Tune in to Access at the Barbican


To celebrate Disabled Access Day on 16 March, Barbican in London will be hosting a day of performances by disabled musicians along with a panel discussion about Accessible Music Technology. DAO speaks to Eddie Shelter, Events Producer at Barbican ahead of the event.

Crowd under purple lights

The Radical Sound Of Many – Drake Music at the Barbican. Image: Becky Morris Knight / Drake Music

“The Barbican’s core artistic vision is ‘arts without boundaries’,” explains Barbican’s Eddie Shelter. “Presenting work from artists who face barriers to inclusion is a key part of this vision, and we are increasingly working with disabled artists across art forms.”

Shelter is a key member of staff in programming Tune in to Access, scheduled to coincide with National Disabled Access Day. He expands on how the event came about:

“Tune in to Access came out of long-term discussions within the Barbican’s music department about how we could be more involved in current conversations about music performance and disability. We’re very proud of the work we’re already doing at the Barbican around accessibility across all art forms, but saw an opportunity to do more.

We are also currently in the midst of a year-long cross arts and learning season called Life Rewired, which explores what it means to be human when technology is changing everything. Given the major role that technology can play in making music performance and composition more accessible to disabled artists, we felt this was a fantastic conversation to bring to the Barbican on Disabled Access Day.”

Barbican was keen to showcase disabled artists working at the cutting edge of music, but perhaps haven’t had the greatest exposure yet, so they opted to work with Drake Music to programme part of the day’s activity.

“As part of the Barbican’s mandate to invest in the artists of today and tomorrow, we wanted to provide a platform for emerging musicians who perhaps haven’t yet had the opportunity to perform in a venue like the Barbican,” says Shelter. “As the leading national organisation working in music, disability and technology, Drake Music was an obvious choice for us to partner with, particularly given their artistic development programme which supports disabled musicians to progress their work.”

Man wearing black hat

Dike Okoh

Headlining the day will be The Radical Sound of Many, a showcase of new commissions from five disabled musicians who have been involved with Drake Music’s talent development programmes. The five artists are Steve Varden, Ewan Mackay, Robyn Steward, Dike Oko and Oliver Cross. Drake Music’s Artistic Programme Leader, Daryl Beeton expands on the collaboration:

“We are incredibly excited about bringing The Radical Sound of Many to the Barbican’s Tune in to Access Day. Together we are creating a platform for five emerging and established disabled musicians to perform their work at a world-class venue. Not only is this a step forward for the visibility and representation of disabled artists, it is also an opportunity for us to start to ask questions about the norms of live music and performance.

We commissioned the five artists to make new work in response to the theme ‘Music and the audience’ and they have really risen to the challenge! They will be breaking the ‘rules’ of live music; going off-stage, involving the audience and producing ‘hyper-relaxed’ performances. The whole day will be a fantastic event and we are proud to be working with both the Barbican and the artists to share these experimental and innovative new commissions.”

Following Drake’s showcase, there will also be a performance of Alexia Sloane’s composition Gate, Gate by Britten Sinfonia cellist Caroline Dearnley. The piece explores melody and text in Buddhist chanting. Sloane is an exciting young composer of school age, who has come through the Britten Sinfonia Academy’s Composer Hub scheme, further reinforcing the commitment to emerging talent on the day.

Man playing harmonica

Oliver Cross

Rounding off the event will be a panel discussion entitled ‘Look Deeper: Accessible Music Technology for Performance’’, which looks at how music technology has impacted the panellists’ music careers and transformed their daily lives. It features Barry Farrimond, developer of accessible musical instrument the Clarion and Chief Executive of Open Up Music.

“As with our entire Barbican programme, we hope audiences will have a world-class artistic experience,” Shelter enthuses. “And if people leave the event having a slightly expanded perspective on what is possible in terms of musical performance, regardless of an artist’s perceived ability, then I feel we will have achieved something.”

Naturally, with the event being programmed on Disabled Access Day, the accessibility for the event is high on the agenda, but as Shelter explains, they haven’t deviated from Barbican’s typical approach:

“We always consider access when it comes to our event programming and have been working with the day’s performers to ensure we can accommodate all of their needs. We will be providing BSL interpretation throughout the day, as well as BSL interpretation and live subtitling for the panel discussion, and we will also have a quiet space for anyone who may need it. We also have a Changing Places toilet available in Cinemas 2 and 3 on Beech Street.”

Man playing a trumpet

Robyn Steward

Beyond accessibility, Shelter expands on how the event ties in with Barbican’s wider programming and talent development initiatives:

“Upcoming in October 2019 is a Pit Party curated by disabled artist, poet and performer Jamie Hale, who is currently looking for deaf and/or disabled cast and crew to create the work.

Through Barbican Guildhall Creative Learning activities, our education strand, we also contribute to the professional development of disabled artists. For example, the Barbican and Guildhall School for Music & Drama have recently become the London training centre for the National Open Youth Orchestra.  NOYO provides disabled musicians aged 11-25 the opportunity to explore and develop their music skills, with the aim of providing a progression route to a musical career. Tune in to Access on 16 March will include a taster workshop for anyone interested in auditioning for NOYO, and they can contact creative.learning@barbican.org.uk if they’d like to find out more.

The Creative Learning team also works closely with local communities and schools in East London for students with special educational needs. We have a close relationship with Richard Cloudesley School, for students aged 2-19 years with physical disabilities and additional sensory needs, and on 20th March, we will be offering a guided tour of the Barbican Hall and backstage areas for Richard Cloudesley students. We also have a three-year partnership with The Garden School in Hackney, a specialist school for students 5-18 years old with autism.”

So, will this event programmed to coincide with disabled access day become a regular feature in Barbican’s calendar? Shelter seems optimistic about the prospect.

“This is the first time we have worked with Drake Music and we are already in discussion about future opportunities to work together. We will of course continue to include leading disabled artists in our cross-arts programme year-round.”

Tune in to Access is free and takes place on 16 March 12pm-6:30pm at Barbican, London.