Liverpool Reggae Symposium 18/19 May

The Reggae Research Network is an Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project which is organising a series of events during 2017, bringing together work from projects in the AHRC’s Connected Communities programme and the Translating Cultures theme on musical transmission and translation, as well as research more widely around the subject of reggae.

Two symposia have taken place, at the University of East Anglia and the University of Liverpool, bringing together leading music scholars, musicians, journalists and producers in order to scope the field and share knowledge and experience around this important and neglected area of popular music. The ideas and exchanges from the symposia will then be built upon in a final two-day conference in London in the autumn of 2017.

The Institute of Popular Music was a key partner and co-organiser for the Liverpool symposium. The event kicked off with a panel on Festivals, Exhibitions and Documentaries chaired by Professor Catherine Tackley.

What in the world is Music Research For?

The Tuesday Research Series in Music

 4pm, Large Music Room, 80-82 Bedford Street South

 2 May 2017

Nicola Dibben (Department of Music, University of Sheffield)

 What in the World is Music Research For? Music amid the Global Humanities

The study of music, and the arts and humanities more generally, seem under threat: marketisation of students, reduced presence of arts and humanities in earlier stages of education, funding focused on business and societal challenges to which arts and humanities can seem to have little relevance. In this presentation I ask whether music research can (or does) offer a critical humanistic approach which addresses global problems relevant to the twenty-first century. By way of answering this question, I critique three examples from my own research experiences: an empirical study of emotion in music performance, its contribution to human flourishing, and how findings might transform pedagogic practice in elite music institutions; a theoretical and music analytical study of how musical multimedia by Björk expresses human connectedness with the natural world and technology; and an ongoing critical humanist reflection on digital music culture focusing on recorded music in new media objects (including VR). Taking these examples I examine the extent to which music research can be more than an observer of the social, economic and artistic life worlds. 

Nicola Dibben is Professor in Music, and Director of the Humanities Research Institute, at the University of Sheffield, UK. Her publications include the co-authored Music and Mind in Everyday Life (2010) and monograph Björk (2009) that lead to a collaboration on the artist’s multi-media app album, Biophilia (2011). 

Research in Progress: Popular Music and Heritage

4pm Tuesday 21 March 2017, Large Music Room, 80-82 Bedford Street South

Emma Reekie and Marion Leonard from the Department of Music will deliver short presentations on their current research.


Emma Reekie

Recognising Popular Musicians in the British Honours System

This research paper is building and reworking a project undertaken during a heritage module as part of a Popular Music MA completed here at The University of Liverpool’s Music department. The original project was concerned with the British Honours System’s recognition of popular musicians between the years 1938 and 2012, collating research about those who had been awarded through Ian Inglis’ work on the subject, and personal research through archived newspapers and magazine articles. This project is now being extended to cover the most recent honours list from the beginning of 2017 and has benefitted from a report created by the House of Commons’ Public Administration Select Committee in 2012 which deemed the honours system too opaque resulting in greater transparency through the bi-annual publication of the recipients of the awards and the reasons for bestowing them. There have been 78 popular musicians awarded by the honours system since 1938, and by collating different pieces of information about each recipient, such as age, gender and race, several themes have emerged which beg further research. How does this awarding system reflect the way that music is valued in British society and what does it suggest about the institutions bestowing the award; are there links between the two? Furthermore, what about this research can be applied to awards, as a much neglected area of study, in a more general sense and what more can be learnt by applying these research methods to other awards honouring music?

 Emma-Jayne Reekie is a first year PhD student at The University of Liverpool in the music department. Her current research is focused on the value of popular music and whether or not this is reflected in awards that honour music and musicians. Her previous work has explored the relationship between music and politicians, looking in particular at the use of music in the 2012 American election campaigns and Barack Obama’s relationship with hip-hop throughout his political career.

