Performance

moving panorama

At this weeks session we once again took a duel approach – some people worked on a new scroll for a song called ‘Top Kid’ and others took part in rehearsals for the forthcoming performance.

Lois is great at encouraging people to be comfortable making art and I’m always amazed at the results. This week was no different as people took inspiration from a book of Trade Union Banners and started created beautiful text and scroll work. People become very focussed with their heads down and utterly absorbed in their art making.

painting and rehearsal

My part this week was to play some of the songs we’ve written and to help the people who are going to perform when we play at the People’s History Museum on June 11th. My first task was to set up a microphone and amplifier so we could practice getting used to singing into a mic. In the past when working with non-musicians I’ve seen quite confident people dry up around microphones. To hear our own voices amplified loud and clear can be an unsettling experience and people will often back away from the microphone.

For this reason I wanted to get our performers used to it and I came prepared for some gentle coaxing. I need not have worried! They all stepped up and were natural performers, with no fear of the microphone. It was a real joy to hear people get involved in helping to sing the songs and a real positive energy began to fill the room.

performing group

This was also our first chance to perform alongside our Panorama frame. It was interesting watching people as we performed and Lois cranked the scroll handles. We want our audience’s visual focus to be on the frame and the beautiful scrolls we have created. The songs and music forms a soundtrack to the visual, as they would if you were watching a film. But naturally when we see live performers singing and playing, our eyes are drawn to them. It was a valuable session in learning this and now we are thinking about how we can arrange ourselves physically so the frame and scrolls are firmly centre stage and the key visual focus of our performance.

This session was one of the busiest yet. We also had film-maker John with us to document the project and interview some of the people who have been taking part. With John filming, our artists drawing and painting and our performers singing it made for a lively and energetic session.

Tinplate workers

moving panorama

Drawing a long line

Today we visited the People’s History Museum. I met Ian for the first time, he’s currently homeless and came to the museum today carrying a sleeping bag with all his belongings inside it. As we chatted I found out that Ian was a builder by trade and is very knowledgeable about natural history as well as social history. He told us –

I’ve visited more museums since I’ve been homeless than I ever did before.

As we went round the museum Ian’s eye was taken by this oath – sworn by one of the Tin Plate Workers Society. They were a very early form of trade union – back when it was illegal to join one. It was clear they took membership of their society very seriously –

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“If I reveal any of this solemn obligation. may all the Society disgrace me so long as I live and may what is now before me plunge my soul into the everlasting pit of misery”

Later on I caught up with Ian and his friend Kathryn, sat round a table attempting to make some match boxes. The challenge was to demonstrate how ‘sweated labour’ had been a norm in the 19th century. Whole families would work from home assembling matchboxes. If they took longer than a minute per box it was likely they would starve and end up in the workhouse. Such was the low levels of pay for this piece work.

Later on we asked people to reflect on the museum and Ian wrote these lines, clearly taking his inspiration from the Tin plate Workers oath but giving it a twist –

Working in the everlasting pit of misery
So many hours, so little pay
Injuries the norm, death not unexpected

As we discussed as a group what we’d seen in the museum it became clear that some of the issues raised had played a part in people’s lives. Some of the older members of the group recalled the days of ‘closed shops’ when you couldn’t get a job unless you were in the union. One of our group recalled a protest for homeless rights he had taken part in.

We drew events onto a long scroll – marking dates and names. It was a long line that began with Thomas Paine back in 1792. Roy wrote a few lines about him, as he recalled working in Paine’s birthplace of Thetford, many years ago and how American tourists came to honour Tom Paine for his role in their independence.

With or without a brain
Plotted two revolutions – insane or sane?
Both without a penny gain
The great man – Thomas Paine

The scroll went on through the 19th and 20th century drawing a long line. As we read it all back, Danny reflected that “Every generation has its own fights”. We saw the line as one of progress as rights are won and eventually become taken for granted – like the right to vote. But also that in some areas we are going backwards and having to fight again for things we won before but have been eroded or taken away.

All of us there today brought our history with us. We’re all part of that long line.

