Strike up the bands

Young musicians from across Scotland have their sights on the Royal Albert Hall

Julia Horton

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The audience watches curiously as a teenage boy strides confidently on to the stage in a dapper striped jacket while a girl wearing an elegant floorlength dress and evening gloves sashays to the opposite side. Both hold shiny metal loudhailers but remain silent and poised as a group of musicians dressed all in black assembles between them.

Suddenly a piccolo trills, drums start to sound and the two vocalists take turns rattling out nonsense poems with tongue-twisting lyrics about Hottentots and nightshade. As a performance, it is as impressive as it is unexpected.

Odeon is among the first groups to play at the inaugural Music for Youth (MfY) regional festival at Perth Concert Hall. Judging by the mentors' praise, this group of pupils from the High School of Glasgow could well find themselves playing at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall in London this November.

Giving feedback to the group, Adey Grummet, a self-proclaimed "mixed bag" soprano singing everything from opera and jazz to "squeaky gate weirdo stuff", says: "I was so impressed that you were presenting Walton's Facade, it's one of the most complicated, complex, weird, off-the-wall pieces of music, (so) to hear that in a school music festival! Your music teacher needs serious cake bought for him."

She goes on to praise the "tight" performance of Odeon's musicians, adding: "You just looked like your instruments were extensions of your bodies."

The educational charity, Music for Youth, has been running festivals like this south of the border for over 40 years. In 2011 the initiative was finally launched in Scotland, and during the past few months hundreds of children and young people have participated in events such as this.

Over the next three years, hundreds more here can benefit from the chance to perform alongside their peers and receive advice from leading UK experts such as Adey. Some might feel that Scotland is not short of music festivals. But MfY is different in one crucial respect. It does not feature the sometimes negative element of competition, so no one taking part is labelled a winner or a loser.

All abilities and all ages, up to 21, are welcome to take part in a series of regional festivals across Scotland, of which this is the third and final one this year. They also have a chance to perform again at the first ever Scottish national MfY festival in June, sponsored by TESS and again taking place at Perth Concert Hall.

MfY head of external relations Chloe Faulkner tells today's performers that the venue is one of the charity's "poshest" in the UK, and many children have never had an opportunity to play anywhere like this before. Even fewer will have been asked to entertain an audience at the historic Albert Hall, where the most interesting, deserving or accomplished young musicians and singers from MfY festivals across Britain will give a special Music for Youth Schools Prom concert in November.

Performers will be chosen by mentors not just for being the best, but also for being perhaps the most daring, or simply to give those who are not quite up to scratch an incentive to up their game.

MfY has also eliminated the effective segregation created by competitions, where genres are usually isolated. Instead MfY performers can learn from hearing all kinds of music.

Odeon is easily the most unusual group here today, playing alongside a more predictable mix including rock groups, brass bands and TV show- inspired Glee clubs. The range and degree of talent is equally high, however.

Starting the show is arguably the toughest gig, and as they warm up, the four teenage boys whose indyrock band, Imprint, is first up look a little awkward, giggling as they tune their electric guitars under the glare of the lights. Initially dwarfed by the stage, the minute they start their set they prove more than able to fill the space with punchy, self-penned tunes.

Conall Ross, 14, chats easily as he introduces the next number and sings his heart out on the last, a cover of a ballad called Pearl of the Stars, which receives whoops and applause. He is back on stage soon after with his sister, Holly, 16, who accompanies him on acoustic guitar as he sings again in their double act, Circa. The pair do a "mash up" of The Doors' People are Strange and Thick as Thieves by Kasabian, which impresses the second mentor and former Divine Comedy drummer, Rob Farrer.

Speaking afterwards, Holly says that the pair only started busking together in Perth in 2010 to earn money for a trip to London: "I don't think we have ever played such a big place together. It was more fun than scary, though. It would be insane to play at the Albert Hall, but our motto is never turn down a gig."

Conall, who wants a career in music, adds: "I think this is a great idea, getting everyone working together. It has been a really good experience. I was really chuffed by Rob's comments."

