Conrad Murray

Listen to this episode of Culture Plan B here.

DAVID: Welcome to Culture Plan B. My name is David Jubb. I’m a producer and I used to work at Battersea Arts Centre, and I’ve escaped from my kids for an hour to make this first episode in which I will not be interviewing David Tennant, Helen Mirren or Nick Hytner. Instead, Culture Plan B will be meeting with artists and communities who create culture outside of cultural institutions, like most people do. Today I get to meet Conrad Murray: artist, director, community leader and all time inspiration for me and thousands of others. I want to hear about Conrad’s work and what Covid-19 has meant for his practice and what he thinks about the future of funding and support for arts and creativity. Now the Government has set out a rescue package for the sector, and the secretary of state has made it clear it is primarily for preserving cultural institutions, it feels more important than ever to hear form independent artists and commutates about what they think should happen next. After all, let’s remember, it is independent artist and communities who are responsible for the big leaps forward in contemporary culture from immersive theatre to Street Dance to Grime to Spoken Word and Craftivisim. Yes it’s true that artistic movements are not cooked up in the business plans of cultural institutions, they are created by independent artists and communities. I spoke to Conrad just before the Government made its announcements and he’s got some great ideas about how we should distribute arts funding, which we explore after hearing about his own practice and the communities he works with. If you have an idea for someone to feature in one of these podcasts, or you want to create your own episode of Culture Plan B, then just get in touch with us at I hope you enjoy this first episode.

Music introduction – Don’t Tell Me by Conrad Murray and BAC Beatbox Academy “Don’t tell me what to be, Don’t tell me how to speak, Don’t tell me how to love, Don’t tell me how to feel, Don’t tell me how to do, Don’t tell me how to think, Don’t tell me how to be, Don’t tell me how to think, it will be ok if we agree to disagree, it will be ok”

DAVID: So, Conrad, Welcome, Hey

CONRAD: Hey, you alright?

DAVID: How’s it going? Where are you today?

CONRAD: I’m in the middle of my flat. It’s kind of makeup/make shift desk space also, with a kitchen behind me.

DAVID: It’s very nice, that cooker looks good. So you’ve got a long history of making shows. In the early days, through your company TDC including Hitler Wrote Twenty Pop Songs, which I remember very fondly.

CONRAD: Yeah, yeah

DAVID: since then you’ve worked a lot with Paul Cree. You’re company Beats and Elements, you’ve created shows like No Milk for the Foxes, which I’m very glad to see is in the Guardian top pick today for digital culture lockdown.

CONRAD: I didn’t know that. I just found that out.

DAVID: Yeah, yeah, it’s just gone up. High-rise Estate of the mind, another show, and obviously you’ve created your own solo show such as Denmarked, and then of course we’ve connected a lot as you as the director of the BAC Beatbox Academy for over ten years working with young people from Battersea and across London. You’ve taken those young people to Latitude festival, to the Royal Festival Hall, on TV with Gareth Malone, co-directed the academy’s smash hit, Frankenstein, one of my favourite shows of all time, and as well as drawing inspiration from hip hop and beatboxing to create theatre, you also have your own record label, rODIUM records, and you also write and produce your own music. Indeed, the theme tune for Culture Plan B is one of your collaborations with Kate and Nate from the academy…

CONRAD: yes, yes. Grateful, blessed.

DAVID: So it seems entirely appropriate that you’re our first guest on Culture Plan B, and I’m truly honoured to get to talk to you, so thank you.

CONRAD: Good man, excited. Good to chat.

DAVID: So the reason why I’m excited to talk to you is because of your practice as an artist, who doesn’t, from my perspective, make a division between what professional and community work is: it’s all work. You can see that, I think, in Frankenstein, which if anyone hasn’t seen it is this sensationally good, wellbeaten show, where the first thing that happens is that we meet members of the academy, who are, I think it is fair to say, earlier on their journey of beatboxing than the performers we later see in the show, and what comes across though clearly to us as an audience is that all of the young people are collaborators for you. So rather than creating some sort of artificial divide between – you know – professional artists and community artists, it feels like that’s almost meaningless. Is that fair? Is that right? Is that how you see it?

CONRAD: Yeah, yeah, totally true. They’re all artists. And they’re all part of the community, which is the same thing.

DAVID: Could you tell me a little more about the Beatbox Academy. Sort of what and how is it? How does it work? So, if people don’t know about it

CONRAD: It’s a group that runs each week on a Thursday, sometimes on extra days, but our regular day is a Thursday. But anyone can come from around twelve going upwards. And we learn to Beatbox to make sounds in our mouths [He demonstrates]. Little Beatbox sounds in our mouths, but we also mixing with the beatbox sounds we add on singing and rapping and tell stories in which people share a little bit about their day. We often use that to kind of create the little pieces we do each week. We kind of repeat the same exercise each week and kind of try to move slowly along. For some of the kids it’s just like a group to meet mates and make memories and hangout and chill out, but whilst making these beatbox things which can be theatre or can be music. It’s different to each young person that comes, but to us having a lot of fun and hopefully you might create some interesting stuff as well.

DAVID: I remember you telling me a story once about the chip shop, that that was a kind of key element of it and maybe for some of the young people who used to remember that the chip shop was the – er – was actually their favourite bit.