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Matt Hill/The Quiet Loner writing about arthur+martha’s project, Moving Panorama. Supported by Arts Council England, The Booth Centre and The People’s History Museum.

Dust

moving panorama

There are moments in life when it all comes together.

Yesterday afternoon, our group where lined up along a large scroll of paper, deep in the most dynamic, joyful, playful responses to our song ‘Dust’ you could hope for. At times laughing and chatting, at times silent engrossed in the pleasure of charcoal and pastel, mark making, the lines dancing accross the sheet.

Johno and danny

It was the hottest day of the year (so far) the subject matter felt appropriate, we talked about the dust kicked up on a summers day and beyond; the star dust we came from, the dust we turn at the ends of our lives… dust created from our skin, the dust carried from one city to another on our feet, the dust of history.

This was an afternoon of the art and the art makers letting go, freeing up, relaxing, and vitally- finding a way to really connect to the music being made. We listened to Matt singing the song ‘Dust’, and people responded on paper, it wasn’t precious or over thought out, but more instinctive and free.

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One of the joys of working in a group on one single piece is the confidence you can gain from others. I include myself here, it can take me a while to loosen up, but working with others inspires, cajoles and gently challenges.

Matt and I found a rhythm in the management of the workshop to, yesterday it suited the session for Matt to be able to work one-to-one with people- a luxury you wouldn’t get in a session run by one artist/songwriter… One-to-one means you can give undivided attention to someone, can see progress in confidence and skills so much faster. In addition its a wonderful thing being able to offer people a choice of activity. One participant who has been reticent about writing on previous sessions, started in the morning and with very little encouragement wrote all day, as the day went on we saw a real breakthrough in their writing, there was a passion to get down thoughts, examine memories, play with words. And then the obvious delight in having these words sung back to them.

We will have to wait to hear that song. In the meantime, Dust.

 

DUST

lyrics by John and Vincent

 

I was born as a child

Had no sense of direction in life

I created my own storm

But the storm created dust

 

Dust, dust, dust

 

I realized motivation

Is a part of my creation

I believe that growing up

Created an unstableness

 

And I couldn’t see much through the dust

I couldn’t see much through the dust

Dust, dust, dust

 

I was born surrounded by paradise

Where everything was there for you

Coconut tress, Mango trees,

and the Soursap breeze

 

Dust, dust, dust

I couldn’t see much through the dust
I couldn’t see much through the dust

Dust, dust, dust, dust, dust

Dust, dust, dust, dust, dust

 

Tell the sweetest fruit on the tree

of all the Birds I have seen

that Every years a mascarade

Beware the Mirrors on the face

 

sweetest fruit

As we were clearing up, Danny and I were chatting about the project and the after affects:

“That’s what happens with your sessions, I’ve got ideas in my head I want to get down now.. I’ll go and sit in the park and write.” Danny

Artist Lois Blackburn, writing about the project ‘Moving Panorama’, with The Booth Centre and The People’s History Museum Manchester. Supported by Arts Council England.

“All you have in your pocket is your hand”

moving panorama

I’ve been working with Gary for a few weeks now. This week I finally got to show him some of the songs I’ve started to work on using his lyrics.

“I didn’t write that” he said when I first played him the song. After much searching I finally found the original piece Gary had written and then he started to remember. “Oh yeh, I do remember now!”

I’m not surpised Gary didn’t recognise his words, I’ve had similar feelings. When you add the melody to words something strange and unknowable happens. It’s where songs differ from poems. Of course poems have a music of all their own, in the rhythm and meter but songs have this strong melodic core that does something to words and changes the way they are heard.

Gary and Matt

Gary and Matt

I’m not surpised Gary didn’t recognise his words, I’ve had similar feelings. When you add the melody to words something strange and unknowable happens. It’s where songs differ from poems. Of course poems have a music of all their own, in the rhythm and meter but songs have this strong melodic core that does something to words and changes the way they are heard.

