Eurovision 2022: How Maldon hopes to ride the Sam Ryder wave

By Laurence Cawley
BBC News, East

Image caption,
James De'Ath's paths have crossed repeatedly over the years with fellow musician Sam Ryder. The pair have played just once together

For those living in Sam Ryder's home town of Maldon, he has already achieved more than they could have hoped for. But what does securing his place in the Eurovision grand final mean to those passionate about music in the Essex town?

"It has been the main topic of conversation," says James De'Ath. "They are really, really excited about it."

The 33-year-old music teacher is a member of staff at Plume Academy in Maldon.

Students and staff at the school's music department are excited about Ryder's Eurovision journey.

He is currently second favourite to win this year's Eurovision Song Contest in Turin with his uplifting power ballad Space Man.

Image source, Parlophone
Image caption,
Sam Ryder, one of the UK's most followed singers on TikTok, with 12 million fans on the app, will perform his song Space Man at the grand final

During the past few weeks, a sense of eager anticipation has been building at the near-2,000 student school.

"Two of our year 11 students will be holding Eurovision parties," says Mr De'Ath. "So despite our previous record in previous Eurovisions, there is a lot more positivity about it."

Mr De'Ath has a personal interest in this year's Eurovision finals. When he is not teaching, he works as a drummer and has made music with Ryder.

"I know of him outside of what he is doing now," he says.

"Prior to him being picked up through TikTok and Instagram, he was doing the wedding band scene and doing corporate events, which is what I do outside of teaching.

"His group Jupiter Ray and my group The Hotshots tend to play in tandem at the same sort of venues and sometimes we would swap members, so on that front it has been really exciting."

Image caption,
Mr De'Ath and Ryder performed together about four years ago

On one occasion, about four years ago, Mr De'Ath played with Ryder.

"It is a nice reminder of how you can make it in the industry - from literally filming a selfie to getting picked up," he says.

Will he be watching the Eurovision final?

"Well, I'm actually playing at a wedding at that time so I will be busy. Perhaps like during the previous World Cup, I might have the phone down on my drum kit so I can see the results coming in."

Image caption,
Cameron says he might buy a copy of Sam Ryder's song - partly for the music and partly for the local connection

Cameron, 17, loves music but is not a huge fan of pop.

"I did quite like Sam's song when I heard it," he says. "And when his name first popped up in the news, I saw he was from Maldon.

"There's a lot of interest in him here, especially amongst the lower years."

Cameron, who plays the flute and the piano, will be watching the Eurovision grand final.

Asked whether he would buy Ryder's song, Cameron says: "You know, I might do, I might do. He's got a nice tenor voice and has a good falsetto."

Partly for the music, partly for its local connection, he says.

Image caption,
Penny Adams, the school's faculty lead for the expressive arts, is hoping to see a Ryder renaissance of musical interest in Maldon

"Something like this is such a good thing because the numbers taking music have dropped and the numbers learning instruments have dropped," says Penny Adams, the school's faculty lead for the expressive arts.

The pandemic had a large impact on the numbers choosing music for GCSE. Because it was a harder subject to teach and study remotely, many students opted for other subjects.

And the current number of students studying GCSE music is half that of pre-Covid levels.

Home of salt, a mud race... and a Eurovision winner?

Image source, Getty Images
  • Home to about 14,000 people, Maldon is an ancient town dating back to at least 913 AD
  • In the 10th Century it was raided by the Vikings in the Battle of Maldon
  • Hundreds of hardy competitors battle their way across a muddy riverbed to raise money for charity each year in the Maldon mud race
  • It is the home of the world-famous Maldon sea salt

Ms Adams hopes the school is about to experience a "Ryder renaissance" with many more students choosing music and other performing arts subjects.

"To have something like Sam coming along and showing that he's from Maldon and this is what you can achieve, creates a sense of aspiration and inspiration for the kids.

"He's a local boy who has gone on to achieve," she says.

She hopes Ryder's success will lead to many more children learning music and taking courses in performing arts subjects.

Ms Adams has long loved Eurovision.

"I love the cheesiness of it, I love the spectacle of it," she says. "Some of the music is absolutely dreadful, but that is all part of Eurovision."

Image caption,
WIlliam sings, plays the piano, writes songs and is currently teaching himself the guitar

One of those studying music at A-level is 17-year-old William, who sings, plays the piano, writes songs and is currently teaching himself the guitar.

His musical taste veers more towards the likes of David Bowie, Elton John or Queen than modern pop.

He hopes to pursue music to degree level followed by a career in the music business.

He admits Ryder is not his "usual cup of tea".

Image caption,
William says although Maldon is a fairly small town, there are "quite a few opportunities" there for young musicians.

"But he is a brilliant vocalist," says William, who plans to watch the grand final with Cameron. "It would be nice to the UK win it for once."

He says although Maldon is a fairly small town, there are "quite a few opportunities" there for young musicians.

"I'm doing a gig soon at nearby Goldhanger and I've done stuff with choirs and stuff - there are loads of opportunities."

Would he one day want to follow in Ryder's footsteps at Eurovision?

"Well if I was offered it, of course I would," he says.

Photography by Laurence Cawley unless otherwise stated.

Watch the Eurovision Song Contest Final on BBC iPlayer and BBC One, at 20:00 BST on Saturday 14 May.

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