Speech for Lost Arts Campaign Sept 18th National Gallery/Twelve bar Club London
The MU asked me to make a speech at the Lost Arts Campaign September on 18th 2013. Lost Arts is a campaign set up to record and protest Arts cuts, composed of several unions – the MU, Equity, BECTU, the Writers Guild of Great Britain, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), UNITE, Prospect and PCS.
We made a human chain outside the National Gallery and then moved onto the 12 Bar Club for speeches and a social. Here’s the long version of what I wrote – I ended up saying less than this in the event, editing myself as I went along due to time pressure. So this is the unexpurgated version! Please feel free to comment at the bottom of the page :
Hello, good evening. I’m a freelance musician, a flute player and a folk musician, and I was asked to speak here tonight by the Musician’s Union, for whom I’m very proud to be Chair of the Equalities committee, but I’m speaking to you tonight as a performer and as an educator. I’ve spent a lot of my working life in theatre – I worked for about thirty theatre companies as an actor and musician, and on occasion both simultaneously, so I’m also a fully paid up member of Equity.
I must apologise to Equity for not learning my words tonight, the Writers’ Guild for not editing them, and the MU for not speaking exclusively about music – but this thing is bigger and deeper than all of us.
Art matters. Art is important.
I noticed on Equity’s facebook site today that Anthony Gormley said in an article for the Telegraph that he hoped the Government realised the contribution the creative industries make to the economy. But then he said “Oh God – it is so depressing to have to fight in such utilitarian terms”
Now that really caught me – I think there’s really something in that cry – that Oh God. That’s the artist breaking through, that’s the crack where the light comes in (as Leonard Cohen says) – it’s like the crack in a Flamenco singers voice where they believe the soul breaks through – this is the soul of the artist breaking through the economic debate we are all forced to engage in, crying Oh God – there is more at stake here – and of course there is. There is a value in the arts that is beyond price, and I’m not talking about diamond encrusted skulls here, I quite like Damien Hirst, but we need to be sure we’re fighting on the right battleground.
We know the economic argument and it is very valid – for every one pound spent, six, or four, or three are created within our economy, depending on who you talk to – I keep hearing different statistics. Let’s call it a fiver. OK – we know that. Everyone knows that . We’ve told them. We keep telling them, and we must keep telling them. We know the Music Industry is broadly speaking, healthy – thanks partly to the unending efforts of our Union officials. The MU for example has just appointed our first National Organiser for Live Music, Dave Webster, who is here tonight. I’ve known Dave as a musician for years, and as a musician himself he knows how important it is to Keep Music Live.
That’s the Musicians’ Union motto, our byword, and I trust it always will be, this is one slogan that does not need re-branding. KEEP MUSIC LIVE. But that means keeping music live in our communities. In our Folk Clubs and our Concert Halls, in our colleges and conservatoires…and in our schools. We cannot have Equality without Equal opportunities, and that has to start at the beginning of our educational system, that has to start at school and music is part of that.
I am Flute Coach for Hackney Music Development Trust which is a great organisation – however all but one of my flute pupils are now paying for lessons. I am shocked by this. My scholarship pupil is 13. She had never had a proper music lesson, never learned to read music properly, and she comes from a local council estate in Hackney. She plays a beaten up old flute she was given by her school, which she has brightened up with stickers. It was tough for her to join the music programme as the other children her age were more advanced than her. But she told me that when she was offered the chance she knew, and her parents knew, that it was the one chance she would get. She practices harder and more diligently than anyone I know. She draws up multi-coloured practice charts which I’ve used as models for my adult students at Morley College, and she learns football songs by ear to play to her dad. She is creative and practical in her music-making, like all good musicians.
This Government is depriving students like her of a musical education. Now a lot of schools are academies and the VAT for state school pupils seems not to be working. In the past 20 % vat would not be charged. That 20% makes a difference if you are already struggling. In addition all music teachers are now self-employed, many on zero hours contracts like myself, and have no security of tenure or stability of income. This also has ramifications for the rarer instruments – oboe, bassoon, double bass, viola, harp. These are becoming endangered instruments, because they are very expensive to buy even as starter instruments, and in the past the county would supply the starter instrument and free lessons for a term, and lessons after that would be at very reduced fees. That is no longer the case.
