The 1990s saw further signs of fundamental change within the Union, some the result of internal pressure and others a result of increasing pressure from the government’s trade union legislation. With the latter making closed shops illegal, membership initially declines, and the Union becomes more open to the needs of pop/ rock musicians and even goes as far as to allow DJs – previously viewed as enemies of musicians- to join.

The decade, however, ended in turmoil, with the re-election of Dennis Scard ruled illegal, triggering the best part of three years of uncertainty and internal wrangling which did considerable damage to the Union.

Nevertheless, the introduction of the European Directive on Copyright in 1996 marked a considerable turning point: recompense for non-featured performances on recordings was finally being paid directly to those who played on them and a performer’s right – something the Union had campaigned on for decades – finally being enshrined in UK law.


Copyright was the main issue during the decade, especially the fall our from the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report into collective licensing in 1988, which meant the end of the long standing agreement with PPL. This meant the Union spent much of the decade reaching a new agreement with PPL (in 1994) which meant that they would initially distribute funds given to the Union by PPL directly to members instead of placing them in a special fund used for the benefit of all musicians.

Besides the increased administrative burdens, this also resulted in a number of members challenging the Union’s stewardship of the funds which had been received by PPL prior to 1988. The case brought by Freddie Staff became a fault line within the Union towards the end of the decade. The difficulties in implementing the new, post-1996 payments accentuated a breakdown in trust between the union and some its members which spilled over into the press, where the Union was subjected to previously unknown levels of scrutiny.

Key Dates


Jack Stoddart retires as Assistant General Secretary (with responsibility for live music) and is replaced by Ken Cordingley.

Managers of four major London Orchestras begin negotiations with PPL over the payment of royalties, attempting to bypass the monopolistic hold the Union has had on them in the wake of the MMC findings. Dennis Scard claims that this is motivated by “revenge” on the part of the orchestra managers.


Launch of Sound City in Norwich – a “wide ranging celebration of music” – joint venture with the BPI and BBC Radio 1. Featured gigs by the Pasadenas, The Shamen, Carter USM and Cathy Dennis

Launch of National Music Day – 50 MU branches take part – EC offered funding of up to £300 for local events from a budget of £10 000. Organised by Harvey Goldsmith, launched by Mick Jagger.

After consultation with the African National Congress, the Union withdraws its instruction to members not to perform in South Africa. This was a year after most after sporting an cultural boycotts were lifted, and the MU urged members not to take “purely commercial” engagements in South Africa, urging them to also take part in educational and fundraising events for the black community.


On the occasion of the Union’s 100th Anniversary, Dennis Scard notes that “campaigns fought 100 years ago are still relevant today.” These were listed as “adequate arts funding,” “music education,” “maintaining the BBC Orchestras and Radio Big Band” and “the statutory right for performers to receive a share of remuneration when their records are broadcast.”

The centenary is also celebrated with an exhibition at the National Museum of Labour History and with the publication of Mike Jempson’s history of the Union.

The Incorporated Society of Musicians is involved in recruiting new members and positioning itself as a trade union, ending an agreement with the MU over co-operation which dated back to the BBC strike in 1980.

A further Employment Act further erodes Union powers, allowing people to sue unions if industrial action impacts financially on them and and introduces a six week time limit between the decision to hold a ballot on strike action and the action commencing.

The Union commissions a report by accountants PKF into into its finances and structure.


The Union begins making payments to musicians in line with the PPL agreement in 1989. It is subsequently reported that during the period between 1994 and 2002 “over £20 million was shared between in excess of 9000 performers.” (Smith in The Musician, September 2002, p.33)


Payments are made directly to session musicians for performances of their recordings for the first time. The Observer reports that drummer, Bill Eyden, who played on Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” received a cheque for £1700. According to the Observer “nearly 4000 session musicians and backing singers have bee getting early Christmas presents this year.”


The first serious rumblings of discontent among some members about the Union’s use of PPL / Phonographic funds are addressed by Dennis Scard in The Musician (March 1997, p.5). He refers to “a small group of members” beginning legal action against the Union and the accompanying bad publicity in the Daily Telegraph and on the BBC’s Here and Now programme. This is an issue which rumbles on for the best part of a decade.

The introduction of a new statutory right for performers (European Directive 92/100) means that the Union is no longer directly responsible for the receipt and distribution of funds from PPL for non-featured performers. In future, payments would be made directly to musicians from collecting agencies.

In addition to being able to claim directly from PPL, two new organisations are set up initially to collect and distribute the funds from PPL. PAMRA (Performing Arts Media Rights Association) – set up by the MU and Equity and AURA (Association of United Performing Artists) which was set up by the International Managers’ Forum. Both had different objectives and clients and lobbied government and musicians for position.

The MU receives its final payment from PPL under the 1994 agreement and notified members that PAMRA (to whom the MU was transferring the information it had gathered on performances) would not receive money from PPL until 1999 with the first payments expected in 2000.


The Union allows DJs to join for the first time, having previously seen them as an enemy in the ‘Keep Music Live’ campaign.

Freddie Staff, a trumpet player with the Syd Lawrence Orchestra begins a legal action, funded by the Commissioner for the Rights of Trade Union members, to gain access to the MU’s financial records with regards the use of monies in the PPL fund. Staff claims to represent around 350 members (mainly session musicians).


A Folk, Roots and Traditional Music Section is formed within the Union, headed by Scottish organiser, Ian Smith.


Scard is re-elected as General Secretary but a number of members complain that rules were not adhered to and that the opposing candidate, Brian Johnson, was not given enough time to collect the ten branch nominations required to get his name on the ballot paper (he got 9). As a result, Scard was elected unopposed.


Scard’s re-election is reported to the Trade Union Certification Officer, who rules that the 1999 election was incorrectly conducted and that it should be run again. Scard claims that “We have made some changes to the London Branch and I suspect there are those who, as a result, want to wage war on the Union.” (The Stage, 3rd February 2000)

Accusations are made in The Stage that some of those involved in the complaints against Scard’s re-election were being victimised after one of them, the Oxford Branch Secretary, Roger Woodley is removed from office on the grounds that he had not announced to the branch that his position was up for re-election. Woodley subsequently loses his appeal against dismissal at an Employment Tribunal.

Having been nominated by 37 branches, Derek Kay stands against Scard (who was nominated by 68) and wins by a majority of eight votes from over 8000 cast. During the campaign, Kay claims that “dirty tricks” had been used and that the Union is “effectively bankrupt.”

The Union loses a Judicial Review of the Freddie Staff case (claiming that he was ineligible for funding from the ombudsman) but lost and was faced with costs of £30 000. A trial date was set for February 2002.

After a meeting of the Executive Committee, the Union confirms that Dennis Scard was to stand down as General Secretary and be replaced by Derek Kay from January 2nd 2001.

Derek Kay is subsequently charged with bringing the Union and a member into disrepute during his campaign for leadership. A disciplinary panel which met on the 20th December suspended him on full pay and barred him from holding office for five years. Despite not attending the hearing, he appealed the decision.