Education: Please Sir, pump up the volume: When Tuxford School's band steps out of the recording studio to do a gig, the headteacher comes along as roadie. Julia Hagedorn reports

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The Independent Online
ON NIGHTS such as this, a school minibus sets out from a rural comprehensive in Nottinghamshire laden with about 20 youngsters and all the paraphernalia it takes to set up a disco, including smoke and pyrotechnics. Tuxford School's live band, Showcase, is on the way to its latest gig, usually accompanied by the most enthusiastic 'roadie' of them all, Keith Atkinson, the headteacher.

This year Showcase played to 200 at the Christmas dinner of the local power station, but the band also takes bookings to play at hog roasts in nearby villages, weddings and 21sts, the National Farmers' Union, or a 2,500-strong audience at the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham. It specialises in rock and soul but will happily take on requests for almost any other kind of music.

While the prime movers behind Showcase are Ian Chappell, the head of music, and his colleague, the head of physics, Tony Lynch (a useful man to have around if the sound system goes down during a gig), the band's strongest supporter is undoubtedly Keith Atkinson. In the Sixties, Mr Atkinson ran one of the foremost clubs in Nottingham, The Boat Club, which billed regular appearances from stars such as Rod Stewart and Led Zeppelin. So it was here that he decided to test out Showcase after its founding in 1986. The band - vocalists, lead and rhythm guitars, bass, drums, sax and keyboard - was rapturously received.

By then, Ian Chappell had also produced Showcase's first record. Making it cost pounds 2,500 and six days of hard work to an unrealistic deadline in a hired studio in Nottingham. The experience convinced Mr Chappell that the school needed to build its own recording studio. Two teachers eagerly undertook the task by tearing the back out of Mr Chappell's room and moving everything forward by about three metres.

The resulting space was soundproofed and equipped with keyboards, acoustic drum machines, mixers, a computer sequencing system and a multi-track recording unit. Not only can the school now produce its own tapes for sale, it also hires out the

studio to a diverse clientele - from a police rock band to a church choir.

Although Showcase is the cream of the school's music business, and its small group of performers is much admired by the rest of the school, Mr Chappell also writes and produces musicals in which everyone has a chance to perform. His latest, a rock musical about a lad who becomes a rock star and has his life ruined (the head has the role of a scurrilous journalist digging up the dirt), played to a full house of 1,200 before Christmas. Profits from the shows and gigs are ploughed back into the music department, and have paid for the recording studio.

Gigs sometimes go on until 3am, so members of the band do not normally go out on the road until their second or third year. Inevitably, the teacher-pupil relationship becomes more intimate as they all wait together to go on stage (Mr Chappell plays keyboards and Mr Lynch is a vocalist). The pupils gain self-confidence and maturity from appearing in public, as is evident in the 16-year-old vocalist Shelley Whetton. She admits that being in the spotlight goes to her head, but says, 'At the end of the day you think about your colleagues and that if they fluff a line, it could be your fault. When you perform in school people understand if you are mediocre, but if people book a show they expect professionals and you have to be strict about it.'

She finds it patronising to be told she has performed well when she knows she has not, but says she gets a good feeling when she reckons she has satisfied the audience. Homework is not allowed to suffer, even though rehearsals may take up two nights a week for three or four weeks before a gig. She has learnt, she says, to be well organised.

Past members often return to make guest appearances, but there is no problem in finding replacements. As Mr Atkinson points out: 'All schools are stuffed with talent, sporting, artistic or musical. All you need is a catalyst to get the talent out. Performing arts are not usually considered to be as important as the national curriculum, but we are not going to let them go. The sheer enjoyment and fun of it is a tremendous experience for the youngsters.'

(Photograph omitted)