exclusive interview STEVE COOKE a master-chef all across the arts

exclusive interview

STEVE COOKE  a masterchef all across the arts

by Norman Warwick

I remember Steve Cooke as a huge Manchester United fan, multi faceted arts lover, writer, facilitator and champion of the Rochdale  arts scene . Since we last saw each other more than seven years ago now, I know you have continued to run the all across the arts page in The Rochdale Observer and have enjoyed success with the Stories We Could Tell project and your work with Vibe. So, WHO is Steve Cooke these days and how have things changed, or remained the same for him?

Steve Cooke is a dad and granddad who is lucky enough to live in the same building as his daughter and granddaughter. A house built in the 1820s with a view of the Pennines.

Being a fan of Manchester United since the mid 1960s I have enjoyed a roller coaster ride from the Busby days of George Best, Dennis Law and Bobby Charlton, winning the European Cup, through relegation, I was there on the day that Dennis Law scored for Manchester City! Through the barren 1980s into the glory Fergie years up to the current Glazer shambles that has turned our club into a commercial brand rather than a football cup.

I feel blessed that at the age of 70 I am very actively involved in two projects that bring me huge satisfaction ands fill my days with wonderful people:

AATA is now established as a go-to hub of positivity celebrating the creative community in print and on digital platforms. The AATA Column has a home in the local papers The Rochdale Observer and The Heywood and Middleton Guardian with a full page twice per week. Plus, a two-page spread quarterly in the Rochdale Style Magazine. AATA has a stable of 8 excellent contributory writers and strong links with such as Oldham Coliseum, Bolton Octagon, Touchstones Art Gallery, Manchester International Festival, The Contact Theatre, HOME Manchester, Toad Lane Concerts, Rochdale Musical Theatre Company and a whole raft of local writing groups, art groups and the wider local creative community. The digital platform allacrossthearts.com has a global readership and is shared across social media: Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin.

young musicians rehearsing at Vibe

Stories We Could Tell has been rebranded as VIBE, a provider of support through creativity for young people with mental health challenges. We are currently working with circa 30 youngsters from 10-26 years of age. These young people develop their creativity alongside 8 professional artists from across the arts spectrum. We have just secured a contract with the NHS to continue our work for the next three years. Vibe has received national recognition and we regularly share our story on Zoom with mental health professionals across the country. We have recently set up Vibecast. An in-house film-making project lead by a professional filmmaker. Our first short film can be viewed on our website vibecreativity.com. It tells the story of how our young people worked alongside a mural artist from Bristol to decorate the shutters at the front of our premises.

Five years isn´t really such a long time, but in that period, we have suffered a global pandemic and dark clouds of uncertainty, that led to a lockdown of the arts of course, and kept most of us indoors for months and months, as well a war in Europe threatening to go nuclear.  WHAT impact did that have on a town like Rochdale with its revenue funded artists and so many venues and live events on its curriculum?

The local creative community struggled through difficult times but is now developing a new ‘normal’ that in many ways stronger. Not only have our writing groups survived but there is a new kid on the block with Falinge Writers led by the wonderful Eileen Earnshaw that has just published a collection of poetry under the guidance of the equally wonderful Seamus Kelly. Toad Lane Lunchtime Concerts are up and running with an expanded weekly audience, Touchstones has been refurbished and the Art Gallery is putting on nationally recognised exhibitions alongside celebrating the work of local artists through such as The Football Arts Prize. Rochdale Musical Theatre Company has breathed new life into local iconic venue The Champness Hall with productions such as The Producers. All the above and more are brought to the attention of the wider public through AATA with the aim of not only celebrating our creative community but engaging as many people as possible from across our diverse community as participants and supportive observers.

Last I knew when I left the UK you were a mover and shaker with the very important LInk4Life arm of the local council. WHEN did the re-branding take place and how effective has it been?

I have recently resigned from the board of Your Trust [fka Link4Lfe] to concentrate on AATA and VIBE as I enter my 8th decade. I am pleased to say that the organisation is now in a much healthier state than it was when I joined. The creative community is now at the centre of its arts and culture arm. The rebranding has given Your Trust a welcome boost as it reengaged with the people of Rochdale as they emerged from lockdown.

So in WHAT ways has Link4Life been able to support the arts in the Borough throughout such difficult times?

Through a much more community-based Touchstones and regular consultation with and involvement of the local creative community. The deputy CEO of Your Trust has been seconded to RBC to head up the borough’s Culture Policy and is bringing in sizeable grants to promote wider inclusivity.

I heard you had some funding success with Stories We Could Tell project. WHEN did that come about and what benefits has it brought about?

As mentioned earlier we have secured a three-year contact with Greater Manchester Shared Services funded by the NHS. We have been funded by the local CCG for the past four years. This has enabled us to secure town centre premises, build an audio and visual recording studio, equip a multi-arts workshop and engage 8 highly skilled profession creatives. Most importantly we now run 3 3-hour sessions each and every week with a fourth in the pipeline. This is backed up by regular contact with Vibe Members through Zoom and all the usual social media platforms.

I remember when we were working together presenting all across the arts in The Rochdale Observer, and latterly on Crescent Radio, you and I seemed to be at different venues all the time, conducting interviews or writing reviews. WHERE do you base yourselves these days and in what sort of places are you most often finding yourself?

I base myself at VIBE, the two organisations are symbiotically related. The rest of my work is done from home on laptop, tablet, and phone with regular excursions to local coffee bars. In addition I regularly attend press nights across Greater Manchester.