Jen Hossick, principal teacher of music at St John's Academy in Perth, who teaches Holly, Conall and his Imprint bandmates, believes that the initiative will take off in Scotland. She says: "It's absolutely brilliant, especially for us to have something like this on our doorstep, and in such a great venue.

"I like the fact that it's non-competitive because competitions are stressful for pupils and for teachers. Here they can still be adjudicated and they also have a chance to see a variety of different music. I think this will become more popular when people know about it earlier. We didn't hear about it until after Christmas, which was not much time (to prepare). Holly and Conall play together a lot but the rest of the band haven't had so much experience."

Back on stage, a 30-strong Fife choir called Melody Movers has the crowd clapping along to an energetic version of Jackie Wilson's Higher and Higher. A long line of mostly very wee Glee club singers, in matching yellow or green T-shirts, are enjoying some impromptu audience participation, bopping along in their seats near the front.

Next it's the turn of the eldest Glee group, Horsecross Glee, who come on in a colourful mix of blonde and pink wigs for a medley of Blondie songs. Nerves make a few voices harder to hear, and the youngest performers today, the Horsecross Glee Juniors, aged just 6 or 7, look a little awestruck when they walk on. But urged on by their leaders sitting opposite them in the front row, the girls prove that they can remember all the words, and most of the actions, for their routine, which ends with a hug for You've Got a Friend in Me.

Having acted as a mentor at all three regional festivals in Scotland, Adey is delighted by the talent and variety. "It's right up to the mark," she says. "Today has been fantastic and the standard is even better, the further north you go," she adds, saying that the Inverness festival set the bar especially high. "Hearing some groups there you knew they were going straight to the Albert Hall."

She acknowledges that the format of MfY is unfamiliar in Scotland, and urges people to try it next year. "There are three reasons to take part: the opportunity for performing experience, the opportunity to hear everyone else and the opportunity to nick really good ideas," she says.

MfY has only been able to expand north of the border thanks to support from Creative Scotland, the national arts development agency that has invested pound;104,000 from the Scottish government's Youth Music Initiative.

Like Adey, David McDonald, Creative Scotland's youth arts manager, believes that the festivals are a great addition to the cultural calendar. "Music For Youth has had a terrific first year, with each festival brimming with energy and enthusiasm from the young musicians," he says. "We are very pleased with the progress so far."

To book tickets for the MfY National Festival Scotland at Perth Concert Hall on 8 June or find out how to enter next year's regional festivals, go to


1970: The year Music for Youth began providing free, inspirational performance opportunities, which have so far helped more than 2.5 million young people, making MfY the world's largest youth music festival.

74: the number of regional MfY festivals held across the UK in 2012, including three in Scotland this year, in Glasgow, Inverness and Perth.

50,000: the number of young musicians taking part in regional festivals throughout the UK between February and April 2012.

200812: the date when entries for MfY 2013 open.


Three trombonists are drummed on to the stage where they strike up a tune, which then heralds the arrival of five trumpet players. They all in turn welcome about a dozen saxophonists and only when the whole ensemble has finished its lively rendition of The Monkey Song from The Jungle Book does the conductor eventually jog into the room.

The Midlothian Schools Big Band knows how to make an entrance. It's soon clear that they also know how to swing, and four of them jump up briefly to show that they can dance, too.

Band members come from six secondaries across Midlothian and rehearse every Wednesday after school. Playing together helps break down barriers between different schools, and gives pupils a chance to perform at events like the Music for Youth regional festival at Perth Concert Hall.

For some it is purely fun, but for many it is an important step towards what they hope will be a career in music. Trumpeter Lloyd Griffin, 17, from St David's High in Dalkeith, says: "I'm waiting to hear if I have got into the Royal Conservatoire in Glasgow. This is a great experience. I have played here before but I've never played at the Albert Hall, I've only seen it on TV."

Lasswade High pupil Fiona Dabjen, 16, who plays saxophone, has never played here and hopes to go to the conservatoire. She says: "It's been brilliant, it's such a great hall to play in."

Photo by Alick Cotterill

Original headline: Listen up, London, the Scots are coming

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Julia Horton

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