CONRAD: Yeah, yeah, it was actually really weird. It was like ‘oh why can’t it be like it used to be? It used to be so – like – so much funner.’ And I was like ‘What do you mean?’ And they were like ‘You remember we used to walk like down to the chip shop, we all used to go together?’ And these were the older ones, these guys were like 22, 23, maybe a bit older than that. I was like ‘Hey, we can still do that, but we don’t do that anymore because you’re a bit older now, like’. Actually I was just chaperoning everyone down to the shop, but for them it was a massive moment because we could all go together and eat chips together. And – like – and along the way they were all chatting and making friends, and they get crushes with each other and argue over like ‘I’ve got chips are we going to share? I’ll have a bit of your saveloy.’ It becomes a whole thing in itself, and the beatboxing gave the chips meaning and visa versa.

DAVID: And you’ve ask….I want to ask you about the other academies you’ve sort of set up. The kind of satellite academies. Because I think one of the things that often happens within the cultural sector is – you know – within this territory of work where artists are working in partnership with communities and creating stuff and making stuff is that we often, if and when we get to hear about it, either in the media, the arts sector media, or indeed just in the sector like at kind of conferences and things like that – you tend to get to hear about it and it sort of reached a certain level – like when you’ve got a Frankenstein or s- you know – but actually we don’t necessarily get to hear about those early set up days, and I know you as part of a collaborative touring network worked in Gloucester and helped sort of establish and set up other academies as well as the one in Battersea. And I’d love to just hear about what’s that – what’s that process like? How does that work for you –yeah-in terms of you as an artist how that works but also you as a human being how that works. Yeah, what’s it like?

CONRAD: I think – I think initially it’s never kind of like to set up an academy is kind of to come and meet the young people. Come and be you, Conrad, and we’ll see what happens. And hopefully something musical might happen or something might come from it. And I remember, cause I went to Gloucester because I’d met some people on tour and they’d just got some of their young people together and – erm – I showed them some beats, showed them some sounds, and I remember at one of the sessions we did I said ‘What we’re going to do in this activity is everyone’s going to go off and record stuff from their phones.’ And I remember a few people were staring at me like‘What?’. And I was thinking, what’s the problem? And then when I looked down, I saw they had like these brick phones. I’d assumed everyone would have a smart phone, but it’s differentcontext in different places. And – you know – it’s quite a mixed group there. I worked with some kids and they – and some people that were quite older actually, like, even the producers were like – you know – ‘these guys, are they too old to do this?’ But one thing I’d realised is that these guys have never had any kind of access to any practitioners or to any kind of like anything to make them see that their ideas were actually artistic practice. It was like ‘yeah, I write raps in my – in my bedroom’, and it was like you have so many amazing pieces memorised, like hundreds, hundreds. ‘Yeah, kind of. I do a bit of beatboxing, but…’ Their confidence was quite low, but by putting them together – they all thought they were soloists because they had never been put side-by-side with someone else before. And once I was putting them together, it was like a magic trick. It was like ‘oh you do this and now you do this’, and they were like ‘wow, this is amazing’. And I’m not really doing much, you guys already have the skills to do this, and they ended up – that initial group – ended up becoming a group that met regularly each week. And they have like gone on to support

– like – So Solid, to support – like – Skepta, some sick stuff that I would love to do. I’m like wow. And they’ve kept going. And I guess they already knew that they already had some music skills and I guess the hope was that I would be able to come along and unlock those skills and put them together.

But I have also met a different group in Gloucester where there was no knowledge. The only knowledge we had of these young people was that they were all about to get arrested. They were selling a lot of drugs and they were basically a gang in Gloucester.

I wasn’t told that so specifically at first – I was told like ‘will you come? Will you come and do your thing here? You know –be your thing, meet some of the young people here. There’s some particularly boys here we thought you should meet.’

‘Ah, okay, so what am I doing exactly?’ And they’re like ‘ah just be you, doing your thing’. ‘So like Ah, oaky, so what are we doing? Are we beat boxing? Are we rapping? Alright.’

And I could always tell there was always something not so concrete about this. It wasn’t like – you know – in the past it was like ‘come, do a workshop’ or like ‘we’ll have a microphone set up’. So I go to Gloucester. We drive to this estate and I remember -okay – so, ‘we’ve bought all these pizzas and we’re going to put them in the car for you.’

And, there they are. They’re there. I look over there and there’s like all these people hanging around in the park at this particular spot. I’m like ‘what am I doing? Where’s the…?’ Because I hadn’t to really thought – I’m assuming there would be a centre, lights.

‘Ah no. We’ve got some keys for a centre over there, but they don’t know anything about that. They just hang out over there.’

‘Ah right.’ So I remember getting out of the car, walking over and thinking ‘fucking hell! What am I doing?’ Like, I’m on this random estate, and there’s like all these teenagers hanging out who – like – ‘What the fuck am I going to do?’

So I walk over there and I’m like ‘cool yeah? y’good yeah?’ And they’re like ‘right yea. cool. Safe, safe, safe.’ and I’m like ‘Fuck!’ like. And then they must have think I’m a cop or something, because they all leave, they all look at each other and they all leave, all of them, the whole group. And I’m thinking I have fucked this up. What was I going to say? And I remember the producer gave me a line. And they’re going – the thing is the producer is so amazing these guys at Gloucester, they’re making it up themselves. Basically, these kids are so at risk of getting arrested they are like ‘we need an intervention’, because the police have said we can only let them get away with what they are doing for so long. Because they were selling drugs on the estate. Anyway, one kid comes late, comes over. But, anyway, this spot where I was was their spot, so they immediately…They only stand there. No one else goes there.