I do know that we always felt we were surrounded by some pretty good people, like Eileen Earnshaw, Seamus Kelly , Robin Parker, Ray Stearn etc.  (shown right with others) Every news item i see about them is very positive, so would you like to give your appraisal to readers of Sidetracks and Detours of the current state of health of Rochdale and its arts scene? I remember I felt I was part of something important when working with you.  WHY do you think all across the arts is important, and what are your hopes for its future? It must surely be playing an important role in the resurgence of the arts in Rochdale after all that has gone on.

All of the above alive and well and still at the top of their game. Many of them, like Eileen, Robin and Seamus  (shown left, helping Emma on a writing project)have been involved in the creation of the book One World One Chance, and are shown here with other contributors. They are all contributors to the AATA Column and Seamus is one of the VIBE artists. And, of course,  I think that creativity and the arts are essential to individual and community well-being. Engagement as active participants, either as creatives or supporters, is important.

No wonder, then, Steve was so delighted to announce news on his page recently about the forthcoming Rochdale Folk Festival.

During Rochdale Folk Festival 2022 readers and folk fans  will find out bout a multitude of free live music at many of our excellent town centre establishments, including: The Flying Horse, The Medicine Tap, The Baum, Hoochi Koochi, Vicolo Del Vino, Touchstones, St Mary in the Baum.

Check it all out at https://rochdalefolkfestival.co.uk/

Among the many outstanding artists you can enjoy for free are Bryony Griffith & Alice Jones who will be performing at the Medicine Tap On Friday 10 June. They are a powerful new duo hailing from the close-knit communities of West Yorkshire. They have a contemporary style  and a unique repertoire of harmony, history and Northern banter, featuring Fiddle, Harmonium, Tenor Guitar and intricate close-harmony vocals.

While over at the Flying Horse you will find Drop The Floor. They came together in 2012 through a shared love of traditional, particularly Irish, music. The group’s spiritual home is in the back room of a well known public house nestled at the foot of Clitheroe Castle.

There will also be outdoor pop-up entertainment around Rochdale, over the weekend Sat 11 and Sun 12 June, including: morris dancing, music, singing and circus skills displays. You will find them on Baillie Street, Riverside and The Butts.

All this will a nice synergetic follow on from Littleborough Art Festival that takes place a couple of weeks earlier. The organisers refer to their location as A Little Town Of Artists, and explained why on press release that was received by Steve Cooke in Rochdale at all across the arts, and by Sidetracks And Detours here on Lanzatote, which we reproduce in full, below, for our UK readers.

Saturday 14th May to Friday 27th May – ‘A Little Town of Artists’

Littleborough is a place of great creativity and artistic talent. To celebrate this, we will be exhibiting a series of artworks by local artists in many of the windows and interiors of our local shops and cafes. Whilst out on your weekly shop, please take a moment to enjoy the variety of work on display.

We would also like to invite you to join in and show off your creations in your own windows. If you are in need of inspiration to get you started then we have created some colouring sheets of local landmarks that will be available to collect from Littleborough Library.

Saturday 14th May 7pm – Concert: O’Hooley and Tidow

Monday 16th May 1pm – Workshop: Relaxing into drawing plus little secrets & portraiture tips

Tuesday 17th May 7pm – Artist Talk: Angela Tait on Ceramics and their place in the (Art)World

Wednesday 18th May 7pm – Workshop: Upcycle your own rug out of scrap yarn

Thursday 19th May 7pm – Artist Talk: Womens’ Work

Friday 20th May 6pm – Shared Reading

Friday 20th May 6:30pm – Workshop: Chance Writing

Friday 20th May 7pm – Concert: Rosamund Brass plus support by Orladh and Leo

Saturday 21st May 12pm – Workshop: Finding Your Feet In Photography

Saturday 21st May 11am-4pm – Art in the Park

Saturday 21st May – Makers Market

Sunday 22nd May 12pm-5pm – Picnic in the Park

Sunday 22nd May – Makers Market

Sunday 22nd May – Children’s Workshop with Cat Jessop

Sunday 22nd May 1pm – Workshop: Introduction to Field Recording

Monday 23rd May 2pm – Workshop: Fashion Illustration and Life Drawing

Monday 23rd May 7pm – Artist Talk: Liz Mytton

Tuesday 24th May 7pm – Performance: We Came, We Saw, We Monologued!

Wednesday 25th May 4:30pm – Workshop: Indian folk and henna body art inspired drawing and printmaking

Thursday 26th May 7pm – Artist Talk: Lucy Wright

Friday 27th May 11am & 2pm – Workshop: Virtual Reality creative workshop in Tilt brush

Friday 27th May 4pm – Performance: Gordon MacLellan – Wild animals and wilder stories

Friday 27th May 7pm – Beasts, boggarts and nature’s wonders

One final WHERE question for you,………..WHERE the f*** do Man U go from here?

Can’t see any other solution than getting new owners.

There am I, the panic stricken dreamer, with visions of signing Mbappi and the thirty goal a season striker City are going to sign and maybe dragging Van Dyke away from Liverpool but Steve, ever the pragmatist, looks, instead, for the real nub of the problems.

There were other things of interest to emerge from our catch up interview. It was very interesting to learn that Rochdale is holding its annual folk festival again this year and we look forward to bringing you more information about that in the near futre, and we are hopeful. too, of conducting a similar interview with John Cooke, Steve´s brother, who is a fascinating visual artist and we even brought over a couple of his works to our new home when we moved here to Lanzarote seven years ago.

So, as ever, keep following sidetracks & detours and wander all across the arts, but remember that it probably isn´ t´ true that there is no direction home.

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