Marion Leonard

Collection, Interpretation and Encounter: Popular Music in the Museum

This paper will report on work undertaken during my recent research leave towards my current book project. This paper will give a brief outline of some of the concerns of the book before going on to discuss the content of popular music museum exhibitions, considering the significance of these presentations to the process of understanding the social and cultural past. Museum collections can be understood as holdings of materials selected for their social and cultural significance (as defined and filtered by individual museum policies) and ‘held in trust for society’. However, museum exhibitions and displays go beyond simply preserving and conserving these materials. Within the exhibition objects are mediated, interpreted, and presented to the public in ways which recontextualise these materials and make them available for further meaning making by visitors. This paper will consider the significance of these material traces as they are presented to and encountered by visitors. The paper will engage with debates about memory, heritage and cultural value.

Marion Leonard is Senior Lecturer in Music and member of the Institute of Popular Music at the University of Liverpool. She is author of Gender in the Music Industry (Ashgate, 2007) and co-editor of The Beat Goes On (Liverpool University Press, 2010) and Sites of Popular Music Heritage (Routledge, 2014). She was Principle Investigator on an AHRC Beyond Text funded project investigating the collection and representation of popular music in museums, conducted in partnership with National Museums Liverpool and the V&A. She is currently developing this research for a book about popular music and museums. 

Spinning the Child: How records made for children construct childhood

In the sleeve notes to one of his two albums for children, Woody Guthrie wrote “Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make it simple.” As I discovered from my now-completed PhD on the topic of records made for children, Woody’s songs were often far from simple, yet his words have proved helpful whilst I was finishing up my thesis.

After working on it for eight years part-time against a full-time teaching job, huge quantities of writing happened in the last eight weeks (more like eight days). It took me at least two years to scope out the parameters of the work. I knew I wanted to do something about children’s music yet the field is so under represented that I struggled for a long time to frame the thesis. I knew that I didn’t have the time in my life to do ethnographic work on children’s reception of music, or much time for travelling, or conducting many interviews. So I ended up looking closely at the text and context of the children’s music that I remembered from my own childhood (The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, the Saturday morning radio show Children’s Choice, later called Junior Choice), areas that I wanted to know more about (the children’s music of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Lead Belly, the influence of Music Hall on children’s music), and case studies that seemed to choose themselves through sheer perverse appeal, the voice of Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus, Vocaloids and Babymetal being good examples. Many thanks to my supervisor Freya Jarman for encouraging and inspiring me to apply issues of gender and sexuality to my study.

Looking back, the material I wrote in those last few weeks was among my strongest. I had to work fast. Full of adrenaline, the chapters seemed to flow. At last I felt confident that I knew what I was talking about. By that time, I had internalised what I had learned from the huge amounts I’d read on children’s literature, children’s television and film. I had mastered the slippery notions of childhood and childness, of discourse analysis, implied readership and critical theory. I’d overcome most (but not all) of the insecurity I felt about looking at something that many scholars (and lay people) might consider trivial. Full of adrenaline, it got written. I took it to the wire. The man who does the printing in my college was literally standing over me as I was trying to format the contents page saying ‘I’m off for lunch in a minute. If you don’t send it now, you’ve blown it’.

By the time I had my viva a few weeks later, I felt ready for the constructive dialogue it turned out to be. I knew my stuff, was prepared to argue for the inclusion of various methods and sections, took a few criticisms on the chin, and came away with just spelling and grammar tweaks (how did they get in there?!). Thanks to Sara Cohen for her support through this process.

Overall, the PhD has been cathartic and therapeutic giving me a chance to revisit the large part of me that got stuck in childhood.

In quick succession, I have presented a paper on the relative educational philosophies of the music of The Muppet Show and Sesame Street at the IASPM conference in Brighton (Sept 2016), spoken at the Challenging Media Landscapes conference in MediaCity, Salford (Nov 2016) on the subject of Vocaloids (virtual projected pop stars, almost always represented as manga-style children), had my paper on Woody Guthrie's children's music published (Dec 2016), and co-authored a paper on British biopic movies, based on my work as the music coach on the Joy Division film Control and interviews with cast members and producers.

I’m now committed to making research and academic pursuits at least part of my career. I’ve vowed to give up the day job this year and commit to the reading, thinking and writing that are at present just a glorified hobby. My weekend job as a children's music songwriter and performer should see me through.

