The Bard would be proud
Not so long ago, when someone said ‘Stratford’ to me the first thing that came to mind was not William Shakespeare’s hometown but the Stratford Rex venue which became synonymous in the late 90s and early 2000s for its jungle and garage raves.
Now when I think about this part of East London it’s a bit of a different story — the small matter of the 2012 London Olympics, the gigantic Westfield shopping centre, heavily upgraded transport facilities and of course a lot of new high-rise apartments (with many more still to come).
Tucked away behind the older of the two shopping centres is an arts venue that opened just before the Olympics. Stratford Circus is a contemporary performing arts venue, and it was there last Thursday that East London Arts & Music (ELAM) held their inaugural industry awards.
A little about ELAM
ELAM is an academy for 16–19 year old talent who want to break into the music industry, either as a performer, producer or executive. The trainees work alongside industry professionals on real world projects and work placements, as well as having regular mentoring sessions to help them develop.
The academy is a Free School funded by the Department for Education, inspected by OFSTED and completely free to attend. And it’s not just music — every trainee works towards Maths and English qualifications too.
By 2017, the Academy will have 300 full-time Trainees studying on either the Music Programme or the Digital Arts Programme (launching in 2016 — this is a really exciting addition).
Frankly it’s something the industry has been crying out for (maybe not loudly enough), and the event in Stratford was to celebrate their first 75 trainees completing their first year at the academy.
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that I felt strangely nostalgic about being at my first ‘school’ awards for nearly 15 years, but I was.
What made this a little different to my previous outing back in the late 1990s was that the standard of production and talent on show was on a different level (apologies to my alumni).
The live music of course was fantastic (with my personal favourite performances being ‘Dancing’ by John Parry, Tamika Watkin-Wallace and Louisa McClure, and a cover of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ by Shannon Brown), and there’s no doubt that a lot of the musicians who played on the night are going to forge careers in the future.
What was also very impressive was how confident, articulate and fearless so many of the trainees were when it came to public speaking. The majority of us (including me) get pretty petrified when it comes to speaking formally in front of an audience, but not many of these guys…
The other thing that came across so clearly was the bond that the teachers, students and academy as a whole seemed to share. The word ‘family’ gets bandied about far too much in organisations, but with ELAM I really got the feeling that what has made its first year so successful is a positive and supportive culture where the F-word doesn’t seem like it’s being thrown around cheaply.
It was a genuinely inspirational evening, full of talented, positive and determined people following their passions — both teachers and pupils.
What happens next
The trainees from this year’s intake will be back at ELAM’s new space in September, along with a new group working in both music and digital arts.
Even in a very tiny way, I’m delighted to be involved — something like this is long overdue.
ELAM may well be the pathway for the future of UK music…watch this space.
Got an opinion? Let me know on Twitter (@howardgray).