Superstars in the making

17th April 2009 at 01:00
It produced one of Scotland's most successful contemporary bands. Now St John's High is nurturing talent in all its forms

Rock band The View won the talent contest at St John's High in Dundee three years in a row. But teachers admit that they can claim little credit for the young musicians' later success, which began with their debut album "Hats Off to the Buskers" topping the UK album chart in 2007.

Today, the school is taking a different tack and is poised to pounce on any glimmer of talent and cash in on the fact that, until recently, three rock stars ate in the St John's dinner hall and walked the school's corridors. "It's a great stimulus," says Derek Thomson, St John's Learning Together in Dundee co-ordinator, who has responsibility for promoting the new curriculum.

Mr Thomson leads the community enterprise project which got underway in August. Music is the focus - a recording studio has been created - but those with a flair for art are contributing by designing posters and CD covers, while wannabe marketing gurus are working out how to promote the acts and fundraise. There are also roles for blog editors, lyricists, cameramen, roadies and sound engineers.

Local business has been tapped into, including Rainbow Music and P3 Music, and the project kicked off in August with Martin Taylor, described as "one of the most awesome solo guitar players in the history of the instrument", donating guitars.

Now the school aims to keep the project going for a second year, with plans to write and stage a musical about the history of local area, Lochee. Pupils have to find stories spanning the past four decades, and acclaimed singersongwriter Michael Marra is lined up to help pull together the production, currently entitled The King of Lochee.

This year, the goal is to make students' songs available for sale online, via a website designed by Dundee-based company brightsolid (formerly Scotland Online). They will also stage a show at Dundee Rep in early October, featuring poetry, drama and dance, alongside music.

Until then, Mr Marra will help the school to spur pupils on via a series of songwriting workshops. "You don't have to be as good as your heroes, but it's a great way to spend time, and the more you do it, the better you get," he told pupils at the launch. "I'd encourage anybody to do it. If there is something bothering you and you write a song about it, I guarantee you will feel better."

Songwriting is the area where head of music Colin Stewart feels the pupils need most encouragement and guidance. Many are producing songs but they are "songs without words", he says. The world was full of half-finished songs. "A small part of songwriting is inspiration; the rest is hard work. You should not be frightened of that. Music is worth it."

If their singing voices were the problem, they should go into partnership as many great musicians had done in the past, he suggested. Thanks to the internet, songwriters could get their work round the world in hours, not the months it used to take when he started out.

Aoife McGuigan-O'Brien, S5, has already worked with Mr Marra on her songs, and the enterprise project has boosted her creativity, she says. She always wanted to get into musical theatre but would never have thought of writing. Now she has three songs under her belt and is in the process of applying to Knightswood Secondary School in Glasgow, home of the National Dance School of Scotland.

Also in S5 is Daniel Gearie. He took up guitar 18 months ago and is famous at St John's for churning out songs for his friends. His latest offering is about his gran. There are some "sly digs", he admits - her love of bingo, for instance, but the song also questions how he will cope when she is gone.

Daniel hopes Mr Marra will help him widen his range of writing. "My songs are usually about just a couple of things with different words," he explains. "They tend to be about friends and family, written about events that happen and I try to make them as funny as possible. I do have a couple of serious songs, but I tend to make them more light-hearted."

The View has been an inspiration for St John's pupils, says Daniel, who is in a band called Autonomy: their success shows it is possible to make it. to hear songs written by St John's pupils

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