Pop Hearts Nonsense

Research Seminar @ 4pm, Large Music Room, 80-82 Bedford Street South

Richard Elliott (University of Newcastle)

‘Watch the sense and the sounds will take care of themselves’; so says the Duchess in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But can we be so sure of this? The Duchess, like her creator Lewis Carroll, often seems to put more emphasis on the sound of words than their sense, a technique that can also be detected in other written texts and in works of sound and music. My current book project, entitled ‘The Sound of Nonsense’, highlights the importance of sound in understanding the ‘nonsense’ of writers such as Carroll, Edward Lear, James Joyce and Mervyn Peake, before connecting this noisy writing to works which engage more directly with sound, including sound poetry, experimental music and pop. By emphasising sonic factors, new connections are made between a wide range of artistic examples and a case is built for the importance of sound in creating, maintaining and disrupting meaning.

This paper presents work from the final chapter of the book, focussing on popular music and its fascination with nonsense. The areas I’m interested in include scat singing, vocalese, doo wop, early rock n roll, yodelling, sampling, hip hop, singer-songwriters (Bob Dylan, Robert Wyatt, David Byrne), and artists such as Magma and Sigur Rós who have created their own languages in which to sing. Pop’s fondness for self-reflexivity, parody and wordplay will also be considered through discussing the work of ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic, for example his song ‘Bob’ which offers a parody of Bob Dylan’s already nonsensical ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ consisting entirely of palindromes.

Richard Elliott is Senior Lecturer in Music at Newcastle University. His recent research has focussed on the representation of time, age and experience in popular music as well as the relationship between music and materiality. He is the author of the books Fado and the Place of Longing (Ashgate, 2010), Nina Simone (Equinox, 2013), and The Late Voice: Time, Age and Experience in Popular Music (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). He is currently working on a book exploring the importance of sound in creating, maintaining and disrupting meaning.  

Chen-Yu Lin is Shortlisted for a Prestigious National Award

A film made by Chen-Yu Lin, a PhD student affiliated to the Institute of Popular Music, has made the shortlist for the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s prestigious 2016 Research in Film Awards.

‘Chasing the China Wind: A Musical Journey’ was produced by Chen-Yu in collaboration with Charlotte Sawyer, and with support from University of Liverpool postgraduate research funding. It has been shortlisted in the Utopia Award: Imagining Our Futures.

Hundreds of films were submitted for the Awards this year and the overall winner for each category, who will receive £2,000 towards their film-making, will be announced at a special ceremony at BAFTA in London on the 10 November.

Set up in 2015 the Research in Film Awards celebrate short films, up to 30 minutes long, that have been made about the arts and humanities and their influence on our lives.

There are five categories in total with four of them aimed at the research community and one open to the public. Chen-Yu says:

‘It was a great honour to be shortlisted. We dedicate this honour to all the people we met in the field: the music lovers, the audience, and the musicians. This film is made throughout my fieldwork journey across Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, and the UK. I am glad these experience could be shared through a film. The film is shaped by my research, while the filmmaking experience is also reshaping my research and provide new insights into the topic.’

According to Mike Collins, Head of Communications at the Arts and Humanities Research Council,

"The standard of film-making in this year's Research in Film Awards has been exceptionally high and the range of themes covered span the whole breadth of arts and humanities subjects. While watching the films I was impressed by the careful attention to detail and rich story telling that the film-makers had used to engage their audiences. The quality of the shortlisted films further demonstrates the endless potential of using film as way to communicate and engage people with academic research. Above all, the shortlist showcases the art of film-making as a way of helping us to understand the world that we live in today."

A team of judges watched the longlisted films in each of the categories to select the shortlist and ultimately the winner; key criteria included looking at how the film makers had come up with creative ways, either factual or fictional, of storytelling on camera, that capture the importance of arts and humanities research to all of our lives.

The winning films will be shared on the Arts and Humanities Research Council website and You Tube channel. On the 10 November you’ll be able to follow the fortunes of the shortlisted films on twitter via the hashtag #RIFA2016.

The Arts and Humanities Research Council funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: history, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, languages, design, heritage, area studies, the creative and performing arts, and much more. For more information visit: or follow @ahrcpress on twitter.

