Annual Lecture to the Arts Council of England, 8 February 1996
Dean Clough is the ideal starting point for my lecture. Its success is the reason I was invited to join the Arts Council as a member in 1991 and then to Chair the newly formed Regional Arts Board for Yorkshire and Humberside. Dean Clough became the first Regional Centre for the RSA when its President, HPH the Duke of Edinburgh, launched it in February last year and I was subsequently, invited to become a Vice President. What more felicitous combination of events could there have been when Lord Gowrie invited me to give the second Arts Council of England Lecture in the Annual Series he inaugurated at the RSA last year.
I am speaking as a musician and entrepreneur, but as will become very clear, primarily as a private individual. Indeed it is impossible to develop my themes without some explanation of my experience because it is that experience and the inspiration of works of genius, along with the guidance of ‘poets of the soul’ as mystics and visionaries are sometimes described, which have shaped this lecture.
In the first Arts Council lecture, Lord Gowrie made a powerful case for the public subsidy of the Arts. Of course the Arts have always been subsidised by the Church, nobility and wealthy individuals, but in place of private subsidy for private benefit; public subsidy was a recognition of the need to make the Arts a part of everyone’s life, to create a new democracy of the arts, to touch the artist in everyone. A half century of public and private funding have expanded the Arts and the Arts economy beyond anything that could have been imagined when the Arts Council began.
Towns and cities have bravely ventured into the Arts with extraordinary imagination and commitment and felt the growth in civic pride, the economic benefits of national and international recognition, and the benefits of tourism. The Arts economy is demonstrably providing economic benefits which outstrip the subsidy it receives. In a materialist society these compelling economic and secular arguments should be enough but it is our failure to touch the artist in everyone which makes the funding of the Arts a contentious subject. For man, the Arts remain a luxury or an irrelevance unworthy% of support as long as there is too little money, for health, education and welfare.
It seems that there has been a crisis of under-funding since public funding of the Arts began. That continual shortage of money may persuade us that if we can get enough money all is well. I want to explain why, I think that making the Arts a part of everyone’s life is now vital not in order to increase support for Arts Funding, but in order to secure the future of our society. It is more vital than when the Arts Council was launched in 1946.
It is a year I remember well. The war had just ended and there was a strong spirit of idealism and tile desire to create a more beautiful world which even as a schoolboy I sensed. 1946 was also the year I left school and prepared to enter the place of my dreams, as a pianist and composer. I was leaving a world in which I had felt fear, unhappiness and injustice but on one occasion I had been inspired and it was enough. It was an experience I had been prepared for by my childhood addiction to fairy stories of wonder and beauty, of miraculous transformations from scullery maid to princess, from poverty to untold riches, from ugly duckling to,white swan.
I was about eight or nine years old in St. George’s Primary, School in Bolton. One day a stranger came into the classroom with a gramophone and some records and I still remember the excitement I felt as he described the music ‘ghostly dancers mysteriously appearing and disappearing’ and then he put on a record. The sound which emerged was beautiful beyond anything I had experienced. It was Apollo’s Lyre. It thrilled and excited some inner recesses of my mind which had until then been dormant. Even though I was in public it felt as though I had made a unique and secret discovery which would change my life. From the moment of that discovery I had an insatiable appetite to listen to more and more music. At about the same age of nine, I discovered a piano on a visit to some relatives and my, obsession and delight in playing it persuaded my parents to buy one.
We lived in one small room in which everyone ate, talked, listened to the radio and my younger brothers played, but no one ever complained about the hours I spent practising every day in preparation for what I had decided would be my career. No sound I made could match the quality, of the music to which I listened but the more beautiful it was and the more remote in miraculous facility from my own technique, the harder I worked. My, passion to play was nourished by, the inspiration I experienced in listening to more and more wonderful music. It was Blake who illuminated the connection between listening and playing for me.
‘Prayer is the study of Art
Praise is the practice of Art’
My discovery of music was so enriching and intensely beautiful that I wanted to share it with everyone. Without realising it I was passionately echoing the mission of the newly formed Arts Council to make the Theatre, Opera House, Art Gallery and Concert Hall a part of everyone’s life.
The heroism and triumph of the War seemed to be sublimated in Laurence Olivier’s film of Henry V which I saw also in 1946. The inspiration of Shakespeare’s St. Crispin’s Day speech and the thrilling triumph of the Battle of Agincourt was the triumph of the disadvantaged over the advantaged. There was certainly no more powerful way of being convinced that despite my difficult start in life the future was going to be an exciting one.
I already knew how to succeed without fear of failure. It was something I had read whilst I was at school, it was ‘that the only failure is to give up trying’. I realised then that the only quality needed in life to ensure success was a refusal to accept defeat. It is that belief which has sustained my career in business and music.