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At a small independent record store tucked away in a neat courtyard of shops next to St Albans’ famous cathedral, a vinyl record that one band is hoping could become the most expensive ever sold in the UK is about to be released.

Just one physical copy of prolific indie band The Pocket Gods’ latest album Vegetal Digital has been produced, going on sale at their hometown’s Empire Records for the rather large sum of £1 million.

With charts of the music industry’s “most expensives” usually throwing up world-renowned artists such as The Rolling Stones, Madonna and U2 (most expensive tours), and songs such as Michael and Janet Jackson’s 1995 hit Scream (most expensive music video of all time), it might seem an improbable feat.

The Pocket Gods are selling just one copy of their latest album Vegetal Digital for £1m at Empire Records in St Albans, run by manager Dave Burgess
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The one copy of Vegetal Digital will be on sale at Empire Records in St Albans, run by Dave Burgess

But the Hertfordshire band’s frontman Mark Christopher Lee is confident they will find a buyer.

Why are they trying their luck? Well, they have long protested about what they say is the lack of fair royalties paid to musicians by Spotify and other streaming services – an issue raised by high-profile stars including Taylor Swift in recent years, which was also the subject of an inquiry in the UK in 2021.

Highlighting the fact it only takes 30 seconds for a song to trigger a streaming payment, The Pocket Gods have been recording songs of around this length since 2015; Only The Rich Can Tour and We’re All No Hit Wonders Now are among the quickfire tracks you’ll find in their back catalogue.

But Lee says it’s now time to “stop moaning about Spotify” and do something productive to help artists and songwriters. So if the one copy of Vegetal Digital sells for £1 million, the proceeds will fund a new rival “ethical” streaming platform, Nubplay.

It sounds ambitious, but the musician says he believes the record could be snapped up within a couple of weeks.

‘Actions speak louder than words’

The Pocket Gods album Vegetal Digital is going on sale for £1 million

“Someone who’s got lots of money and wants to do something good with it,” he tells Sky News, pondering what kind of person might invest. “It’s a crazy world we’re getting into… but we’re making a stand, we want to make a better future for artists and songwriters. We talk a good game but actions speak louder than words and this is what we’re going to do.

“For years and years, music – a lot of the arts – has been devalued. And I just can’t imagine a world without music.”

Nubplay would guarantee to pay artists and songwriters a minimum royalty of 1p per stream, says Lee. “It doesn’t sound that much, but it’s 50 times the current rate we get from Spotify.”

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Formed in 1998 at Tower Records in London, The Pocket Gods are said to have been championed by the likes of the late John Peel and Steve Lamacq over the years, and have broken Guinness World Records for the most studio albums released digitally (75) and most songs on a digital album.

Earlier in 2022, the band – now made up of founding members Lee (vocals and guitar) and Noel Storey (keys), Simon Herries (bass) and former Searchers drummer Scott Ottaway – released Nobody Makes Money Anymore, an album of 1,000 30-ish second tracks.

“That went really well, it went viral around the world,” says Lee. “It’s had nearly a million streams, which sounds really, really good, but we’ve had about 450 quid in terms of royalties. So, no, it hasn’t been a great money-spinner but it has gained us a lot of fans and helps us to raise this issue.”

The one-off $2m Wu-Tung Clan album sold on by the US government

Wu-Tang Clan member RZA, an executive producer of the Hulu miniseries "Wu-Tang: An American Saga," poses for a portrait during the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)
Image:
Pic: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/2019

As Vegetal Digital is released, the band will remove their back catalogue from streaming services; if it does go for £1 million, it could become the most expensive album ever sold in the UK. However, Once Upon A Time In Shaolin, the seventh album by American hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan, holds the title of most expensive in the world.

An early stand against streaming, the group made just one physical copy which sold for $2 million (about £1.3m at the time) to pharma company executive Martin Shkreli in 2015. Shkreli, however, was jailed in 2017 – and last year, the US government confirmed it had sold the one-of-a-kind album to help pay off the $7.36 million the businessman was ordered to forfeit after being convicted of fraud.

According to a 2019 article by music company HMV, the top five most expensive albums chart is a Beatles-heavy list; after Once Upon A Time In Shaolin are copies of The Beatles (the White Album), Elvis Presley’s My Happiness, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy.