Towards a Social History of Drummer Stereotypes

The Tuesday Series of Music Research Seminars 2016

Tuesdays, Large Music Room, 80-82 Bedford Street South, 4pm


1 November

Towards a Social History of Drummer Stereotypes

Matt Brennan (University of Edinburgh)

The modern drum kit is just over a century old.  Given this short life span, it is astonishing not only how profoundly the drum kit has shaped musical culture over the last hundred years but also how little its cultural significance has been examined by music scholars. This is perhaps because, as respected percussion scholar James Blades once suggested, “opinions remain divided regarding the merits” of drumming in popular music “despite its commercial success” (Percussion Instruments and Their History, 1970, p.460). I propose it is precisely the drum kit’s populist appeal that has led to musicologists dismissing the instrument as being unworthy of serious attention. 

In the talk I propose to tell the history of the drum kit and drummers by deconstructing seven drummer stereotypes corresponding to seven punch lines of common drummer jokes. It investigates the origins of typecasting drummers as dumb, noisy, illiterate, uncreative, male, broke and replaceable. Tracing the historical roots and subsequent trajectories of such stereotypes uncovers the hidden politics of the drum kit and its impact not just on popular music, but on musical culture as a whole. 

My overarching approach is to understand the social construction of the drum kit as a technology. As Trevor Pinch and Karin Bijsterveld have noted, “the introduction of new technologies and instruments provides a way of probing and breaching the often taken for granted norms, values, and conventions of musical culture” ("Sound Studies: New Technologies and Music," 2004, pp.639-640). The drum kit is precisely such an instrument: the drum kit shaped culture, and culture shaped the drum kit. 

Matt is a Chancellor's Fellow of Music at the University of Edinburgh. He was a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow prior to taking up his current post, and has served as Chair of the UK and Ireland branch of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM). He is the co-author (with Simon Frith, Martin Cloonan, and Emma Webster) of The History of Live Music in Britain from 1950-1967 (Ashgate, 2013), co-editor of the Routledge Research Companion to Popular Music Education (forthcoming December 2016), and the author of a forthcoming monograph on the history of American jazz and rock journalism (Bloomsbury, February 2017). He is also a drummer and is currently writing a book on the social history of the drum kit (under contract with Oxford University Press).

Seeking Interview Partners for A Women’s History of the Beatles

In November Dr Christine Feldman-Barrett will be visiting Liverpool to conduct research about the impact of the Beatles. Christine is a Lecturer in the School of Humanities at Griffith University, Australia and wants your help with the project.

How have the Beatles influenced you?

I am looking to interview women between the ages of 18 and 70 about how the Beatles have made an impact on their lives. I am currently scheduling interviews in London and Liverpool during the month of November.

If you choose to participate, your input will be included in a forthcoming book called Beatlemania and Beyond: A Women’s History of the Beatles.

Sound interesting? If so, I would love to hear from you!

Please email me, Dr Christine Feldman-Barrett*, at for further details.

This project has been given approval by the ethics office of Griffith University, Queensland, Australia (GU Ref No: 2016/683).

* For more information on my scholarly background and publication record, please see:

Focus on: Emily Baker

‘I talk about Aretha Franklin a lot’

This, I found, tends to be the ‘in’ to explaining my thesis to polite strangers on a plane.

‘Really? can study that?!’

It hits you then. This huge wave, where intense enthusiasm meets imposter syndrome, which in turn meets an odd sense of guilt at the privilege of spending my days analysing Aretha Franklin’s vocal performance!

My entire second year of studying Music at PhD level can be characterised by a swing between those three states of being. But after a year of grappling with the theories which underpin the (at times unwieldy) beast, I’ve got myself to a point where my thesis and I are pretty smitten.

It turns out that this is well-and-truly foregrounded when you meet a couple from Colorado on a plane bound for Reykjavik from Seattle. As they tell me about their 40th wedding anniversary plans, an epic trip across Europe which they have organised with the most detailed itinerary I’ve ever seen, I find myself explaining why and how I find myself travelling around the world sharing my thoughts on Age, Gender, Sexuality, Race, and Popular Music.

