Monday, December 03, 2012

British Composer Awards: EXCLUSIVE! Kerry's acceptance speech that never was

Level of conviction in own genius: 6
Hours of creative activity achieved in the last 24 hours: 5
Reading / Watching: 'Electric Eden' by Rob Young  / 'The Hour', lovely classy stuff from the Beeb 
Hair day: Not bad actually, especially after emergency hairspray run in town

So I'm just back from this evening's British Composer Awards (the 10th, and going strong), held this year at the supremely blingtastic Goldsmith's Hall next to St. Paul's Cathedral (and I mean blingtastic: displaying flagons once quaffed by Charles II, rugs bigger than the floorspace of my entire flat, chandeliers with real candles that took 45 mins to light, and a ceiling the height of about 15 composers stacked on top of each other...). I have managed to get in the door for the third year running, this time in the shortlist for the Education and Community Award for my work on the Art on the Underground project 'A Lock Is A Gate', which I was cheered to hear a track from played on Radio 3 this week - all those rum Hackney kids, singing little solos on the wireless!
The after-awards drinkies and after-party (when I say after-party, I mean 10 of us sloping off to a deserted posh city bar for a final drink. NEXT YEAR I'm hosting it, Elton-John-at-the-Oscars style) was fun enough. I rocked up with Gabriel Jackson and Sarah-juicette. Good to chat to John Barber and his lovely Firefly-lass Bea, Simon Speare, Stuart King and Claire Shovelton from CHROMA, Richard Barnard (who refuse to break throughout intense questioning as to which category he had judged, PAH), various publishers, and I got some Oxford University Press gossip from super-sweet Alan Bullard. Amusingly, composer Gavin Higgins had his photo taken with Andy, insisting that he was his hipster glasses/side-parting/Top Man jacket-wearing doppelganger. Hee hee. 

I had never really thought I stood a chance of winning (though was gratified to hear that there was a skirmish over my piece in the final judging; I like to imagine that there was proper fisticuffs and bloody noses, and much using of bad words, interspersed with 'but she's a GENIUS!', hur), especially with music animateuring/composering wunderkind John Barber in there with me, but you know how these things go. You start thinking there might be a ghost of a chance, and that ghost morphs into near-future visions of getting up on that stage and making the speech of your life. So I did indeed prepare a proper, tub-thumping speech, which seemed especially right following on from last week's rather more high-profile Evening Standard Theatre Awards and the ongoing spat between Maria Miller and Nicholas Hynter. This truly was the reason I was gutted not to win (congrats though, Paul Rissmann!); I REALLY, REALLY wanted, as John Barber also told me he'd planned, to give a verbal two fingers up to Michael Gove. 

The all-round cultural hero (and overseer of the Cultural Olympiad) Ruth MacKenzie gave a simple, succinct and powerful speech about the state of the arts in this country and the EBacc proposals. I planned to do just the same: to say how fantastic it was that the Education and Community category existed at the BCAs, because there's such a rich history of music education and amateur music-making in this country, as well as a history of professional composers and performers working with various ages and abilities, from Britten and Maxwell Davies to, well, John Barber and Paul Rissmann for starters! And the reason I find it so rewarding is to see the palpable joy and sense of achievement from participants in creating their own music. And that, of course, is the key term: creating. Whether it's writing a love poem, stringing a few chords together on guitar, crafting a present for someone, or doing a sketch, there is nothing more wholly beneficial than expressing yourself through a creative medium. Which is why it's so worrying that we are in a climate where the government seem to regard the arts with such disdain. The Culture Secretary says that she agrees with Nicholas Hynter that the arts is very beneficial for the British economy; yet the cuts keep coming. Newcastle Council have cut their ENTIRE arts budget!  The Education Secretary says that of course the arts is an important subject, yet flagrantly omits this sixth pillar of learning in his proposed EBacc, saying it can be taught as an optional, more extra-curricular subject. How can he not understand that the arts is not an accessory, it's the freakin' dress (and mine was an Asos exclusive Lauren McCalmant design tonight, thanks very much)! While Hynter focused last week on British artists' contribution to the economy, it's important to remember that arts education in schools isn't JUST there to produce fantastic, exportable, tourist-magnet style artists; it's there to help send into the world imaginative scientists, creative engineers, and everything in between. We MUST keep making music, with and for everyone; I might suggest, for starters, two radical reworkings of songs, perhaps with 100 Year 4s on violin and an adult djembe ensemble, and send the recordings to my two least favourite departments of government: 'Crazy Man Michael' by Fairport Convention for the Education Secretary, and, obviously, 'How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?' for the Culture Secretary.

Ha, and there's my speech practically in full. I was pretty disappointed that no-one, apart from Ruth, stuck it to the man a bit in their speeches (not even Harrison Birtwhistle!); it was all rather bland and apolitical. It's a teeny niche we contempo musicians live in, but one with at least a Radio 3 profile and some press coverage, and surely it's worth making the most of the limelight to say your piece and stand up for music in this country. 

Mega-congrats to everyone tonight. Here's the list of winners in full!

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