As a writer and journalist dabbling in music, I was tasked to document the evening. It was a chance to meet and connect with other young creatives, each bringing their unique experiences and skills, and all sharing the values summed up by Youth Music.
The first ever edition of the Youth Music Awards, in association with Hal Leonard Europe, took place last week (Wednesday 16 October 2019) at Battersea Arts Centre in South London, as part of the celebrations for the 20th anniversary of Youth Music. Since 1999, Youth Music has supported more than 2.9 million children and young people to make music, thanks to funding from the National Lottery via Arts Council England. The evening featured an array of live performances within the venue’s Grand Hall, and 12 awards categories, all celebrating the diverse talent and achievements of Youth Music stars and leaders across the country. An inspiring energy and the power of youth collaborating was present throughout the night.
The event kicked off with a soul-shaking performance from Battersea Arts Centre’s acclaimed Beatbox Academy and East London based programme Drum Works. Opening with a hip-hop inspired version of Adele's Rolling in the Deep, they got the crowd stamping their feet and set the tone for the evening with raw energy. They stunned a crowd including industry figures like electronic duo (and Youth Music Ambassadors) Bicep, singer-songwriter Chelcee Grimes, Charlotte Gunn (Editor of NME), Chris Price (Youth Music Trustee and Head of Music at Radio 1) and heads of labels like Capitol and Virgin EMI.
The importance of music and its capacity for creating change was at the heart of the night. CEO of Youth Music Matt Griffiths introduced the ceremony, outlining the intent to shine a “much needed spotlight on young people”. Matt explained the Awards would celebrate the personal, social and musical achievements of young people, as well as highlight leaders, educators and organisations who are supporting the development of young creatives. “Youth Music aims to support, value and understand young people,” he said. In today’s turbulent times, what could be more vital?
Havsa Oumar from Coventry took home the first award of the night - Young Leader sponsored by ABRSM - for her work inspiring others through performance and leadership as part of Positive Youth Foundation’s Changing Trax programme.
“That’s where it starts,” she said in her speech, “with self-belief and confidence.”
From one motivational leader to another, the next award, Inspirational Music Leader sponsored by PMLL, was given to the “furiously creative” Neil Card, Director of Music at Tang Hall SMART CIC - an organisation providing arts and music sessions to disadvantaged communities in York. Neil overcame addiction and mental health issues, plus four years of homelessness, and now helps those in similar situations through music and music production.
The winner of the Live Performance Award sponsored by Marshall was determined by audience vote on the night, after performances from the nominees (no pressure, right?). Teshay Makeda from School Ground Sounds in London was first up with a soulful, belter track. Lyrics like “now I’ve got to see my challenges as opportunities” swayed with resonance and echoed the spirit of the room.
Second up was Mae Monypenny from the Circle of Light project in Nottingham, who engulfed the room with powerful sonic texture - an effect achieved using just a loop pedal and her voice. Covering Wicked Game by Chris Isaak, she created a unique soundscape, transforming the architectural grandeur of the Hall into a live audiovisual electronic-esque show.
The third nominee, Ls’z from the Soundhouse Project in London, unfortunately wasn’t able to perform live on the night, but a music video was shown demonstrating her impressive rapping skills.
Later in the evening it was announced that Mae Monypenny had won. She gave an emotional speech saying,
it shows I’m doing the right thing in my performing.
Mental health was, not shockingly, a recurring theme in the stories that were heard (20% of adolescents in the UK may experience a mental health problem in any given year). Maisie Murray was awarded the Breakthrough Award sponsored by the MU for her resilience, using her expression through music to help her with mental health struggles. According to her nominator, Maisie “began coming to Sing City [Brighter Sound’s songwriting project for young musicians in Manchester] as a shy and anxious young person who hadn’t been able to play any music for three years.” However, with the right support she “blossomed into a willing collaborator, a gifted lyricist and an all-round creative and inspiring musician with growing confidence.”
