This site now acts as an archive only. For the latest news, opinion, blogs and listings on disability arts and culture visit

Disability Arts Online

Colin goes from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again in the search for good music / 1 April 2011

Shut up and Listen has become compulsory listening in the last few months. Hosted by members of Carousel house band, Zombie Crash, it's a thoroughly entertaining hour. Ryan and Luc bounce off of each other on radio - as they introduce a compelling selection of tracks from learning disabled musicians from here and abroad. 

The March 2011 show which is available on the Shut up and Listen website, is an Australian Special with a feature on the Oska Bright Film Festival as they take their movie magic to Adelaide. The show includes some great tracks from Australian artists: Rudely Interrupted, Donna Williams and Tra La La Blip with the very goose-pimply '1Anzac March'.

Continuing on a musical note I was intrigued to watch Goldie's Band: By Royal Appointment on BBC2 - the first in a three part series available on BBC i-player till 15 April. The series follows drum and bass pioneer Goldie on a personal mission to discover young people whose talent and passion for music is at the centre of their lives. In the first episode, Goldie is joined on his nationwide search by a team of experts including composer Guy Chambers, jazz artist Soweto Kinch, singer/songwriter Cerys Matthews and MC/songwriter Ms Dynamite

It is a refreshing idea, if not unique, and a real one in the eye for the legacy of record companies manipulating and manufacturing music to suit what they think should be popular. Goldie and crew go out seeking young musicians on the fringes. They travel the country sitting down taking tea in their homes and getting them to play.

They've not gone out to search for 'disabled musicians' or anything as prescribed as that. Goldie is looking for music that "makes the hair on his arm stand on end". It's his "litmus test" for whether the music is any good or not. The result is that of the twelve young people chosen at least two have severe mental health issues; one musician is hearing impaired; others come from the margins of society in one way or another. Probably none of them would relate to disability or disability arts, but all would probably agree with the idea that a lot of great  music is made out of adversity.

Certainly, Goldie goes to great lengths to illustrate that that is where he is coming from in his search to bring a group of unknowns together and make magic happen. He brings his mum into the frame to open up the story with her about how she had to have him put into care to save him from an abusive father. He talks about how the music he is known for, came out of the need to express himself.

The artist who did it for me was Lester Allen - a young guy from Luton. He makes Ms Dynamite cry, and Goldie fights it all back at the sheer quality and depth of emotion Lester puts into his songs, drawing on experience of mental health difficulties. '30 Pills' is the song that describes his journey into mental hospital: "Poseidon smells my fear and draws me close; he knows my end is near". Then he hits a glorious high note on the refrain: "today will be the day that I die". 

He's a cross between Mumford and Son and Daniel Johnston - just a young lad sitting on a bed, giving it his all. What was it Dylan said about there not being any sin, inside the gates of eden. You can't have perfection without imperfection.

Not that Goldie's show, like all television, isn't incredibly flawed. There's only two women out of the twelve. The idea is to bring this broad cross-section of talent, instruments and musical influences together to make something unique. There's no telling what a row they will make in their attempt to get to grips with Goldie's dream. And what tops it all is that they are being hyped up to prepare for a 'special', oh so special concert at Buckingham Palace at the behest of Prince Harry. Only television could invent something so appallingly crass.

All I can say is at least he is trying something different; something which allows for inspiration and happy accidents to come to the fore. I just hope it brings something helpful into the lives of those it is meant to change. 

And lastly talking about remarkable stories I caught a recording on Facebook of film critic Mark Kermode raving about the Staff Benda Bilili! film documentary that is touring the UK now. He likens the movie about a group of disabled street musicians from Congo-Kinshasa to the award-winning 'Heavy Load: A film about happiness' with its "strange garage band version of that Kylie Minogue song that goes 'la la'."

Take note Load fans! Even Mark Kermode, almost recognises that Kylie Minogue is the Heavy's number one fan!