Transforming Communities

BBC Radio visits our musical residency at Ardnashee College in Derry

Mark Patterson of BBC Radio visited our Level 3 Inspire residency led by Live Music Now musician John Leighton at Ardnashee College, Derry / Londonderry in December 2023. Have a listen and read the transcript, below!

Mark Patterson, BBC Sounds (00:01):

Well, the quiet air is full of lovely twitter and birds. If you calm yourself and just set your ear to ’em this morning here, just off the Racecourse road, and just as I was driving over the new bridge this morning, oh, it’s a dark foggy December day in Derry. It’s a wet Tuesday. But the very motive here for today at Adrnashee School was the same motive that brought me here the last time I was here way before Covid. There’s a wee robin just perched above my head – two of them. Well, it was the jazz trail, as they call it, when the kids were able to just come out and be with some of the stars of our jazz festival and there’d be performance and craic and dancing and all the rest. And the place was class. But it’s no more a summer’s day full of jazz today here on the city side than the man on the moon.


But look, I heard that John Leighton, we know John as one of our foremost jazz men. He’s a pianist. He is a gaffer. John has Bennigan’s Bar, arguably, the jazz people tell me, one of the best jazz outlets, gigs, bars on the island, and John’s done great things, but I didn’t know he did this. John apparently makes time, early days like this when the mummies and daddies are finishing dropping the wee uns off in the rush hour to come down to Adrnashee. And what does he do? Well, I don’t know – but I’m here to find out. So while ago, looking for on the way, and I’ll leave you, I love this. I’ll leave you in the capable hands of Herbie Hancock on a wee standard called Cantaloupe Island. (MUSIC INTERLUDE). So John, how’s the form?

John Leighton, Live Music Now (02:06):

Form is very well. Yeah. Yeah, very good Feeling nice. And Christmassy,

Mark Patterson, BBC Sounds (02:10):

Very dodgy Christmas sweater, my friend.

John Leighton, Live Music Now (02:13):

I love it. You have to embrace it. There’s no point trying to fight it.

Mark Patterson, BBC Sounds (02:17):

You can. Can, John, we know you, as I was saying, just down and around, getting into the school today. We know you from the public eye and the bar and all the rest. I didn’t know you did this, but what is it that you do?

John Leighton, Live Music Now (02:29):

Well on behalf of Live Music Now, I’ve been working as a musician and facilitator for quite a number of years, and I’ve been delivering all kinds of projects. We’ve been doing work in special schools, we’ve been doing work in care homes, working with people with dementia. And the whole idea about it is bringing music and access to music and music education to people who don’t really get enough of it.

Mark Patterson, BBC Sounds (02:57):

Your young charges are just arriving there. Yes, the class just arrived.

John Leighton, Live Music Now (03:02):

Get ready for some rhythm workshop.

Mark Patterson, BBC Sounds (03:03):

I’d love to get a bit of time with you today. There’s something about this wee school. I just love it. There’s a kindness, there’s a love. Maybe you don’t when you’re here all the time, but when I walk in, that’s all I experience. And I’m assuming between this works for you and this is a good thing.

Catriona (03:18):

Absolutely. Well, I’m a newbie here too, just this year. But Live Music Now is a fantastic project for empowering the young people within Ardnashee and further afield that wouldn’t necessarily have gone on a musical journey. So there’s been a magic here when John’s on a Tuesday with us, a few sessions down here,

Mark Patterson, BBC Sounds (03:40):

Are you chanter yourself. I’m going to get a tune now.

Catriona (03:42):

I am indeed.

Mark Patterson, BBC Sounds (03:42):

Very good. Are you indeed. Yeah.

Catriona (03:44):

Well, I play a bit of music myself too. Flute piano singer.

Mark Patterson, BBC Sounds (03:48):

Well, I might have to explore that in the next 10 minutes or so. Catriona what is it about it? The last time I was in this very room, the Jive Aces were here. The wee uns. I thought the floor was going to give. The wee uns were dancing in their hearts out. It was powerful. And what is the power of that for you as a musician, but primarily as a teacher?