Gary had come with us to The People’s History Museum and had connected with his own past and the area of Salford where he grew up. For this particular piece we’d been discussing the museum and the idea of ‘representation’. We’d talked about the ways in which our voices are heard or often ignored. The phrase ‘silent voices’ had come up and so we’d been writing around that idea.

This is section I took from Gary’s writing to use in the song.

 

Debt makes you angry 

For silent voices never heard, only tears 

Hard to get by, only escapes 

Shrieking protests – like music to the ears 

 

In coming up with the melody I stretched and shaped the words, repeating some, moving them around until they felt comfortable within the melody. I chose minor chords, lifting to major chords. I loved the phrase “Shrieking protests” but somehow I just couldn’t make it fit here. I’ve learned to accept that some words – however good – might not belong where you are placing them, and they will often find their own home, in another song.

As it stood I only had half a song so after I’d played Gary what I had so far, I asked him if he’d write some more lyrics. This is what he wrote.

 

Life makes you worry 

Hard to get by 

When you struggle with no money

 

Life Life, where do we go?

Hard times worried minds

No money, no ties

Life goes by by and by 

 

Where do we go?

when all you have in your pocket is your hand

I tried to plan, but nothings there

 

The song is still a work in progress and I’ll continue to collaborate with Gary on the song but I really think he’s created something very strong here. I’m also hoping in the coming weeks that he’ll sing it with me, he has a great voice. But until then, here’s how it sounds so far.

“All you have in your pocket is your hand”

Lyrics by Gary Cundle

 

Life Life Life

makes you worry

Hard to get by

When you struggle with no money

 

Hard times worried minds

Hard times worried minds

No money, no ties, Life goes by and by and by

 

Debt Debt Debt

makes you angry

Hard to get by, only escapes

makes you angry

 

For silent voices never heard,

For silent voices never heard

only tears – like music to the ears

 

Life, where do we go?

when all you have in your pocket is your hand

I tried to plan

But all you have in your pocket is your hand

 

Hard times worried minds

Hard times worried minds

No money, no ties, Life goes by and by and by

Matt Hill/The Quiet Loner writing about the Moving Panorama project, with artist Lois Blackburn (arthur+martha) The Booth Centre and the People’s History Museum. Supported by Arts Council England. 

Silent Voices

moving panorama

2 o’clock break time, our brews made by the familiar face of a man who I’ve never seen sat down, always helpful, cheerful and friendly.  It turned out that he could have died yesterday- he’s got a problem with his heart, it’s a mystery to the medical profession. He’s getting further tests done, but at the moment, everyones in the dark.  His turn of phrase is mater of fact, he’s one of life’s survivors, does things himself, gets on with it.  3 years ago he was homeless, living on the streets. An alcoholic with no money for drink, and with no intention to beg. His solution? locked in a garage, on his own, no food, no drink, he dried himself out for three days. He crawled out looking for water. These are not the usual things you hear about when someone is fixing you a cup of tea. But then The Booth Centre isn’t usual. It’s a quite extraordinary place, a place where you always have another chance, you can recuperate, see yourself differently and the arts play a big part in it.

Johno drawing

I’m working on the project Panorama, with singer songwriter Matt Hill/The Quiet Loner. It’s week 3 of our workshops at The Booth. We’ve got lots to do before our performance in June at The People’s History Museum, but todays session reassured me that we could do it. We’re beginning to refine our theme- there is so much to inspire us at The People’s History Museum, but something that everyone in our group related to was the theme of struggle.

‘Everyone who comes here finds something a struggle, from the past, present or the future.’ Gary.

‘Struggle, that’s about it- last week I didn’t turn up for the trip- no roof over my head, I’ve got one now…but it’s still a struggle. I’ve had it nice a few times, but that neck of oil (alcohol) will be the death of me’ Johno.

Johno's drawing of Lois

Johno’s drawing of Lois

Matt worked on a song with the group, I did some drawing with everyone- some examples here. We laughed as we drew, it was more like a game at times, playful but very productive. We used techniques I acquired at art school, blind drawing, keeping your pen on the paper… I joined in, I loved it, the results are wonderful. Next time we start collaging them together into a crowd scene for our panorama.