The band Cuttlefish Orchestra from Jack Drum Arts received the Social Action Award sponsored by Hal Leonard Europe for their awareness-raising of youth mental health and suicide amongst their peers, and their fundraising efforts for If U Care Share Foundation – a national suicide prevention charity based near their homes in County Durham.
Importantly the awards recognised the achievements of people and organisations from across the country, challenging what is often a city-centric bias within arts funding. The Innovation Award (aptly sponsored by Novation) was given to Truro-based WILD Young Parents Project. In their acceptance speech, the organisation’s spokesperson Matt Thomason noted that despite popular opinion, Cornwall has one of the largest socio-economic divides in the country, and he thanked Youth Music for their support of rural organisations. Their work supporting vulnerable young parents in creating music and memories with their young kids has been credited for increasing parents’ confidence and encouraging positive child development.
Other awards included the Music Producer Award – for nominees sponsor Steinberg described as the “unsung heroes of the music industry” - which was given to Devesh Sodha from Phizzical Productions in Leicester. The award for Outstanding Act (sponsored by Trinity College London) went to 14-year-old rapper T-Roadz from The Pump in Birmingham, who is already making huge waves in the grime scene.
The Lyricist Award sponsored by BandLab went to Taz from Romsey Mill. She comes from the UK’s “most unequal city” Cambridge, taking her anger at social inequality and turning it into eloquent rap lyrics.
The Music Video Award (sponsored by AVID) went to Fred Fredas from Sound Connections in London. The Original Track Award sponsored by TikTok – which was chosen by votes from the general public – went to Circles by VCR, a band formed at The UVG in Portsmouth.
The Entrepreneur Award (sponsored by Lark Music) went to Seshie Henry, who started out in a Youth Music project at Battersea Arts Centre. He’s now a booker for premier underground talent using some of London’s best venues for events, and has really been doin’ bits in the scene.
Chair of Youth Music, saxophonist and presenter YolanDa Brown, introduced the final section of live acts closing the show, including the incredible New YVC from Stratford Circus in London, and soloists from Awards for Young Musicians (AYM). YolanDa gave her thanks to all those helping, supporting and funding the charity over its 20 years, including Youth Music’s board of trustees, “who listened to me and dreamt with me”.
“What will the future look like?” asked Matt Griffiths in his welcome speech. Youth, of course, was the answer. And how refreshing to see a charity, not only recognising the transformative power youth can employ and inspire, but flourishing in doing so. In today’s chaotic, often out-of-touch climate, it was a joy to see.
A final word from Matt and Yolanda in the evening’s programme (sponsored by Cooking Vinyl) summed up the sentiment of the night: “every young person has the capacity for something remarkable.” After tonight’s performances, talent, and the incredible stories shared by those helped by Youth Music, and the leaders who continue to inspire change across a diverse spectrum of communities, I am certain of how true this is. Big up Youth Music, big up.
Youth Music Creatives
The 2019 Awards also saw the launch of the Youth Music Creatives team – giving young people opportunities to work the industry by involving them in Youth Music events as photographers, runners, social media pros and more. Youth Music is a Living Wage Employer so all the Youth Music Creatives roles are paid. Youth Music Creatives were involved in every part of the event, from production to communications, including the two incredible hosts Dan Grist and Amy Mellows.
"It was such a humbling experience to see so many dedicated young musicians and creatives come together for the very first Youth Music Awards. It just shows what’s achievable when we all come together. It’s really inspired me. Incredible atmosphere and energy!"
- Kate Whitaker, vox pop interviewer
"It really introduced me to the joy and benefits of working as a team. Because I am so used to working alone, so I really appreciate that as well as the wonderful people that put their hands together to make this a reality."
- Manoel Akure, Blouhaus Photography
"Being part of building a legacy that celebrates talent and diversity is something I’m grateful and passionate about. Not living in London, Youth Music Creatives gave me the opportunity to network and meet like-minded creatives as well as industry professionals. It’s been a great experience and has proved really beneficial to me as a freelancer designer and curator. Thank you, Youth Music!"
- Stacey Olika, production runner