Catriona (04:08):

Well, it’s seeing the children. Music just becomes their other heartbeat and they just get completely submerged. And this school is all about providing opportunity for music in all circles and embracing community organizations and activities like jazz festival, Live Music Now, Ulster Scots, there’s a full variety. So it’s just providing an opportunity, seeing children really come out of themselves, feel content, enjoy life through music is just so powerful. It’s magic.

Mark Patterson, BBC Sounds (04:40):

John, how do you go at it?

John Leighton, Live Music Now (04:41):

Actually, just picking up on something, I’ve, on behalf of Live Music Now, I’ve gone into a lot of different schools and to a lot of different centers. And the first time I come in here, you pick up instantly that there’s a great culture towards music, towards the arts, but also the idea of the tribe is something that it’s very, very evident in all the teachers and how everybody communicates and all. It really is a fantastic school.

Mark Patterson, BBC Sounds (05:10):

Very often kids with a special educational need, Cattriona can teach the rest of us. The hugs, getting up and dancing. I mean, I’d be going out and getting up and dancing in front of him because I’m a tall man, but I’m always taught by these weans. And it’s almost like jazz or music or the blues or rock and roll gives them a permission.

Catriona (05:33):

Absolutely. Just inhibitions are out the window and you actually look a bit silly if you don’t get stuck in and join on no matter if it’s within the walls of the school or if it’s out in the community. And as John said, that tribe culture is just embedded and it’s been a lot of hard work, but it’s just about looking on the other side, providing opportunities and there’s no limits. Music provides that idea of no limits at all to the young people. And as we were saying earlier, when John’s still over in a session, he may plan something, doesn’t always go to plan, not that things go wrong, it’s just about people like John and the experience that he has. Understanding that you have to stop and pause and let the children teach you as well as you teaching them

Mark Patterson, BBC Sounds (06:18):

Young man. Where is the lesson plan here?

John Leighton, Live Music Now (06:21):

Oh, it’s over there. It’s in my head, but no, no. I always have things prepared to do. But as Catriona says, sometimes you just have to go with the flow and if something comes up, just roll with that and head down that avenue.

Catriona (06:35):

It’s a music about expressing yourself and having that freedom to express. So we wouldn’t be doing a good job if we didn’t allow the children to feel free and comfortable and safe to express.

John Leighton, Live Music Now (06:44):

We always have plenty of surprises in the sessions. There’s things that we’re working on, some rhythmic things that maybe are quite complex and you wonder, is this too difficult maybe or is it not? But then you can literally every week, I’m surprised.

Mark Patterson, BBC Sounds (06:57):

And Catriona before we get the winds in, look at this room. I mean the Christmas lights are on from half eight, nine in the morning. Did you see the Concourse area? That’s a fabulous stage. I mean that’s a badminton court. I always doby Bain courts, but it’s the size of a badminton court. It’s brilliantly gigged out. The Christmas show obviously is in hand that we’re going to do the class this morning, but the work already put in here is fantastic. Yes. I’ll put a few pictures. We’ll get a few pictures.

Catriona (07:18):

Pictures. Yes. And Sinead and Briege have done a powerful job bringing us on this journey. And there’s 12 Days of Christmas is on tonight and tomorrow night, and its the last official show and the campus here before we move to the new school. So it’s exciting and emotional for a lot of people as well. But I guarantee you that stage is huge. It’s full in every scene. There’s a full band. We don’t cut corners in Ardnashee full band, professional sound, lighting, you name it because they deserve it.

Mark Patterson, BBC Sounds (07:47):

Let’s get these winds in. Okay, good stuff

John Leighton, Live Music Now (07:49):

Out through the mouth.

Nice big deep breath everybody.

Really, really slow. And the last one, 3, 2, 1. Biggest we can go. Good stuff right now. We’re ready. We’re ready to be able to sing it. Well actually we’re going to do a wee bit of rhythm. I just want to check how we’re getting on. Can everybody take a wee seat? Some of you here in the box as four and the seats there. I’m going to make the way around 10 seconds and we’re gonna try.

Mark Patterson, BBC Sounds (08:22):

So John is obviously just getting the weans settled and they’re as keen as mustard apparently there’s a young Freddie Mercury in here who’s the star of the school show – a young man who’s here for a we of a music class today. John has a massive bongo drum between his knees and the weans are lovin this. There we go. Here we go.

John Leighton, Live Music Now (08:46):

You. 1, 2, 3, 4.