But could Vegetal Digital become an unlikely contender for the number two spot? A £1 million sale would place it ahead of the first mono pressing of the White Album, sold by Ringo Starr at auction in December 2015 for $790,000 (about £521,000 at the time).

“I’m excited to see it and hear it,” says Dave Burgess, manager at Empire Records. “We certainly haven’t had [a record selling at this price] before. It’s really interesting and exciting. I jumped at the opportunity to get on board.”

Lee is documenting the band’s unique story in a film, entitled Inspired The 30 Second Song Movie, which is set to be released in December.

He hopes a million-pound sale will be part of it. Could a big-name artist be the one to invest?

“Well, I did message Taylor Swift on Instagram, invited her to the launch,” he says. “Maybe we’ll see her there.”

Vegetal Digital, by The Pocket Gods, is on sale from Tuesday 4 October, only available at Empire Records in St Albans

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Refusing mandatory National Service won’t lead to prison, home secretary says after Tory policy launch

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Refusing mandatory National Service won't lead to prison, home secretary says after Tory policy launch

Nobody would go to jail for refusing to comply with National Service under a Conservative government, the home secretary has said.

In the Conservatives’ first policy announcement of the general election campaign, Rishi Sunak said on Saturday he would introduce a new form of mandatory National Service for 18-year-olds if his party wins the vote in July.

They would be given the choice of a full-time military placement for 12 months or a scheme to volunteer for one weekend a month for a year.

The announcement came two days after defence minister Dr Andrew Murrison told the Commons the government has “no plans” to reintroduce National Service and doing so would “damage morale, recruitment and retention and would consume professional military and naval resources”.

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Cleverly questioned on National Service plan

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‘Refusing National Service won’t lead to jail’

The military option would be selective but questions have arisen over whether any teenager who refuses to do either option would be punished.

Talking to Sky News’s Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips, Home Secretary James Cleverly said: “There’s going to be no criminal sanctions, nobody’s going to jail over this.”

He added that “nobody will be compelled to do the military element” but said those who do will be paid – while those who choose to volunteer will not be paid.

Mr Cleverly said the main point of the policy is to make sure “people mix with people outside their bubble” for “community cohesion”.

He said those who choose the military option “will be motivated to join the military” after spending a year with the Armed Forces.

Mr Sunak released a video on TikTok on Sunday explaining the new policy to young adults.

No plans to reintroduce National Service

The military service announcement came just two days after defence minister Dr Andrew Murrison answered a question from fellow Conservative Mark Pritchard about whether an assessment had been made to reintroduce National Service.

Dr Murrison said: “The government has no current plans to reintroduce National Service.”

He said the “demanding, increasingly technical, nature of defence” means highly trained, professional men and women are needed to best defend the country.

“If potentially unwilling National Service recruits were to be obliged to serve alongside the professional men and women of our Armed Forces, it could damage morale, recruitment and retention and would consume professional military and naval resources,” he said.

Dr Murrison added that if National Service recruits were in separate units it would be “difficult to find a proper and meaningful role for them, potentially harming motivation and discipline”.

‘Surprise’ policy move dreided as ‘deeply cynical’ by defence insider


Deborah Hayes

Deborah Haynes

Security and Defence Editor

@haynesdeborah

The prime minister appears to have had what some insiders regard as a belated epiphany about the critical importance of defence – and now even National Service.

It was just four months ago that Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson slapped down the outgoing head of the army for advocating the need for civilians to be trained to fight given the dangers of living in what the defence secretary has called “a pre-war world”.

General Sir Patrick Sanders had simply been using a speech to state a blunt reality – war and preparing for war is a whole-nation effort as demonstrated daily by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, where Ukrainian citizen soldiers are fighting and dying on the frontline.

Rather than support him, a Downing Street spokesperson at the time said that “hypothetical scenarios” involving possible wars were “not helpful” and ruled out any move towards a conscription model for the military.

Read full analysis here

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Cohesive society

Despite this clear rejection of the idea, the Conservatives have made it their first new major policy announcement.

Mr Cleverly said: “We want to build a society where people mix with people outside their own communities, mix with people from different backgrounds, different religions, different income levels.

“The bulk of this is about helping build a cohesive society where people mix outside their bubble.”

The Conservatives said the National Service programme would cost £2.5bn a year and would be funded by cash previously used for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and cracking down on tax avoidance and evasion.

