Life on Shuffle

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Life on Shuffle

Phill Howley, professional musician, producer and specialist in music engagement in challenging circumstances, blogs about Life on Shuffle, a creative music project for young people.

And so it is that I’m sat here reflecting on Life on Shuffle with a smile on my face and a song in my heart, for it is really this type of project that keeps me a music leader.

Over the past week, I have been down in Crewe everyday with the amazing team of artists – Ben “SOS” Riley, Rioghnach Connolly, Beth Bishop and all the YMCA staff – working with some of the residents of the YMCA Crewe. This was the culmination of the third phase of Life On Shuffle, a project delivered in partnership with the Love Music Trust, Cheshire East Youth Service, the YMCA and Brighter Sound.

The project started about 18 months ago and its main focus has been to use music to help ‘NEET’ (Not in Education, Employment or Training) or ‘At Risk’ young people express themselves, document their life experiences, as well has working on some of the skills needed to succeed in the work place.  However, along the way, it has also led into looking at emotional literacy and how we deal with loss and conflict.

Over the months the Life On Shuffle participants have written and recorded their own songs, put together shows, created videos, traveled and performed in various venues including Band on the Wall and the Nantwich Show. But it was over this last week when we aimed highest and took the biggest leaps together.

First thing Monday morning last week we gathered the group and decided between ourselves the goals for the week

  1. Write our own songs, from scratch to be recorded in two days time at a professional studio
  2. Prepare to perform all of our material on Friday evening at the YMCA awards night, in front of all of the other residents and all the invited dignitaries

Straight away from this first get together the focus and quality of work produced by the participants was quite simply amazing.

We got straight down to writing as a group and then almost naturally we started small groups, duo’s bands, solo production, and so by the time Wednesday’s visit to Orchard Studios came about the group were on fire. In all my years of being a professional musician and facilitator I’ve never seen a group come into the studio for the first time and be so effortlessly comfortable and fearless in front of the microphone. Quite simply incredible! We planned to record one song that day and yet we left with three.

We’ve discovered incredible singers who can tap into the pain of their lives to produce the most incredibly moving songs. We’ve had people who previously had no real interest in performing, picking up instruments and falling in love with them (to the point of wanting them tattooed on their arms, Yes MR. Bass Man). Mostly though, what we’ve been so fortunate to see, is the sheer wealth of potential the young people have if we can just find the time to really listen to them and support them in their ideas.


Having seen what can be achieved through one week’s focused work, I’m now so excited to get started on the next phase of this wonderful project. Watch this space as I’m sure you’re going to be hearing and seeing some of the most wonderful music continuing to appear from the young people taking part in Life on Shuffle.