Newington project shows the power of music and memory

Memories of Belfast’s rich musical past have been shared in an inspiring podcast involving carers from Newington Day Centre, St Malachy’s College and Oh Yeah Music Centre

There was also an intergenerational element to the project with St Malachy’s students visiting Newington Day Centre
There was an intergenerational element to the podcast project with St Malachy’s students visiting Newington Day Centre in north Belfast (Bernie McAllister)

Melding music and memories, the Oh Yeah Music Centre’s new podcast, Drop the Needle, has brought the voices of carers from Newington Day Centre to the fore.

This initiative uses music to delve into the personal history of Belfast locals, unlocking a reservoir of cultural heritage.

The first voice we hear on the podcast is 77-year-old Maureen Bunting from north Belfast. She recalls her love of music stemming from the singing parties and competitions she used to have with her siblings growing up.

“I came from a family of seven and we were all very talented,” Maureen explains.

“We got a little present if were good and a good singer... but we all ended up being the best singer.”

Maureen also shares the tale of auditioning for the showband The Blue Caps at age 16, which she performed in alongside her late husband.

The 12-week project was managed by Oh Yeah Music Centre and funded by the National Lottery through the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

The weekly workshops were delivered by Oh Yeah’s arts and older people’s manager Paul Kane alongside musician and producer Chip Bailey.

Musician and producer Chip Bailey who brought his unique brand to the project
Musician and producer Chip Bailey (Bernie McAllister)

“There’s this idea of building confidence that is also a legacy as well, where the participants have had the courage to tell their stories and be counted,” said Paul.

“It’s a really fulfilling job to do and I’m very privileged to facilitate the project because I just try and ease people in and guide them, but they do all the work.

“If I’m lucky, they’ll enjoy it. If not, there’s a challenge but in the end, we’ll make it work.”

Reflecting on what it means to be leaving this musical mark in the form of a podcast, Maureen said: “It’s wonderful. I think it’s gorgeous because it gives you a wee bit of something you leave behind for your children.

“It’s just nice to have something you can look back on and say, this is my story.”

77-year-old Maureen Bunting from north Belfast
Maureen Bunting (77) from north Belfast enjoyed taking part in the podcast project (Bernie McAllister)

There was also an intergenerational element to the project with St Malachy’s students visiting Newington Day Centre with their instruments, resulting in spontaneous music sessions tapping into different genres such as trad, blues and classical. Some of these pieces of music were recorded and integrated into the podcast, helping bring the stories to life.

Maureen remarked that the connections made with the St Malachy’s students were one of the highlights of the project.

‘’I love the violin, trombone, the piano, most of all I love the saxophone - and to know that those boys could play those instruments and hear them play, that was really remarkable.

“It was really nice to meet the young people because despite the age gap, if you talk to them, you’ll find that you had more in common than you thought.’’

The participants, all carers or volunteers at Newington, discovered a profound sense of joy and community whilst working on the podcast. Drop the Needle has become a poignant refrain in their lives, a testament to the uncharted resilience within these caregivers.

Programmes officer for the Arts Council of NI, Lorraine Calderwood, explains that the project is part of the Arts Council’s initiative to reduced isolation and loneliness amongst the elderly whilst also shining a light on their stories and giving them a voice.

“We know that taking part in arts activities can raise self-esteem, boost confidence and motivation, as well as help to relieve stress, loneliness worries and pain.

“The Arts Council is thrilled to support this wonderful, engaging project from the Oh Yeah Music Centre.”