ART-is trip to Belgium
In August we travelled over to Leopoldsburg, Belgium with the lovely people of Opening Doors hosting the next leg of this amazing project. ART-is started in Iceland in October ’13 and the project sees organisations supporting people with learning disabilities from Iceland, Belgium, Poland, Finland, Malta, Spain and the UK working together to create a festival celebrating art created by people with learning disabilities in Malta, June ’15. The Belgian leg of the trip was like a mini ‘dry run’ for this with us creating some work to perform at the Buitenbeenpop Festival. The festival attracts people with learning disabilities from across Belgium and is attended by some 5000 people. It’s now in it’s 16th year and this would be the first year that artists with learning disabilities had performed. We were also tasked with disrupting the lovely quiet town of Leopoldsburg with some of our punk energy. So for this trip we put together a crack team made up of musicians from Sussex based bands Beat Express, Zombie Crash and The Revs.
The punk workshop
Our task was to write, from scratch, a punk song with a group of 24 people in our 60 minute workshop. We’ve done this sort of thing before and it’s always nerve-wracking as you don’t know where those moments of inspiration will come from, and there’s always of course the risk that the inspiration won’t come at all. As ever I had planned the workshop and had a few ideas of the way we could do things. There were two things that I hadn’t accounted for. Ridiculously, the first was that I hadn’t realised that nobody would be able to understand what I was talking about (I realise that’s very English of me), the second was once we started to get some sort of translation going it was apparent that nobody knew what punk was. So this left us with a 60 minute creative workshop with 24 people who couldn’t speak the same language and had never heard of the genre that the whole thing was based on – punk! So to warm up with sang a punk song, The Ramone’s ‘Sheena is a punk rocker’ inserting the name of each member of the group as we went round. Things started to take shape. The next step was group work where we asked everyone to say what the ART-is project meant to them, using their own language of drawing pictures, these would form the basis of the verses of the songs. Over a short break we started to put all the ideas together and due to the big language barrier we faced at the beginning of the workshop it seemed sensible to call the song ‘We don’t need words where we come from’. The rest of the workshop was spent putting a tune to our new lyrics and then Emma (pictured) conducted us by pointing to whichever words she wanted from the ‘lyric sheets’. Then end result really was quite fantastic but we still had a secret weapon to unleash on the workshop. The awesomely rock ‘n roll Ryan O’Donovan who took everything to a new level with a masterclass in to how to rock out singing one of his own compositions ‘Overthrow the law’. And how everyone rocked out. It was a superb way to end the workshop. And as Ryan said in his own words when introducing the song: “This is my own intro in metal to you, not just how to go along with my sound. You have been awakened to punk, but now you will be AWAKENED TO METAL!!!” And they loved it! Before the workshop started we’d watched the first rehearsal of the ‘Super Cell’ piece which would also be performed at the festival. The piece tells the story of the freak weather system which hit Leopoldsburg causing untold damage but which also drew the community together and out of adversity something quite wonderful happened. Their piece was going to be quite a contrast to what we had prepared to unleash on the festival.
Co-producing the festival
Whilst in Belgium we had a short meeting to plan the logistics for the remainder of the project. It wasn’t a creative meeting at all, just looking at the monitoring and evaluation and agreeing on dates for the next legs. However, we all reflected that it didn’t feel right that no people with learning disabilities were involved in this meeting and even though this wasn’t a creative meeting we vowed to not hold a meeting like that again. This also fits with our intention to think about the word ‘learner’ in the context of this project and discover who is learning from who. To me it doesn’t feel right to single out people with learning disabilities as ‘learners’ when I’m learning loads by being involved in this project.
Our first rehearsal
Whilst all of us have known each other for years we’ve never played together in a band so didn’t know how it was quite going to work. So our first rehearsal took place in the garden of a disused monastery, working out the songs, remembering how our new song went and agreeing (arguing over) the final set list in that time honoured tradition of probably every band that has ever existed. We also came up with a name for the band ‘The Stay Up Late Allstars’.