I explain that I had decided fairly early on that my second year of study would be dedicated to expressing interest in, and hopefully being invited to speak at, international conferences. What I don’t tell them is that having organised a conference and done a fair amount of teaching prior to starting my PhD, conferences left a bit of a gap in the things employers are apparently looking for in a postgraduate CV.

Over the past couple of months I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to attend and participate in three conferences in three different countries. With the encouragement of my delightful supervisory team, I applied to speak at events where, to my mind at least, I was punching substantially above my weight!

My selection method for choosing which conferences to go for is highly scientific: ‘is there at least one Rock star keynote speaker?’

The GeMus conference in Örebro, Sweden answered with a resounding ‘Yes’, with Jack Halberstam, Stan Hawkins and Susan McClary all confirmed. So, too, was the EMP Popcon in Seattle with vocal performance royalty in the shape of KD Lang, Valerie June and Merrill Garbus; rock critics Carl Wilson and Ann Powers; not to mention academics whose work I’d either admired for a while or just discovered – Emily Lordi, Daphne Brooks, Tavia Nyong’o and Karen Tongston.

Looking back, I’ll admit that my understanding of what a conference is was wrong. Coming from a music performance background – had I just signed up for a tour with nothing but a PowerPoint presentation and a laser pen for company? I don’t even own a laser pen.

I did a lot of nodding, non-beard stroking and made pseudo-affirmative noises to Freya, my supervisor, when she told me that I needed to stop thinking about it like a gig, that in fact ‘it’s all about the conversation after really…about the questions your paper generates’.

‘Poor thing’ I thought, she has no idea, and I continued to quake with terror in the lead-up to that first outing of the paper at GeMus. What I hadn’t counted on was Halberstam, Hawkins and McClary being in the ‘audience’ when I spoke.

Somehow, panic didn’t set in and about half way through what I thought was a performance, I started to realise that Freya was right, that I was sharing some ideas and that it was amazing to have this room of people to share with. And it wasn’t just about those Rock stars but all the other wonderful speakers I’d talked with over the course of the conference. I wasn’t frightened anymore and I couldn’t wait to get to the end because I wanted to have the conversation so my thesis would be challenged in a really positive way.

I was a little bamboozled by jetlag the time I arrived at Reykjavik. Waving goodbye to my very-well-organised fellow travellers, I came to realise that I felt that much more relaxed about the task in hand. I had been invited by my dear friend and PhD colleague, Daphne Hall, to be part of Iceland’s first ever Pop Music Studies symposium, representing the UK alongside IPM post-doc researcher Aine Mangoang and Nick Prior from the University of Edinburgh. I actually started to think of the work as a real treat. That is certainly not something I thought I’d ever said prior to my little tour!

Two weeks on and I still talk about Aretha Franklin a lot. Only this time I feel ever-so-slightly less of an imposter.

Huge thanks to the NWCDTP (via the fieldwork and conference fund) and to the University of Liverpool (via the School of Arts PGR support fund). Also to Freya Jarman and Sara Cohen for their continued cheerleading. This was an extraordinary experience for which I’m extraordinarily grateful!

When Rock ‘n’ Roll came to Liverpool 60 Years Ago

Research-in-Progress Seminar

Yannis Tzioumakis (University of Liverpool) 

Wednesday 28 September 5pm, School of Arts Library, 19 Abercromby Square


The ‘Works-in-Progress’ Seminar of the Department of Communication and Media, together with the Institute of Popular Music, invite you to this talk, which discusses how the film Rock around the Clock (Sears) was received in Liverpool, a city with a rich popular music history.  

With the opportunity afforded by the 60th anniversary (on 11 September 2016) of the film’s release in the UK (11 September 1956), and after discussing some interesting facts about the film’s production and success in the US, the talk will investigate the extent to which the film incited youth riots as many existing studies of the film suggest. Through examining the local press of the time (especially articles in the Liverpool Echo and The Bootle Times), the talk will show how Liverpool, despite its rich relationship to popular music, decided to ban the film after a few screenings. However, contrary to the belief that the film incited riots in the city, evidence will show that this was not the case. Rather than because of a rampant problem with the city’s youth, the decision to ban the film was taken because of other factors that the talk will explore.