It was with excitement and some nervousness that songwriter Michael Omer and I arrived at Crisis Skylight Croydon off Surrey Street Market in mid-September. We had just three weeks to write a song for the LMP Christmas concert with members of Crisis, and we had never met the people with whom we were going to be working, and weren’t sure how the process would play out! However, Michael and I were overwhelmed by the quality of the group’s generosity, creativity and concepts. They bravely recited their own poetry and they performed their own original songs; and most importantly they suggested innovative concepts.
We discussed what made a good song, and we pondered what our song should be about. It was agreed that the song structure should take the form of a journey, opening in a dark space but progressing into something upbeat and hopeful, because that is what Crisis provides. Michael set a task: to note down four lines and bring them to the next workshop. A day later, the following popped into our inboxes from Denise, Arts Coordinator at Crisis Skylight Croydon:
I want to change my life.
I want to talk to you.
I want to make a song with you
And sing it.
Those four simple lines inspired me to put them to music. The words were so innocent, pure and hopeful, they would be enough to change anyone’s attitude towards homelessness. At the final session, I too was brave, and I performed them for the lyricist, Michael and the rest of the group. I was relieved when the members liked it and I agreed that the writer of those lines could be my ‘Bernie Taupin’, and I their ‘Elton John’.
Everyone had brought lyrics with them, and every word that you hear in the song was written by a member of that group. Though we could not use everyone’s material (we’d have an oratorio!), the essence of their contribution is present, in the gospel-like sound at the end and the movement of the harmony beneath the words.
Homelessness is a multifaceted issue; it has no quick solution as it is a very human problem. If you are not familiar with the work of Crisis, I encourage you to become so. Not only is it a place of hope and rebuilding, but Crisis Skylight Croydon is a living, breathing testament to the transformative power of the arts, an area so obviously valued in the work they do there. Through music, poetry, drama, dance and theatre, they build confidence, shape social skills, improve emotional wellbeing and provide positive ways to express difficult emotions. This songwriting project was amongst one of the most inspiring, moving, challenging and exciting experiences of my professional life, and I’m so grateful to Denise, the staff from Crisis and the wonderful members of our group for welcoming Michael and I into their space.