PUPILS from Whalsay’s own ‘school of rock’ graduated with flying colours at the weekend as they took to the stage to perform with Shetland band The Revellers – marking the culmination of weeks of after school lessons with the band’s lead guitarist.
After attending classes over the last few months at Whalsay School with the island’s fretboard wizard Michael Anderson, nine budding secondary-aged musicians performed alongside the band at the Symbister Hall on Saturday afternoon before the folk-rockers held an adult-only gig at night.
Around 130 folk turned up to see the youths rock out under the bright lights, with the pupils – armed with guitars, fiddles and keyboards – running through a couple of Revellers tunes, and some covers of the Levellers.
“I was probably more nervous than they were,” Michael laughed.
The concept first came about when headteacher Garry Spence contacted Michael late last year about the idea of holding a battle of the bands style event.
The guitarist, however, came back with the idea of hosting a concert where all the children could be involved.
Eleven youths, most of whom already played an instrument and were aged between secondary one and three, met up with Anderson once a week at the school, honing their skills ahead of the big concert.
Two of the 11 pupils were unfortunately unable to make the concert due to other commitments.
Michael, who works on the Adenia fishing boat, said one of the main goals of the classes was confidence building rather than fine-tuning musicianship.
“At the first lesson I laid out a lot of pictures of famous rock stars and I said they all had something in common,” he explained.
“They all had great musical ability, but they also had something else in common – and the answer to that was just confidence. It’s more about a confidence building thing, more as anything else.
“In the first week I asked how many of them would be happy to get on stage and play with us, and they were really apprehensive about that – there were about two or three of them that put their hand up.
“The next week I kind of told them about being confident and not really worrying about it. We get on stage and play and we’re not very good! I kind of told them not to worry about being an amazing musician, it’s more the experience of getting on stage and just doing it.
“But they were all really good musicians anyway, and it didn’t really take much to learn them up the tunes to be honest. They had a really good feel for it.”
Magnus Williamson, 13, was one of the pupils who took part in the school of rock.
“I was very excited when I heard Michael was going to do this,” he said.
“I play the fiddle, acoustic and electric guitar so was interested to see what Michael would get me to play.
“Michael involved everybody that was at the Whalsay school of rock – he’s not a teacher but learned us a lot.
“Getting to play with The Revellers was amazing. It was really good playing alongside such brilliant musicians on stage, an excellent experience. I feel very lucky to have been a part of it.”
In the two weeks prior to the gig the pupils had a chance to rehearse with The Revellers’ Magnus Bradley and John-William Halcrow in the Bonnie Isle to get a feel of playing with a singer and drummer.
It seems Michael, meanwhile, didn’t have much of a job to convert the young Whalsay locals into guitar-heavy tunes. “They’re all into rock music,” he said.
“Most of them would turn up with AC/DC, Black Sabbath or Motorhead t-shirts, so I kent what they were into.”
At the gig the The Revellers performed two original tracks with the children – Skeletons and Excuse This Scene – as well as One Way and Riverflow by The Levellers, who initially inspired the band to form.
Headteacher Garry was watching on and he thought the performance went “really well”.
“Thinking of some of the bairns that were playing on Saturday, if you asked them a couple of months ago would they get up on stage, they would have said no way, but they’ve all gone for it,” he said.
The teacher said that the club arose out of discussions with staff last year over after school provision.
“We could definitely see that the sporty bairns have lots of opportunities in the community, particularly the leisure centre is good and there’s a lot of local volunteers that run football and netball, so there’s lots of opportunities in that area,” he said.
“But we kind of felt that there wasn’t anything much at the moment for the ones that were musical or artistic, so that was kind of thinking behind asking Michael to come in and do the group.”
So where next for the school of rock pupils? Michael plans to continue the project after the Easter break, and he has high hopes for the budding musicians.
“I had an idea about taking them down to Mareel to meet Tim [Matthew, sound engineer] and go to the studio and look at how that all works.
“I think after Easter we’ll try to get them to form their own band. Getting a singer is a difficult thing, but now we’ve broken the ice, maybe one of them will decide yeah, I’ll do a bit of singing. I think we’ll keep going with it.”
The project could, perhaps, inspire other musicians across Shetland to host their own school of rock with local children – something Michael would be happy to see.
“There’s nothing to hinder other schools saying it’s a good idea and maybe setting up something,” he said.
“I’m sure there’s plenty of musicians willing to do something like this.”
The guitarist claimed links between the project and the popular 2000s movie School of Rock, which featured Jack Black and spawned a musical, were “more of a coincidence than anything” – although ended being given a nickname which stemmed from the film.
It was also something of a family affair for Michael, with one of his daughters taking part in the class.
“My oldest lass Faye was in it. She’s big into her rock music and guitar at the moment, he said.
“Long may it continue.”