ColumnsPaul Stokes

Column - The day Blink 182, Gallows, Rick Wakeman & Theory Of A Deadman went to Parliament...

ColumnsPaul Stokes

It must have been Mark Hoppus's quietest ever performance in front of an audience. Remarkably though, the Blink 182 bassist was not even the most unlikely looking character in Portcullis House's - the Houses Of Parliament office offshoot - Boothroyd Room this afternoon (28 February). Dressed in a blue jumper with a red stripe that tried to encapsulate both respectability and rock'n'roll, Hoppus' spikey hair barely looked out of place compared to the tats and piercing belonging to members of Gallows, Theory Of Deadman, and Don Broco, along with the more cleaner cut Charlie Simpson. Invited to the 'mother of all parliaments' by Hove And Portslade MP Mike Weatherley - a "rock and heavy metal" fan, hence the bias to those who like their music loud including Download Festival promoter Andy Copping - the punks alongside prog wizard Rick Wakeman, a smattering of music industry types and several parliamentarians, all took part in a panel discussion (made all the more strange by the Boothroyd Room resembling a lottery-funded arts centre with its soft, ambient lighting and 'wacky' curvy ceiling) on the future of the music industry.

Organised under the auspices of Rock The House, a programme created by Weatherley to bring the Houses Of Parliament closer to the music industry, today's mix certainly seemed to have worked. "Normally you get two men and dog for these things," the MP told Q before the event. "We've had over hundred replies for this, which isn't bad considering we organised it two days ago." Indeed, many of the Palace Of Westminster's more outlandish (though all still suitably restrained) haircuts, some band hangers-on and a few glamorous women (Hoppus' wife and friends) had opted to forgo their lunches for the hour-and-a-half discussion which centred on the threat to copyright and intellectual property from online piracy.

Taking it in turns to speak, Hoppus - a London resident these days - kicked things off by admitting, "I'm a little confused, I thought I was coming to watch the next episode of Downton Abbey," before arguing that the music industry cannot survive either by giving everything away or by charging for it all and therefore had to "work out to do with the gift that is the digital age". After his five minutes, Charlie Simpson explained that "the kids" who come to his shows who would happy pirate albums online, would never steal from a record shop and suggested there was a need to "restate the moral obligation" to pay for music, while next up Gallows guitarist Laurent Barnard highlighted that all Canadian bands he meets are happy because their government subsidises parts of the music industry (eg: video making), whereas they were lucky they had sponsorship from energy drinks brand Relentless to help bank role their career, before revealing that he's "made more money DJing other people's music than playing in Gallows, which is a strange!"

Theory Of A Deadman frontman Tyler Connolly then represented all the "happy Canadians", arguing government here should follow his countrymen and invest in music - possibly not the outcome the Conservative Weatherley had envisioned when he set-up the debate - before Rick Wakeman (who appropriately enough resembled a slightly eccentric headmaster in his natty suit) was on hand to argue for discipline. Having accused the majors of "Pan Am syndrome", ie thinking there were too big to really be effected by modernisation, he then likened the fight against file sharing to the measures taken to tackle football hooligans. When people thought they could get away with beating each other up at matches it was rife but since the introduction of CCTV and proper policing its stopped, he argued, declaring that file sharing now needs to come under a similar legal focus.

With the industry reps and the parliamentarians (including Lord Tim Clement-Jones who announced that his Live Music Bill, which will allow venues with a capacity of 200 or lower to stage music without a license, will come into effect in October) delving into the industrial and legislative solutions with their addresses, and the Q&A session at the end going the way all Q&A sessions at the end go (ie valid, but niche questions that don't kick-start a wider discussion, or some wafflely platitudes), it was clear that though this meeting of unlikely minds was a start, there will need to be many more, probably less salubriously attended, discussions before government, parliament or the music industry will act definitively.

Still if the attendance of Hoppus and co had shocked the Westminster Village, it had a surprise of its own. Where else could the leader of the All Party Jazz Appreciation Group, Michael Connarty MP, address a panel of rock luminaries and shock them? Well he triggered a look of horror across several of the musicians faces as he urged them to look at the means used by the US government to cut off Wikileaks' funding as a model for their own battles against the online pirates.

Rock'n'roll and parliament may have moved a step closer over lunch, but thankfully it's clear they remain odd bedfellows... Paul Stokes @Stokesie