Your intuition isn’t always on, in a world that forces you to detach from it. And still, mine starts tingling with a sense of anticipation when I walk into the room here at Sensible Music where Amy Winehouse herself used to write and rehearse her songs.
The pulse of creativity is almost too loud to ignore. No wonder why that special little room was chosen to be the nest of new brooding talent, we are very proud here at Sensible to work with the foundation in providing them a space to run Amy’s Yard. Urban starts talking about the project with real enthusiasm, but I take the freedom to interrupt him and ask what his story is, I want to know how one casually ends up working with artists like Lily Allen and Mr Hudson, besides working for the foundation dedicated to one of the most genuine music icons of our age.
He starts by explaining that the name ‘Urban Monk’ was inspired by his devotion to martial arts throughout his life, “It was music and martial arts that kept me off the streets” he admits. He started producing at the age of 12, his mother was a reggae singer and when the nanny wasn’t available, she would take him and his brother down to the studio with her. When the band took their breaks, they would sneak in and play around with the instruments, and this is how and where his passion for creating music was born. “I can remember days going as far back as my primary school, my music teacher used to tell my mum ‘He loves his music’. I was born to make music, I think”.
The authenticity of this comment makes me smile. Anyone who loves their craft can relate to these words. Once the reason why Urban Monk was chosen for this project becomes apparent, the conversation naturally diverges towards Amy’s Yard.
The Amy Winehouse Foundation began the Amy’s Yard project three years ago, Urban explains. “Amy’s Dad Mitch used to visit places like hostels and orphanages, where he met kids who were into making music”. Initially it was just an idea, originated from the will to facilitate young people’s artistry, but over the years it developed into a definitive program, with loads of talented young people applying to a be part of it.
The structure of Amy’s Yard is quite straightforward, it’s run twice a year with sixteen new people on the course each time with an average age of 18 to 26. Amy’s Yard is a 12-week AQA accredited programme designed to provide vulnerable young artists aged 18-25, with the confidence and skills to become self-sustaining music artists, while developing their transferable life skills, preparing them to seek and attain employment, education and training opportunities.
The course lasts 12 weeks, each successful applicant gets one weekly 90-minute individual session with either Urban or Dukus (the other prodigiously talented producer in the team), through which they create a track over the duration of the course and then perform it at a showcase. Twice a week they join together to do master classes with Island Records, MTV and other people that were involved in Amy’s career. Handle Recruitment and PRS play a big part in this project too, giving young people the opportunity to find employment in the industry.
Urban plays me some of the tracks, which are truly impressive, it is obvious that the amount of musical talent out there which would never have the chance to be realised is astounding, and that’s what the foundation intends to show the world in honour of Amy’s memory.
On the 31st of July, I rush to Soho after work. I know the showcase is taking place at the Gibson showroom, but stepping into a room with something like 40 of the best guitars in the world hanging off the walls had quite an impact on me. They tell us to go downstairs and we end up in the venue where it’s all going to take place. I recognise Urban in the crowd and I go say hi, before looking for a good place to stand. I opt for the very back, where I can enjoy the entirety of the scene.
Rowan and Trenton from the Foundation start by introducing the Amy’s Yard project and thanking everybody for making it possible. One of the many surprises of the night is the entrance of rapper “Giggs”. He makes an inspiring short speech, talking about the importance and the power of discipline. “I was going to give up” are his words, and again, I feel like we have all been there. I notice everybody quietly nodding to themselves in the room – and the tone of the night is set. There is focus. There is the echo of struggle. But there is also hope and inspiration.
The show starts and I am blown away from the get-go. Every single one of the performers steps onto that stage, fighting their fears – it’s not just about the performance and we know that. It’s the vulnerability of being looked at, observed and empathised with while you are telling your story.
We witness all sorts of characters and approaches, but at the end of every song the roar of the applause is just invigorating. It is easy to forget that some of the kids are performing for the first time.
I look at Urban several times during the process. He is sitting behind the mixing desk at the back of the room, smiling with both pride and apprehension – and, every time I look, the story of the performer who is currently up on stage and their personal battle to create that track, shows on his face.
I can genuinely say that the level of commitment and talent is outstanding throughout the entire show - and what stands out particularly to me is the unwavering vibe of support coming from the audience.
Amy’s Yard seems to go beyond helping young people make music. It shows them they will find their place, that being an outcast doesn’t mean being alone. At the end of the show, which leaves us all smiling and slightly panting from the adrenaline, Mitch and Janis Winehouse step onto the stage. Mitch gives a very emotional speech about how hard it is to lose the ones we love, and how the Foundation is their way of keeping their daughter as alive as possible. In that moment, I recognise the feeling of gratitude within me, and I get the sense that everybody around me is feeling something of the same sort. The awareness that music can save us is now stronger than ever.
You can find more information on the Amy Winehouse Foundation and Amy's Yard here