Podcast Episode: Ensemble music project
Category: Young people
What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.
MD - Michelle Drumm
MT - Michael Timmons
AS - Andrew Sinclair
Ensemble is a Loretto Care project that supports young people out of homelessness through songwriting and music. On the 19th of September Michelle from Iriss travelled to Stirling to speak with Michael Timmons, community engagement lead for the project, and Andrew Sinclair, a participant and volunteer. Ensemble received a different approach award at the Scottish Social Services Awards 2019.
MD So I’m here with Michael Timmons, who’s a community engagement lead for Ensemble, and Andrew Sinclair.
MD Okay, and Andrew, you’re sort of involved in the Ensemble …
MD … project?
AS I’m just a participant and I volunteered at one point as well.
MD Okay, cool.
MD Michael, could you just tell me what Ensemble is?
MT Yeah, so Ensemble is a project run by Loretto Care and it’s a music project where we recruit professional musicians to come in and work with the young people that we are supporting at Loretto Care, to write songs and create music and collaborate with musicians and other people, and the idea is essentially to yeah, get people more involved, people who are maybe receiving support, they’ve gone through homelessness or experiencing other challenges, and this is a way of actually yeah, engaging with them and working with people in a different way, in a more interesting way.
MT A unique way, a more informal way. It’s just fun. It’s enjoyable but …
MT … it’s also helping build skills, confidence, new connections, friendships and opening doors that we might not be able to open if we’re just supporting them.
MD Mmm. So where did the idea come from then to set up, like why particularly music for example?
MT So we’ve always found music is a really good way of working with people. It just, everyone loves music, so it’s perfect. We started the project a number of years ago and the idea came from the young people we were working with at the time. We were asking what kind of projects can we do here, and music was always the thing that came to the top.
MT So that’s how the project started.
MD A big interest.
MT And this most recent run of Ensemble’s been funded by Creative Scotland, which is brilliant because they’re obviously supporting the arts industries and yeah, that’s been ideal.
MD Yeah, fantastic. It’s mainly younger people you support is it, and how do they become involved in it?
MT So Loretto Care supports everyone. It supports people right across Scotland from the age of 16 up to in their 90s.
MT The Creative Scotland funding we went for was the Youth Music Initiative, which therefore is targeted at 16 to 25 year olds. So Loretto Care has a number of services like the one we’re in today in Stirling, which supports young people who are going through the homeless process, and the Ensemble project is part of what Loretto Care offers. So our Ensemble coordinator and musicians go out to services like these and meet with people and have sessions and try and get them interested, or the staff at the services speak to the young people and try and encourage them to come along.
MT We had a number of big sessions in Glasgow. So what we found was people like Andrew and other people across Falkirk and Grangemouth and Stirling, Hamilton, North Lanarkshire, services in Glasgow, would travel all the way in and take part in these large group sessions …
MT … which was amazing.
MD Brilliant, and so what kind of music is played?
MT Yeah, so the focus is on songwriting. It focusses on having the people taking part, the young people coming up with the ideas for the songs. What do they want to write about? Is it a personal song? Is it about something else? Is it about different topics? And then working with that musician to fine-tune the lyrics, but also if they want the song to sound like 80s German synth pop then the musician will try and find that, ‘cause one of the songs was that genre. Or is it more electronic pop or is it singer songwriter or folky type stuff or is it rock, and then the musician helps find the song and the music and the melodies with the young person.
AS They also throw their own little twist as well, their own little style.
AS And it really adds to it as well.
MD So do you want to say Andrew a little bit about what you’ve been doing as part of the project?
AS The first time I went was ‘cause I was living here at the services in Stirling, and I was really nervous the first …
AS … time, and what we did was we did a pop song, like a joke song, to start off with, and then the second time I came along I was still a participant, then I thought I’ll do something a bit more serious.
AS So I did a serious, almost like a dark synthwave kind of song.
AS And then third time was as a team leader, a volunteer. Title what is a work in progress still.
MD Okay, yeah.
AS And I would do my song and also just help other people at the same time, just give them a little bit of support as one of them to be honest. So that’s pretty much a proper start.
MD Yeah, fantastic. So was there somebody else working one-to-one with you when you were doing your songs?
AS Yeah. I was working with 2 different musicians and one of them was working with someone else. So it can be a switch back and forth …
AS … every like half an hour or so.
AS And yeah, it was really good. They knew what they were doing. They were very professional.
MT I have a team of 6 musicians over the course, possibly a bit more, over the course of the past 18 months, and then 11 musical volunteers. So it’s really wide-ranging. We had yeah, Jamie Scott, a kind of Scottish rap almost.
