The band was in full flow when I arrived, on song number 3 – good going for only the second afternoon. The track was sounding very smooth, with Fudge providing a silky lead vocal, but the arrangement for the end part was still being tweaked. Project leader Nick suggested trying a ‘drop-down’ section, stripping back the band to just the rhythm section and vocalists; after a few practice tries everyone was on the same page and it was working well.
Next the band recapped the song they’d written earlier in the day – ‘Strange Town’. It had a very different feel to the other two songs, with a slower pace and sparser arrangement; melodic, melancholy and sweeping, with beautiful background vocals from Fudge, Eileen and Sharleen complementing Gary’s smoky lead, making excellent use of the musical skills in the room.
“I wanted to make the most of what we have at our disposal,” Gary explained. “You’ve got Nick and Sara on clarinet, and there’s Hermione from the Royal Academy on cello, and Joe on double bass. I love the cello; it’s one of my favourite instruments, so I wanted to see what Hermione could do with it. I mean, she’s from the Royal Academy!”
So the song and arrangement came from seeing yesterday what was available musically? “That’s right,” Gary confirms. “I wanted to do something acoustic-y, with lots of space to show off the musical talent. The lyric’s a sort of punning take on my own experiences with prison, but with a positive slant of ‘the sun will rise again tomorrow’.”
Gary’s known the team longer than anyone else in the band; he first met Sara and Nick at HMP Wormwood Scrubs before MiP even began. Gary recalls for me when Sara was a music teacher bringing in her clarinet quartet (including Nick on bass clarinet) for a production of Oliver! with Gary on guitar.
What’s it like working with the team again on the outside?
“It’s brilliant, and with the band – there’s so much talent there. You’ve got people like Fudge; he’s not just a great singer but he’s got this natural ability for song arrangement.”
Luckily Eileen was on hand to help me fill in the gaps. “She was the wife of a Lord Chief Justice, Peter Taylor, and she really cared about people in prison and how they were treated, what chances they had for rehabilitation,” Eileen explained. “After she died her family set the Trust up in her name, and they got Sara to do it.”
Irene knew Sara through her work for the Butler Trust, which was set up to publicly recognise the people behind some of the excellent work happening in prisons. Sara had won an award for her music teaching in HMP Wormwood Scrubs.
“They’re amazing people,” Eileen said. “The Sara you see today is the same Sara who walked through the door at HMP Askham Grange that first time we met. The more you get to know them, the more respect you have for them. The team is excellent. It’s been put together so carefully – it’s like a jigsaw, it all fits together perfectly.”
What’s on the cards for tomorrow, I ask Sharleen? “I’m hoping to bring in some lyrics for a song. It’s under construction!” she tells me. “It’s great to have the opportunity to use my voice again.”