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Billy and andy

It’s a Sunday morning in a surprisingly sunny Manchester and I’m on my way to Gorse Hill Park to watch a gig at a family fun day. The band I’m going to see, I haven’t seen before, but have already heard a lot about. I’ve heard about their background, their sterling personalities and unique lyrics. I have also heard about how this band came to be and the two musicians who made it possible. Billy Payne and Andy Haines created Billy and Andy’s Music School last August, and in the past year have hosted accessible music workshops designed for young people with disabilities in the North West.

Today’s gig is by The Spotlighters, whose members are some of the students from the school along with Billy and Andy themselves. The set list includes a cover of The Monkees’ ‘I’m a Believer’ and original songs written by the band, my favourites being the catchy ‘Manchester Days’ and the hilarious ‘I’m a Mother Flippin’ T Rex’. After The Spotlighters’ brilliant performance, I caught up with founders Billy and Andy to find out more about the work they’ve been doing.

The school started a year ago, with the first class in August 2014. “We were both working at Loreto College together as support workers,” Andy said. “We had been running a dinnertime music club with the students at school. We taught them guitar and songwriting, and we thought we would try to see if we could do it for a whole week.”

This idea became a reality after the pair both took voluntary redundancy from their other jobs and, with a bit of money and positive relationships with the students, Andy said they “realised these students really liked the music and didn’t have a lot to do during the school holidays.” Their first term was a huge success.

A year on, the pair have secured a Prince’s Trust award and brought their workshops to care homes, primary and high schools, and residential homes, growing more and more accessible, encompassing a broad range of activities, instruments and learning outcomes, chosen to suit the individuals.

“We generally try and make it about making an album and other sorts of skill revolve around that,” said Andy. “But everything the kids do during the school gets recorded and put onto a CD. We ask the students to write their own songs and all of the lyrics, and then they record their own parts. Regardless of ability, we aim to imbue the students with a passion for making music.”

Passion is definitely the right word to describe these two, as they tell me more about their projects and ideas on how to make music more accessible and fun for their students. I was most impressed when I learned that they have crafted their own instruments to give students with severe disabilities the opportunity to create music. Andy described how they have “worked in a couple of residential homes with kids who have severe disabilities, some of which couldn’t really play anything. So we tried to think of ways around that.”

Some of these instruments are MaKey MaKey violins. “Using a circuit board designed by a company called MaKey MaKey, we attached it to a violin and removed the strings to become touch sensitive,” explained Billy. “You put your hand on one part of the violin to complete the circuit and it makes loads of nice noises as you move your hand up and down.”

But if you’re looking for something a little more contemporary to suit the technical age we live in, the boys have found a nifty way to make old games console controllers into music wielding weapons. “[The school] has a lot of Wii remotes which make sounds and do different things when you shake them,” Billy said. “We buy old games controllers and we try to make something out of them. We’ve just bought a new Guitar Hero controller and are going to program that to make sounds.”

Billy and Andy want to start to apply for more funding to develop their workshops and take them further afield. Currently, the workshops are scheduled during each school holiday and run for a week. “We’ve never applied for funding before and it would be nice to offer people to attend the school for free or for a discounted price, which would be ideal really,” Andy said.

During term time, Billy and Andy run a free music workshop. Based at Chorlton High School, Saturday Sounds offers two free, hour-long sessions, one for those aged below 13 and one for over 13s, at which youngsters can experiment with music and sounds.

Before we finish our chat Billy told me the core goal for the school. “We are trying to replicate as much as possible what it was like for us when we created a band – writing songs and recording music. We want to make that experience as accessible as possible.” Inspirational and creative, these two passionate individuals yet to reach their limits and there is a lot to look forward to.

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