It all started with a punk band...
The story of Heavy Load – a punk band known for their chaotic and energetic live performances who went on to start the Stay Up Late campaign which grew in to a charity. And the difference the charity is trying to make in supporting people with learning disabilities to lead full and active social lives of their choosing.
It’s also a story of how we’re trying to create mainstream opportunities for people with learning disabilities through music.
Wanna be starting something...
Jim lives in a registered group home run by Southdown Housing Association and used to while away his time strumming on a guitar in his room. One day his support worker asked Jim if he’d like to do anything with his love of music and Jim said he’d like to be in a band. They sent out an advert round Southdown Housing and a week later they had their first band practice. Little did they know what they’d get up to over the next 15 years.
We continued to play at disability nights and day centres, often getting paid little or no money.
Heavy Load the movie
Then in 2005 everything changed. We were approached by award winning film director Jerry Rothwell who’d read about us in a Mencap newsletter in his GP surgery and was intrigued about the story of a punk band made up of musicians with and without learning disabilities playing Clash covers and crucifying songs by Kylie and Bros in their own distinctive style. Jerry followed us round for 2 1/2 years and in 2008 ‘Heavy Load’, the movie was premiered at SXSW, Austin. Texas.
Looking back on the film it’s about a lot of different things, and on one level it’s just a film about 5 blokes ‘going through a mid-life crisis’ (as Jerry once said). The film also featured us starting a campaign called ‘Stay Up Late’.
One of the common features of our gigs was our fans leaving at 9pm, just as we got on stage. Just like Spinal Tap we never for one moment thought this had anything to do with the quality of our performances and thought something else must be going on related to support workers working inflexible shifts. Typically shifts end at 10pm meaning an exodus at 9pm to make sure everyone is home in time.
f you think about this it’s a crazy situation, and means that people with learning disabilities are missing out on full and active social lives, something that many of us take for granted but is vitally important in terms of our informal support networks, friendships, and how we express ourselves. It’s also no doubt going to have a significant effect on people’s physical and mental health. So we decided to mount an awareness campaign – which was featured in the movie and the consequence was that BBC, IFC (in the US) and cinema goers got in touch with us to say they were also experiencing the same frustrations.
(It also meant that fans weren’t walking out because of the quality of our music!)
The movie went on to receive various awards and was made Film of The Week by Mark Kermode on BBC Radio 5 Live. We were also featured in a 4 page article in the Guardian Weekend by Alexis Petridis – and even got in Heat magazine’s Top 10 movies!
So the movie changed everything for us as a band and promted us to start a national charity.
Starting Gig Buddies
In 2012 Heavy Load played their last gig, on a massive stage in Trafalgar Square as part of the Paralympic festivities. And what a way to finish their career!
By that time the seeds of the idea of our Gig Buddies project had started to grow and the week after that last gig we found out we had the funding to start the project properly.
In 2013 we launched Gig Buddies and now have over 100 pairs of buddies regularly going out together, and through licensing the project have over 20 partner Gig Buddies in seven countries enabling over 1000 people with learning disabilities to lead active social lives.