Mark Tattersall

‘My dad was a GP in Durham, which is where he lived for 60-odd years until he died last February. I was lucky to grow up in a beautiful cathedral city, and I have huge affection for the North East; it was there that at quite a young age I first got into the arts. I was a school refuser at the age of 8. I was a day boy at a prep school and wouldn’t go, resenting the strict atmosphere and the academic pressure; until one of the teachers suggested I might like to join in the school play, Toad of Toad Hall, in which I played a weasel. There is no doubt that this was what got me back to school; I was hugely excited, and for the first time didn’t feel threatened. Being a weasel did it for me: I even once gave an after-dinner speech called ‘Being A Weasel’ about the importance of the arts in the young people’s lives.
Although for the rest of my education I focussed on academic studies I continued acting and learned to play the drums. I went to Sheffield University, and when I graduated in 1982 with a degree in Japanese Studies I was offered stupid money to work for an oil shipping company. The rewards were tempting, but nothing else about the job interested me. However, at university I had been playing in bands quite seriously, Sheffield in the early 1980s being at the forefront of new music with successful bands like The Human League and ABC. The band I was with had just got a recording contract with MCA, and I was thinking why would I want to go to Japan to work in the oil business?
That was when I got kicked out of the band. Sitting in a pub drowning my sorrows I got talking to some guys who said they needed a new drummer for their new album. They were called Cabaret Voltaire, an amazing band who started in 1973 and have released more than 17 albums. Not being mainstream they were far more influential than they were famous; they were pushing the boundaries of making sound, often experimenting with recording “found sounds” at a time when sophisticated synthesisers were only just becoming available. Founder member Chris Watson has gone on to be one of the world’s most famous wildlife sound recordists. We toured in the States, supported New Order at a few dates, and played many UK gigs. They were an innovative, unconventional band, and a fantastic experience for me. I was beginning to think I might make a life as a musician, but when Cabaret Voltaire took a break from recording I found work hard to come by. I auditioned for several well-known bands unsuccessfully and began to realise perhaps I wasn’t quite good enough. Then through a contact, who had a hunch I might enjoy working for a record company, I approached Muff Winwood at CBS Records. To my complete surprise I got an interested response because they were looking for someone to work internationally. I spoke French and Japanese, and had been in a band, so crucially I knew how to deal with musicians. I got the job, moved to London, and began to work in international marketing for CBS, nothing of which I had the slightest experience—another screeching left turn in my working life. But with a lot of ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ and good support from people I worked with, I soon found my life ridiculously exciting. I was working with some very famous bands of the day, and although pop wasn’t my kind of music, being around the explosion of their popularity was heady stuff. I was responsible for the international career of Bros, for example. I spent a massive proportion of my life on planes taking bands all over the world. Later, CBS was swallowed up by Sony Music, and by the end of my time there I estimated I’d boarded around 700 business flights. It was definitely a young person’s life, and I understood just how dedicated and hardworking these musicians had to be.
At the time there was a tendency for the big record companies such as Sony to take over the smaller independent labels, who were often representing innovative bands who had yet to make a breakthrough. That process could kill off the label’s originality, so at Sony we began to make deals with indies which left them alone to be creative, but we would keep the international rights. Our first deal on this basis was with Nude Records, who had just signed the brilliant Suede. Then we made a deal with Creation Records, who were chasing a little-known band called Oasis. The first time I saw them play was in a small club in Manchester, in front of about 50 people—unforgettable. We helped Creation land the deal and the rest is history—by far the biggest thing I was ever part of in the music business.
By the late 90s I realised I was doing almost the same work as I would have been doing had I been shipping oil; I had drifted away from the creative process and ended up shuffling money around. In 2000 I was offered redundancy, and although it was hard to leave this comfortable and well rewarded life, my partner Scott and I decided to sell up and move to the south of France. As contemporary art lovers we planned to reconnect with artists we knew, find new ones, and use our business and marketing skills to sell their work in our gallery. At this time, I discovered and fell in love with raku pottery and we exhibited work by both British and French ceramicists. 10 years later I began throwing pots myself, much influenced by this technique, and began to experience the art world from another angle, selling my own work instead of someone else’s. After four years of successful exhibitions in France we were missing parts of London life, so we shut up shop and returned to the UK. I became an art consultant for businesses and private clients in London. A big project I curated was called Gibson Guitartown. Artists from all over the UK were invited to produce images on real Gibson guitars and giant replicas, which were then sold by auction, the proceeds going to charity. Some of the world’s biggest recording artists put their names to it—Paul McCartney still plays a bass with the images from that project on it—and £200k was raised for three great charities.
Having enjoyed being involved with a charitable venture, I was asked to help turn around a charity cum art school called the Art Academy at London Bridge. It was run by artists with real passion, and over the next five years we were able to put it on an even keel financially. It was immensely satisfying to match a creative charitable venture with sound business practice so that it could stay solvent and grow.
Scott and I then decided to move to Dorset. We’d both had enough of London, and his father’s family came from here. Originally I planned to commute to London three days a week but then I saw a job advertised as director of Dorchester Arts, so that plan went out the window. When I applied I found the same experience as I had had with the Art Academy; here was a small organisation which was completely passionate about what it was trying to do, its roots firmly in the community, but simply needing someone to help it grow. My background in the charitable sector and experience in business helped me get the job; though the real reason is because when I met the local volunteers, I described my partner’s family as having come from Puncknowle centuries ago, pronouncing it correctly “Punnel”. That went down well, and I started here at Dorchester Arts in 2012. At the time we were excited about the potential for a new bespoke theatre at Brewery Square and the possibility of growing the organisation; ideal though it would have been that plan didn’t work out, and we decided to develop the assets we already had instead of hang on unsuccessfully for something which probably wouldn’t happen. We now have the Corn Exchange as our home venue—the capacity is relatively small but it has top quality seating and equipment. The theatre at Thomas Hardye School has also been properly refurbished as a larger capacity venue, allowing us to bring shows to the town that would previously have been impossible to accommodate. I have no regrets about making the move to Dorchester; it’s a wonderful place to live and work.’