identifying as a band
The Radical Luddites had firmly established their identity as a band. They had worked up a set list of original material which they performed at several gigs, and were working on new songs to build upon this. However, the Tuesday morning session time, which The Radical Luddites used to develop and rehearse material, remained open to newcomers. Envisaging the group as collective rather than band was important to the ethos and practicalities of Tang Hall SMART (THS). Provision was to be inclusive, open, and accessible which presents implicit tension with the group’s identification as a band. When newcomers did join (newcomers largely being people that had attended Musication and therefore had met and played with The Radical Luddites in different configurations through that programme), they would join for a session or two, but would not participate beyond that. For some this was because they were less interested in the genres pursued by the group, which differed to those that featured in Musication.
For others, I sensed that entering into an existing set of relationships with agreed ways of working, was daunting. To include is to exclude. Despite exclusion being counter to my aims as a community musician, I did not recognise The Radical Luddites identification as a band to be the central problem. In becoming a band this small group of individuals had committed to working together, formed or deepened friendships, and had seemed to find a great deal of meaning through their music making together. This is exemplified through the transcript below, taken from a conversation session co-led by Graham and I, at which the group were invited discuss their thoughts about the band.
Sinbad: “… I think we’re pretty tight, as a band, you know what I mean? And we all know our place, type of thing – you know what I mean? And we all know what we’re doing and stuff like that. I’m more than happy on percussion, I can’t believe I’m playing the drums the way I’m playing them”.
Malcolm: “Yeah well that’s another thing, you actually develop new skills that you didn’t think you had as well”.
Malcolm: “And I think it boosts your self-confidence”.
Sinbad: “Yeah massively”.
Malcolm: “Cos if you’re on your own strumming at home on guitar with only a song you think this’ll never be good enough. But it’s like what Tim said, you get a band together and it actually takes a whole different life doesn’t it”.
Malcolm: “And you think, actually yeah I’ve got potential here”.
Sinbad: “We have yeah”.
Malcolm: “And that’s what this is all about I think”.
However, what I did find to be problematic, or rather a persistent troubling during my work with The Radical Luddites, was an uncertainty around the facilitator’s and/or organisation’s role in supporting participants in this context. For example, once a group forms an identity of this type and expresses a desire to work professionally, in an interventionist frame, for how long should community musicians continue to make music with participants? If an empowering practice is one through which participants can ultimately make their own music, is an ethical interventionist practice one that is time bound? What are the possibilities for continued working? When is the support enough? And who decides?
Moving into the next academic year, Sue amended the Tuesday morning offer and re-advertised it as a ‘community music session’ with the aim to include more participants. The Radical Luddites could continue to join Tuesday mornings, and some did. They could also pursue their music-making during other weekly sessions offered by THS. Subsequently Graham and I changed the session format. We focussed on open-ended processes with deliberate intention to avoid music-making approaches that may lead to band formation. Improvisation featured heavily over composition, since the fixing of material which is supportive of ownership, can also amass exclusivity through stipulating who owns it.