When I was a child, music education was free. I had the fortune to grow up in the Leicestershire Schools of Music system, which was second to none in terms of quality and international reputation. Our General Secretary also went through the Leicestershire Schools system. In 2011 I started hearing from colleagues about what was happening to music education in Leicester. It was being dismantled. The dismantling of Leicestershire Music Service means that not many students are going to the few bands and orchestras that are left .
Which is a pity because Leicestershire Schools of Music was so successful the Venezuala Music Scheme which I’m sure many of you have heard of was copying Erik Pinkett’s famous model.
In 2011 The then Deputy Director of Education said on Radio Leicester that it didn’t matter that music education was being diminished in Leicester as only the musically elite attend music colleges. And this was coming from a socialist with real integrity – an increasingly rare animal perhaps – but I think his comment was unfortunate not least in how it was received. Leicestershire County Council subsequently rubber-stamped the dismantling of the cultural heritage we all benefitted from. Which amounts to cultural vandalism.
I’d like to read you the last paragraphs of the letter I wrote to him.
“I was extremely fortunate to receive the benefit of free and excellent music tuition under the Leicestershire County system. “My career would not have been possible without these exceptional professional teachers within a system which allowed children from all backgrounds to flourish. And I subsequently would not now be teaching at a college which has as its ethos and has from its inauguration the education of the working class. I am very much afraid that there is an awful irony inherent in your self-fulfilling prophecy that only the elite attend music college. It is absolutely certain that only the economically elite (not the artistic elite, not the naturally gifted, not those children who are talented but had the misfortune to be born into less well-off families) will be attending music college if you cut off the provision of musical education in Leicestershire, which was absolutely second to none.
It is a truism that only the musically elite attend music colleges and institutions. It should be only the musically gifted who attend music college. But the musically gifted are not restricted to the economically advantaged. Far from it. The system in Leicestershire actually allowed the genuinely gifted to rise, whatever their circumstances. It created a genuine and gifted musical elite drawn from across the county and all economic classes. This was surely an achievement to be proud of. In its place you would have an economic elite whose only claim to their musical future (and therefore the cultural and musical foundation of Britain) is their parents’ ability to buy them instruments and pay for lessons and tuition fees. Is that an achievement to be proud of? ”
I never to my knowledge received a reply.We are not just depriving our children and our educators, and our artists – we are depriving our own culture of its lifeblood. I want to get back to that cry, that “Oh God” of Gormley’s. Might we be fighting on the wrong battleground? Artists have always had a complex relationship with the state. Artists have always enjoyed, if that is the right word, both state and private patronage. How many great works of art in the National Gallery where we were protesting tonight would exist without that? Well the answer paradoxically actually would be some – fewer – but the urge to create is like a recessive gene – like red hair – you could wipe out a whole generation but cannot wipe it out completely. You can try, and lots of regimes have, and continue to do so. And lots of artists have continued creating in spite of that.
You cannot quench that cry, that O God. You can, if you think it’s the right thing to do, as one London college has recently, put up for sale Shakespeare’s first folio, for money, against the terms of the original bequest. If you think it’s the right thing to do. But Shakespeare remains with us, in the lexicon, in the plays and the sonnets, on the stage and in every newspaper you open in our everyday language. Well maybe not every newspaper. Maybe not the Sun. Although “obscene” “puking” and “undress” are all words coined by Shakespeare.
It’s a complex relationship, the one between artist and state – but it’s a symbiotic relationship. The state has always recognised the power of the artist. That is why we have a Poet Laureate. And it is also why regimes imprison artists, and worse. We remember the great poet and folk musician Victor Jara this month, who was executed in the Pinochet coup. And there are countless others, Shostakovich, Solzhenitsyn, and lately – Pussy Riot and The Belarus Free Theatre. Index on Censorship and Equity are doing great work in this respect along with Amnesty and our own MU who have been working with Justice for Colombia to shed light on the 2000 trade union activists, educators and artists who have been imprisoned without trial or assassinated in recent years. But we want to be careful in this country with our Government that we don’t fall under a sort of economic censorship. Art is not all about Celebrity, whatever that is, Reality TV whatever that is – these all have their place of course, but there’s more to it. Oh God is there more to it.