So he comes over and says ‘Where’s Micky? Where’s Tommy?’. I’m like ‘Ah they’re gone you know?’ ‘Is it? K cool.’ I didn’t want him to go, so I’m like ‘I’ve got some pizzas you know?’ thinking ‘why did I say that? Why did I say that?’

And he says ‘ What? You got pizza? Why you got pizzas for?’ ‘I’ve just got some pizza.’ So I have – like – ten Domino’s pizzas, which is a lot of money’s worth of pizzas, but the thing is I can see him looking – like, this is weird, but these kids looked like they needed some food as well. They looked like – you could tell that they needed food. So he gets some pizza and he starts calling on his mates, and they all start calling, they all start calling round. So look, they all start faltering backround, they all start coming back, acting like they don’t want the pizza. ‘Give me some pizza then’ and they’re eating the pizza. . So like ‘yeah, yeah, man’s got some pizza, in it?’ ‘Ah yeah, yeah k, why you got pizza for?’

‘Ah, I just thought I’d bring some pizza like just hanging out and getting to know you guys.’ ‘Ah alright, cool, cool.’ And then I remember that I had this line in my mind. I’m thinking – ’cause they’d said – ask them, ‘what do you think of Gloucester?’ And I should have thought better, but it’s –because, because, when you’re in someone else’s group or a gang, or like it’s really hard. You start having to think on your feet. So all of a sudden I come out with ‘So what do you think of Gloucester?’ And they all look at each other like ‘What the fuck is going on?’ Because who says that? That’s a big question. And I see them looking, but then the do start saying ‘It’s shit, I’n’it. It’s dead. It’s rubbish. And no one listens to you.’ And while we’re having these conversations, very calmly, people are coming along, as we’re talking and eating pizza, and there’s a girl there who has a massive bag of drugs and like stacks of money, and then actually selling drugs while I’m with them. And these are kids, these are young, some of them are like thirteen, some of them are fifteen, sixteen. I’m thinking ‘yo, yo, yo – like -I’ve got a DBS, am I going to be okay here?’ Because form the outside world I’m just actually here with a gang. But, anyway, when I say ‘how’s Gloucester’, and they say ‘Ah It’s shit.’ There’s nothing to do, there’s nothing to do.’ And I’m like ‘What would you like to do?’ And someone goes ‘Oh he – so-and-so –he likes rapping you know?’ And they all started laughing. And – like most kids do – most kids will rap, or beatbox, or come up with rhymes or sing – so, anyways, he’s like ‘okay, I’ll show you, I’ll show you’.

So he starts rapping from his phone and I start beatboxing along with it. And all the kids are like ‘Wow. What’s this? What’s this?’ And I’m like ‘yeah alright like I do beatboxing yeah, yeah.’ So then some of the others are like ‘I’ve got some lyrics as well, I’ve got some lyrics as well you know.’ So, the session ends and I go back the next week, and each week I’m having to –like – kind of engage with these kids, which is a gang. And though it sounds – you know – yes, they were selling drugs, but they were getting given these drugs by a lot of older boys and men, and they were actually super, super vulnerable. And one thing I noticed is that once they met someone who was a beatboxer, a rapper, they were coming back with more raps, more things to show. They were like really engaged by that. One week, I was told, I can’t remember what his name was, like ‘he’s the ringleader – like – We need you to get him on side’. I hadn’t seen him, but there was this guy, he was walking through the estate, from a distance looked. ‘Oh there’s’ – I can’t remember what his name was now – ‘there’s Micky.’ ‘Who’s that?’ And he’s walking towards me from a distance, pointing right at me, looking right at me. I’m thinking ‘OH! Alright! Micky! Hi Micky!’ Like – from a distance he’s walking like that. I’m thinking ‘What’s happening?’ Ah god. And each week. I would be thinking this is nuts, this is crazy. And erm, I trust the people, the producers, they lived on this estate, they wanted to work with these kids. But as he comes forward, he was like ‘I know you. I know you’. And I’m thinking ‘What’s he got? What’s he gonna say? What’s he gonna say?’ That I don’t live here and I’m ten years older than these guys? He comes out with? And he’s like ‘this guy’s a rapper you know? He’s a rapper and a beatboxer.’ And I’m thinking – and he’s like the ringleader.

‘He’s sick. He’s sick. He performed on our estate a couple of years ago.’ Which I had done. And all of them were like ‘what, what, what?’ And it made them immediately change. They were already kind of engaged but they were slightly – they were l slightly reserved and it kind of helped the second the ringleader was like ‘he’s bad, man, he’s bad’. And they were like ‘ah okay, okay’. And I was able to drop – I kept trying to say that I had the keys to this massive centre on the estate which was unused; no one on the estate would go one there, because it was seen as bad because it was near where these young people hung out.

