Carlow Young Creatives - helping teens to realise their rock’n’roll dreams

Cheylene Murphy of the The Carlow Young Creatives project, tells Niall Byrne about giving aspiring teens “that one moment” when they realise they can become musicians

For the first two weeks of August, Carlow’s Scoil Mhuire Gan Smál National School is hosting 30 young people between the ages of 13 and 17 who are participating in a two-week course that provides practical experience in writing music, starting a band and promoting it to the world.

The Carlow Young Creatives “band development” project is an initiative funded by the Music Generation/Arts Council Partnership Programme and Music Generation Carlow partnering with Wall2Wall Music. Cheylene Murphy, a facilitator with the project, says that the camp immerses young people in “an intense creative process where everyone is treated as an artist and has the opportunity to develop and learn alongside musicians working in the profession”.

Along with Cheylene (of bands Beauty Sleep and Wonder Villains), Cheylene’s mother Sarah, brother Feargus, Seamus Devenny who work for Wall2Wall Music, those facilitators also include producers and musicians Rocky O’Reilly from Start Together Studios, Orri McBrearty from Attica Studios, Billy Robinson from The Steeples Studio and Ryan McGroarty, also of Beauty Sleep and Wonder Villains. These facilitators encourage those participating by offering tips, stories and suggestions.

Day one begins with the students being assigned into one of five bands. The organisers pick the bands before they meet the musicians based on a mix of name, age and instrument. A theme is picked. This year’s theme is Portals and Gateways. The proficiency of musicianship varies among the groups but the facilitators offer encouragement when needed.


In at the deep end
The songwriting begins on the first day too.

“We threw them in at the deep end on the first day with a brand-new band they had just met to make a few decisions about what their song will sound like. At the end of every hour-long session of group songwriting, they share what they have done with everyone. That means for the next session they have some feedback on what they could be working on. We set up a positive creative environment where all ideas are good and group decisions are best, with an expectation that everyone contributes ideas and develops the song together.”

A feeling of excitement and nervousness dominates this process depending on what part of the song is being worked on.

"The youngest group of 12-13 year olds wrote their song Alien the quickest, as they all agreed the style and concept they were going for from the get-go. Other groups jammed on ideas and developed style more gradually. In general, the music flowed easier than the lyrics. There was some understandable self-consciousness around sharing ideas for lyrics and these generally took longer."

Improvise together
As a result of the feedback, Murphy says the musicians are learning to to be musically open-minded and listen to what's happening around them. The group improvise together which also encourages music-making.

“We develop how to challenge, define and decide ideas – after improvisations we get everyone to pick what they liked, develop and merge it with the music around them. It can lead to some really interesting music. That freedom to make noise and confidence in your critical ear is invaluable, so we do it as often as possible.”

The musicians listen to in a wide range of artists, from Avenged Sevenfold to Queen to The Clancy Brothers. Local Leinster band Picture This, who are in their early 20s and just sold out a nationwide 12-date Irish tour, are an inspiration too. Each one of the 30 is interested in pursuing music professionally later in life.

As the songs have developed the bands have started to define their sound taking in punk, pop, grunge and indie-pop.

'Pop up' studio
Next, the musicians get some recording and production experience and are introduced to multi-tracking and get their questions answered by producers.

“We aim to make the recording process as accessible as possible - all the producers bring a ‘pop up’ studio (laptop, interface and microphone) and set up in a classroom of their choice. It was fun for the producers to experience the exhilaration of the young people when they heard their music back for the first time.”

Once the songs are done, the team make a quick video for them and the bands learn about promotion, whether that’s social media, industry or building an audience.

“We tend to share experiences and get them to start feeling it out for themselves, getting them to create social media accounts and collaborate together, giving them a taster that they can use and run with themselves after the project has finished.”

And run with it they will. The bands – Reading Light, The Sw1tch, The U.M.Os Unsolved and Hot Contents – are currently rehearsing for a big gig at the George Bernard Shaw Theatre in Carlow on Sunday, the culmination of an intense course and the facilitators’ guidance.

“I think all the ‘established’ musicians remember what it’s like to love music and want to do it, but not think it was possible – until that one moment when they realised they could do it,” says Murphy. “We all try and make that moment happen for as many young musicians as possible on this course.”

- The live show, featuring performances of all the music created as part of Carlow Young Creatives project, takes place on Sunday August 14that 7pm in George Bernard Shaw Theatre in Carlow. Tickets are free but you are advised to reserve tickets by phoning the box office on 059-9172400. For more, see