Hi Fran! As one of our longest-serving Musicians-in-Residence, can you tell us a bit about your background and why you started working at Changing Tunes?
When I graduated with my degree in Music, I came away inspired by a particular module – ‘Music in Action’, which got us creating music sessions for people in care homes and special needs schools. All I knew from there was that I wanted to find work involving music and people. When the Director of Changing Tunes approached me after watching me perform a few gigs, he pretty much instructed me to get my application form in for a job, ‘by the weekend’. I thought ‘well, that would certainly meet my criteria, music plus people’- and it felt like that’s all I really needed to consider. It’s quite nice being told what to do sometimes. Truth is, I was spellbound by beginning to uncover more of what music could offer us – I had to find out more. I am still spellbound by it. I was bricking it at the interview, but very curious about the prison world, and wanted to see if I could be useful to the women there.
What’s your favourite memory of your time here?
Let me see, there have been sessions where everyone has broken out into spontaneous gospel songs, dancing and drum improvisation, all to beautiful musical effect. There have been trips to different places and prisons, collaborating with other Changing Tunes staff and getting to slowly pick up tricks on the drum kit from them. Of the many exhilarating performance times, playing a grand piano in London Southbank, to support a lovely lady who was working post-release with me to sing and tell her story, is up there. We two also stood in front of a full house in St George’s Bristol to sing ‘Streets of London’ and people cried. Then there’s been a few legendary dress-up prison performances – enticing officers to join the stage and be ‘Danny’ in Greased Lightnin’, for instance. Those occasions have brought such a high, to performers and audience alike.
How has Changing Tunes developed over the years?
We’ve become a bit more sophisticated but hopefully have retained a humble outlook. I’m thinking of our performances – the types of venues, partnerships and opportunities – they’ve risen in standard. The staff team is growing and there is a bonded feeling, off the back of lockdown, which is very precious. We try to be a ‘yes’ group which is effective when it comes to bouncing new creative ideas – just keep throwing ‘yes’ at everything you can. I mean, with some necessary restraints in place, of course!! We are striving to keep well-informed on important and broad issues that are relevant to our cause. For instance, I’m excited that we are working on developing our stand on being an anti-racist organisation. What feels really helpful is the increasing involvement of our beneficiaries to help us steer decisions and change in the right direction.
What is the most fulfilling part of the role?
I think I’ve kind of fallen in love with the work, in a way. Time spent with prisoners and ex-prisoners has been moving, at times very hard, and at others very uplifting and hope-giving. Getting to know the women and their strength, mixing that in a pot with music and feeling part of something together, it can bring about respect, understanding, generosity, kindness, empathy, joy…. love.
Behind the scenes, I’ve always felt that my colleagues have been really ‘for’ me, as a whole person, not just an employee who’s there to serve a function. I love the ethos and to me, it feels non-hierarchical. I am trusted, backed up and ‘set-loose’, to do what I do, in the way that I best can. There has always been a warm heart of support from my manager and supervisor to retreat to when the work has been costly to me. Overall the treatment I receive is exactly the sort of treatment we aspire to bring about for the beneficiaries of Changing Tunes.
Fran recently left Changing Tunes after an amazing ten years but she recently returned to perform at our annual concert in Bristol. Watch her performance, along with those from other Musicians-in-Residence and participants, at www.youtube.com/changingtunes.