So when we went in there, each week what we would do, I would set up some mics I would set up my computer, that would go unused they would have to go and packed it down, so the week we got in there, we go in there and they’re like ‘what’s all this. Why is there a laptop in here? Why is there mics in here?. I’m like ‘Oh I just thought I would set it up for you lot innit?’ They’re like ‘ah okay, okay.’ But it kind of help because this process of trust kind of gained them, again they’d had their lyrics, they’d been selling their drugs, when we go into the- into the centre, we’d start like recording, passing the mic, and some of them would – they’d always – they’d started to learn what time I’d be there. At first I’d say ‘I’ll be there at two, I’ll be thereat three o’clock’ say, and they’d be like ‘whatever. Three o’clock, whatever. I won’t be there. I won’t be there.’ But at half three they’d be there. One thing I started noticing was – like – at ten to three, at like, you know, half an hour early they’re like ‘Where are you, Conrad?’ But they’re waiting, but they were early because they were looking or something to do. And like one of the kids who was clearly like very, very troubled, he like starts coming with loads and loads of lyrics – like a whole pack of lyrics – I’m thinking – that he’s written from the week before.

Now these were kids that were being accused of vandalising the estate, trouble makers, selling drugs, but they hadn’t been given anything to do. Now they’ve got loads of lyrics, they’re all creating, they’re now like ‘I’ve been practicingmy beats all week’. And what you realise is these kids, from the outside world they could look – even when I first walked towards I was like, I thought okay what’s this going to be like? But they were just kids. But then now they were coming prepared with beats, prepared with lyrics, super excited, and on the street I couldn’t say anything, I could be like ‘okay guys, calm down, I’m talking now.’ I’d have to have private conversations I had to hope they’d catch and they’d all sort of chime in and then chime out. Once we’re in the centre and we’d queued up and each person wanted me to hear their lyrics before, there was no hierarchy. I wasn’t in charge before. I was just there. It was like ‘Conrad’s speaking. Conrad’s – Woah, woah. What’re we doing today? What are we doing now?’ And it was like – wow – because they were young adults again, they were kids again, and they were working towards something. And you could see some of them had been working all week and when I say – you know – eventually I could say ‘you can bring in other things, you can’t bring drugs in here. Let’s cut down on the swearing. Let’s cut down on the – you know – on the misogynistic language.’ ‘Oh, what’s that then?’ ‘Well, you know. You keep like cussing the girl. You keep saying inappropriate things.’

Now, it can be – I’m sure to some people these people sound – you know, they’re drug dealers – but they haven’t been – you’re saying their using misogynistic language, you’re saying they’re getting arrested. But they hadn’t been shown different. If you’re not shown these things when you going to know? When you going to know? And some of them were already living together at fourteen, fifteen. It’s like, where are your parents? At that age? It was actually heart-breaking. Like, they looked hard. If you saw them you’d think – I’m sure anyone walking down the street would be like, they’re hard, they’re well hard, they’ve got it all worked out. They don’t like me. They don’t want to be part of society. Honestly one of the weeks I said to them ‘okay guys. I’m going to ask you a question now. Ow was your week?’ You could see tears coming down their face. They were just bursting out in tears. But these were hard. One of the girls was crying. She was the hard one. She was the one that held – the one who handled all the drugs, handled all of the money. No one asked you this. Whoever asks these young people and gives them a chance to write lyrics about it?

DAVID: What’s it like as an artist holding that kind of space? Because it’s a great responsibility, isn’t it? And obviously there’s a – you know – codes of conduct and child protection policies and all of those things, which organisations and individual practitioners use and rely on, but actually they don’t –when you’re in a space like that – and that is going on. How does that feel? Do you take that home? Does that – what’s that like.

CONRAD: It’s a lot. You feel that responsibility and you worry about them. But it gives you – it gives your work – like – wow, like: I thought I was just a rapper and a beatboxer, but I really am a rapper, like I really am. This is what it’s supposed to do, right? Like, people talk about – like – ‘these beats are going to change, these beats are so hard’ – like – ‘the vibrations I feel when I leave the lyrics are really felt. It gives the work meaning and much more value and impact. And wow, this is what it’s supposed to do, this is what it is supposed to do. And the thing – there is one thing I haven’t mentioned – they were like amazing rappers. Like so, so good. Like, much better than me. Like so good I was thinking, wow, these guys are sick! And some of the people that come along – because some would dip in and dip out and you could see that they had no confidence, but they turned out better than a lot of professional, trained singers that I’ve met, because they would sing and rap because they are just doing it to themselves – it was like – for themselves. And at those moments in my mind I’m thinking this could be on stage, but unfortunately, at that moment we were in that youth centre. But it was a moment, a real moment, that will be meaningful, I know that will be meaningful to them, it was meaningful to me.

And I also grew up on an estate and had a few of those moments, and I still remember what they meant to me, do you know what I mean? And I remember thinking, like, maybe I’m not a piece of shit? Like I mean – I never had anyone do beatboxing or rap. I remember one time me, my brother and my friend James – there was people doing circus skills. And I was like ‘what the fuck is this? Circus skills? No way?’ And they were like ‘Hey guys, why don’t you come over here?’. And it was like ‘no way, no way. It’s rubbish.’ And they’re like ‘come over, come over here, come over here.’ And it was like ‘no, no’. And the more aggressive we’re being they’re being even more nice and then it was like ‘oh for jokes, yeah, for jokes? We’ll just go over there.’ And it’s like one minute we go over there and no one’s engaged. Let’s just go over there. And these guys are foolish, Why they so happy for? Why they so happy for?’