MT And then we had Jonnie Common, who again is another musician actually local to Stirling. We had Donna Maciocia, our coordinator. We had Martha Ffion, so that’s the kind of singer songwriter. Jill Lorean. Fiskur. It’s really wide-ranging. So you’ve got kind of a real broad spectrum of genres, people playing different instruments. A lot of electronic stuff, which was great.
MT ‘Cause that really brought something unique.
MT So synths and samples and all sorts of things within.
AS And when they all mix together as well …
AS … it all works great as well, because …
AS … they really fine-tune it to each other with each other’s style and way.
AS It’s really good.
MD Really? And it sounds like there’s loads of flexibility for people who are involved around …
MD … what kind of music they …
MD … get involved in? Yeah.
MT Yeah. It’s great. Really, really good.
MT So the songs are, I mean it’s everything from rap songs to slightly kind of Celtic folk songs.
MT To real synthwave pop songs.
AS Yeah. And I’m a metal fan!
MD A metal fan! Right, okay.
AS And this is what I’m writing!
MD And do you have people who are doing more classical stuff too?
MT No. It was all kind of, I guess the songs are all pretty narrative-driven. So it’s lyrical.
MT The focus is on the words and the stories, so there’s no yeah, classical pieces or arrangements like that, but that would be interesting to think about in the future. Yeah.
AS If I had to give it like a genre that it starts off as I’d say like an 80s rock, like just acoustic guitar. It moves up, progresses into electronic and synthwave.
MD Mmmhmm. Mmmhmm. Good, and Ensemble won the award for a different approach at the Scottish Social Services Awards this year, so congratulations for that again, but what is the approach then that you were awarded for really?
MT The approach is kind of going back to what I said earlier, it’s we’re supporting people through the homeless process. We’re supporting them to improve their mental health, their physical health, to get out of homelessness, to live the life they want to live, and we do that through support workers and team leaders and services like these providing that support.
MT What Ensemble does is offers something unique and something different. It’s a way of supporting these people through the homeless process to build the life skills that they need to build to move on, but using music and using musicians and volunteers, ‘cause what we find is some people living in these types of services, the homeless services, struggle to accept the support. They’re maybe not engaging as much with the support staff to build the skills or move out of homelessness.
MT But when they come to Ensemble they’re building all those skills but through music. They’re then opening up. They’re talking about their issues. They’re maybe coming back to the service after the sessions and actually engaging more with staff.
AS Appearing in podcasts and going up on stages, yeah.
MD Mmm, and what other impacts on their lives is this having?
MT So for some people they’ve, as I’ve said, they’ve come back to the services accepting more support, moving out of homelessness.
MD Do you see good …
MD … levels of people who move out of homelessness …
MD … as a result of this?
MT Yeah, and I’d say the most common bit of feedback we get is confidence, and that cannot be understated, because confidence is such a strange term but it impacts on so many parts of your life.
MT So if we can build young people’s confidence yeah, that can lead them on to doing amazing things. So in the last big concert we had about 2 people, 2 of the young people weren’t able to come along because they’d gone on to get jobs and they were working that night, which was just a great result. We’ve got people going on to study music at college.
MT Yeah, but really just I think the biggest thing is just feeling like they’re a part of something.
MD Mmm. So some of the people will maybe continue with music …
MD … and develop those skills, and …
MD … some people maybe not but they might take other services to …
MD … support?
MT Yeah, or just one young person said that coming along to Ensemble gave them tons of patience for other people, which is a massive thing.
MT And he went on to then get a job working in a supermarket, which is a great achievement for him, but something he wouldn’t have been able to do if he didn’t develop that sense of patience in …
MT … dealing with other people.
MD Mmmhmm, and Andrew, you’ve gone on then as well?
MD And you’ve moved on?
AS Yeah. I’m the one that’s at college.
MD Right, okay. Fantastic.
AS Yeah. I always wanted to do music, just never had the chance to be able to do anything about it really and see if I actually enjoyed it.
AS And when I got asked if I’d like to go to Ensemble to do this I thought I’m not too sure but I’ll go and see what it’s like, and I haven’t looked back.
MD Yeah. So it’s had a huge impact on your life basically?
AS Yeah, yeah. Music’s pretty much everything to me.
AS I can’t go without my headphones!
MD And your metal music?
AS Yeah. I feel naked without them.
AS So really it’s something that is always in my life and always in my family. I just grew up with music from like The Cure to …
AS … Ed Sheeran.
MD Eclectic mix.
AS My house is just full of different genres. It’s unreal.
MD Yeah. Yeah. Good stuff, and how many performances are there? So are there some public performances?
MT So the project that ran for 18 months, we’re just at the end of our funding cycle with Creative Scotland, but we had 4 songwriting blocks, which are group songwriting sessions over 6 weeks. We had a number of outreach sessions and then at the end of each block there was a kind of song share, where the songs are shared to family and friends of the people who wrote the songs, and then in June there we had our large public concert in St Luke’s, the music venue in Glasgow.
