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Profile31st August 2021

Mikey finds his place on Youth Leadership programme

Ark Music’s Youth Leadership programme is giving 11 young people the chance to develop skills in music education through dedicated training, mentoring from experienced music educators, and paid work placements in school and community settings. With many facing a lack of opportunities, the programme aims to break down barriers. We caught up with two of our new Youth Leaders and you can read about Tianna here.

Mikey is a 25-year-old Scarborough-born singer. While he didn’t enjoy school, he gained his Psychology degree from Northumbria University. Mikey didn’t have much structure in his life or an easy time growing up, but his passion for making music has spurred him. He shares his journey and experience on the programme and his placement at Ark Elvin. This is the latest in our #ArkPeople series.

Tell us about your interest in music?

I come from a musical family – my parents, grandparents, and brother all play instruments. My parents used to have dinner parties when we were younger, and we’d all entertain guests! I love music from the 50s, 60s, 70s, right the way through to now. I’d class myself more as a street musician and a bit rough around the edges. My music comes from the soul; I try to say something meaningful and not limit myself to a genre. My music is very emotional, personal, and hopefully quite powerful.

What are the barriers facing young people getting into the music industry?

I don’t think many people see that other side of music- the setup, having somewhere to practice, or the logistics, such as taking kit to gigs, transport there and back -and even money for equipment or instruments – it can be tough.

One of my challenges is the way I’m wired – I want to hide. I don’t want to be seen; I don’t want to be the centre of attention, which is an issue when you’ve got ambitions to go out and play shows. However, when times are good, it’s not a problem for me. I’ve got a fair amount of charisma; I can go out, play, and see that people are enjoying it. However, when things are down, I can’t even fathom doing it. I’ve had to do a lot of personal work, and I still don’t feel that as a 25-year-old, I’m near where my ability could be. However, you’ve got to be tenacious, determined and go through the obstacles.

Why did you apply to be a Youth Leader?

I’ve not been in London that long and was on the streets for a couple of months in 2020. Luckily, I got support through the charity New Horizon Youth Centre; they helped me get a flat and find opportunities and courses. I went on a peer mentor course, and the programme leader knew I was interested in music and sent me details. I’d been out of work for a long time, and I was at the top end of the age range, so I did have some doubts but realised this was an ideal opportunity –you get freelance work in schools, get support, get paid, meet other musicians, it’s in London, it’s not full time, which meant I could work part-time.

Tell us about your experience as a Youth Leader so far?

It’s been good as it’s well run, and the Music team are very supportive. The skill that I’m learning is confidence. It’s getting me to come out of my shell, and it’s giving me opportunities to put some things into practice that I’ve been thinking about for a long time, musically and personally.

The programme is bridging a gap, and that’s been a massive help because it’s giving me more confidence and is making me feel welcome in London. It’s giving me opportunities to meet people and learn new skills. It’s giving all Youth Leaders a richer experience as when you’re teaching, you are learning from that process.

What have been your highlights on the programme?

Every event that I’ve been involved with has been great. At my first event on the programme, I played in the house band, and it was streamed back into classrooms. That was so much fun as it was something we pulled together last minute, but it was successful, and there was a real buzz.

I was involved with the singer-songwriter albums for the Summer Sounds festival, and we met every month for three months. All the children involved wanted to be there, came up with ideas, were proactive, wanted to learn and listen. I remember coming into a class with my electric guitar and playing some stuff with younger groups, and they were just in awe and so excited. We got them writing some songs and playing along at the end of the day, which was lovely.

Why should young people join the programme?

It’s good at providing structure in an industry that it’s tough to get into. We have clearly defined days when we met for training each month. We have aims that are laid out from day one, so you get to see the path. There are many potential mentors and opportunities; we get paid fairly, which can be rare when starting in music!

What does the future look like for you?

I’ll be happy to complete the programme! Given how crazy everything has been, the fact that I’m now in a flat, I’m working two different jobs, and there’s a clear progression for me.

I’m a Youth Artist in Residence, but I could progress to be an Artist in Residence (they work across our programmes, and represent a range of musical styles, journeys and specialist skills). I have a good relationship with the Music team, with my placement leaders, so if I keep doing what I’m doing, then that I’m going to keep growing and keep progressing.

I’m interested in teaching but still want to start gigging and busking again. I was regularly busking in Scarborough up until we went into the first lockdown.

It would be nice to record an album– that’s on my list too! I’m setting realistic expectations and need to make sure that I’m present, diligent, doing the work and the best that I can. I can’t go wrong from there!

You can follow Mikey on Instagram: michaeljohn.day96

Ark’s Music team is committed to making music accessible to everyone and works with partners to make this possible. If you’re interested in supporting the programme, please get in touch with