Heart n Soul grew out of working together and experimenting. Musician Mark Williams, now the Artistic Director/Chief Executive wanted to explore new ways of music making and using art to make a difference. In 1984, he started running creative sessions with a group of people with learning disabilities who went to the local day service, The Mulberry Centre.
Once the group was given the chance to make music together with Mark, original songs flowed out. The Mulberry Crew moved into The Albany where it is still based today, re-naming itself Heart n Soul, based on the title of one of Pino Frumiento's (co-founder of Heart n Soul) first songs. Theatre practitioner Alix Parker joined the company and the group started performing to an audience creating original shows and stories as well as music. Heart n Soul was always about working towards professional productions – not art therapy.
The group made an album, toured shows within disability rights festivals in the UK and Europe and started to attract interest within the arts and disability worlds. Further groups were set up in the model of this Original Company with a theatre and a music practitioner as what we used to call 'tutors', and a training scheme was launched to raise skills levels on and backstage.
Whilst away on tour in Belgium, on a night off, the Original Company was not allowed into a nightclub in the hotel where they were staying. The artists were angry, they decided to turn this into a force for change by creating a place where people with a learning disability could go to party, to meet friends and even better, to see performances by people like them.
Because of this The Beautiful Octopus Club was born in 1995, and shortly afterwards The Squidz Club for young people was set up too. Heart n Soul carried on touring nationally and internationally to regional theatres, major festivals such as Glastonbury and to schools to deliver its education programmes for special and mainstream students.
Heart n Soul's way of working has been used by a range of groups wanting to achieve similar goals, over fifty events have been set up based on The Beautiful Octopus Club, some by us, some with our help and some on their own.
Since 2003 we have been making sure that people with learning disabilities are involved in every area of the company's work including production, office and leadership roles.
In 2010 Mark and Pino were awarded MBE's for their services to disability arts.
2012 was an extraordinary year for Heart n Soul. We worked on our biggest project to date, The Dean Rodney Singers, commissioned for the 2012 London Cultural Olympiad, we held our biggest ever Beautiful Octopus Club with up to 3,000 people celebrating learning disability culture at London's Southbank Centre and our artists Lizzie Emeh, The Fish Police and Kali Perkins all performed at the 2012 London Paralympic Games opening ceremony.
Since then we’ve released music by The Fish Police, Lizzie Emeh and an album by participants at Do Your Own Thing. We’ve also continued to develop our new bands Electric Fire and Too Hot For Candy as well as work with our new artists Ifeoma, Tilley & Del and more!
As part of our 30th anniversary celebrations in 2017, people with and without learning disabilities were recorded talking about their lives, creating an archive of learning disability culture. This will be permanently added to the London Metropolitan Archives and available on our Big 30 website.