Changing Lives - Tony Larkin
Hartlepool charity Music V Cancer has attracted the attention of some big names in music
When he was in his early forties Tony Larkin was shocked to discover he had bowel cancer. After over a year of operations, chemotherapy and largely being confined to the sofa he was rid of the disease but he had gained something else: a motivation to raise money.
But Tony didn’t take the conventional route (signing up for a race, organising a coffee morning or doing a sponsored swim). Instead he launched his own charity. Five years on and Music V Cancer has been supported by high-profile musicians including Arctic Monkeys, Paulo Nutini and Ed Sheeran, raising over £162,000 for cancer detecting equipment at North Tees Hospital, an achievement that led to Tony being recognised as a Point of Light by Prime Minister David Cameron – an award given to someone who makes a positive change in their community.
It all began when he started considering his own interests and what he would pay for. ‘I started looking at the music industry which I have always had a passion for,’ he recalls. Together with the consultant surgeon who had helped him through his cancer treatment, he designed a logo and organised a one-off concert with local musicians. ‘We did the one night and it was so successful we had people asking us to put on another night, and that’s how it grew to what it is today,’ explains Tony.
They have since organised more than 20 gigs and auctioned a range of guitars and signed memorabilia from artists including Gary Barlow, The Arctic Monkeys and The Stereophonics. You would think a quick email to a musician’s agent asking for a free signed item wouldn’t get you very far, but Tony says persistence is key. ‘You’ve got to be dogged in the way you approach them,’ he says, ‘But you’ve also got to realise there are a lot of other charities out there who are asking the same thing. I think my experience and the fact that we are run solely by volunteers makes us stand out.’
You wouldn’t guess the charity was run with a tight squad of unpaid volunteers, and David Cameron was similarly surprised when giving Tony his award in December. ‘They were surprised at how small an organisation we were,’ he says, referring to Cameron and his team of researchers. Tony does a lot of the work himself but the volunteers help out with everything from web management, brand management and PR, to graphic design and video production.
The item that has raised the most money is (unsurprisingly) Ed Sheeran’s guitar, which went for £1,550. But while the auctions raise a lot of money, Tony is business-savvy too, so he knows how to get the charity noticed online. ‘We auction off the guitars but with the smaller pieces like signed photographs we use them to encourage growth with our Facebook numbers, so we do free competitions,’ he explains.
Tony is understandably happy with the co-operation from musicians so far, but with his newfound ambition there are a certain few he would love to have perform at a Music V Cancer event. ‘It would be great to have David Gray, Ed Sheeran and Paolo Nutini actually sing at an event. The likelihood of doing that is very, very limited, but you never know. Never say never.’
The experience has had its ups and downs for Tony. ‘The hardest part was being told initially that I had cancer, waiting for the first two weeks to find out if it had spread or not and having to tell my family. But the best part was being told that you have got the all clear and trying to remain positive because you can never be sure it’s not going to return. You have got to have a positive outlook, grab life with both hands and do what you can.’
At their last live event in April The Magic Numbers headlined, helping to raise over £4,000, and their next, on 2nd October, is set to be equally as successful. ‘We’re still putting the line-up together, but at the moment we already have Z-Star,’ says Tony. ‘We’re looking at new artists as well but we have had a raft of brilliant ones in the past including Jack Savoretti, The Blow Monkeys and John Allen. There are a lot of artists we wouldn’t have expected to reach but they’ve all helped us out.’
Go online to find out more and get involved with Music V Cancer’s auctions, events or volunteering.