Making a big noise

7th September 2007 at 01:00

They're loud, they're indie, meet the P.I.s (the physically impaired) as Martin Cosgrovetalks to the new band on the block

Ian Dury sang about his lifelong disability, brought on by a childhood bout of polio. Robert Wyatt was confined to a wheelchair after falling out of a third floor window. Rick Allen from Def Leppard learned to drum with one arm after losing the other in a car accident.

The list of rock icons with physical disabilities is pretty short. But maybe the next name on the list will be a more daring one the P.I.s (the Physically Impaired). And they are still at school.

It can be tough for pupils with severe physical disabilities to gain the acceptance of their mainstream peers, but at Commonweal School in Swindon, Wiltshire, music leads the way.

It's a performing arts college with a lot of pop and rock activity, as demonstrated by its Now That's What I Call Commonweal CD of tracks by staff and pupils.

But this band is something new and began informally last September when several pupils with disabilities, all from the specialist resource provision (the school's SEN unit), asked to join Commonweal's "rock school" course.

The P.I.s describe their sounds as "noisy" and "indie".

"We thought it might last a couple of weeks, but it has now really taken hold," says Steve Coward, the school's special needs co-ordinator and manager of the specialist resource provision. Access can be difficult, but we now we have a permanent set-up in a new rehearsal room."

The band made its debut last year at a Christmas music festival run by Swindon's local authority for special schools and special needs pupils in mainstream.

It performed covers including Oasis's "Wonderwall" and a punk version of "99 Red Balloons". This went down well so Steve suggested to the headteacher that they perform at an assembly.

"They were really good and the applause was genuine," says Steve. "It's hard to think of a better way of integrating these pupils into school life."

Like most bands this one has had line-up changes and the occasional break-up, but has now settled on a reasonably stable line-up. There are normally five group members, from Years 7 and 10.

Most have cerebral palsy, including the bandleader Mike, 15, who sings and is learning to play the drums, despite being in a manual wheelchair. He also plays guitar. Ben, 11, was born with one leg but plays the drums. Will, 11, is also in a wheelchair and plays the basslines on the organ, which he says helps with developing his physical co-ordination.

It was Mike who wrote the band's song "Gone", now recorded as a CD single.

"I would like to go into the music industry somehow," he says.

The band is helped by Mike King, a teaching assistant, and Nick Weaver, a technician, who do things such as setting up the gear. They also play a bit of guitar during rehearsals, but at public performances it's just the pupils

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