Sadie Medhurst, an intern at MiP, visited our Making Tracks project in progress. She observed the group in action and spoke to the young participants and our Sounding Out musicians Fudge, Lee and Selwyn about their involvement in supporting the project.
Here’s her take on Making Tracks:
“I imagined it, but not actually doing it. It’s something I always wanted to do, working with charity to give something back.” Fudge, Sounding Out participant.
Walking up to a pretty church in Kennington, I find myself nervous as I try to picture what awaits me inside. As part of an initiative from The Irene Taylor Trust ‘Music in Prisons’ (MiP), the Making Tracks project is essentially a workshop for teaching practical, music and life skills to disadvantaged young people in the Lambeth area. It also offers a professional platform for previous Sounding Out participants to develop social, musical and teaching skills in a creative environment, free from the prejudices they may encounter within a mainstream setting.
Arriving at lunchtime and walking into what looks more like a family barbecue than an educational exercise, I find the young people with their tutors and mentors. Sitting together at a table full of food, they laugh and chat like old friends. I grab a plate and join in.
After everyone has eaten, we all head into the church. Where you would normally expect to find an Alter and some pews, the little space available is crammed full of instruments. Drums, guitars, keyboards and bongos make the space feel like a real studio and for a moment you forget where you are.
Fudge is a member of Platform 7, the band formed of a team of musicians who met whilst on the Sounding Out programme; the ‘lungs’ behind the band, he is a lively, confident character, who you would expect to find in some trendy club singing to adoring fans, not in a small church in Kennington.
I interview him in a room next to the main hall. “Working with [MiP] is a pleasure because I learn new stuff as well,” he says. “I imagined it, but not actually doing it. It’s something I always wanted to do, working with charity to give something back.”
Next up is Lee, the percussionist of Platform 7, who I can’t help but instantly like. We chat for a while and I find myself quite emotional as this very humble character openly shares with me his story and his feelings about being involved in the MiP projects.
“There was a big hole in my life and MiP has filled that gap,” says Lee; a telling statement of the appreciation felt. “[While on the project] You learn people techniques that you never thought you had, but that seem to be natural.”
Finally I speak with Selwyn, a shy character who has a very fatherly presence, which seems to shine when working with the young people; something I witnessed as he interacted with the group. “It’s rewarding to see them progress,” he told me.
Concluding the interviews, I start to comprehend the importance of a project like this and the opportunities they offer, not only for the ex-prisoners, but also for the young people; “I’ve got some good advice, ‘cause they’ve got the experience and they’re passing on their knowledge to us,” Asha, one of the young participants, explains.
Now it’s time to see the project in action and I head back into the main hall. As things get started there is an inevitable air of mischief, as expected with a room full of teens. One boy attacks the drums, another starts to rap boisterously – but as quick as it starts, it finishes; one of the tutors speaks, the room falls to silence, and the hard work begins.
Starting by rehearsing a song they had written only that morning, the band take their places. Not everyone has an instrument, but even those waiting their turn are tapping their feet and singing along.
With little or no previous experience within music, the melodic sounds that are being produced are surprisingly well put together and easily could be mistaken for a professional band. Along with the obvious creative talent, I am also struck by the teamwork and confidence that is being shown. The girl on the microphone stops as she feels the song isn’t working; within minutes the group is discussing how to resolve the problem and playing it again, much improved.
Throughout the rest of the afternoon I hear three songs, written by the group in only two days.
Music has always been a creative outlet for people to express themselves, regardless of background, gender, age, or creed. Possibly the most accessible avenue in the creative world; anyone can listen, whether it’s to the drum beats in the heart of Africa, the mellow vibes of the Jamaican reggae, or the downtown rhymes of the rappers of the US. It’s also incredibly influential, with some music promoting violence and the nastier things in life – but on the flipside, it can be used to learn, to soothe and to heal. Music is a tool which can really unite people from anywhere in the world, can change people’s views and can inspire.
What seems such a shame is that many people don’t get the chance to explore it in a practical way – not having the means to buy instruments or attend lessons, which can be costly; precisely why projects like this one are of such importance: “I’ve always wanted to learn how to play an instrument, now I get to within a week,” participant Shannon tells me excitedly. “I’ve been playing the bass guitar, drums and lead guitar.”
Over the two days I spent visiting the project, I got to witness not only a learning curve for all involved, but a place where creative talent could be nurtured and explored, free from any judgments or prejudice. Just a group of talented people, coming together, and creating something that will last long after this project ends.