as if to undercut criticism, or render it prejudiced.

No Claire, it makes it damn worse.

Think up your own way to contribute.

  1. 10:12 am on 9/10/12

    […] your feelings about the fact that they were performing with Coldplay (I’m no fan) or the controversy between Drake Music and Charles Hazlewood, it’s a significant moment that will hopefully […]

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