Read more on Sky News:
Labour could lose votes on defence – but probably not because of Sunak’s big bet on security

James Cleverly speaking to Trevor Phillips on Sky News
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James Cleverly speaking to Trevor Phillips on Sky News

But Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, Liz Kendall, accused the policy of being “yet another unfunded spending commitment”.

She told Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips: “That UK Prosperity Fund is supposed to be used to tackle economic inactivity and helping people get back into work so that really undermines another one of their arguments.

“This is an unfunded commitment, a headline-grabbing gimmick.”

She added that it does not deal with the big challenges facing young people, and said Labour has a “fully costed, fully funded plan to give young people those real opportunities that they need to build up”.

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‘Deeply cynical’ Sunak’s ‘policy surprise’ doesn’t change the fact next PM will have no time to play politics with defence

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'Deeply cynical' Sunak's 'policy surprise' doesn't change the fact next PM will have no time to play politics with defence

The prime minister appears to have had a belated epiphany about the critical importance of defence – and now even National Service.

It was just four months ago that Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson slapped down the outgoing head of the army for advocating the need for civilians to be trained to fight given the dangers of living in what the defence secretary has called “a pre-war world”.

General Sir Patrick Sanders had simply been using a speech to state a blunt reality – war and preparing for war is a whole-nation effort as demonstrated daily by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, where Ukrainian citizen soldiers are fighting and dying on the frontline.

Read more on Russians winning production war:
Ukrainians forced to pretend in training

Rather than support him, a Downing Street spokesperson at the time said that “hypothetical scenarios” involving possible wars were “not helpful” and ruled out any move towards a conscription model for the military.

Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, the chief of the defence staff, and David Williams, the top civil servant at the Ministry of Defence (MoD), apparently even summoned General Sanders for a dressing down over the remarks.

But the army chief had not been suggesting conscription then – just as the prime minister is not doing so now.

He had simply been talking about the need for civilians to be ready to serve.

Given that context, Mr Sunak’s sudden announcement that he would introduce a new form of National Service for 18-year-olds, including the chance to spend 12 months serving in the armed forces, sent eyebrows within the MoD soaring skyward.

“Deeply cynical,” was the verdict of one insider.

Another told Sky News: “This is a policy surprise to me. I haven’t seen it discussed in the Ministry of Defence.”

The need for greater national resilience is a theme that Sky News has been exploring as part of its series Prepared for War?

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Sky News asks: Is the UK ready for war?

We revealed in April that the government has no national plan for the defence of the UK or the mobilisation of its people and industry in a war.

The rallying cry from Mr Sunak for National Service comes after he chose to make defence a central theme of his election campaign even though as prime minister and chancellor he was accused by insiders of pushing back against demands from the military for more funding.

He only finally committed last month to a timeframe for a pledge to lift defence spending to 2.5% of national income from just over 2% at present – saying this would happen by 2030.

Mr Sunak then turned on Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour party, for failing to give the same guarantee – even though that had previously been his position, too.

The main problem facing either the Conservative or Labour leader when it comes to defence is that repeated cost-saving cuts to the armed forces under both administrations since the end of the Cold War have left the UK weaker.

Russia’s full-scale war in Ukraine, growing threats from China, an increasingly aggressive North Korea, and the potential for war with Iran in the Middle East means the world is more dangerous now than at any time since the Cold War.

Read more:
Teenagers will not be jailed for evading National Service
Adam Boulton: Labour could lose votes on defence

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Could China invade Taiwan?

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This will force defence to be a priority in terms of actions rather than just words for whoever becomes the next prime minister.

In fact, their first foreign trip will likely be to Washington on 9 July – just four days after taking office – for a major NATO summit against the backdrop of looming US presidential elections and a potential return of Donald Trump to the White House.

Goals for the summit – which will mark 75 years of the alliance – will include a collective bolstering of defences and resilience to deter external threats as well as a need to demonstrate internally to Mr Trump that NATO is value for money.

Given the gravity of the moment, there will be no time for playing politics with defence.

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Nicki Minaj’s show at Co-op Live in Manchester postponed after star’s arrest in Netherlands

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Nicki Minaj's show at Co-op Live in Manchester postponed after star's arrest in Netherlands

Nicki Minaj’s concert at the Co-op Live arena in Manchester, attended by thousands of fans, has been postponed at the last minute after she was arrested hours earlier in the Netherlands.

