An album created by young people in Nottingham this summer will be released on World Mental Health Day with a live show at Confetti’s Metronome. We chat to those involved and find out there’s much more to this project than just the music...
It’s been difficult to miss the Circle of Light (COL) project, headed by Tricia Gardener, that took place this summer. Offering the chance to write, record and professionally release an album, the scheme has given youngsters a once in a lifetime opportunity. But dig a little deeper and you’ll learn how its effects have gone far beyond simply making music, forming an important community moment in the city of Notts.
COL was a continuation of a similar youth-focussed project, Express Yourself, that took place last year. Encouraging participants to get involved with fine art, dance and more, it was music that seemed to provoke the best reaction; in particular when it came to discussing experiences with mental health, and using it as a positive platform.
“I wanted to explore the idea of using the arts to help with mental health issues, addiction and so on. The music aspect was led by Scorzayzee (lead mentor at COL). The work that came out of that was powerful, and something that I thought could be developed further. I then took what I felt was the strongest element and ran with it to do this,” Tricia told us.
With funding secured to get COL off the ground Tricia enlisted the help of 20 Notts based music industry professionals to join Scorzayzee as mentors for the 60 participants. With this, they took over Metronome and it’s high-end recording facilities to embark upon the massive task of making an album in the space of three weeks.
While their time has been documented with a series of videos posted on the project’s social media accounts, the true experience for the participants seems to be one of those unique moments that will go down in history, remaining special for those who were part of it.
We got to feel some of this magic first hand after being invited to attend the listening session at Broadway cinema; a day of publicly playing the tracks created by the participants, ‘voting’ on which ones will be cut onto the final record. Amongst the sounds of nattering and laughs, the long-lasting relationships formed by everyone involved were clear to see. A day that could have been filled with tension due to the critical nature of the session was actually quite the opposite.
Poppy Scoffings, a piano and guitar player who found the confidence to sing after joining COL, is a great example of this. She said:
“Music is a medicine in a way, and (the project) has definitely had a positive effect on us. I made some really nice friendships and got to know lots of people who I’m going to stay in contact with. I’ve performed at open mic nights for the first time since joining COL - I went with my new friends from the project. We’re all really supportive of each other and are helping each other to get better and grow in confidence.”
The core musical side of the project no doubt attracted lots of participants initially - though no prior experience was required, many of the group were already active musicians and performers, looking for a way to take that next step into working into the industry.
Producer and rapper Elmz XIX, who has recently had his work featured on a BBC Introducing mixtape, is one of these. He said:
“The main reason (I joined) was because I wanted to work with and collaborate with other Notts based artists. I wanted to have a platform to share my music. It definitely went past my expectations though, and it shows how much you can get done in a short space of time. The listening session today wasn’t scary...there’s definitely a sense of achievement there.”
Even those who didn’t join specifically for the therapeutic benefits were still impacted in a positive way though, says Tricia:
“It’s been successful on many levels. I’ve watched the participants grow and grow. Some people came onto the project just to gain confidence and experience, but because of that, they were soon talking with their friends about mental health and the other things we discussed, so it really did open up the communication. Prior to this, they didn’t know their pals were suffering because they just weren’t talking about it.”
Izaak Lowe was on the verge of quitting music altogether struggling with depression when he signed up. Now his electro-jazz track ‘Bleed Into Sound’ is one of the tracks to appear on the vinyl recording.
“When I saw Nina (Smith - local musician and COL mentor) post about it online, I thought I had nothing to lose, so I applied. I needed help learning how to actually complete an album so I figured it might give me those skills.
“Everyone on the project was struggling in some sense, so I thought it might take a while for everyone to get comfortable and for the creative energy to flow, but it was clear from the first introduction that everyone was super open. Sharing the journey with other people made it so much easier - we talked problems through and figured it out together.
“There is such a high level of artistry on the project and a lot of good music has come out of it. But that’s the point - without the right things put in place to give these opportunities, nothing will happen with that talent. That makes a difference to mental health too, the fact that we’re all actually given the platform to do this properly.”
The impact COL has had already it clear - it’s been followed by a BBC crew for an Inside Out documentary, and participants have had regular slots on BBC Radio Nottingham. Presenter Summaya Mughal offers some guest vocals on one of the tracks, and a surprise appearance from Fun Lovin’ Criminals drummer Frank Benbini took place at the workshops too.
Clips from the BBC documentary following two of the young people during the project, as well as Scorz-zay-zee talking about how music has helped in his own struggles with schizophrenia and cannabis addiction, will be shown at a live event at Metronome, where the participants will be performing tracks from the album.
Scorzayzee’s passion for the project and confidence in the work to come out of it is high. He said:
“I have lived a lot of my dreams and achieved a few single milestones that any young artist would aspire to do. At this stage of my life looking back, it is easy for me to forget the most important moment of all this, and it all started being involved in a small, drug awareness community project that led to my first record being played on national radio. I know this project was mental health themed but the circumstances were exactly the same.
"I would have jumped at the chance of being in a studio with professionals and being told "you know what, you have something there to work on". The confidence building, the relationships that were formed (at COL), and the fact that we were all there having so much fun under the banner of mental health reminded me of what inspiring and passing on skills and appreciation to others can really do for people's health.
“I'm completely blown away by what we achieved in three weeks. There is something special that happens when you put people together who all have a similar interest or something in common. Beyond all the music, what we had was people jumping out of bed in the morning and racing to get to the studio and leaving with a smile. Some people just need a little boost and inspiration, that can be life-changing. We also have a world-class album. In my opinion, one of the best albums to ever come out of our city."
The Circle of Light album will be professionally released by Nottingham based record label I’m Not From London in a variety of formats including limited edition vinyl pressed by Plates, which is based at Metronome.
Circle of Light Album Launch takes place at Metronome on Thursday 10th October, which is World Mental Health Day. Tickets are £5, or upgrading to a £10 ticket gets you a pre-order of the vinyl album plus a free download with additional tracks. Booking fees apply.