‘I grew up with Bono’: Rock critic lines up celebrity chats to boost coffers at Arts and Media School, Islington
- Credit: Archant
At Arts & Media School Islington, there is a parent and teacher association that organises fundraising events for pupils’ extra-curriclar activities.
Earlier this year, one parent, Neil McCormick, had a left-field brainwave.
He conceded that, while he can’t bake cakes, he does know a lot of musicians.
Neil, 55, is the Daily Telegraph’s chief pop music critic. Why not make use of his contact book and host a talk at the school?
Neil, whose son Finn is a Year 7 pupil at the school in Turle Road, Finsbury Park, even knows Bono from his childhood.
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And while he couldn’t call on the U2 superstar for the recent talk, he was able to persuade Spandau Ballet founder Gary Kemp to discuss his career in front of 140 excited parents and superfans: three women flew in from Italy and one from Israel.
To Neil, what stood out with 56-year-old Mr Kemp – aside from his successful music and acting career – were his working-class roots growing up in Essex Road.
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When looking at the current roster of pupils at the school, he saw many have a similar background to the Spandau star.
“The school has a very working-class intake of pupils,” he says.
“It has 70 per cent on school dinners and that’s incredibly high for this country. Some parents may not be able to afford every type of extra-curricular activity.
“I think the school is given a wide berth as it dedicates a bit more time to arts, theatre, dance, music etc. That isn’t supported by the current government.
“I work in creative arts and I believe in the importance of this. So I was motivated to use my contacts to give that extra input so the kids can go on trips, and play instruments. Access to this is too often restricted by income.
“That’s why I got in touch with Gary Kemp. He has a working-class background and understands the value of the arts. He went to a theatre school and it opened his horizons.”
By all accounts, Mr Kemp was “stopped in his tracks” on the night as Year 11 pupils Charlie Raphael-Campbell and Evon Banton performed a rendition of Spandau classic Through The Barricades.
Scarily for most involved, it was released in 1986, 14 years before Charlie and Evon were born.
The night was such a success, raising £1,700, that Neil, of Ossian Road, Stroud Green, is planning a series of further talks. Film composer David Arnold and ex-Undertone singer Feargal Sharkey are both in the pipeline. Ashley Grey, the school’s community arts director, can’t wait to see who Neil can produce next.
“It was an amazing evening,” she told the Gazette. “It exceeded all our expectations and I hope it’s the first of many.
“We had three women fly in from Italy, and one from Israel. And there was us thinking it would be a strictly local event!
“He said to us: ‘I can’t bake cakes but I know a few musicians’. We had no idea he was a music journalist and it was amazing that he could pull in Gary.”
Part of the £1,700 raised from the £10 tickets will subsidise 15 Year 10 Spanish pupils to go on a trip to Barcelona.
Of the 15, 10 are on school meals and for some have never been abroad before.
To complement their GCSE studies, they will get to soak up the Catalan culture with flamenco dancing, food tasting and art exhibitions.
Ms Grey said: “We want to ensure every child gets equal opportunities, regardless of background. That’s what all schools should be about.
“A lot of kids are talented but we are mainly about giving them confidence through the arts. We don’t necessarily produce West End stars, but people who can be creative in what they choose to do.”
Neil admitted he had his work cut out for him finding someone to follow Mr Kemp.
But, he added, “there’s a rich hunting ground of celebrities in north London.
“This school had a bad reputation going back 10, 15 years ago. Now it has turned itself around. It has an incredible arts and extra-curricular culture and it needs to be put to use.”