And we go over there and they’re being super nice and we’re like ‘oh this is rubbish’.

‘Go on, just hold this thing here.’


‘Go on.’

‘Okay I’ll hold it then.’

‘Hold it. You’re going to throw it in the air and I’m going to catch it.’

‘Okay’ – and you’re thinking, like, ‘that’s quite cool. That’s alright.’ And there was a mini tightrope that was just off the ground. And they’re like ‘just step on that. It’s going to be quite hard, but this is what people do.’ And I’m like ‘nah, nah. This is going to be rubbish.’ And I remember holding this thing and getting on the tightrope, and one of them was in control but not in control. Doing this thing – like – and having to trust this thing. And I remember changing. I remember thinking something’s different has happened now. I hated you guys, it was weird. But for some reason you’ve brought us over here, I’ve like totally embarrassed myself in front of my brother and my mate, who I want to be cool, and like why are you doing this? Also. I couldn’t understand. Why are you being nice to us? Why are you doing this? So then I know that interacting with these young people – even though this was circus – I never went into circus – the process of – because – I didn’t need to be beatboxing or rapping. I could have been doing something else.

DAVID: So why did you? Because you are – you are one of those really nice people – who offers people pizzas and the keys to their local community centre. And you are – I’ve seen you – your warmth and energy and positivity and spirit is just something to behold. So what – yeah – you asked them why do you do this, so why do you do it?

CONRAD: I guess I just see that if I don’t do it, I always feel like who will? Do you know what I mean like? And you have to do it also, if something compels you to go, even there are weeks where – you know – some of the young people – you can’t –who are really, really great ended up in prison for – you know –quite a serious crime whilst we are doing it. There were weeks when it was like – man – should I go back there? Like – But I had to go back there – it’s what I do. It’s part of the service of what I do. This is – If I’ve been given this gift and this tour, then I should be using it for a purpose. It doesn’t make me any less a rapper or any less a beatboxer, I can still do that, but I also need to be using it as a conduit. Maybe they’ll never beatbox again or rap again, but they might use digital editing skills. Hey, this might just be a beautiful memory for them where and adult trusted them, even around them being – like – really aggressive. Even around all that they saw that you are a person. That’s a lot. And it’s not easy – it’s not always easy for me – I was quite intimidated at first. It could have been a disaster. It could have been me just sitting there not talking. There were many ways it could have panned out.

DAVID: But it is you that makes it not that. Because there are loads more. It could have been a car crash because – and I do think there is something about your practice and, indeed, practitioners who work in this territory,- it is about the sort of –kind of – spirit of the way that the invitation is made. I always loved the fact the Beatbox Academy has huge humour – it’s funny. It’s really funny in a way and the way you interact with people brings out their humourous side which, in a way, the way you sort of talking just then about the Gloucester crew –you bring out people’s soft side, you bring out people’s vulnerability, and you bring out people’s ability to not be the –the kind of front we all have our own versions of presenting. You reveal the underbelly of each person to kind of like come out. And I think that is sort of an amazing thing. And I remember at Battersea, parents wrote me letters who came to the Beatbox Academy. The sort of people who – you know –who – they were watching their children in the formal education system beginning to fail. So, you know, their kids would either be being complained about by the school, or they were starting to not attend, or they would be worried about their own mental health in terms of coming away from school and – and – people would write about the fact that =when they met – when their sons or daughters met you and they found the academy they kind of found a home – almost like another sort of family –another home – another – a place where they did fit. And what always struck me, when you looked at the beatbox academy, it was never a group of young people that should have fittedtogether. You know, in one’s conventional sense of ‘oh, you found a community that you fit into’. It was like the most extraordinarily diverse group of young people. And I don’t mean ‘diverse’ in the way it is used in arts and culture in terms of a lot of them being black or a lot of them coming from a minority background. I mean – like – they were kids from private schools in there, there were kids from minority backgrounds who were working class kids, there were kids who were into, you know, so many different things.And it just felt like it was like a genuinely unusual group of people that you couldn’t imagine together in any other moment really.

CONRAD: You know I think a big part of that is just being quite honest and open and being – there’s no end point. There’s no –I don’t have a remit – I don’t think this is targeted. It’s for all people, it’s for all. Which can sound, you know, a bit cliché or trite. But the truth is I think a lot of things are quite targeted or people look for their people or people who look like them. But for me it’s like people who are open to come and hang out, the fact you haven’t got – it’s called the Beatbox Academy, you’ve just got to be able to tolerate beatboxing, and hopefully really like it. But it doesn’t mean you have to beatbox. We have people come week-in, week-out and just barely say a few words and not beatbox. They obviously love it because they hear it all the time, but I’m quite open about the fact that I’m not trying to target any specific or particular group. And I think that is – to me that’s quite brave actually. I feel like there’s a lot of not trying to look good and not trying to impress anyone. If we’re doing a workshop or whatever it’s for the moment of what we’re doing. If it happens to look good to someone else, then good; if it happens to sound crap to someone else then that’s good. I don’t care about that. It’s only about what we’re doing. And that’s why we keep going, that’s why it keeps going. The second that we really started to care about the end point or the finished product, mainly – like –then it will start to not be as successful as it is.

