Music therapy with the charities minister

Kevin Brennan avoids a heckling over expenses at a north London care home

Music therapist Harriet Powell admitted she had feared that charities minister Kevin Brennan's musical efforts during his visit to Ingestre Road Residential Care Home for the elderly in north London last week might be interrupted by heckling from one resident who was particularly exercised about the expenses scandal engulfing MPs.

The widescreen television on the common-room wall can only have added to the temptation: Brennan was criticised by The Daily Telegraph last month for ordering a similar gadget for his London flat - but having it delivered to his house in Cardiff.

"Not that it would have mattered if it had happened," Powell said. "Music therapy is about expressing anger and sadness as well as happiness." But she admitted she was gratified to hear the resident terrible compliment the guitar-strumming minister on his rendition of The Wild Rover.

Brennan was accompanying Powell, from charity Nordoff-Robbins, as his contribution to Volunteers' Week last week. "I wanted to use some of my skills," he explained to Third Sector, adding that a dodgy shoulder had ended his days of shovelling for environmental charities.

As a member of MP4, a band consisting of MPs, Brennan was certainly well qualified for the gig, and he made a good fist of the cockney knees-ups, ballads and - at the insistence of one higher-brow resident - Gershwin and Strauss that were on the set list.

Nor was he afraid to sing along - unlike most of his 30-strong audience, which included a number of Cabinet Office officials.

Powell confided later that a number of her regulars, unhappy with the intrusion, had stayed away, and only one resident made any concerted use of the frequently proffered percussive implements.

In hindsight, perhaps it might have been wise to grant the request of one resident for "something stronger" when, complaining that he was thirsty, he was offered only a glass of water.

Despite the lukewarm response, Brennan said he had enjoyed the experience - particularly when one frail elderly woman had got up and, dancing with Powell, sang My Melancholy Baby. "I found that very moving," Brennan said.

Powell, meanwhile, was thankful Brennan had been content to let her lead the session and hadn't tried to "take over". Whoever said politicians had a bad press?

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