Mark Patterson, BBC Sounds (09:01):

That’s the young person doing it. That’s not John – the young fellow’s up beginnning to drum it and then the next child. And then the next child. I get it. Just a process of inclusion. I’m getting thumbs up

Eoin (09:18):


Mark Patterson, BBC Sounds (10:05):

Good well done today. Well, we’ve just finished the session, Owen. And your first name is Eoin, isn’t it? Yeah. Where did you learn to sing like that?

Eoin (10:13):

Freddie Mercury. I’ve watched his songs all past my years and I’m very happy to listen to songs.

Mark Patterson, BBC Sounds (10:21):

And what age are you?

Eoin (10:22):


Mark Patterson, BBC Sounds (10:23):

Freddie Mercury was young when I was young. Why do you like Freddie Mercury?

Eoin (10:29):

Because he’s my favorite songwriter. I’ve been listening to him, to him since I was six years old.

Mark Patterson, BBC Sounds (10:32):

And your vice principal Sinead was saying that you’re the star of the show and the Christmas show, you’re actually going to do Freddie Mercury on the show tonight. Tonight. Well, tell me about are you nervous? Oh, and tell me all about it.

Eoin (10:42):

I’m not really nervous. just probably a wee bit. Sometimes I can be very scared for this and yeah.

Mark Patterson, BBC Sounds (10:52):

What is it about John? Tell me what is it about music? Because ..

Eoin (10:57):

Music – like the rhythm and the sounds can make you follow the music and you can sing the music. Yes. Yeah. And then when you follow the melody of the music, you can find out what’s happening in the music and you can hear the stuff.

Mark Patterson, BBC Sounds (11:14):

And then when you’re into your tune then you used just break out dancing, waving your arms and everything. It’s a whole thing, isn’t it?

Eoin (11:25):

Yeah. When I dance with a guitar it’s so fun

John Leighton, Live Music Now (11:33):

That’s the key word isn’t it.

Eoin (11:36):

It’s, all about fun and it’s about learning.

Mark Patterson, BBC Sounds (11:41):

Well, can I make you an offer young man? Would you like to come in when Sinead and Catriona, your teachers allow you and maybe John will come with us? Yeah, sure. Do you want to do a live session at my radio station?

Eoin (11:54):

Oh, sure.

Mark Patterson, BBC Sounds (11:55):

Surely. Hands up. That’s the deal. Yeah. Okay, Owen, have a great day at school and you are a great singer, my friend. Well done. Catriona, come on and sit beside me. You see, as I’ve said it so many times, every day is a school date. And I know listeners will get that because John came here today not knowing will the kids be up or down, but John sets out doing something and then they say, no, we want to do country music here. And then the young fellow starts off his own bat. John then learns the tune on the spot and they’re cheering in three minutes. And that’s organic and it’s very powerful.

Catriona (12:38):

Absolutely. And it’s just, magic is the word is absolutely magic. But talk about putting yourself under pressure. You’re at the realm of whatever they’re feeling on the day and whatever songs in their head, and you just have to provide the magic. But

Mark Patterson, BBC Sounds (12:50):

That tells me that these kids are secure, that they’re not bolted to the seat and going I can’t say nothing. No, these kids are free to express themselves. And that for me tells you volumes about the school.

Catriona (13:03):

Absolutely. The freedom and the comfort that they feel they’re feeling the security. And it’s about building the relationships, not just with John, with the staff and having the support of the class teams, bringing them and investing in these opportunities. And as you just witnessed yourself, you can hear it and I’m sure your listeners will get that feeling in their tummy and their heart as well. We get that all the time. Every Tuesday and here and choir and bands. There’s music going on every day.

Mark Patterson, BBC Sounds (13:33):

I’m serious about that. Get that young fella in, we’ll do a session.

Catriona (13:35):

Absolutely. And he’s a new pupil to the school and he’s just.

John Leighton, Live Music Now (13:38):

The support that I get from Catriona and from the other teachers and the classroom assistants as well. That really, really helps the sessions go better.

Mark Patterson, BBC Sounds (13:47):

You didn’t know driving on that road today, you were going to be doing Country Roads, but they told you and then you’re the boy, the tutor is catching up with the weans.They’re away down the road.