DAVID: So how does – so this is probably a perverse question to ask – but how does something then like Frankenstein grow out of that? Because Frankenstein is a world class show, it’s going to be on BBC telly later this year. If Covid wasn’t happening right now I’m sure it would be touring all over the world. And, you know, hundreds of thousands of people will want to connect with it and see it. And that is something that West End producers- you know – people – that’s what they are striving to make. Shows that kind of loads and thousands and thousands of people want to see but, that wasn’t the objective?

CONRAD: No. And the people that are in the cast, the people that see it – and it still makes me laugh because people, because they’re seen as artists and amazing vocalists, beatboxers and the most amazing talented you know – young people that you’re going to meet, and you’re going to like creating original sounds and experiences. But these were not. Why it makes me laugh – and I accept that – they’re amazing, they’re absolutely amazing. But so are all the kids we work with.I think if you look at Frankenstein in the same way you come and look at a normal session you would see the same beauty. The curtain raisers are people that have just started sometimes. Sometimes the people performing in the Grand Hall that night in front of five hundred people was the second time I’ve met them. Sometimes it was the first time. I’d only met them for two hours, and then be like ‘are you up for it?’ and I’d chat to their parents, ‘do you want to?’ ‘Yeah, alright then.’ And they’d have people come out screaming and crying and saying – sometimes they’d be like – ‘That was the best part of the show.’ Well – they’d just done it for the first time, and that –yeah, I mean, that – seeing young people in their element doing their thing in their element is also amazing, isn’t it?

DAVID: What needs to change about – I mean – I think – I learnt from you and I learnt from the academy that we should have had loads of academies, you know? If you look at the percentages of the work at Battersea – you know – we did more work, I suppose, on the – you know – presenting shows and presenting other people’s shows and playing the game across London of trying to – kind of – present work that was nationally or internationally touring, and all that stuff. And I look back and I just think about how much more – My question I always ask myself is ow much more we could have done, how much more home-grown – I mean, literally, Home-grown was the title of Battersea Arts Centre’s young People programme –but literally, and metaphorically, how much more could we have done. And, forgetting Battersea, what does cultural institutions anywhere need to do to shift the dial so that more of this work happens?

CONRAD: Erm. I think put more faith, you know in what they would call the participation or community work.That term is not help even. It’s work, it’s art, it’s performance. Like, that is the – you know – if they see Frankenstein or a lot of other shows that people really enjoy with that aesthetic, it’s coming from that place. Some of these other adult artists are using people in R&Ds to create, or whatever. You have it on your doorstep. I think…

DAVID: It’s been amazing to me since Frankenstein how many – four or five other theatres that I have spoken to in London who sort of said ‘Yeah, we really want our own Frankenstein.’

[CONRAD: yeah, yeah, yeah.]

DAVID: I don’t know if that’s something you have hear people say, but…?

CONRAD: People say like, this is our Frankenstein. And I find it funny they say it to me, like. But it’s great that it’s associated. Because it’s great that it means that they are trying to engage their young people and like and the same thing. Hopefully that’s what that means. But the Frankenstein is the end point. What’s worrying about that is that the focus is the academy. That’s the main, important thing. To me what they need to do is let artists do what they do and leave it alone also. I think that there was a long time when there was enough support to be supported, but there was like a Goldilocks period of like, most of the time was doing what the hell we wanted. And, anyone could come on a Thursday night. But what hopefully a lot of the time being able to just do this practice of what we want and being trusted and left alone. There were some problems. I can’t say it was always easy. But the good things were the fact that just let us do this thing and really believe in it. And it will look different to a process will have seen in other companies in the building, it will look different from what you learnt, maybe at uni.

DAVID: You told me before that maybe producers sometimes come in and ask you to do – like – could you do something different his week. Like, cause you know, they’d seen it, which felt just not right.

CONRAD: That was the hardest thing. It was like, they always want novel things. Always novel things. And it’s really frustrating because this isn’t…

DAVID: Which is kind of nuts to say because Frankenstein as an end result is probably the most novel, innovative, unusual show. But it comes through repetition.

CONRAD: Repetition. And the kids do the – you know – the foundation beat. We’re going to do this game. The things we’re going to repeat over and over and over again. And – you know – we would throw new things on there, but it would be more –like – a slow revolution of building things on, that work, that work. Part of that is because of the art we’re creating. It helped that. But it was also partly to give a routine to the young people that come. And it means that anyone can come at any time. If we always do the foundation, if was always do the fundamentals, it means that someone can start this week and always start, we’re always at a starting point. And it works because you could pull any of the kids out and start something now. Very, very good, very tight. And even someone who’s just come because they have someone with that grounding. Whereas the producers would want something for them.

DAVID: It reminds me when I watched Kneehigh rehearse for the first time, and I remember watching Emma Rice working with the company. And basically they start – it’s not a dissimilar thing, in that they would basically just play the same routine of games for about two-and-a-half to three hours and then you’d be like ‘are they going to – like – do anything?’ And then maybe just for the last hour they’d work on the show that they were working on, coming straight out of those games. But it was like – but that was the whole point. And I just think about when you go in and you said participatory programmes or whatever that, you know, the number of times you throw new things at people and actually, sometimes, what is most important is to – going back to the beginning of this conversation when you talk about that meeting in Gloucester – is to just create some kind of creative playful pattern which people can just sort of come to rely on, come to feel. And maybe that was also the chips, for some of the guys in the Academy is that’s the thing which people can hang on to and that you as a practitioner can kind of conjure.

