‘We can be an exciting and dynamic city – with the right leadership and a more enlightened approach’
Radio presenter, writer, musician – Miles Salter knows his way around York’s cultural scene.
He was director of York Literature Festival from 2008 to 2016, and currently presents The Arts Show on Jorvik Radio. Miles also fronts the York-based band Miles and The Chain Gang, and his third poetry book ‘Fix’ was published in 2020.
How has the pandemic affected you and in what ways have you adapted?
I’ve managed to keep going with my radio show, with thanks to the team at Jorvik Radio. We have been using online technology to keep the show going. A few months ago my third poetry collection came out. Miles and the Chain Gang have also brought out some videos. Our second track was called ‘Drag Me To The Light’ and it was about the sensations around lockdown one in spring 2020. So it’s not been a total disaster, but everybody in the city feels the absence of art and culture. York Theatre Royal is closed, no festivals have happened, buskers are not in the streets. It’s really sad.
What have been the most difficult and most uplifting experiences from the past 12 months?
The most difficult has been the absence of human contact. People are talking now about ‘skin hunger’ – needing a hug and to be touched. Art and culture is very close to that – humans are social animals. We all miss gigs, going to a comedy show, going to a pub. We’re close to a year in now and people have said this most recent lockdown has been really hard. It’s really affecting people. I used to say to people ‘there’s always something going on in York’. To lose over the last year is incredibly hard for everybody.
How will York’s cultural scene have been changed by what’s happened?
My fear is that it will take a long time to recover. City Screen is a wonderful venue – will it reopen?
I think York’s cultural scene has really lost a lot of ground in the last two years. The big step back, for me, was when the Great Yorkshire Fringe stopped. They said they struggled to pay the rents they were being asked to provide. I feel angry that more wasn’t done to help them. I long for a council and for Make It York to really get behind festivals. Somebody I know said they attended an online meeting recently that the council set up to discuss art and culture in York, but it was quite clear a lot of the councillors were not that bothered. It’s hugely frustrating.
It was clear to me when I ran York Literature Festival that an arts festival in York has huge potential, and I think the Literature Festival’s relative success, along with the Aesthetica Film Festival and the Great Yorkshire Fringe showed what could be achieved. But it could be very frustrating trying to secure support. We need dynamic leadership from the council and Make It York to make it a reality. If you look at the cultural leaders in the city – Harkirit Boparai and Joe Coates at The Crescent, Delma Tomlin at NCEM, Cherie Federico at Aesthetica, Chris Sherrington at The Fulford Arms, Tim Hornsby, – they are all independent of the council, digging their own turf, as it were. But with council support, we could really make things happen in a big way.
What have been your cultural highlights in York?
Running York Literature Festival was great – a real buzz. We had some great gigs with Simon Armitage, Kate Atkinson, Carol Ann Duffy, Will Self, Andrew Motion, Jenni Murray, Germaine Greer, Michael Portillo. It’s sad to see the festival lose its way in recent years. They got into a partnership with Make It York that was a disaster. Some very poor decisions were made. I hope it bounces back.
Presenting The Arts Show is great fun, and I learn a lot. I get to talk to artists from York and beyond, and it’s really good. We try to talk about what is happening in York as often as possible, and try to be as wide ranging in our coverage. Jorvik are really good at supporting local talent – they play local bands and musicians every day, and I think that’s brilliant.
I love playing with my band, too. We’re really good! We’d like to get back to gigs soon. We’ve been recording with Jonny Hooker at Young Thugs Studios and that has been fantastic. They’re a great resource, and bands are heading there from all over the north of England. As Jonny says, there’s a huge amount of talent here.
What do you think York’s cultural scene is missing – or what would you change?
I’d love to see a big festival, perhaps in the summer, that encompasses comedy, music and literature. Our version of Edinburgh. That would be fantastic. I think if it was done well and marketed well, people would flock to it from all over the UK. But again – it needs proper support. The Great Yorkshire Fringe was really onto something – it’s criminal that we lost it. A big festival in August, with LOADS happening. That’s what we need. It would be so positive for the city.
What are your hopes and fears for York’s cultural scene in the future?
I hope we bounce back from where we are. I’d like to see a council and Make it York really get behind arts and culture locally. We can be an exciting and dynamic city – with the right leadership and a more enlightened approach.
Anything you would like to add?
We’re the city that first printed ‘Tristram Shandy’. Robinson Crusoe (the character) was from York. W H Auden was from here. So was Frankie Howerd. Kate Atkinson’s first book was about York. Nevil Shute worked in York. Judi Dench grew up here. John Barry (who wrote the James Bond music) also has links to the city. Wilkie Collins wrote about York. Pink Floyd played here, so did The Beatles. Think of the stories connected with the city – Dick Turpin, Guy Fawkes, the impact of the Quakers, Chocolate – we really need to celebrate our cultural links and remember how brilliant the city is. There’s only one York.