He’s been on the wrong side of the tracks, the right side of the tracks and now he’s laying down his own tracks - Sean Farrell has turned his life around, and discovered a new talent in the process, as music writer Rachael Clegg discovers
SEAN Farrell stands in front of a huge, graffiti art wall.
He’s in heaven.
Not only is the 38-year-old working in one of Sheffield’s newest music venues, Hope Works, he’s just recorded a track with the city’s Mixed in Sheffield record label and music project - the brainchild of producer Liam O’Shea.
But rewind a decade or two and Sean’s life couldn’t have been more different.
At 13 years old, Sean became hooked on heroin and crack cocaine, an addiction that led him to crime, homelessness and helplessness.
He’s a different man now, thanks to becoming a ‘companion’ - a resident and member - of homeless and rehabilitation charity Emmaus.
For more than 15 years Sean has lived and worked at various Emmaus centres across the world. Through Emmaus he’s learned how to speak French, how to play various instruments and has started writing music.
And now, he’s putting down tracks for an album with Liam.
“Liam’s given me the opportunity to experience working in a studio, which has been great because a lot of companions have a history in music,” says Sean.
His track is called The Poppy, and documents the dark period of his life when he was in the grips of heroin.
“Music is another language and can really give people the opportunity to express themselves. The song’s about the poppy, which heroin is a derivative of, and the trouble so many kids and young people have trying to fight against it.”
It’s a battle Sean knows only too well, though he has been clean for more than 15 years.
He said: “At that period in my life I really didn’t care about anything else but feeding my addiction.”
Emmaus helped him realise that there was an alternative to his heroin-ruled existence. “It made me realise that by helping other people you can feel better yourself.”
The track is a drum-and-bass mix, the first - Sean and Liam hope - of many more, as Liam explains.
“I’d love to make an Emmaus CD of several tracks and work with other Emmaus centres across the world.”
It was a combination of chance, admiration and goodwill that made Liam take the project on.
He said: “I was in the Emmaus furniture centre and I got talking about what I do and what Emmaus does and I asked if there was any way in which I could help - in the end I offered them a day in a recording studio.”
That was just a few weeks ago and already numerous companions from Emmaus have sat at Liam’s mixing desk.
“I think they’ve enjoyed it. I’ve enjoyed it too. Emmaus is a great charity and there are all kinds of reasons people end up homeless. This is just something I can do. These tracks are all their ideas too - I’ve just helped build them.”
Liam founded Mixed in Sheffield four years ago and, just before Christmas he opened Hope Works, Mixed in Sheffield’s arts venue.
“It’s called Hope Works because I wanted something positive,” says Liam. His positive philosophy is echoed in a graffiti image near the bar, which reads ‘What is life without a few scars?”
It’s a fitting mantra.
“We went through so many tribulations to get this up and running but now it’s done and we have it.”
The venue has enabled Liam to work with projects like Emmaus.
“Mixed in Sheffield is all about the community. It’s an A-Z of musical activity in Sheffield,” says Liam. “So this project with Emmaus is exactly what Mixed in Sheffield is about.”
Mixed in Sheffield has its own label, an online blog and a musical event organisation.
And, rather conveniently, Hope Works is just around the corner from Emmaus.
“It’s weird,” says Liam. “I never knew Emmaus was there until I was in there looking at furniture only recently.”
Now Liam and his Mixed in Sheffield project and Emmaus have become companions themselves, in a quest to put an Emmaus album out.
“It’s brilliant, “ says Sean, “I’m so excited about it.”
Mixed in Sheffield was set up in 2008 by Liam O’Shea to help budding musicians and artists.
Mixed in Sheffield’s venue, Hope Works, is an arts and music centre for gigs, club nights and exhibitions.
Emmaus helps people to move on from homelessness, providing work and a home in a supportive, family environment.
Residents are referred to as ‘companions’, and work full time collecting, renovating and re-selling donated furniture. Companions are also given accommodation, food, clothing and a small weekly allowance.
Their work helps finance the Emmaus community and enables residents to develop self-respect.
Emmaus makes an £11 return on every £1 invested in the charity. This helps fund the charity’s work in turning people’s lives around, like that of Sean.