The American singer and rapper, 41, was held at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on suspicion of possession of soft drugs.

And fans had been let into the Manchester indoor venue on Saturday evening despite the star’s detention.

A post on the arena’s X account said shortly after 5.15pm: “Please note that general admission and premium doors for tonight’s Nicki Minaj show will now open at 19:00.”

What’s going on at Manchester’s Co-op Live?

Minaj was later released from custody just before 9pm but she will have to pay an undisclosed fine for “illegally exporting soft drugs from the Netherlands to another country”, Dutch police told Sky News.

Despite her release, she was not able to make it to Manchester and the gig will be moved to a later date with a statement from promoters Live Nation saying: “Tickets will remain valid for the rescheduled performance which will be announced ASAP.”

More on Nicki Minaj

It added: “Despite Nicki’s best efforts to explore every possible avenue to make tonight’s show happen, the events of today have made it impossible. We are deeply disappointed by the inconvenience this has caused.”

In a series of social media posts on X and Instagram, Minaj earlier claimed police said they found drugs in her luggage after items were checked by customs.

She wrote on X that “they said they found weed”. She also claimed “they took my luggage without consent” and “they’re trying to keep me from MANCHESTER”.

The messages also included one where she wrote: “This is Amsterdam btw, where weed is legal.”

The Co-op Live in Manchester. Pic: PA
Image:
The Co-op Live arena in Manchester. Pic: PA

The star, whose hit songs include Starships, Super Bass and Anaconda, also filmed what appeared to be an airport official asking her to have her luggage checked.

Minaj later wrote: “It’s a 45 minute to an hour flight. So they’re probably trying to stall for about 4 hours.”

And she added: “Now they said I have to go 5 mins away to make a statement about my security to the police precinct.”

Asked about Minaj, Robert van Kapel, a spokesman for the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee military police, earlier told Sky News’ US partner network NBC News: “We can confirm that we have arrested a 41-year-old American woman at Schiphol Airport because of possession of soft drugs.”

Fans of the singer expressed their dismay at the decision to postpone the concert.

“Die-hard Nicki fan” Charu, who had travelled from Liverpool for the show, said the evening was “so ridiculously disappointing”.

“My sister and I had been looking forward to this for months. I’m in the middle of taking my medical school exams and I had been working around this day and was so looking forward to it,” they said.

“People around us said they’d travelled from Ireland and Scotland, paid for hotels for the night in Manchester, which is not cheap.

“So the fact that tickets will be refunded or still valid for another concert doesn’t really put into perspective the time and money that we have all spent on this night.”

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They added: “Her team surely would have known that the concert tonight was not going to be possible but to wait until 9.30pm to let us know feels disrespectful of our time and efforts.”

Charu said that concert-goers were “sobbing” after the announcement, and they will not be getting their hopes up about attending the rescheduled concert.

“Whenever she may postpone it to, it isn’t guaranteed that people can take time off work, be able to afford trains, flights, hotels to be able to make it to the show. It’s just very disappointing and upsetting.”

As part of her Pink Friday 2 World Tour, Minaj is due to perform in Birmingham on Sunday, followed by a concert at London’s O2 arena next Tuesday.

Then on Wednesday, she is due to play in Glasgow followed by a gig on Thursday, again at the Co-op Live in Manchester.

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The beleaguered £365m arena – the UK’s largest indoor entertainment venue – opened earlier this month after it was plagued by a series of problems.

There had been weeks of setbacks, cancellations and postponements, before live music finally got under way there on 14 May when Manchester rock band Elbow took to the stage.

The problems included part of the building’s ventilation and air conditioning system falling to the ground from the ceiling during a soundcheck in early May.

The 23,500-capacity venue was initially due to fully open with two Peter Kay stand-up shows on 23 and 24 April, but these dates were pushed back when problems emerged at a test event headlined by Ricky Astley.

The arena then planned for US rapper A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie to open the arena on 1 May, but it was called off just over an hour before his performance and after doors had opened to fans – because the ventilation system became detached.

The ventilation issue meant scheduled performances by US pop star Olivia Rodrigo and British band Keane were postponed, while a series of shows by Take That were moved to the AO Arena in Manchester.

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