Isolation, In Your Words: BBC Radio 3 debut
Every so often I’m completely flawed when a client sends me their work.
When I opened an early mix of ‘Isolation, In Your Words’ I got that feeling of absolute awe.
And mostly bewilderment...at grasping how the heck had these four guys created such a monster of work in less than 12 weeks, AND remotely.
Back in March, Mandeep, Leanne, Kevin and Arun’s usual musical outlets disappeared overnight.
No more gigs. No more studio recording. No more school workshops.
These guys are pretty modest in the impact the lockdown has had on them, but I think initially it left them flummoxed and wondering ‘what an earth do we do now’?
Then an opening appeared. Commissioning began for BBC Arts, Arts Council England and The Space Arts Culture in Quarantine programme.
The team weren't just successful in gaining funding for their idea, but were also handpicked as one of 25 projects to have their work showcased on a BBC platform.
And that’s where we met.
Credit: Amy Brown
My first call with Mandeep back in July was full of curiosity.
In advance of that first meeting, he'd sent me over a handful of tracks.
Instantly I knew this was a piece of work like nothing I’d ever heard before..
(And I've spent the last 15 years working in the audio industry.)
By day, Mandeep told me he was a medical student living with his family in East Ilford (he’s since qualified and working in the NHS), but by night - his outlet was playing the sax and rapping. Not quite the typical extra curricular activity you’d expect from a trainee doctor!
Earlier today I looked back at my notes from that initial conversation, and my thoughts the first time I listened to Isolation, In Your Words:
“Zappa-esque, funky, hybrid, insightful, curious, love the play of rhythm in speech, creating music from ordinary conversation snippets…I could listen to this 100 times and notice something new every time.”
I was hooked. I was hungry to listen. And I was fascinated to learn more.
Weaving together the words and stories of the British public with a blend of rap, jazz, a cappella and verbatim theatre, this half-hour musical documentary/14-track album blurs the line between songwriting and social research in capturing a snapshot of this unique moment in history.
It asks a handful of ordinary people for their take on lockdown.
Four-year-old Sara and new grandmother Felicity miss cuddles.
Frankie is used to being alone but is experiencing a new kind of loneliness.
Ramadan is very different this year for Sayra’s family.
And Janet, living with cancer, feels even more restricted and uncertain amidst this new ‘normal’.
Have a listen to this 90 second teaser and hear for yourself. (It’s best listened to with headphones on...)
In those early conversations Mandeep’s passion exuded from every pore.
He told me how he didn’t want this piece to be a “flash in the pan”.
How his focus was about “getting unheard voices heard.”
And “the more I do medicine, the more music I want to create.”
By drawing upon a collective of like-minded artists, he wanted to curate a space to support younger artists on the London jazz scene - those in the infant stages of their (hopefully) blossoming music careers.
As the collectives’ assigned Culture In Quarantine mentor (I work as an associate producer for The Space audio commissions), they didn’t really need my help in the making and creating of the project.
Instead, we spent our time pondering over the bigger questions - like which BBC radio station would it most suit for a debut performance? Once the exclusivity of the BBC partnership passed what would the team do with the work? Long-term where would we house this piece of audio? Would it work best as a Spotify music album or an audio podcast?
We considered copyright, IP, a marketing plan, how to create social media assets and wondered whether a potential record label would want to come on board as a partner.
The culmination of this body of work has taken many months of hard work, grit and determination by the team. Not just in making a great piece of music, but also in setting up a solid digital foundation for the team to build upon with future work.
My closing thoughts? The global crisis of 2020 has left much of our music industry on its knees.
We need to ensure talented people like Mandeep, Leanne, Kevin and Arun will always have a space and the opportunity to continue to make work like this.
And we as music consumers need such bold ambitious works to feed our own curiosity.
It’s been an honour to work with these folk. I hope you’ll join me in celebrating their debut transmission on BBC Radio 3 this weekend, it’ll be available to listen to again on the BBC Sounds app for a year. It's a half hour out of your day that you won't regret.
I must have listened to this piece 5 or 6 times from start to finish, and each time I notice a new detail, a new lyric line, a new harmony. I grow to love it more and more. I'm incredibly proud of what they've created.
Perhaps by listening for yourself it’ll help you ponder your own answer to the overarching question: “how has this time of isolation been for you?”
FORMAL PRESS RELEASE:
Isolation, In Your Words: A BBC Culture in Quarantine commission supported by Arts Council England, BBC Arts and The Space
“The silence is the loudest part My calendar’s been torn apart My character laid bare to see I miss my friends and family.”
Isolation, In Your Words weaves together the words and stories of the British public with a unique blend of rap, jazz, a cappella and verbatim theatre, created by writers Mandeep Singh, Leanne Sedin, Kevin Fox, and producer Zar (Arun Dhanjal).
The album features interview audio from 45 individuals speaking during the height of the 2020 coronavirus lockdown, capturing both unique stories and shared experiences of isolation. Recorded remotely by 17 musicians, the project uses a documentary approach to songwriting that blurs the line between music and social research, as a snapshot of this unique moment in history.
Moods Morph In Moments - rap-driven fusion of Indian classical, UK garage and choral arranging, exploring interviewees’ darker reflections. “While isolated I’ve been finding my mind racing / Paranoia multiplied by the lies I’m facing / I feel my sense of substance waning / Anxiety is taxing, draining.”
Hugs - joyful jazz, exploring the amusing/poignant reflections of kids aged 2-16, with those of new grandmother Felicity (66). “A little bit happy, and a little bit sad / I wanted to cuddle people.”
What’s Next? - reflective piano/vocal piece in which Janet (55), suffering with cancer, reflects on restriction and uncertainty. (Sadly Janet died in July.) “This has got an end for other people.”
So Different - playful dialogue between a jazz drummer and “Sayra” (42), a mum of seven, describing life in lockdown during Ramadan. “So many people would come together, pray together, break their fast. But now, no one is going to each other’s houses.”
Nothing To Do - mood-shifting funky house with an a cappella big-band breakdown weaving together thoughts from JJ (30), Sara (37), ND (28) and Matt (19). “I don’t wanna be driven again by form-filling and boardrooms / None of that is important / Life’s become simple again.”
Mandeep, Leanne and Kevin started their creative partnership working on a NHS choir project exploring co-production in healthcare. The album features three participants from that project, and two pieces exploring the stories of medical professionals (Can’t Catch My, Wherever You Go) written by Mandeep, who is himself a doctor, and led on this CIQ project. Debut broadcast: Saturday 31st October 2125 on BBC Radio 3 (Between The Ears). Available on the BBC Sounds after transmission.