Gabriel Hardisty-Miller’s Hoxton PigPen club nights gave autistic singer the confidence to perform

Robyn Steward

Robyn Steward - Credit: Archant

A young autistic singer who worked up enough courage to perform thanks to the cultural nights organised by the late Gabriel Hardisty-Miller, is playing her first gig this weekend.

Robyn Steward

Robyn Steward - Credit: Archant

Robyn Steward got her first taste of performing at the PigPen club nights, which were co-founded by Mr Hardisty-Miller, a non-verbal autistic man who passed away last August aged just 25 from a degenerative neurological condition.

Gabriel co-founded PigPen in 2008 with his friend, artist Ben Connors, and using a yes/no device Gabriel chose poets, musicians, bands, artists and DJs to play at the club nights in the Macbeth in Hoxton Street.

“I didn’t always get picked but when I did I was not scared to play because Gabriel didn’t care what anyone else thought, he chose what he thought was good, so I knew that you got honest answer, no sympathy votes,” said 27-year old Robyn, who has Aspergers Syndrome - a type of autism which affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people, and how they make sense of the world around them.

“To have that experience gave me confidence, and when I say I was honored, its because I didn’t have to feel guilty for playing songs and getting people to be quiet and listen, people were their for a gig and I was there to entertain them,” she added.

Autism affects everyone differently, and Robyn – who also has nine other disabilities including cerebral palsy - is hyper-sensitive to high pitched sound which makes going in the tube difficult.

“I also struggle to read social cues so I feel lost in unfamiliar environments, I find knowing what to say in three-way conversations very difficult and I don’t read body language well all the time,” said Robyn who - like Mr Hardisty-Miller - is an ambassador for the National Autistic Society, raising awareness of the condition.

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As a musician she never thought she would be able to play with others because she felt her autism took away her confidence.

But last December she met Mark Tinley who also has Asperger’s, and the pair have made an album together, with Robyn singing and Mark playing guitar.

Famous music faces, Gary Newman, Duran Duran, Adamski and the Dandy Warhols – all of whom Mr Tinley has worked with in the past - have all been invited to their first gig at the Hundred Years Gallery in Pearson Street on Saturday September 21 at 7.30pm.