Roll over Pop Idol

26th November 2004 at 00:00
Why lose your identity in a TV make-over show when you can learn how to be a star with the support of your school? Merlin John reports on a new award scheme

Joe Nicholls, aged 15, is bass player and singer with a band called Alices Garden. He developed his song, "Moonman", in songwriting workshops at Blatchington Mill School, Hove. You can hear it on the band's website, where you can buy it on their four-song "Found" EP for a fiver with your credit card. If you don't have an internet connection, pop into Virgin Records in Brighton.

Last month, Joe was one of six "Make It, Break It" award winners to take to the stage for a rousing celebration at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. The place was packed with talent, and the awards were given a classy theme tune as 17-year-old Llamea Lall, a student at Solihull College, rapped and sang her way through her own composition of "Make It, Break It".

They had encouraging words from Coldplay's Chris Martin ("Please keep writing music and knock us off the charts") and Paul McCartney - both supporters of these annual Yamaha awards - ringing in their ears. Entries are now open for the third year and your students have until July 29 to enter, so there's plenty of time to plan. The scheme encourages them in songwriting, performance, recording and marketing their finished products, all activities with a place in the school curriculum.

Besides the pleasure that comes with creating and performing their own songs, winners each get Yamaha music equipment worth up to pound;1,000 (their schools can also get pound;1,000 worth of equipment if nominated).

They just have to present their own compositions, with information about how they recorded them and how they intend to promote them.

"Less like music by numbers, more like a tapestry," is how Alices Garden singer David Thaxton described the MIBI process. His school, a Hove comprehensive and sixth-form college with specialist school status as a performing arts college, even has a new theatre in its grounds, the Windmill, built with funds from sponsors and the DfES.

"Moonman" was the result of a songwriting challenge issued by Year 11 teacher Craig Sullivan. "We had a brainstorm on the word 'moon', or thought-shower as they are now called," he said. "The song was done by the whole group, five Year 11 boys (Joel Balmer, guitar; Henry Redwood, guitar and keyboard: Andrew McMillan, drums and vocals)."

The band is one of many at the school - there are eight across Years 7 and 8 - and Craig took four bands with him on a school visit to Rhode Island last year that included a day out in New York. "Managing a rock-and-roll lifestyle with the demands of the curriculum can be trying," he adds.

The curriculum certainly benefits from the increased motivation: "The project covered PSE for sure, some business, certainly music, English for the lyrics and the website was definitely ICT.

"The curriculum is about creativity, excellence and experience. You just have to trust the kids and get them some equipment, and show them how to write a modern popular song, perhaps by deconstructing an existing one."

"The standard this year was very high and all the people were passionate about making music," said awards judge record producer Steve Levine, a Grammy award-winner whose clients range from Culture Club to Mis-Teeq. "The awards are not aimed at those who want to sing and dance, or want to go on the X-Factor or Pop Idol. They are for those who want to write and produce really good songs.

"The teachers have a wonderful role in stimulating the thought processes in songwriting, and most schools have some facilities for creating a demo, especially as recordings have to be made for A-level music. The demos don't have to be that good, but what must come across is the song - and you can do that with a tape recorder."

The most important thing is for young people to retain their distinctiveness, he said. "A band that is successful brings something of their own to the party - and that's their vibe."

* 2004 Make it Break It award winners: (14-17) Sammie Harris, Sittingbourne, Kent; Llamea Lall, Erdington, Birmingham; Joe Nicholls, Hove, Sussex

(17-19) Bethan Walters, Pontarddulais, Wales; Robert Shields, Castle Douglas, Scotland; Lauren Rozwadowski, Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire The Make It, Break It awards are run by Yamaha and supported by Future Publishing, British Phonographic Industry and Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts.To get involved, you will find everything you need at the awards website: www.makeitbreakit.orgAlices Garden:

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