MD Okay, mmm.
MT And that was sold out. It was a free public concert. Sold out pretty quickly and it was just incredible. The focus was on as well getting as many of the songwriters onstage performing in some way. So a lot of them sang, played an instrument alongside the group of musicians who were up there …
MT … kind of making it happen.
AS Or danced in a monkey mask!
MT Yeah. It was just amazing, and Andrew was an omnichord specialist that night.
AS Yeah. Specialist in quotations!
MT Yeah, it’s a really interesting instrument.
MD It must be amazing to be onstage and like performing to people as well?
AS Yeah. I will be honest; I can’t remember what happened.
MD All a bit of a blur!
AS I remember going up the stage and coming off stage. That’s all I remember and yeah, I’ll do it again.
MT So that’s the thing that amazes me about the project and the performances. Something that I didn’t really expect is that it’s hard for musicians to go up onstage to 300 people or so to perform, but this is young people who at the start of the project many of them are scared to even speak, to the end of the project standing in front of 300 people singing or performing or sharing, and …
MT … that still kind of blows my mind. I think that’s totally down to the team of musicians and volunteers, and then the Loretto Care staff supporting it.
AS It’s like a little family.
AS Everybody just, they can spot it and they can help it. So if they see you they’ll come and talk to you, and if they can’t then you must be alright.
MD Yeah. Yeah.
AS So it’s pretty good how they make sure everyone’s okay, everyone knows what they’re doing.
MD Yeah. You said you were supporting some other younger people too, were you there, in this project?
AS I was, yeah. When I had finished my song, me and the musicians that I was working with, we would just go into other groups if they wanted any assistance and just help them out.
MD Mmm. Mmm.
AS Just give them that little bit of advice.
AS Pretty much a veteran.
AS So I had that bit of detail that I could throw in.
MD Mmmhmm, and what do we think the next steps are then for Ensemble?
MT So we have recorded an album. It’s still getting finished just now. We’re hoping to put that out before the end of the year.
MT One of Andrew’s songs features on it, which hopefully I can play a wee bit of it. So that’ll get released. We’ve got probably one or 2 shows before the end of the year at various events, but essentially we’ll start the funding cycle again.
MT Or look to seek more funding to continue the project.
MT ‘Cause it’s having such a big impact.
MT So we want to keep it going for as long as possible.
MT And keep developing it. It’s got so much positive feedback from the young people, from the staff, from the volunteers, but then also the audiences.
AS Yeah, and the award that …
MT And the award.
AS … set the level in the room.
MT Yeah, I know. It’s great.
AS I was speechless when it happened. I still can’t believe that it happened. I didn’t expect it to be honest. I was kind of just, yeah I’ll go out for a nice day out.
MD Were you at the award ceremony?
AS Yeah. I got invited over.
AS So I went just went to go to Edinburgh, as I was seeing it as a day out to be honest.
MD Yeah, yeah.
AS And then walking home with an award in my hand, it was great.
MD Yeah. Another string in the bow I suppose for Ensemble, isn’t it?
MT Yeah, yeah.
MD Yeah, brilliant. Okay. Yeah Andrew, go ahead. So you’ve produced a song that we’re going to just play a little bit of here.
MD So do you want to just tell us a little bit about it?
AS This is ‘Battlefield’. I wrote it along with Goodnight Louisa and Jamie Scott. It’s about like doubt and overcoming that doubt, and when you want to do something but you keep talking yourself out of it.
AS So that’s what this song is about.
MD Wow, so a powerful piece of music.
MT So it’s a good song. Yes.
MD And really, really professionally produced as well.
AS That was in Chem19 Studios in Blantyre.
MD Right, okay.
AS And it was, I can’t remember his name, Jamie …
MT Jamie Savage.
AS … Savage that produced it.
AS When we done the song share it was just an acoustic guitar and a little keyboard, and then that was all I heard of it until I came back in and I got sent that. I was like, what happened? How did this come about, and then yeah, it was really good and I got the chance to play the omnichord in it as well. So I recorded a few bits for the song as well, which not a lot of people really know.
MD Mmm. Fantastic.
MT That was a great experience as well. It’s a proper recording studio. It’s just an amazing space with Jamie and an amazing producer, but again we got as many of the songwriters in the studio to feel what that process is like.
MT So we recorded 4 in the studio that day and we’ve got another 4 or 5 that’ll be produced by one of the musicians. So yeah, and all quite wide-ranging styles. Yeah. That’ll be good fun, the album.
MD Well thanks to you both today for speaking to me. Best of luck with the project going forward.
MT Yeah, cool.
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