After 30 years in education, in the classroom and senior management, I finally escaped and got a proper job in music tuition. Since 1989 I've worked as a steelband tutor, at first part-time then as a full-time freelance. I led North Tyneside Steelband for 24 years and worked with school and community steelbands in Teesside, Tyneside, Northumberland, Cumbria and Darlington as well as delivering workshops as far afield as Merseyside, Scotland and Yorkshire.
In 2000 I was one of five steelband leaders and tutors who set up the Steelbands North project which rolled out a variety of steelband activities to thousands of young people and helped to start off several bands in the region, most of whom are still going strong. It also left a legacy of three sets of pans which move around the region and a wealth of knowledge, skills and experience which resides in the young people who took on leadership roles, many of them still working with steelbands as a career.
I've got first hand experience of what music can do for young people; ever since being at school myself I've been active as a semi-pro musician in folk, jazz, country, rock and world music and I'm fortunate to have earned my living from music for the last quarter century. I have supported my fellow community musicians by taking on roles within Musicians' Union and Sound Sense. In 2014 I retired again but I'm still actively involved, tutoring in a couple of schools (keeping me in touch with young people) and chairing Northern Steel Network (keeping me in touch with all ages). Music is a great leveller and it's inspiring to see young people working together, playing together and supporting each other whatever their background and personal circumstances.
Nothing has pleased me more than seeing young players taking on leadership roles in bands; at least six of these pioneers are now very successful professional steeland tutors and musicians, and at least a dozen others are working part-time. Thanks to their efforts and dedication the standard of musicianship in our region's bands has shot up dramatically in the last few years; things look bright for the future of pan in the north east and our best players and bands can confidently play alongside the best in the UK and beyond.
I look forward to seeing all the steelband leaders and tutors in the region cooperating to offer positive and challenging progression routes for the region's players and opportunities for many more people to enjoy making and listening to great music.