Dennis Scard

Dennis Scard became the fifth General Secretary of the Musicians’ Union in 1990, leading the Union through its centenary celebrations in 1993.

Like the first three General Secretaries, but unlike his immediate predecessor, Scard came from an orchestral background and worked his way through various positions in the Union before being elected in 1989.

Born in 1943, he worked as professional musician for twenty three years in various symphony and chamber orchestras as a horn player, becoming increasingly involved in the Union. He became a member of the Executive Committee in 1979, while in the early 1980s he was chair of Central London Branch, notably when it passed a resolution banning the use of synthesisers in 1982. In 1985, he became a paid official of the Union representing the North and North East District, a position he held until his election as General Secretary. in 1989.

He defeated Stan Martin by a margin of just over 1500 votes on the second ballot, and worked a three month handover period before taking office in 1990. Scard’s election success was based on a promise to modernise and make the Union more appealing to pop and rock musicians, telling The Stage magazine that it may be possible to add substantially to the Union’s 40 000 members.

“Many pop bands come to us already for help and advice, but they often feel we are only there for ‘professional’ musicians and not for them as ordinary gigging musicians. We’ve yet to tap into this potential market.”

Scard planned to do this by the setting up of pop and jazz sections within the Union, while his other pledges included an overhaul of the Union’s administration and what The Stage described as “the introduction of a range of white collar services such as loans, preferential discounts and more extensive legal and welfare services.”

His tenure saw moves towards all of these goals with the greatest successes being in making the Union seem less of the domain of the orchestral musicians (even DJs were allowed to join in 1997) with the widening of the range of services on offer (particularly contractual advice and insurance) being the main incentives for both low-earning and non-orchestral musicians to join. It was also during his period as General Secretary that session musicians began to receive royalties for public performances of their work.

However Scard had a number of challenges that put paid to many of his other ambitions. Trade Union legislation from successive Conservative governments ensured a weakening of the closed shop to a point where even orchestral members no longer felt that they had to join the Union, and many of the internal divisions which had previously simmered came to the boil during his period of office.

Central to this was the legacy of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission Report of 1988 into Collective Licencing and the operation of PPL’s agreement with the Musicians’ Union. While not directly critical of the Union, the consequences of the report for it were considerable. It reignited debates about the Union’s use of funds paid to it by PPL since 1946, with a number of members, most notably the session musicians whose performances had generated the income, asking questions in a very public manner.

Among those who did so were Nigel Warren-Green of the London Chamber Orchestra and the session musician, Freddie Staff. Each of their claims generated considerable press interest in line with prevailing anti-Union sentiment, particularly in the media. The MMC report – and the subsequent end of “needle time” agreements with broadcasters – also represented a fundamental weakening of the Union’s ability to control and influence the recording industry.

By the late 1990s Staff was pursuing a High Court claim against the Union, backed by a number of other members, to gain access to full accounting records for the period in question. While this was eventually resolved in 2001, albeit with an agreement that included non-disclosure clauses, it provided the back drop to Scard’s eventual defeat in the 2000 leadership election.

This was another elongated story which drew widespread media criticism of the Union. Initially, Scard was re-elected unopposed in 1999, but the election process was reported by some members to the Trade Union Certification Officer, who subsequently ordered a re-run of the election. Scard remained in post during this period until the re-run of the election. When this happened in 2000, Scard was beaten by eight votes by Derek Kay, who had been extremely vocal in his criticism of the Union while representing Staff and other members, and subsequently during the election campaign. Faced with constitutional uncertainty, the Executive Committee decided that Scard would stand down at the end of 2000 to be replaced by Kay.

While there is no doubt that Scard was partially a victim of timing, the end of his period as General Secretary overshadowed some of the Union’s positive achievements during his decade in charge.

He has remained involved in both music and politics since his departure from the post – as a director and Honorary Fellow of the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and as a Labour Party candidate in local elections in the Meads district of Eastbourne where he lives.