Steve - ok, but please bear in mind that noticing Emperors Garments is as subjective as any other opinion, and it's not shared by all. You don't happen to like some of the 'top' acts - but that doesn't make them fools or charlatans - which is, of course, the point of Hans Christian Andersen's fable. You've every right to feel that your opinion trumps that of Jools Holland, Later's producers, lots of other artists, other folk experts, and many thousands of fans, but it doesn't mean those artists are in fact nekkid. If we think they're good, then they are. Period.
As for believing one's own hype, I think most performers will tell you they have to manage an uncomfortably dualistic opinion around that. You do have to nurture self-belief. If you don't carry on as though you're good you'll never get any gigs. And if you didn't believe that the audience will think you're good, you'd never step on a stage. Yet at the same time you're secretly ginning to yourself, thinking, as you lurch into the wings with the applause ringing in your ears; hee hee - fooled 'em again!
The Peter Principle really does rule - albeit with various glass ceilings on the way up that can only be broken by good fortune coupled with huge effort. And once through each level, no-one expects their luck to last. You just make the best of it while you're there, expecting any minute to crash back down - and I know life-long, successful artists who still feel exactly that.
Al - this is tricky, because I'm having trouble following your logic. Tony and Una are good friends of mine too, and they are indeed excellent at what they do. Una has a really really lovely voice, and Tony's a very fine guitar player. They work damn hard and deserve much more success. But they're not being deliberately overlooked, they've just not had that kind of good fortune so far (but health, happiness and singing for a living is good fortune too, no?)
Making records that get played on the radio is a fine art - and even then luck is a major player. I get lots of plays on local radio, but never found the formula for Harding. That's partly about my repertoire, partly about my profile, partly about the way I managed my career but probably mainly about my voice - which is just not Radio 2. No point in being bitter about it. I'm just hugely grateful that two years into retirement I still get a decent PRS check every quarter from the radio plays I still do get.
The village hall thing is not a gift from some Emperor's Aide at the arts council. It's a spectacularly challenging game - in direct competition with jazz bands, puppeteers, novelists, circus acts, classical quartets - you name it, which requires all sorts of skills that great musicians don't automatically possess - around creating product, marketing, branding, pitching, negotiating - things I happen to be quite good at, so I've done a lot of halls. If T and U want some advice on what to do, tell them to give me a bell. I'd be glad to help.
You seem to believe that there is a conspiracy of gatekeepers who decide who wins and who looses. Well, there is, but they are subject to exactly the same constraints as the artists. They all - at the many different levels and tasks they engage in - want to be successful if they can get away with it, whether they are club bookers, producers, record company A+R, magazine editors. They're all looking for good, worthwhile music to feature and support. Anyone can have a go, and the same Peter Principle applies.
It's still about being in the right place at the right time - hearing that demo, or seeing that great new young act on the side stage at a festival.
In general, you have to be good, canny AND lucky. You need to put yourself in the way of good fortune. Hard work earning a crust and impressing people is seldom enough - it might pay the bills, but...
Malleable youngsters? We've all been one of those - but we learn. Questionable types? I refer you to the response I made above to Steve: Remember the difference between subjective and objective opinion. To do otherwise only brings bitterness.