The following is from a speech given by Mike’s brother, Tim, at the launch of the Trust at Rawlins Community College on 23rd May 2013
Hello everyone. Thanks so much for coming.
In the leaflet we’ve published to announce the Trust, I’ve said a few words about my brother and our thinking behind the charity we’ve set up in his name. Rather than repeat the story so far – which is a simple one, really, about Mike, and the students that worked with him, and wanting to keep the spirit of his work and music going – I thought I’d talk a little about what the trust might achieve. Like my brother, I’m a musician. I’m lucky enough to work full-time as a writer and composer, and this has happened in no small part thanks to the wonderful arts education that my brother and I shared – in Leicestershire and elsewhere. So these are some thoughts on how important that experience was for us both.
There’s a worrying trend at the moment for thinking of the arts, and education in the arts, as a sort of luxury we can do without if circumstances dictate. Usually for students of the arts this attitude is presented to us as a sort of benign tolerance – sure, we’ll let you have your little concerts or films, we’ll indulge you. But in recent years the talk around the value of the arts has shifted to a much more worrying place, often towards a dismissal of anything that isn’t profit-driven. And I think here, at the launch of a charity dedicated to giving students the resources to develop their skills in music and media, it’s worth saying why I believe such things are not just important, but essential to a healthy life.
What place do the arts have in a modern education, what do they give to the individual, to communities? It seems bizarre that we even have to ask. For me, it’s like asking what place maths has, or the study of history. Evidence suggests that human beings have been making art for roughly 40,000 years, give or take the odd millennia. Longer than we’ve had buildings, or roads, or money.
But we’ve never worked out precisely why it is we do it. Or at least, there’s no unifying reason. That makes it difficult to quantify, to value, to celebrate without reservation. I’ve no doubt that back in the caves of our ancestors, someone looked at the pictures of mammoths and gazelles scrawled on the stone walls and said “hmmph. My seven-year-old could do that.” But that’s also why the arts are brilliant and alive: they’re essential because we don’t need them.
That might sound confusing. Let me try to explain. Culture has always been about everything we don’t need, as opposed to the things we really, really do need in order to survive. We need to eat, but we don’t need Tournedos Rossini or cheese on toast. We need to keep warm, but we don’t need Top Shop or Vivienne Westwood. We need to speak, but we don’t need to speak French. Rather, culture is what we do to make sense of being alive, rather than just staying alive. It’s what we’re fighting for. And the arts, the study of the arts, are the practical, building, designing wing of culture. They’re not where we learn to talk, but they’re where we learn to tell stories to each other. Where we sing songs, pretend to be other people for one tiny moment, and turn our dreams into lessons for life. All these things happen at Rawlins and its family of schools.
So these are all lovely sentiments but they don’t change the fact that we’re often asked to balance the ‘value’ of the arts against the necessities of life. So, why should our children study the arts? Why should we contribute funds towards further arts experiences? Why should we spend time and effort on what some people see as a distraction, a luxury, a drain on resources? The answer is simple, so simple I’m amazed I even have to say it. Our children should study the arts because it will make them happy.
It’s been said that to be truly happy in life one should cultivate an obsession. I don’t think it even has to be an obsession. The arts can make it a flirtation, a passing fad, a fleeting glimpse. Any one of those can be just as rewarding in their own way. Some people think of the study of the arts as leading, by default, to the X Factor or Hollywood, to something big and brash and public. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things, I’m not denigrating those modern dreams for a second, but what I’m saying is that artistic discipline doesn’t have be about fame and fortune alone. Part of learning how to be an artist is about learning to do it honestly – and this is where I bring it all back to my brother, and how he used his undeniable talents.
My brother was like thousands of people in this world. He spent many years becoming an amazing musician. He was changed by his art, and changed people around him through his dedication to it. He had a job, and he made his music in and around it, making his music better, bit by bit. Quietly and honestly, he created something that made sense of the world to him, just like the millions of others who go to the office by day, then step into the lights come the evening. Their reasons are a million-fold, and all of them intensely personal. Mike got up on stage night after night and played the drums. He wasn’t rich, he wasn’t famous, but one thing I know for sure: he was happy as a king.
It’s a fool’s game to value the arts only when they’re widely visible. A bit like saying language only works when you’re shouting at the top of your voice. For people to learn, you need time and space, the opportunity to fail as well as to triumph. That’s what I hope the Mike Atack Trust can provide for the Rawlins family of students. The ability to try out something new, plain and simple.
Back in the 70s the film director Francis Ford Coppola was asked how he saw the future of cinema. He said that due to the growth in new technology, he hoped some fat little girl in Ohio would pick up a video camera and suddenly become the next Mozart. I think, as far as the Trust is concerned, finding the next Mozart is a perfectly valid ambition – indeed, helping the careers of the next Adele, or Miranda Hart, or Tracey Emin, or Helen Mirren… all of that would be wonderful. But for me, it would be utterly wonderful if the Trust were simply to contribute, in some small way, to the profound happiness of the next Mike Atack.
So in the coming weeks we’ll be launching our first round of applications. We’ll be learning, too: as we work out how best to make the invitations to you, how not to cramp your style, how to keep the trust’s ambitions realistic and sustainable. Most of us on the board are new to this as well, you see. But we hope it’ll be fun.
In the meantime keep an eye on our slowly evolving website www.mikeatacktrust.org, and we’d love to hear if you have suggestions or ideas for fundraising, projects or any madcap schemes you think are right for the charity. So many people have been working like crazy behind the scenes and I’d like to thank as many as I can now – Stella Thornton, Vicky Carter-Bland, Ruth Neale, Ted Ragg, David Phillips, Callum Orr, Mike Welsh, and Tanuja Amarasuriya. Our logo was designed by Clare McEwan, the Mike Atack Studio sign by member of staff Jenny Baldwin and post-16 student Harleigh Fisher, and our pamphlet by Chris Moore. The Charities Commission team here at Rawlins have been doing fantastic work, and much of what you see tonight, on the tables around you, the limited edition keyrings and the raffle, would not have happened without them. And then there’s another group of people to whom props are particularly due. Yes. Immense props.
Tomorrow at about 12.30 a team of cyclists –
David Phillips, David Muschialli, Michael “Fit” Fenton, Olly Bloor, Cathy “The Machine” Carlisle, Alex Cufflin, Ted Ragg, Aaron Newby, James Tobin, Gavin Brewin, Dave Coley, and Callum Orr (yes, not ‘A’ Callum Orr, ladies and gentlemen, THE Callum Orr) with support from Sarah Hammond and Stella Thornton
– will be setting out on a fantastic and, quite frankly, terrifying ride from here to Paris. What muscles I have left are aching just thinking about it. We hope you can join us to show your support for this foolhardy and quite brilliant mission. And if you can’t be there, let me point you towards www.justgiving.com/themikeatacktrust
The magnificent Ted Ragg is in the process of arranging what we hope will be a sunny open-air concert for Quorn this coming July 7th, with acts including Sounds Of Simon and The Fentones. So put the date in your diaries. It’s going to be called Atack The Rock.
Sorry if there’s anyone I’ve missed out. But to all these fine people, and to all the staff and students at Rawlins, and everyone who has contributed so generously – Bethan and the whole Atack clan are honoured and so, so grateful that all this fantastic work is happening in Mike’s name. No doubt: he’d be chuffed. You’ve done him proud.