Burnt Out musos all fired up

29th February 2008 at 00:00

New facilities at Penicuik High give pupils a real feel for the music business

A new recording studio and performance space has proved a powerful catalyst for a variety of talents at Penicuik High in Midlothian.

Burnt Out Records, a pupil-run business venture, is due to release its first recordings at a special gig next Friday night.

Amy Lawson, an S6 pupil and the company's managing director, says: "We hope to attract around 100 people - pupils, parents, local businesses and press - to hear our new artists.

"What makes us unique is that we have a dedicated recording studio and performance space together in the same building, which allows us to record and promote by holding concerts as well as inviting artists from the local community to use our space."

Ten groups, and individuals from within the school, were auditioned for the label and three have been chosen to headline the event.

It is hoped that the company will become self-financing by the end of March. Its first aim will be to raise funds to send recording equipment to Penicuik's partner school Thyolo Secondary in Malawi.

Michael Thomson, another S6 pupil and Burnt Out's production manager, says: "The idea is to get them to record their choir singing traditional songs, to which we will add our own backing tracks. That way, it's an educational partnership, a sharing of culture and music, something we have done together."

Michael has been busy producing the three launch-night EPs, featuring the band Re-Generation and solo artists Linzi Wilson and Bow Dolly (aka S6 pupil Courtney Smith).

"I record each instrument and mix them. I use other pupils as session musicians too," he explains.

So are there ever rock'n'roll tantrums? "I put in my views," says Michael. "Sometimes they're accepted and sometimes there's what you might call a heated debate."

Linzi, whose music is described as "Tracy Chapman-esque", says: "Michael is good. He gives an honest opinion and that's a great help."

Like Michael, Linzi hopes to pursue a career in music. She says the launch of The Hub performance space and the recording company has been a great catalyst for her: "I always enjoyed composition in class and this has allowed me to make it that bit more professional."

For Amy, it's the business side that matters most. "We are completely pupil-run and have our own board of directors," she says. "We deal with all admin, publicity, PR, design, production and sales. We're looking for a regular promo spot on local radio station Black Diamond FM, and will be marketing the EPs through local outlets and online."

While Amy has already bagged a place at Strathclyde University to study international business and modern languages, Gillian Rhodes, the company's art director and an S5 pupil, has set her sights on art college, having designed the company logo and set to work on the CD covers.

But if this kind of cross-curricular enterprise is about "making it real", then perhaps it's Fiona Sheal, an S5 pupil, who gets the strongest dose of reality in her role as PR director and booking agent.

"I have to book local acts, such as the singer Sophie Bancroft, and arrange a programme that includes pupil performers," she says. "I deal with the local radio station, with papers such as the Edinburgh Evening News and the Midlothian Advertiser, with the Penicuik Folk Club and so on, and I have to keep our website up to date."

All the pupils involved enjoy their work. There's never a "have to" feeling, they say. They like doing their own and original things, as well as working as a team.

Company meetings are held fortnightly in school hours, but much of the recording, mixing and production work is done after school.

Keith Murphy, the school's head of music and originator of the record label idea, says: "I take my hat off to them. They took the idea and ran with it. It's theirs now and they're already bringing in S4 pupils so that there will be continuity when they leave school.

"I try to stay as hands-off as possible. It really is pupil-centred. For example, if for some reason I couldn't make next Friday's launch, I wouldn't be worrying about them. They know how to organise and how to share ideas and responsibilities. They know their business."

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