BRIT Trust Diaries: Jessica Carsen, Senior Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs at Sony Music UK
What links bouncy K-pop, Jamaican ska, Japanese jazz, Brazilian Tropicalia, an ancient Scots folk ballad and a Norwegian Christmas carol?
These are just some of the genres covered by BRIT School students at their joyous Sounds Global end of term show, where final year music students seek inspiration from international artists in an eclectic set list that ranged from the repertoire of First Aid Kit to Prince Buster, Gal Costa to The Unthanks, Yemi Alade to Michael Stuart.
The result was a spell-binding showcase of young British talent. More than 60 students took part in the show both on and off-stage, rotating roles in a two-hour performance that maintained its infectious energy throughout.
Female bassists later popped up playing the sax or fiddle, backing dancers became drummers on different tracks, vocalists sang note-perfect melodies in foreign languages, one singing in French first and then Portuguese. Charismatic front-men roused the crowd and got us dancing; a pink-braided, feather-clad singer shone on stage playing the steel pans in a soaring medley tribute to Windrush.
This ambition, versatility and professionalism exemplifies what the BRIT School does best – produce a diverse pipeline of creative, confident young performers who graduate into the UK’s creative industries, whether the West End, the charts or beyond. That includes songwriters, film-makers, lighting designers, sound engineers and a plethora of other crucial production roles on which the creative arts depend.
Of course, some of these students will also follow in the footsteps of BRIT and GRAMMY award-winners like the school’s most famous musical alumni, Adele and Amy Winehouse, to name but two, and more recent stars RAYE, Olivia Dean and Loyle Carner.
As this year’s BRIT Awards hoves into view, it pays to remember that the show’s success is critical to the funding of the BRIT Trust, which in turn supports the BRIT school – a state secondary – to offer cutting-edge facilities for its students. Applicants must pass highly competitive auditions as part of the entry criteria – some even applying from overseas - and in return they receive a world-class arts education for free.
So far, the BRIT Trust has raised and administered some £28 million in funding. Around half is channelled to the BRIT School and the Trust’s other key partner, the leading music therapy charity Nordoff and Robbins, alongside significant contributions to specialist college East London Arts & Music (ELAM), addictions and mental health charity Music Support, Independent Venue Week and criminal justice charity Key4Life, and so many more. All beneficiaries must help improve lives through the transformative power of music, resonating with the BRIT Trust’s core mission.
With its support of Nordoff and Robbins in particular, the UK music industry can and should feel proud of the contribution we collectively make to enrich lives through music, whether we work for record labels, digital platforms, in Live or any other part of our wide, weird and wonderful ecosystem.
Together, our support of the BRIT Awards, and in turn the BRIT Trust, helps ensure that some of the most vulnerable people in our society share the joy, enrichment and healing qualities of music through carefully-tailored therapy. Anyone who has had the privilege of seeing Nordoff and Robbins’ therapists in action or heard about their work through an industry event will feel humbled by the impact that music can achieve alongside other wellbeing remedies.
This is my first year as a BRIT Trustee, on behalf of Sony Music UK, and it has been inspirational to learn more about the work of the Trust over more than 30 years. To continue that legacy, and not least secure the Trust’s financial commitments, it is crucial that our annual awards both reach new audiences – hence now a Saturday night show - and encourage executives to enhance and expand the British music industry and its relevance across the world.
Like every year, many BRIT School students will once again be involved in aspects of the show, including in the front row for some performances. Perhaps even, like last year, ecstatic when one of their recent alumni – Cat Burns – high-fives them from the stage as a bonafide star. They will no doubt be flanked by their greatest champion, Principal Stuart Worden, who has celebrated 30 years at the school this year and achieved the school’s best-ever academic results this summer. Bravo, team!
Stuart sometimes speaks of giving young talent a “playground” in which to hone their craft. If my experience at Sounds Global is anything to go by, a new crop of British musicians will land in 2024 who are inventive, multi-talented and ready to play. Their showcase ended with a glorious rendition of gospel favourite Joyous Celebration – may that spirit infuse us all for the year ahead.