Monday was the first day of the Sounding Out programme, with the whole band meeting for the first time. As with regular MiP projects, they have just 5 days to generate the material for the live performances and gel as a band, so I was naturally excited to see how they were getting on.
I arrived at St Marylebone shortly before 4pm to find the room buzzing and very full: as well as all the instruments and equipment, the band and MiP’s team of Nick, Sara and Charles, 2 students from the Royal Academy are supporting with a mini-strings section, and Jim Cartwight is monitoring the project for an exciting piece of evaluation work. There’s a lot going on!
The group spent the majority of the day working on one track – provisionally titled ‘Out Of My System’ – giving them the chance to really hone it.
“It’s about a pain of loss, not being able to get someone or something out of your system,” participant Fudge explained. “Once we’d got the chorus, it gave everyone the concept of what the song was about to write their individual vocal parts. It’s been a very productive day.”
I was treated to several run-throughs, with it getting tighter on each go. Selwyn set the band a steady rhythm on drums, adding some awesome fills, with Lee adding a fluid accompanying bass-line. My eyes were drawn (rather jealously, as an amateur bass-player myself) to his nifty finger-work, dancing over the strings; this is a song which makes you want to move.
To the other side of the room, Royal Academy of Music student Hermione was contributing some beautiful cello accents, whilst project leader Nick had busted out the clarinet to highlight the sound with some jazzy twiddles.
Special mention must be made of Gary’s guitar-solo; it was different every time, and each version was epic. I can’t wait to see how it develops and hear what he does at the live performances.
And then there are the vocalists; gosh! Sharleen, Eileen, Fudge and Valter are already sounding incredibly slick; on the chorus they join together, perfectly in synch with some crisp harmonies – on the verses they take it in turns to shine individually.
“It’s very positive; we have some really strong characters, it’s a phenomenally talented bunch,” participant Eileen told me. “One of the things that I loved about working with MiP inside is how we got the opportunity to express ourselves – now we get to reflect on the positive side of the aftermath of being outside, and reflect in the public performances that we’re not prisoners anymore. It’s going to be more professional and get away from the prison mind-set. Look at me now!”
Eileen is of course looking fabulous. She asked me to video a run-through to allow the participants to critique their own performances; they’re certainly taking it very seriously – gig audiences are in for a treat.
Project leader Charles was up late the previous night on stage with Grace Jones at Lovebox in Victoria Park, playing to thousands of people… but Charles is no less excited about spending the week in a small room with MiP:
“It’s been fun, very creative, lots of ideas in the room, a really good flow – everyone’s bringing ideas. We’re working with people we’ve met before, so are starting where we ended last time; in a really positive place. And obviously there’s the freedom of being able to go outside – and everyone’s got their phones out!”
Charles also revealed to me that he has a serious passion for cameras and now owns 40! He has brought in 4 of his favourites to visually document the week and has promised to share his photographs with us after the project. Thanks Charles! Another stark reminder of the differences of working outside; in prison this freedom with photography is almost unthinkable.