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Journey of a Song

Journey of a Song

How do you make a song with two groups of people who can never meet face to face? It’s a challenge that every Music In Detention workshop leader faces – and overcomes.

The seeds are usually first sown in the participating detention centre or IRC. “In the first session you just see what people do,” explains long-time MID artist Kevin ‘Kev’ Davidson. “For example at Campsfield House, George just came out with a rap and I played ukelele with it, then straight away I played that to Ollie and Teekay [from the Oxfordshire Youth Arts project] and they were like ‘Alright, this guy is pretty cool’”. That in turn kickstarted a series of exchanges between the two groups – particularly with detainee George. 

“George was one of the leading figures in the IRC because he was just a really good rapper and a really good writer,” says Kev. “He’d enjoy asking for briefs to write to. Initially I did that to focus his writing for the project but it became almost a little tradition: every week we were like ‘Ok, three more words for George and he’s going to write a rap by next week on it, or by tomorrow’. And George would always turn up with his rap written, ready to go. He was so humble with it as well. He’d do it and everyone was like ‘Wow, that’s amazing!’ and start clapping.”

A three-page poem written by George during his detention provided further material for the album. “But rather than just having him read it, I thought it would be more interesting to have different voices,” says Kev. “So we’ve got different community participants on the recording reading snippits of the poem, then I’m going to piece it together into like an audio play.” This also proved an ideal outlet for one participant in particular, James. “He had a broken hand for the first two weeks and so couldn’t really do much,” explains Kev. “And he’s quite shy. But when I suddenly realised he had a nice speaking voice, I was able to use that. So that was really cool.”

A rap by George, called ‘Love, Dedication, Nature’, also struck a chord, inspiring a discussion about love and relationships. And when Ollie commented: “Love is like a game, isn’t it?” the group’s song The Final Piece began to take shape. “Basically we took the word ‘love’ and put words to do with it,” explains Lianne. “So love is like playing a game of Monopoly because you take chances and you take risks in a relationship.” The pieces found in a Monopoly set inspired further ingenious lines, such as “you wear a top hat, drive a classic car … follow me round like a puppy dog”.

To help with the process of writing, music leader Kevin Campbell used a technique he calls the ‘human jukebox’. “We had loads of different phrases and words and then Kev sang them randomly,” explains Lianne, “and whichever ones we liked we picked out to put into this song. It’s sounds really good!” Another technique was using dice with images and words on each side. “We kind of mixed up words and images we were getting from the dice with the questions about life in the IRC to create lyrics,” says Laura, Youth Arts Manager (artsXchange). “It just evolved really quickly and quite beautifully. When you listen to what they’ve created, it’s just great. But it was all quite organic and sparky, it wasn’t too prescriptive.”

For George and Ollie, an even deeper connection emerged through the music. “Both Ollie’s parents had died by the time he was 14,” says Kev, “so when he rapped he started talking about that. I recorded him and then sent it to George. And it turned out George’s parents had also died when he was young. No one in the IRC knew that about George, he just did this performance and everyone was a bit like ‘Woah’, it was really moving. That was quite a crescendo moment in the IRC.” Spurred on by the collaboration, Ollie says he wants to pay a visit to Campsfield, to meet his fellow rapper – not just through his lyrics: “He sounds like a nice guy. I don’t know why I just feel like going to a detention centre.”

It’s a curiosity encouraged by the Music in Detention artists, but not pushed. “It’s incredible how Kev and Téa approached the issue [of detention] without getting deep or political,” says Laura. “I was quite nervous about the issue being discussed, but it just happened so naturally – and without judgement or questions of race. In youth work we often hear things regurgitated that you usually read in The Daily Mail, and I was worried that I was going to hear negative things about immigration. But that hasn’t come up at all. I don’t know if that’s because they’ve gone straight in with the music. Once you’ve heard real people singing, you stop judging. You don’t see them as an ‘other’, they’re just a person that’s involved in this process. So that’s been really great.”

Carinya Sharples, Freelance Journalist/Editor



Fight To Be Free, an animation created by Kevin Davidson, about the powerful human connections made during this project. 


Fight To Be Free

Workshop at Campsfield House

Workshop at Campsfield House