When you meet me you’re sure to be disappointed. I just don’t look very creative! Somehow this doesn’t seem fair. I’m CEO of Punch, a progressive and thriving music development agency that sits right at the heart of Birmingham’s trendy Eastside district. And I try hard to be hip and engaged; to be contemporary, independent and unique, I really do. But somehow I’m still the most mainstream-looking cultural radical in the UK.
You’ll find me chairing the kind of meetings where creatives get up and draw multicoloured squiggles on whiteboards; squiggles that stand for main stages and beer tents and on-trend audiences and toilet blocks and chill-out yurts. But when everyone else is updating their timelines I’m the one washing up the cups in the obligatory half-size belfast sink and over-straightening all the chairs.
I no longer think this is any kind of a bad thing. My role gives me ways and means to influence and alter real people’s lives, not just radio playlists. Because the creative industries are worth £8m an hour to the UK economy, with our growth currently outperforming all other sectors.* Cultural capital is based on innovation, not scarcity – the more we can produce, the richer we will be as a nation. So why are so few homegrown creative entrepreneurs working to seed the ground they grew from? I think being ordinary reminds me that my story is nothing special.
When I opened Punch in 1997 it was as a record shop in what was then called ‘the community’, not a music development agency in a ‘creative quarter’. Punch Records bought and sold rare vinyl for DJs and collectors. I mostly started Punch so that I could listen to those same records all day in the shop, and then get on the guest list for the DJ’s gigs and soundclashes after we closed. But things took a turn I hadn’t planned for.
DJs and rappers would walk into the shop each day with amazing ideas and plans and ask us if we could back them. Within a year we were creating new events across the city. Then we were programming workshops for schools and galleries desperate to reach out to young people. Transforming lives through music became our motto. Punch had become a network of resources and opportunities with an annual festival – BASS – to run. So I closed my shop.
My dad still hasn’t forgiven me. He was working six days a week in a foundry, and when I had the shop we suddenly had a family business! I think he hoped to convince me to turn it into a cash and carry given time. To this day he has no idea how I make my money now the shop is gone – But he still stuffs brochures for retail opportunities into my wife’s handbag when she visits.
My dad’s opinions notwithstanding, the creative industries in the UK are a homegrown economic success story, worth £71.4 billion per year to the UK and accounting for 8% of all service industry exports. What’s more, the sector is growing at 10% per annum, even in the downturn. In 2014 the creative industries employed more than 1.5 million people, around 6% per cent of the UK workforce*.
Yet the largest private investments of time and money that Punch receives into our youth development programmes – which each year reach hundreds of disenfranchised young people outside of both education and employment – are not from anyone in the creative industries. They are from multinationals like Barclaycard and from local business leaders: the family of the region’s cash-and-carry king – Latifs, for example, who support our work in schools.
The UK is booming with young talent able to create amazing new work which we can broadcast, licence or sell to contribute to our bottom line as a nation. If most of that talent isn’t living in London, isn’t working as an intern in a creative agency and isn’t writing on a blog; how will we hear their voices?
Ammo Talwar MBE, CEO of Punch
www.punch-records.co.uk | @punchrecords