On Thursday 5th April, sixteen bands took to the stage at Stroud’s Subscription Rooms to perform a variety of songs in front of an eager and excitable audience. The gig – a culmination of a week’s worth of intense musical development at the hands of The Bandit Music Projects – was more than just a karaoke contest. Over the preceding four days, 64 school-aged children had formed bands, written songs and learnt a variety of skills that would stand any aspiring musician in good stead. The result was an evening filled not only with great music, but with a youthful energy that was both charming to watch and inspirational to hear.
Running three times a year across the Easter, Summer and October school holidays, each Bandit Music Project encourages children to write new and original songs centred around a chosen theme. The songs crafted for Bandit 21 focused on ‘emotions’, a topic that holds a great deal of relevance in the 21st century as we continue to battle the stigma that surrounds mental health. The evening kicked off with a warm-up, one that held its own emotional resonance as the audience were encouraged to join in with one band’s insightful words: “Won’t let it beat me, won’t let it defeat me, I’m fighting this battle, yeah I’m fighting this battle tonight…”
After such an emotional start, I was genuinely excited for what was about to come and the following two and half hours did not disappoint. Each band had clearly injected their music with emotions that were wide-ranging yet significant to us all; Rage Assassins performed Angry Silence, TNT Isolation (a supergroup) bought us Explosion of Happiness, It Could Be Worse belted out Green Eyed Monster and one band even wrote about the emotions involved in writing a song with their aptly titled, The Journey of the Song – all followed by rapturous applause from audience members and fellow students alike.
However, it wasn’t just the theme that showcased the students’ ingenuity. The originality of the songs, the uniqueness of each band’s musical voice and the variety of instruments skilfully utilised (including a saxophone, trombone, keyboard, flute, drums, guitars and vocals) were impressive to say the least. Even the broad range of genres employed, and the striking visuals displayed behind the musicians as they performed, left me in complete awe.
As the evening drew to a close, it was clear that some firm friendships had been made across the course of the week and the confidence of those involved, particularly of the Bandit first-timers, had rocketed to an all-time high. There were a couple of bands – Drifted and Bones Like That – who, after forming at previous Bandits, had already garnered a devoted following and were now playing gigs outside of the classroom (one band even had their own merchandise!) and their shared love for the music they were creating was palpable.
To watch these talented youngsters perform in front of an audience, to see their parents’ pride and admiration and to be part of an evening that was filled with enthusiasm and enjoyment was an absolute delight. The hard work and effort of both the students and the Bandit team paid off in such a musically inspiring and heart-warming way that I left with a huge smile on my face (and a slight ringing in my ears!).
To find out more about Bandit visit their website www.banditmusicprojects.co.uk or pick up a copy of the latest issue of Good On Paper (out now!) to read Leah's interview with organiser Kevin Howlett.
Leah Grant is a writer and photographer with a keen interest in art and literature. On her blog, My Belly Full, you can find reviews of exhibitions, installations, dance performances and literary events as well as her own lovingly created pieces of short fiction mybellyfull.co.uk