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An Optimism Class: A Jukebox of People Trying to Change the World

An Optimism Class:  A Jukebox of People Trying to Change the World

Thu 8 April 7.30-9.00 pm

A variety of artists perform a selection of songs addressing ideas of social transformation from Ruth Ewan’s ongoing project A Jukebox of People Trying to Change the World. The event is a fundraiser for Optimistic Sound, a charity established by the family of Michael Marra, Scottish singer-songwriter and musician from Dundee, supporting the Sistema Scotland Music Programme in Dundee set up to transform the lives of young people and families through music. 

Tickets were available to book via Eventbrite, and a suggested donation of £6 can still be made directly to Optimistic Sound.

Contributors from:

Frankie Armstrong
Debbie Armour (Burd Ellen)
Family BaLoo
The Joyous Choir
Rhubaba Choir
Craig Coulthard
Big Noise Douglas
Jo Foster
Ross Downes and Keeley Forsyth
Malin Lewis
Aidan Moffat
Peggy Seeger  
Kapil Seshasayee
Tawona Sitholé
Lynn Marie Smith
Marie Tueje
Sheena Wellington

This event forms part of The Ignorant Art SchoolSit-in Curriculum #1


Optimistic Sound is a community campaign and trust that fundraises to support the Sistema Scotland music programme, Big Noise Douglas, in Dundee, Scotland. Many of those involved in Optimistic Sound are inspired by the work and legacy of the late Dundee songwriter Michael Marra, who believed in the transformational power of music and the wonderful Sistema programme. Music can give discipline, focus, social skills, and a window into cultures and passions of other people. But most of all it brings joy. Optimistic Sound is proud to support Big Noise Douglas and their amazing work.  

Big Noise
is a high-quality music education and social change programme that works intensively with children, young people and families within targeted communities. 

Sistema Scotland runs four Big Noise programmes in Raploch (Stirling), Govanhill (Glasgow), Torry (Aberdeen) and Douglas (Dundee). We started with Big Noise Raploch in April 2008, with six musicians supporting 35 young schoolchildren. We now work with over 2,800 children and young people across the four cities.

Big Noise uses the symphony orchestra as a community through which children gain an invaluable range of life skills and experiences. They develop confidence, teamwork, resilience, pride and aspiration as well as the capacity to work hard, supporting them to reach their potential and lead successful and fulfilled lives.

Prior to the impact of Covid-19, our engagement figures for Big Noise Douglas (Dundee) established 2017. More than 500 members – from babies to P6. Since April 2020, we have delivered more than 8000 online lessons, sessions and activities.

Artists' Biographies

Frankie Armstrong
Frankie Armstrong was born in England and is now based in Wales. She began singing professionally in 1964 and has now made 12 solo albums and has appeared on many shared and themed recordings. She began singing songs for peace and social justice during the Vietnam War - first singing solo in Trafalgar Square in 1966. Since then she has sung to raise funds and awareness for many causes, including the

Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Greenham Common. She has recently sung for Extinction Rebellion-Peace, London. Frankie considers her pioneering Find Your Voice Workshops, which she has been running since 1975 as highly political. We know singing is our birthright yet many feel unconfident or indeed have been told they cannot sing. Frankie has founded the Natural Voice Network and has run thousands of workshops around the world and encouraged hundreds of thousands to find the right to be heard. She is a Honarary Member of the Voice and Speech Teachers Association and the English Folk Dance and Song Society as well as being the President of The Natural Voice Network.

Debbie Armour is a Glasgow based musician, working primarily with traditional song. Broadly, her work is motivated by ideas of persistence, resonance and deep cultural roots. In her primary project, Burd Ellen, she uses British and international traditional song to explore narrative and sound in a contemporary setting. She is also a founder member of critically acclaimed contemporary acapella group Green Ribbons.

Burd Ellen is a project featuring Debbie Armour (Alasdair Roberts, Green Ribbons) and Gayle Brogan (Pefkin, Electroscope). The group uses traditional song to explore and evoke dark landscapes and deep stories. Innovative instrumentation, drone and sound-wash support detailed vocal work to create a unique sonic atmosphere.

The Family Baloo are a pseudonymous musical collective formed in 2016 on the south east coast of the UK. Drawing influence from diverse sources such as psychedelic jazz, art house rock, post-punk and folk, to date they have released four singles, two Eps and two full length albums. The most recent of which, Drinking with Owls, was written, recorded and released during lockdown 2020. The album an attempt to make sense of the enforced isolation, fear and frustration of that time, but it is more than a historical document and it’s resonance still remains. The record was approached as a challenge, how can a band forced apart still make and record music together? The obstacles soon became assets, forcing the group to re-evaluate previous strategies and means of collaboration. The resulting collection of songs ended up reflecting on the situation but also presented a new, more experimental direction for the band. 

