John Kelly – Festival Artistic Director

My life, music and work are all one really.  My own material is strongly motivated by a personal belief in a Social Model, my passion for young people to have real opportunity to reach their potential and a belief that we can find and celebrate ourselves through the Arts. I’m very excited about being involved in this festival – please have fun, join in & enjoy!

Singing since I was 8, with Irish music loving parents, and vinyl and cassettes all over the house, music has been my life.  I started to learn to play & perform music and also began to learn about myself. At that time I rebelled against anything to do with the negative stereotypes of disability. I started a band (Another Dead Rabbit) gigging whenever and wherever I could. I wanted to learn more and took on the guitar, bass and keyboards, Pleased to say I’m still dodgy on them all.

I remember being influenced by a Sunday morning disability programme about a band of guys who all played guitar on the trays of their chairs. Along with Ian Dury, those were the images of a musician that I could relate to & they have stuck with me through out. Being into rock, punk, ska, rockabilly and blues was another handy thing as I was self taught and these styles taught me that the rules of music were there to be adapted or broken & you could also be a little bit naughty….nice! I thank the musician who invented three chords, open tuning and a bottleneck. Since those discoveries I’ve recorded but mostly played live all over, including  New York, Memphis & Nashville. I’ve also gigged Russia, Germany, Estonia Poland, France, Greece, all over the UK & of course my family homeland of Ireland.

A civil rights demo in the mid 90’s just before the DDA became a bit of a moment in my life ‘sharing the front of a bus’ with newly made friends, hey ho hey ho….and the steps on the bus did go, sort of!

I became involved in equality training by listening & learning from other disabled people.  Reading Paulo Freire notion of Education for liberation was another realisation & I was lucky enough to spend a short but enlightening time learning from the great Augusto Boal. I’ve explored, facilitated & written about inclusion in youth work and it is definitely the way of the Jedi! I was Programme Coordinator at The Orpheus Centre when it first opened & I recently completed a First Class Honours Degree in Education.

John sang a version of Ian Dury’s classic Spasticus Autisticus with Graeae Theatre Company’s full cast and band from Reasons to be Cheerful alongside Orbital and Stephen Hawking live at the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympics.

We first found out about the plans for Spasticus Autisticus about a year ago whilst on tour with Reasons To Be Cheerful. It was a secret from then till the big night. Our performance was in a technically tricky part of the ceremony so we had plenty of rehearsal to ensure it would be nothing but a world-class performance. 1 billion people watched it worldwide and we were blown away by the reaction in the stadium and in the media, I even made it onto channel 4 news. I spent some very special moments in the days leading up to the show rehearsing in that amazing stadium virtually empty, just us and the various crews rockin’ it! My greatest memory of the night was simply overcoming the fear. This was easily my biggest gig so I had to beat that fear and I loved it.