I am currently working with the Federation of Irish Societies on an oral history project and we had a training day with the musician and playwright Rib Davies through the British Library last week. Rib pointed out that until the 18th Century, history was the history of power – until the invention of the novel and writers like Dickens, Hardy and Tolstoy – social history – the history of everybody else, the history of us – effectively didn’t exist. Art tells us about our society. I’d add to that of course that Folk song has always been a forum for social history. EFDSS and the Song Collectors’ Collective are currently doing fine work archiving our incredibly rich tradition of folk song.
I’d like to return to our writers for a moment. Margaret Attwood was on the Radio this week talking about what she calls “Speculative Fiction” rather than Science fiction. We have a great tradition in this country of science fiction and of satire – I know I’m preaching to the converted here as we have the Writers Guild in attendance – but Attwood pointed out that every dystopia contains the possibility of an utopia, and vice versa. And our writers are and have always been showing us these. Not because they are propogandising, but as Attwood said – if you write a story with human beings in it, it is about human nature. Actually in some senses it’s about the roads we take, individually and collectively. Attwood said If you don’t like that road – the one you are shown through fiction – don’t go down it. Anyone who’s read “The Handmaid’s Tale” will know what she’s getting at.
And I thought of Blake – “Fantasy is a path back to reality” – and that is part of the priceless value of art surely. With all the terrible news about Syria this week one headline caught my eye – “Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we turned our backs, and towards our distant rest began to trudge” The First World War Poetry of Sassoon and Owen probably did more than anything else to enlighten my generation about the horrors of war. (More so even than the surviving soldiers, who so bravely as Sebastian Faulks points out at the end of Birdsong, largely protected the rest of us from the horrors they endured and witnessed.) The Artist in this case speaks for all of them, and all of us. And with recent events in mind perhaps it contributes to the increasing war-weariness we feel as a society.
Art matters. It does stuff. Great stuff. I’d like to quote directly from the housing trust Shelter’s website. “Shelter was founded in England in 1966 by the Reverend Bruce Kenrick, who was horrified by the state of the tenements round his Notting Hill parish. The setting up of the organisation in Scotland followed in 1968. Kenrick had formed the Notting Hill Housing Trustthree years earlier to provide decent, affordable houses to rent in the area. As slums proliferated in the inner cities, homeless families were forced into overcrowded hostels, and notorious landlords like Peter Rachman made the headlines, Kenrick saw the need for a national campaigning body to complement the work of charities providing housing. Shelter was born.
1966 was also the year that the BBC screened Ken Loach’s film about homelessness, Cathy Come Home. Watched by 12 million people on its first broadcast, the film alerted the public, the media, and the government to the scale of the housing crisis, and Shelter gained many new supporters.”
Since the first Neolithic cave painter drew a bison on a wall with pigment they weren’t just trying to decorate their apartment, pimp their pad – they were trying to literally draw the beast into their world, to manifest the beast in the hunt so that they could eat. Creative, and practical, like all good artists. They were trying to create the right conditions for their world, that’s what artists have always done. Further proof of the Neolithic’s culture and intelligence – they also invented the Neolithic stone flute!
If they hadn’t we might not be sitting here today, because, joking aside, music contributed to our evolution. We know now that music is great for creating new synaptic connections and neural pathways – plasticity of the brain as one of my students at Morley was telling me last night. The evolution of the brain, if you like. And this can happen on an individual level at any age. Adult musical education is also important.
It’s important. Art is important.
It’s important individually, collectively, educationally and in terms of Equality. I learned last week at the Women in Music conference that there is a UN resolution which states that: Cultural Diversity is as important to the health of our society as biodiversity is to our ecology. And our diversity is particularly threatened by these Arts Cuts. Over 40 % of European composers and music makers are women, yet only only 4% of commissioned works are by women. What happens as the commissions become fewer? What road do we want to take? Monitoring is so important. As Vic Bain, Chair of BASCA said at WIMUST – if we don’t know where we are, how do we know where we’re going?
That’s why LOST ARTS is so very, very important. We need to keep account. Statistics are important because they also tell a story. I hope you have a wonderful evening tonight, it is right that we have poets and musicians with us, let’s enjoy ourselves.