The choice of relative anonymity and autonomy brings a freedom to explore all aspects of the music, it’s production and promotion. The visual imagery, merchandise, social media profile and associated narratives are all part of the project. The blurring of the lines between fact and fiction, an integral part of how The Family Baloo sees itself and presents itself to the public. It is perhaps no surprise that members of the band are also internationally exhibiting artists, but that’s another story. The band are currently working on a trilogy of new EPs and a musical/concept album based around the curious death of Gram Parsons.

The Family Baloo are/have been:

Tripp Hazzard / Deborah Modernism / Ron Pudding / Skinny One-shot / Polly Gone / Pan Dez / Stick / Polar the Cat (guest vocals) / Jazz Biro (guest vocals)

The Joyous Choir
The Joyous Choir is an all-women choir set up in Maryhill, Glasgow and named by the choir themselves. The choir is supported by the Maryhill Integration Network which brings refugee, migrant and local communities together through art, social, cultural and educational groups and projects, offering people a chance to learn new skills, meet new people, share experiences and take part in activities to improve their lives and the life of their communities. The choir members are from a variety of different backgrounds. Most have fled war, arranged marriages or human trafficking, amongst them are migrant women without income, who are not allowed to work and also denied access to any  financial support and often homeless. By singing of solidarity, friendship, freedom, dreams and hopes, the choir empowers, not simply as a therapy but more importantly as a powerful unifying collective experience that brings women from across the globe together in a spirit of unity, sisterhood and positivity.

Rhubaba Choir
The Rhubaba Choir provides the opportunity for individuals to sing together in a welcoming, eclectic group and share vocal experiences without auditions and without requiring pre-existing musical knowledge. Based at Rhubaba Gallery and Studios, Edinburgh, the choir also acts as a commissioning platform for new works, intended to provide invited artists, musicians and writers with the resource of collective voices as a material. Previous projects include an on-line performance The Nowness with Kathryn Elkin, All About You an outdoor performance with Tessa Lynch to mark the opening of Collective Gallery on Calton Hill, Blind Love Bad Taste with Sion Parkinson and Performing The Hosts: Ectoplasmic Variations with Serena Korda.

Craig Coulthard is an artist and musician, performing under the name Randan Discotheque. He works in a variety of media, from painting, textiles and ceramics, to larger-scale site specific work such as Forest Pitch (2012) which was part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. History, landscape and wordplay are consistent interests in both his art practice and musical work. He currently lives and works in Manchester.

Jo Foster 
Jo Foster is a singer songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and contemporary artist hailing from Fife. The track Jo plays is on the album ‘Play It Like A Woman’, a compilation of Scottish female musicians released by Double A Side Records with all proceeds going to Glasgow Rape Crisis. The album can be purchased here

A graduate of DJCAD, in 2020 Jo completed her practice-led PhD ‘The Artist as Troubadour: Exploring Creative Encounter through Song, Travel and Story’, looking at live song performance as a conduit for connection and social change. Jo Foster’s debut single was released on independent label Triassic Tusk as part of their Tiny Vinyl Series.

Keeley Forsyth is a composer, singer and actor from Oldham in the north-west of England. 
Ross Downes is a musician, artist and co-director of Trestle Records. 

Malin Lewis is a Piper, Fiddler, Composer and instrument maker from the Isle of Skye. Malin has studied folk music at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. Much of Malin’s music looks to explore their trans identity and perception of purpose and place in the world. They were recently nominated for up and coming artist of the year in the 2020 Scots Trad Music Awards. Malin’s main project is a collaboration with Ali Hutton and Shona Mooney that performs music for the Lindsay System Chanter, a revolutionary new invention in piping that more than doubles the range of the instrument. Malin is also a member of Bogha Frois, an evolving and important project giving a voice to the LGBT+ community in the world of folk music. Malin has recently published their first tunebook which features 50 original compositions.

Aidan Moffat is a Scottish vocalist and musician born in Falkirk in 1973. He has recorded and performed solo and with groups Aloha Hawaii, Angry Buddhists, Arab Strap, Ben Tramer, Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat, The Reindeer Section, The Sick Anchors. Arab Strap have recently released 'As Days Get Dark' their first album in 16 years.