CONRAD: Yeah, I think the repetition is very important. As long as it isn’t – you know – that they’re enjoying it and having fun. It’s not being afraid of the process. I think a lot of artists talk a good game when they talk about process, and about believing in it. Just really trust that. But often they’ll throw it in the water and they’ll just keep introducing new things, new things, new things. I don’t impose anything. I don’t come and I have an end point I want them to get at. So they come and do something that –sometimes they do do genres or things that I think they might not be to my taste, but that’s okay. That’s alright like. I’m listening and thinking okay, this is something a bit new. And they’re all getting super excited and I remember –sometimes I’ll be thinking this is rubbish, I don’t like it. But I am missing something, I’m in the wrong, I’m not going to say, wait, hold on, what I’ve learnt is this is wrong, this is wrong, this is wrong. Because I’ve got thirty people telling me this is the most amazing moment they’ve ever had in their whole lives. So sometimes it’s just best to go with it. And remember me and Hannah Ringham – I was her assistant in Youth Theatre. And the same thing happened, She said to them that they can name the show anything they want and they will go with the name of the show.

And then one kid says ‘Mind the Gap’. Now the show was about the news, and it was about the news and media stories. And the next kid said ‘Mind the Gap’. And they were all like ‘Mind the Gap! Mind the Gap!’. And it was like – the show’s about news – why am I? – is this the worst title ever? And I remember me and Hannah looking at each other and like, this is just. And they were so – and we were like ‘what we going to do?’ Because we both didn’t like the title but it was like, mate, they are so excited and they had a reason for it. When we asked the young people what do they think of when they think of the news they will say ‘the Tube’. And it’s like, the tube? Because that’s where you get the Metro. The Metro is free on the tube. But what about any other news? No, the Tube or the bus. And the first thing you think of is ‘Mind the Gap’ when they say that on the Tube. And they were all like ‘Yeah that’s it, that’s it!’ And it’s like – yeah – Sometimes you’re wrong, or you just – it’s being brave enough not to impose that. And so when adult peers come to watch it and they’re like ‘Conrad, how could you have let them do that?’ I don’t care what you have tosay, because they have just made, for the first time, the most amazing – this is the first time this piece exists and it’s absolutely amazing to them.

DAVID: Nice one. What are you doing during Covid? What has happened to your practice? What’s it been like?

CONRAD: A lot of stuff’s cancelled. All the live stuff has been cancelled. So we should have just done Brazil, we should be doing Sydney Opera House.

DAVID: Aargh

CONRAD: I’m supposed to be doing something at the Globe. Other things have all [makes vanishing noise] disappeared. But, being doing sessions on line, so Beatbox Academy has been going on online. And I thought, you know, foolishly, and I don’t always know what’s going to happen, and I thought after two weeks they’d stop coming. But the kids come back. They’ve been coming back the whole time. And like, they’re like, can we do it more than once? Can we do it two times? Can we do it three times a week? And, like ‘This is the best part of my week. This is the best part of my week.’You know, wow, like – I understand it when it’s in a building. I understand it when it’s – like – somewhere. And we’re giving out – you know – free sweets – but what’s crazy is that without the building, without the sweets, without all that, it’s just an idea – and idea of a space where – like – you guys to talk to each other and you all know each other – they could be on Zoom now orchatting. But it’s the fact that you need that central person, those people that they trust to come together to bring this thing together. And, you know, I can’t say that we’re able to create anything fantastic over Zoom because the sound’s not as great, and you can’t do stuff at the same time.

DAVID: But it’s interesting that it shows that however people gob off about the importance of buildings, that it is the importance of people and all that brings people together, because your – yeah you – you’re the space.

CONRAD: I might bring them into my kitchen. DAVID: [Chuckles]

CONRAD: And, erm, yeah, I think one thing that organisations could do is empower artists more and understand that they hold their community together. And the thing is with me I’m from that community, I’m from this area I might live in Mitcham but it’s not far from Battersea, that’s my local theatre. And I felt – at some times – I did feel like you’re not – if you just let me – I often did do a lot of stuff. I have – we have – I ran social media pages before BAC had any active social media, always making – like – look, look, if you just empowered me a bit more, and loads of other people like me in the building, we would do this for you, because we love it, because this is what we do. Like, empower the artists. I’m not sure – there’s a whole mush of organisational staff that doesn’t need to happen. Like, empower the artists. And – like – everyone wins. The community wins –like – you know, the producer will, understandably, sometimes they stop working at six o’clock: I don’t want emails, I don’t want this, or whatever. But other artists that I know, these are our mates the kids we work with, this is our community – like -people messaging each other until twelve o’clock at night. And it might be shocking that okay maybe the kids should be in bed, but they’re going to be up all night, they’re messaging me: ‘I’ve got this new idea’. Keep on going, keep on going, Because it’s not a job. Like, we’re rewarded for it by doing it, hey, it’s my career as well, but like, for the young people, and for the adults doing it, it’s what we do. Like, let us, let us do it, and I feel like we all win and more things happen, more things happen, and it keeps happening. Whereas, sometimes, I don’t understand –the kind of – I have to ask can I do this? And I’m asking someone who doesn’t know about working with young people, doesn’t know about Beatbox, doesn’t know about Hip-Hop, doesn’t know about theatre I practice, this local area, even, and they be like ‘ummm, let me just think about that.’ And it can be like very annoying, because it can be like I don’t know why I even have to ask you for this. But they might have just met you, they might not care about what you’re doing, its, and that’s really frustrating because I may be a freelancer, but to me I am also working for the building as well. This is my community. Or not even disappointed: I’m working for this community. Like, help me do this – do you know what I mean – don’t block it.

