A 12-year-old school student had a huge surprise when she was taken to Redford Barracks and presented with a professional recording made by Army musicians of her rap inspired by the Windrush generation. 

Leila McPhate, from Larbert High School in Stenhousemuir, wrote The World Is A Dark Place as her entry for Never Such Innocence, an international arts competition to give children and young people a voice on conflict.

Leila, who has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), had learned at school how people from the Caribbean were invited to the UK to help it rebuild after WWII but frequently faced injustice and discrimination. After seeing the black British artist Dave on the Brit Awards she decided to address the issue with a rap.

The Army was among the supporters of the 2019/20 competition and Leila’s song caught the eye of Lieutenant Colonel Wendy Faux, the Army’s head of arts, who led the team behind this year’s three-week Army@TheVirtualFringe event.

She was so impressed that she arranged for the Countess of Wessex’s String Orchestra to create a new soundtrack for her rap. Leila was invited to the barracks where Colour Sergeant Richard Kerr, Musician Brittany Johnnie and Corporal Scott MacFarlane of the Band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland presented her with flowers and a copy of the music on behalf of the Army.

Wendy said: “Army@TheVirtualFringe has shone a light on many issues including racism and equality. We have also been trying to support young and emerging talent. So working with Leila has been a perfect way to round off the event. 

“The contribution of people from Commonwealth nations in Africa and the Caribbean to the Army and to civilian life has been immense but is often overlooked, along with the discrimination so many of them experienced.

“The fact that young people like Leila are determined to use their talents to demand a better world gives real hope for the future.

“We are really proud to have been able to bring her together with some superb professional musicians and create a recording of her rap and will be looking for ways to bring it to a wider audience.”

The young rapper was taken along to the barracks by her father David. Leila, who hopes to be a writer, illustrator or musician when she’s older, said: “It’s been really wonderful doing this competition. This was all such a surprise. It’s amazing, I never thought all this would happen.”

The soundtrack was created by Lance Corporal Adrian Calef, the Principal Cellist of the Countess of Wessex’s String Orchestra, bringing together a variety of styles and instruments into what he described as an “epic orchestral hip hop sound.”

Adrian, the winner of a recent major Sky TV competition, said: “This was a great project to be involved with. And we were delighted to do something which will hopefully encourage Leila, and other young people, to keep developing their musical skills.” 

Leila’s teacher, Gary Balfour, said: “This is an amazing piece of work from Leila. Lots of young people from the school were entering the competition, creating artwork, writing poems, photography, speech writing, dance and performance art.

“Leila had learned about the Windrush story and wanted to do something about that, and after seeing Dave on the Brits she decided to create a rap. We worked together to set it to music but I always thought that we could do even more with it. 

“So when the Army offered to do a fully professional recording it was overwhelming. We decided to make it a bit of a surprise for her, as a welcome back to school after lockdown, and it was wonderful to see her face light up on the day.”

Gary attended the event along with Mhairi McAinsh, an art and design teacher closely involved with the school’s work for the competition.

A total of 15 of the school’s departments were involved with entries for the competition and they included a 3m x 2m artwork called Pray for Aleppo which gave a bird’s eye view of the bomb damage suffered by the city during the Syrian civil war.

Other pieces looked at everything from the Suffragette struggle to win votes for women and the experiences of conscientious objectors.

The Army sponsored the competition’s Fight for Freedom category which focussed on the role of African and Caribbean Commonwealth countries in defeating the Axis powers (Germany, Japan, Italy and their allies) and in post-war reconstruction.

Army@TheVirtualFringe, from 10 to 27 August, featured more than 40 free online events and activities, including arts sessions for young people. It replaced the annual Army@TheFringe event which sees an Edinburgh drill hall turned into a Fringe venue hosting high-quality productions exploring issues about life in and out of uniform.

  • Original music by David Fesliyan was used by Leila to record her competition entry. For more about David see https://www.fesliyanstudios.com. The project started off as a new arrangement of David’s music but evolved into a new track specifically created to accompany Leila’s words.  

– Ends –

Notes for editors

A verse and chorus from The World is a Dark Place

I feel like we should be regretting

Running away from depression and asking forgiveness

You feel sorry because of the screaming, the hurting, the burning, the teaching and the bleeding.

The knowledge was low, the hating high.

They should say goodbye and the only thing they could do was lay down and cry.

The teaching knowledge was not enough to get to college.

We are all in this community, we all deserve humanity, art and biology stop all this insanity because the Windrush generation was treated appallingly.


We can’t do this again

Or this will never ever end

Why can’t we just be friends?

Will someone just please help us?

We can’t do this again

Or this will never ever end

Why can’t we just be friends?

Will someone just please help us?


About Never Such Innocence

  • A video about Larbert High School’s contribution to the competition can be seen at https://www.neversuchinnocence.com/2019-20-competition
  • Never Such Innocence runs an international poetry, art, speech and song competition for young people aged 9-18, focusing on conflict and its impact.   
    It amplifies the voices of children and young people all over the world.
  • The name comes from Philip Larkin’s famous poem MCMXIV, which reflects on the changes caused by the First World War. 
  • The driving force behind Never Such Innocence is Lady Lucy French OBE, great-granddaughter of Field Marshal Sir John French who commanded the British Expeditionary Forces from 1914-15.
  • See https://www.neversuchinnocence.com/home-1

About Army@TheFringe

  • Army@TheFringe was established to present a diverse programme of performances that tell stories of life in and out of uniform.
  • It normally takes place at Hepburn House, an historic Army drill hall in Edinburgh’s New Town, which offers a variety of performance spaces, a relaxed and comfortable Mess Bar plus an Army Tuckshop.

Shows from past years

Army@TheFringe has a track record of presenting bold, high quality, independently produced performance art. Highlights last year included:

  • Dead Equal: All-female opera performed by three world-class sopranos telling the forgotten true story of Flora Sandes, heroine of the Allied frontline in World War I.  
  • The Happiness Project: Queer theatre looking at the need for non-sexual physical contact in a digital age.  
  • Unicorns, Almost: Owen Sheers’ play about the poet Keith Douglas and his Faustian pact with war. Initially as an audio experience and then as a live performance.

The 2018 dance theatre production The Troth, from the Akademi, (★★★★★ Broadway Baby, ★★★★ Herald) won Herald Angel and Lustrum awards with its portrayal of the experiences of South Asian soldiers on the Western Front in World War I.

In 2017 5 Soldiers, from the Rosie Kay Dance Company, achieved huge critical acclaim with a string of ★★★★ and ★★★★★ reviews and went on to enjoy major national and international success.

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Website: www.Armyatthefringe.org

For media information about Army@TheFringe contact Matthew Shelley at SFPR on 07786704299 or Matthew@ScottishFestivalsPR.Org