Peggy Seeger  
Peggy Seeger is totally unique. Sister of Pete Seeger (the great-grandfather of USA folk revivial) and partner of the late Ewan MacColl, theorist and practitioner of UK folk revival), she has carved a special niche for herself in both these countries. Trained in both classical and folk music, her experience spans 55 years of performing, travel and songwriting.  She'll sing an unaccompanied traditional ballad, follow it with a tall tale about a circus high-diver, then launch into a topical song about drugs, war, hormones, politicians, unions, women, love or ecology. A multi-instrumentalist (piano, guitar, 5-string banjo, autoharp, English concertina and Appalachian dulcimer), she is probably best known for her feminist songs (such as Gonna Be an Engineer) and for The Ballad of Springhill, which latter is rapidly becoming regarded as a traditional song

Born in 1935, she regards herself as "seasoned and in my prime". She has has made 23 solo recordings and has participated in over a hundred recordings with other artists. A native North American, she made her home in England with MacColl for 35 years.  She returned to the USA for sixteen years but has returned permanently to the UK where her 3 children and 9 grandchldren live. She regards England as Home.

Kapil Seshasayee 
Kapil Seshasayee is a polymath, and a true original talent, both as a songwriter and as a soundsmith, a one man combination of Scott Walker, Blood Orange, Arca and Richard Dawson, creating something wholly unique. Combining electronica flourishes evoking FKA Twigs with Indian Classical guitar ornamentations, stunning vocals and a penchant for unorthodox instrumentation such as the aquaphone, Kapil manages to be truly experimental yet still accessible.

Building on the momentum of his acclaimed debut album A Sacred Bore -- featured in Pitchfork, VICE, BBC Introducing, The Guardian, The Quietus, and Rolling Stone India -- Kapil makes an eclectic shift away from his experimental roots towards a psychedelic crossover of R&B and avant Indian classical on his upcoming album, Laal.

Kapil has shared festival bills at SXSW, Latitude Festival, Celtic Connections, Cardiff Psych Festival & SOLAS Festival with the likes of Gaelynn Lea, Ben Folds, Raghu Dixit & Damo Suzuki - developing a reputation as an engrossing and engaging live performer.

Tawona Sitholé is a freelance poet, playwright, creative consultant and facilitator and musician. From Zimbabwe and based in Glasgow, Tawona has developed a contemporary style of expression, through mbira (a traditional Zimbabwean musicical instrument), spoken word and creative writing and drama. He often use humour to challenge stereotypes and misinformation. Tawona is Artist in Residence – UNESCO Chair for Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts Research Associate - MiDEQ.

Lynn Marie Smith
A foot soldier on the front line for justice Lynn Marie Smith is a Union Organizer, Activist, Labor Educator and  Singer Songwriter from Detroit is hailed as "The Motown Diva! Lynn has three CD's of Labor parodies done to the tunes of popular music.

An Injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere! 

Marie Tueje
Marie Tueje is a sound designer and sound artist based in Cardiff. Her work can be heard in experimental film, feature film, television, immersive and VR experiences, soundscapes and sound walks and installations. Marie is currently collaborating on the VR film and installation “A Signal Across Space” (2021), funded by Arts Council Wales, and her work as a film sound designer includes the Artangel-commissioned feature film, “Here for Life” (2019), and the multiple award-winning documentary “The Living Thames” (2018).

Sheena Wellington
Scotland's leading traditional singer, Sheena Wellington was born in Dundee in 1944 into a family of jute weavers and spinners who gave her many of the songs which she sings today. Sheena’s repertoire covers everything from Burns to ballads to the best of contemporary songwriting.  

In recognition of her achievements Sheena, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, has been awarded Honorary Life Membership of the Traditional Music & Song Association (TMSA) of which she is Patron and is in the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame. She  received The Heritage Society of Scotland’s award for her outstanding contribution to Scotland's culture and in August 2000 the coveted Herald Archangel for her Edinburgh International Festival’s series of traditional song programmes “Work, Sex and Drink”. She has received Honorary degrees from the Universities of St Andrews and Dundee, and the Royal Conservatiore of Scotland. She is patron of Voluntary Arts Scotland and Vice-president of the UK wide Voluntary Arts Network.

From 1985-1993 she had a weekly folk programme on Radio Tay. Today, she broadcasts frequently for the BBC, winning acclaim for the series, “Hidden Voices”  and “Caledonia Soul”, and is in demand as lecturer, writer, song teacher and consultant on traditional music. 


All enquiries please contact:

Funding support:

The Ignorant Art School at Cooper Gallery, DJCAD is supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland and the Henry Moore Foundation. 

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