John Leighton, Live Music Now (13:55):

That’s it. But even with singing Rudolph there, having Catriona to help singing with it and help get everybody going, it makes a massive difference and it really, really helps me out and helps me do what I’m here to do.

Catriona (14:09):

I can empathize with John. Sometimes I’m sitting on a piano and you’re nodding your head, you’re conducting, you’re trying to sing, you’re moving your head to the left to instruct one child to do one thing, moving your head to the right while your two arms and feet are busy. It can be a bit of a challenge, but that’s why the staff are great here. Everybody helps

Mark Patterson, BBC Sounds (14:29):

Well listen, that’s an open door and if the weans are going to be singing and playing, you’re going to be singing and playing as well. Right on air live on air in the studio.

Catriona (14:36):

Aye we’ll give it a go. They can put themselves under pressure we can!

Mark Patterson, BBC Sounds (14:38):

Catriona I’m thrilled to be back in the school and it may be the last time I’m sitting here. You’re getting a lovely new school and I wish you every success with that. So the show is tonight, John’s work is ongoing and then there’s another gig, isn’t there? Just tell us when I have you, between now and Christmas for the school,

Catriona (14:54):

The show’s tonight, tomorrow night there is a Christmas fair and the play trail on Friday. There’s numerous gigs going on with the school choir and we have the pleasure and we’re so fortunate to have Live Music Now, the first school to have a facilitator, John, for the entire year. So the kids, that’s the beauty of this project. And anybody else who’s looking to join Live Music Now, any tutors out there would be fantastic because sometimes when you get a program that’s six weeks, 12 weeks, the kids are only embedding building that relationship with the tutor and having that freedom to you say, actually John, you’re not directing this session today. I’m taking over. So we have the pleasure of having that all year. So there’s a lot of magic happening here.

John Leighton, Live Music Now (15:38):

Just add in a wee word about Live Music Now as well. So they’re now recruiting for musicians. I’ve been fortunate enough to work for them now for quite a few years and have loads of mentoring and developing my skills in different scenarios. They have a lot of support. I think in January they’re opening and they’re going to be auditioning people in February. So if people want to go onto the Live Music Now website, they can get more information. And it’s all across Northern Ireland. They’re looking for more musicians to come in and do the kind of work that I’m doing here. I would definitely recommend you can be from any style, any age, but you just have to want to learn and have a drive to go and deliver music sessions.

Mark Patterson, BBC Sounds (17:07):

A remarkable thing has just happened. The weans rushed in like it was Wembley Stadium and Freddie Mercury was alive again and the place was loud. And John is just on the stage in a wee world of his own. And the weans aren’t banging and the weans aren’t doing anything but slowly calming down. Sinead’s the vice principal . That’s utterly magic.

Sinead Principal (17:37):

That’s the power of music just right there. I think we experienced that this morning when the pupils came in, smiles on their faces, hands raised, running up the catwalk of the stage and then the music commenced and the magic happened.

Mark Patterson, BBC Sounds (17:51):

Listen to that – pin drop stuff. So the kids trust the familiarity and guess what if you fund stuff like this, kids… I find it very moving actually.

Catriona (18:02):

I am just noticing you tried to leave three times there, Mark. Yeah, John just introduces them with the same song every week. And it’s a song a lot of them didn’t recognize. It’s one of my favorites, Blackbird. And it’s almost like their introduction to settle. And it just creates magic. It’s just brilliant. I’m using that word all morning because that’s just what it does. It’s powerful stuff.

Mark Patterson, BBC Sounds (18:25):

Would you let me go. I have to get this edited and done for the radio today.

Catriona (18:28):

No, you’re just staying now for the rest of the day now. We’ve hooked you in. Now that’s you here

Sinead Principal (18:33):

Stay for the show.

No, it is. We’re very blessed in, we’re surrounded by a community of music and we make sure that it drip feeds into the school as much as we possibly can. And one of your non-negotiables, and I’ve said this from I trained as a teacher, should be the performing arts. And to me if you’ve that as your heartbeat at school, the children will excel because they’ll feel good about themselves. And that’s what we’ve seen this morning.

Mark Patterson, BBC Sounds (19:03):

I’m blown away. I’m blown away. I had to sit and settle myself in the car before I started the engine. What about that? Huh…