Best gig in town

Fifty years after The Beatles played there, a Liverpool youth club is offering recording equipment and rehearsal rooms for young wannabes to hone their performing skills. Talk about a hard act to follow, writes Richard Garner

If the walls of the Knotty Ash Youth Centre could talk, they would have a few tales to tell. The centre in Liverpool hosted the Fab Four eight times early in the band's career. Last year was the 50th anniversary of The Beatles gigs, and it seems that the vibes given off by those past performances are helping a whole new generation of wannabe showbiz stars write their own success stories.

The centre is one of 14 youth clubs chosen for a pioneering new venture in which rehearsal rooms have been fully equipped with sound recording equipment and enough space for budding musicians to practice and play gigs.

In the case of Knotty Ash, there is also a theatre available for the young people to perform in. The rehearsal room venture was originally intended to help 16- to 24-year-olds – but children as young as nine have now used its facilities to fine-tune their skills.

One regular attendee has already got a foothold on the ladder to stardom – Joe Slater, who this year landed a part in the BBC One soap Waterloo Road playing a tearaway called Lenny, is one of the youth centre's early customers. Joe, who is pursuing a singing career in addition to his TV acting role and is busy working on his first album at the club, says: "I know that it was since I came to Knotty Ash that I've learned what music is all about. It is not something you just sing or listen to – it is a way of life.

"I didn't know how to play bass guitar, I only knew how to play a piano. I've learnt my craft since I came here," he says.

He is not alone in flourishing thanks to the guidance of the centre. Vanessa Murray, a 17-year-old singer/composer, won a national rock competition after first performing at the centre and is now one of the youngest people to study for a BA honours degree at Sir Paul McCartney's Liverpool Institute of the Performing Arts. "She's done amazingly well," says Phil Windever, from the centre. "It's very competitive to get into LIPA (pronounced "lipper" locally). There's all sorts of international competition for places and she's very young to have started on a degree."

Vanessa, who began her course in September but still takes time to visit the place that got her started, says: "I came here three years ago. Last year, I was in college and I was asked to do a music video and I came to the centre to record it.

"Most young people don't have the money to go to the professional studios to do their recordings. These facilities are just great and you get all the professional advice and help that you need."

Young people who want to hire rehearsal rooms are charged £2 per session, says John Bligh, the music manager at Knotty Ash. "We'd love to give it for free but we make the charge so they realise how important it is. It shows it means something."

All 14 of the rehearsal rooms in the UK have been set up in areas of urban and rural deprivation by UK Music, an umbrella organisation representing the interests of the music industry, with a pump-priming grant from the Department for Culture, Music and Sport (DCMS). The £440,000 funding was used to provide instruments and equipment – and also made a contribution towards necessary capital works such as the soundproofing of studios.

Since the project began, more than 30,000 young people have visited the centres and – in addition to Knotty Ash's successes – one young music producer has had works performed at the Glastonbury and Reading festivals, while another young singer appeared at London's Royal Albert Hall. Other bands have been support acts for groups such as McFly and Bombay Bicycle Club.

The DCMS has now withdrawn its funding, as was the plan once the rehearsal rooms were up and running. All 14 are still operating, drawing funds from a variety of places – including local councils and arts charities. Some are feeling the squeeze, though, and are urgently looking for further support.

The venture is just one of a number planned by UK Music that are aimed at making careers in the music industry more accessible to today's young people – especially to those from disadvantaged communities. In conjunction with Creative and Cultural Skills, the industry training body for the music profession, it has also launched the UK Music Skills Academy, which aims to provide 200 new apprenticeships in the profession during the next 12 months, and offers to help set up music businesses with grants worth £3,500.

According to Jo Dipple, from UK Music, behind the scenes, the industry is still a largely middle-class, white male preserve, with 93 per cent of employees white and 61 per cent male. She hopes that, gradually, through the apprenticeship scheme, opportunities can be provided to change that image. The 14 centres encourage the development of backstage technical skills, too.

Back to Knotty Ash, though, and it is hardly surprising that one of the centre's most enthusiastic supporters is the comedian Ken Dodd, who lives just down the road and is responsible for making the area known to a wider audience (even though most people think it is a fictitious place he dreamt up for his stage act until they actually make a visit). The veteran 86-year-old comedian still pops in from time to time to give the young people encouragement.

The local Liverpool MP, Stephen Twigg, is also keen to offer any help he can. He was forced to give up his brief as Labour's shadow Education Secretary in the reshuffle earlier this year by Labour leader Ed Miliband – but has not forgotten his roots. "I miss education," he confesses, and believes the centre is one way of keeping him in touch with the hopes and aspirations of the young people he used to meet regularly on his previous beat. It also helps him in his present portfolio – shadowing constitutional affairs – where he is responsible for promoting Labour's plans to give 16-year-olds the vote.

"I think it would be hard for these young people if this was not here," Mr Twigg says of Knotty Ash. "It would have been a struggle for them to find anywhere in Liverpool where they could have gone. Some are travelling from other parts of the city to get here – and there are many positives to be got out of this place being here. It gives them somewhere to go – somewhere they want to go."

Two bands who were practising at the centre on the day that I visited would wholeheartedly agree with him. New English Rebels, a rock band who play "anything from heavy metal to jazz", formed in May after its three members started visiting the centre. "We knew each other through school," says 20-year-old Dan Christian, the group's drummer. "It gives us somewhere to practise. The average cost of hiring a professional place would be around £30, but this offers cheap and affordable facilities to young people." The group have just played their first gig.

Lucid Repetition describe themselves as a punk/indie band who also got together about two months ago when their four members came to the centre. "It's great – it's a really good place to practise," says guitarist Liam Gibson. "The centre has been massively supportive of us."

The centre has also provided much needed theatrical space for the local comprehensive school, Cardinal Heenan Roman Catholic secondary school, the drama teacher of which, Donna Jones, says the school had been looking for space a few years ago. "Now that we've found it, we don't want to let it go," she adds.

According to John Bligh, facilities such as the rehearsal room are a way of dragging youth clubs – which sometimes have a "fuddy duddy" image – into the 21st century. And now they have got there, there is no way he wants to see them going back.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there