Checking out the festival site
We were able to go for a quick look round the festival site the day before our performance and a couple of things struck us, the stage was absolutely massive, and they had the longest row of portaloos we had ever seen in our lives. The size of the stage meant we knew we were going to have to put in some serious effort to make sure our performance was up to scratch. So it was back to the disused monastery to set the gear up and have a proper rehearsal. After the rehearsal the band decided to go for a quick beer in the bar opposite and we planned an early night due to the festival tomorrow. That didn’t happen, one drink turned in to another. Rock ‘n roll!
On the day of the festival we were up early and straight off to the sound check. It was great we’d been able to see the festival site the day before, we felt as well prepared as we could be and the short sound check went like a dream, the Stay Up Late Allstars were all total pros. My worry too was that the band were going to be intimidated by the size of the stage. Quite the opposite, it just made everyone bigger! The performance itself was awesome and went in a flash. Here’s some of key memories: – The huge crowd – Andrew running down the 120ft long catwalk and totally working the crowd – Ryan getting adored like a true rock god – Chris and David totally nailing it with their drumming – Luc giving us that air of cool that he just does so naturally As we sat afterwards taking it all in and eating our chips it inspired us to think how we could do something of our own like this back home. The feedback was that Buitenbeenpop Festival had never seen, or heard, anything quite like us so we’re hoping we’ve opened their ears to the power of rock and loud guitars. Check out this short video of the performances https://vimeo.com/105346171
In many ways the whole trip was just one long party, I don’t think I’ve laughed so much for quite some time and the camaraderie of being in a van on the road for several days was just wonderful. After the festival we enjoyed an evening with all our friends from the ART-is project and partied the night away. In reality everyone was pretty tired so by 10pm the party finished. We’d planned an early night too but decided to pay one last quick trip to our new ‘local’ and one drink led to another and again our early night didn’t happened. Instead we ‘Stayed Up Late’ again! As we sat in the bar looking back over the past few days we took stock of what we’d done, and really we’d all taken a massive risk by agreeing to do this, write and perform a song from scratch, in a band that had never played together before in 2 days. It was a crazy idea but it worked.
Here’s some of our main highlights:
– The performance – The audience – The laughter in the van – Running the workshop – Ryan rocking the workshop One of our group said he had a tear in his eye as he left the stage and just wished his mum and dad could have seen him. Good job we got it all on video! I don’t know if the Stay Up Late Allstars will ever perform together again but we all learned a lot about playing together and getting to know each other a lot better.
The journey home
I think the thing we wouldn’t miss about the trip was living in an army barracks. That was a new experience for all of us and we were soon craving the comfort of our own beds. We bid a fond farewell to our hosts over breakfast and got ready for the long drive home and was we drove none of the group could stop talking about what an amazing trip it was.
And the whole trip will be remembered by us for one phrase that Andrew came up with ‘It’s only a bottle of water’ – we don’t know where it came from or why it was funny, but it became the catch phrase for the whole trip.
So looking back at the trip there’s a number of things that wen took as learning from the whole experience:
- Running an inclusive workshop with non-English speaking people with learning disabilities
- Co-facilitating a workshop with an awesome rock god of a guitarist was a master stroke
- The experience of co-delivering the workshop gave us both confidence in our abilities to do this kind of thing (even though I’ve done lots of this sort of thing before, there was quite a lot of pressure on this one due to the performance at the festival.
- How to out a band together at very short notice
- Co-producing a performance with a large group of people; writing the song, agreeing a set-list and being a band of equal parts.
In a way a lot of what we did seemed quite ordinary for us, and some of us have been doing this sort of thing for a long time, but for our audience and ART-is partners our approach was a new concept and so we hope we’ve been able to impart some learning on to our partners too.
It really was a wonderful and memorable trip and something we all look back on and still smile about.
Footnote – I’ve just heard we’ve been invited to run a workshop at a youth club in Brighton in October. The Stay Up Late Allstars will get to ride again!