DAVID: What do you think needs to change in terms of – I mean you’ve very brilliantly and eloquently described a bunch of things there – but in terms of – like – the structure or the way work is funded or the way relationships work within the cultural sector? If you were Chief Executive of Arts Council or this commission – I can’t remember what they’re called – the Cultural Renewal Taskforce – you know – what are some of the things that you would say to them that need to change so that we have more of this work, which I passionately believe is totally life-changing for the people involved and we should, as a cultural sector, we should be doing a lot more of it. So what do we – what do we need to do?

CONRAD: I mean, it’s a big question, but I think that artists should be funded first. I think they should be in a position where producers are asking for them, like. Venues will get paid when those artists come and do that work, other than the other way round. Because the person that has all of the value is often on the back foot begging, and it doesn’t…you can get into this situation where it doesn’t make any sense. What if the artists were given the money and could choose where they went? Okay, well you know what, if you’re not helping me do what I do, so I’m going to go over here. And maybe – you know –maybe, er, the money is can only be spent on certain things or – do y’know – I don’t know – like, you have this amount of money to pay a producer and this amount of money to pay a venue, er, but it would mean that the artist would be empowered. Imagine that – that the venues have to – instead of knowing that the artists are often going to be trying to impress them, you’ve got to impress me. Like, do I really want to come to you? Do I really want to work with you?

DAVID: I love that idea. You commission a venue, not that the venue commissions you.

CONRAD: That would be great. Imagine how that dynamic would completely change. Because, again, it would be – wow –so Conrad, you’re the person who knows about working with young people, you’re the person who knows about Beatboxing and Rap, not me, who just – you know – I just graduated from Bristol Uni, I have never listened to rap in my life, er, and maybe, maybe you’re the person that knows what you’re doing.

DAVID: And it would completely change the whole value set of what – of what venues think of as valuable because the venues would immediately have to – immediately have to think what is valuable to the artist that we want to work with, rather than what is valuable in our five-year strategy and our board thinks that we need to do and the Arts Council says we have to do. And let’s create a whole set of hierarchy and infrastructure and mush – your word – around that. Yeah, I love that Idea. I think that’s – that’s a beautiful thing

My abiding, enduring memory of you is, erm, in a Beatbox battle which is an extraordinary thing: and if anyone hasn’t experienced it, it’s where two beatboxers come together on stage live, either surrounded by the people – you know – the crew that are watching the workshop or are part of the workshop, or, indeed, as we experienced in front of five hundred people in the Grand Hall in Battersea. And, sometimes the match would be, to somebody’s untrained ear, like mine, pretty even, but sometimes it wouldn’t be very uneven. And –you know – you’d have some kind of like world-beating TV star Beatboxing champion and then – you know – an eleven year -old from Balham – you know – knocking out some beats and being – you know – and throwing their all at it. And – you know in terms of a kind of musical achievement, in terms of technical achievement, it was pretty clear in those occasional instances where you had that disparity who won. But what always amazed me is that, not only did you often declare it a draw, but you somehow, within the five hundred people, made it a draw. The audience basically backed the two equally. And I – there was something about that that I always just found sort of extraordinary, that you took a world that is often competitive in nature and created a world which is kind of collaborative and collegiate in nature and – yeah – I thank you for that – for that -for those memories.

CONRAD: Ah no, thank you man for having me in the building, you know.

DAVID: Well, we should’ve clearly been the other way round, where we should have been – you know – desperately trying to fight for your – fight for our right to have you work in the buildings so that you, er, deciding whether you wanted to commission – yeah – Battersea Arts Centre or Wimbledon Theatre or the Southbank Centre, and – yeah – us as venues, we have to illustrate to you just how well we were connected to our community, how much we understood our community, and how much we understood also the word ‘yes’ in terms of what you wanted to do and how we could support you to do what you wanted to do. And that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t then challenge you, but – er – I love that idea that we would completely reverse the polarity of that relationship.

CONRAD: Let’s see if it happens.

DAVID: Yeah. – I think that’s a good note to finish. Thanks Conrad.

CONRAD: ah, cool man.

DAVID: Cheers.

[Music Plays]

DAVID: We hope you enjoyed our first episode of Culture Plan B. You can contact us with any ideas for the podcast such as ‘get a new presenter’: as soon as I finished interviewing Conrad I thought of all the questions I should have asked him. I hope I’ll get better at this. Email us at, and do follow us on Instagram or Twitter for info on future episodes. Culture Plan B is researched and presented (until I get fired) by David Jubb; the editors and sound mixers are Ian Dickinson and George Dennis; the music is from Don’t Tell Me by Conrad and BAC’s Beatbox Academy; communications support from Antonia Goddard; original Artwork by John Bausor; and the producer and creator is Matthew Dunster.