Name: MYA Noise
What do we do: Change lives through music
Who is it for: 13-18 year olds
The description on the website of the MERSEYSIDE YOUTH ASSOCIATION offers a pretty frank explanation of what the music-centred aspect of the organisation does: the MYA Noise Project changes lives. It’s a bold statement, but you can bet your bottom dollar that they have the examples to back it up. The rich seam of talent currently running through the city at present offers ample evidence of these successes, including two former Bido Lito! cover stars: MOBO Award winning soul sensation Esco Williams and Prince-ly pop auteur Amique are both Noise Project ‘alumni’, as are Sony Music signing Chelcee Grimes and rising producer, BBC 1Xtra regular and Wiley collaborator, Chartstalker. The much-tipped likes of Fire Beneath The Sea, meanwhile, continue to showcase the breadth of talent that passes through the organisation’s doors, continuing their upwards trajectories having been given the opportunity to get their feet on the first rung of the ladder.
Run by Phil Kearns and assisted by Garth Jones, the MYA’s Noise Project has been a mainstay in the lives of Merseyside’s young musicians for the past 13 years. Providing a safe and welcoming space for young people to cut their musical teeth, the project is an extension of the MYA’s wider aim to positively engage with young people and help them reach their potential. The initial inspiration for the project came from the organisation’s former leader. “Our Chief Executive at the time, Roy Evans, went to New York in 1998 and saw a similar building called The Door, which was a young person facilitated enterprise. It had recording studios, classrooms, art rooms, everything to do with the creative industries and it was free,” Phil explains, sitting in the MYA’s own recording studio. “Through an appeal we raised over £1.5 million over five years, bought the building in 2000, and now we have a partnership with The Door in New York, so our workers go over there and their workers come over here.” Phil believes that the Association’s location in Hanover Street a few doors down from BBC Radio Merseyside, at the heart of the city centre, is one of the secrets of its success. “We’ve done lots of work in the community, but it can be quite difficult to get young people motivated and keep something going, whereas being based in town, our access is fantastic. The number of people who wanna join the project is unbelievable. It’s plugging into this world city of Liverpool; they have an input into that.”
Drawing from his background, Phil arrived at the MYA following a long stint in Cantril Farm guitar-slingers The Hoovers, contemporaries of The Real People and The Farm. “We were fairly successful and after 15 years, to be honest, I got fed up and I left the band in 1996,” Phil explains. “I thought ‘What can I do now?’ A guy I knew who worked for the MYA had an idea for getting this project off the ground where young musicians can come and develop if they haven’t got the finance to get guitar lessons or book studio time. For many musicians they grow up with a frustrated feeling of having this art inside them, but it’s a really difficult thing for them to say to themselves ‘I’ve got drive and ambition, but where do I take it; who can help me?’’
“I used to work on an under-18s night at The Citadel in St. Helens, as a sound engineer,” Garth explains. “Kids would come from all over Merseyside. I’d be working with a lot of young bands and I’d find that they didn’t know what they were doing in a lot of ways. They’d practised their songs, they’d put a set together, they’d hyped this date up for weeks on end. They’d worked very hard and when they got there they didn’t know who the sound engineer was, where you plugged in, what you needed to bring, who provides equipment.”
In addition to assisting with recording and stagecraft, Phil and Garth help at the stage beyond learning an instrument – songwriting. “Young people think it’s a really hard process, [but] it’s not some ethereal, mystical thing,” Phil says of the mystique that surrounds the practice. “Young people don’t realise that everybody starts from that same place, which is ‘I’ve got an idea’. Me and Garth take that, we manipulate that to the point where it’s all-around development. We will be really honest and truthful with our musicians; we don’t put stars in young people’s eyes.”
Whilst highly supportive of young people’s endeavours to get into music, being inspired by the most pernicious influence in pop in recent years is steadfastly discouraged. “The amount of people who’ve come in and said ‘Can you get me on X Factor?’ and I’ve just said ‘No’… it’s frightening,” Phil states wearily. “There’s no artistic integrity in there.” “What we do is refining what’s already there,” Garth adds. “The idea comes to us and it’s our job then to channel that in the right direction, to make something they can walk away with.”
The Skive Lounge, its title purloined from BBC Radio 1’s long-running live music slot, is a recently established venture that allows Noise Project attendees to bring their friends along to see them perform in the Hanover Street HQ. “We realised people have a real affinity for this building; they wanna perform in here. On the promotional side of things, the kids are teaching us how to utilise social media more effectively,” Phil explains, positive proof that learning can be a two-way process.
In partnership with the Merseyside Arts Foundation, funded by the National Foundation for Youth Music, the Association recently partnered with Parr Street Studios to launch a programme where course participants can spend studio time in the place where Elbow, Coldplay and Doves all helmed million-sellers. “The results which have come back from this project have really paid dividends; the lift it gives people is amazing. It’s a buzz seeing those ideas come to fruition,” Garth enthuses of the sessions.
Beyond being able to step onto a stage or record songs, however, is the support and emotional development the Association offers to attendees. “They’ve all taken stuff out of the Noise Project that they wouldn’t have got anywhere else,” Phil says of the scores of people who have attended the MYA over the years. “The big thing for us is watching the people who show up become centred and focussed.”
Changing lives through music? The Noise Project shows that it has that power.