Johno's drawing of Bella

Johno’s drawing of Bella

Some beautiful lyrics appeared.  Gary wrote about silent voices, ‘Silent voices in my head all the time…’ the chorus was sung loud ‘This is life’.

Thanks to everyone who is supporting this project, and all who are joining in our workshops with honesty, openness and a sense humour.

Lois Blackburn

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Stronger Together

moving panorama

 

I’m still a newcomer to the Booth Centre so during the morning session I got chatting to a few people.  The Booth centre attracts a rich variety of people, from Kazakhstan to Collyhurst, all with their own tales to tell.  As a songwriter I love to hear people’s stories. We all have our different backgrounds and experiences that make up who we are. So as a first step to writing a song I asked people to think about life stories – their own and other peoples.

Anne Marie and Gary

Anne Marie and Gary at the People’s History Museum

Gary is from Salford and he wrote from his own life experiences

Salford is a city but has no pity. The people are good but not always understood.
I’ve seen you there but you have no time to spare.
You see the trouble but you don’t understand my struggle.

I can identify with Gary’s sense of frustration that people only see the surface and don’t understand the struggles going on below. Although we all walk our own paths, it’s important to try and imagine what life is like for other people. To put ourselves in their shoes.

Gary at PHM

Gary with NHS banner

I asked Joan to pick a person she admired to write about. She picked Shirley Bassey, the singer from Cardiff with the big voice. I asked her to think about what it must be like for Shirley performing and how she might feel when it’s all over. I was really drawn to how Joan saw Shirley on stage, she really has some empathy for her-

When she sings her face is sometimes sad.
Before it lights up as she sings her heart out.
But when she comes off stage she’s emotional

and feels like crying. We all love her. 

Ingus and Anne Marie

Ingus and Anne Marie

In the afternoon a group of14 of us went to visit the People’s History Museum, a place full of stories of people’s lives and struggles. I know the museum well and I’ve written songs about the stories it contains.
I walked round the galleries with Christian, Michal and Jerzy who are from Poland and Ingus who is from Latvia. Although we are from different countries the museum allowed us to find things we had in common.

For example the story of the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester in 1819 resonated with events in Poland in the 1970s when the government sent in soldiers to break up demonstrations.  An exhibit on post-war rationing bought up discussions about the rationing which was part of daily life in Poland until 1989.  When reading about Victorian factory working conditions Christian reflected on a job he had recently when he first came to Manchester. It was also in a factory and during the long shifts staff were filmed and recorded at all times and not allowed to talk to each other.

The museum evoked many different reactions. Some people found it harder to identify with the events of hundreds of years ago but were able to connect better with events post 1945 which are in living memory. When we all regrouped for a cuppa I captured some of the groups initial reactions and thoughts in this graphic.

Interesting

Peggy  felt that todays younger generations don’t value the freedoms they have. And others agreed that people should know more about the struggles of the past. I kept thinking back to the words Gary had written in the morning  –

You see the trouble but you don’t understand my struggle.

The People’s History Museum is all about understanding people’s struggles – the fights for representation, for a voice, the fight for equality and better conditions at work. Some of those fights were turbulent, people were arrested, put in prison, executed. Through the museum we can understand the struggles that led people to such desperate measures.

I think the final word belongs to Ingus

We can understand each other better through sharing our history. When we get to know each other we see we are the same. We’re stronger together.”

 

Matt Hill/The Quiet Loner

All is sweet- mither non

moving panorama

What a joy to be back at The Booth Centre, to start working on the Panorama project, alongside Singer Songwriter Matt Hill/The Quiet Loner. I’m always a tad nervous when we start a new project, Panorama brings with it quite a few firsts for me and arthur+martha: the first song writing, the first music/song performance, the first time we have attempted to make a ‘moving panorama’, the first time we have worked with Matt

I arrived at The Booth at 9.30, when the morning rush was at its peak. It’s a place full of energy, patience, kindness, purpose, noise and the occasional outburst of frustration or anger- always quickly worked through with ever alert staff and volunteers. After breakfast was cleared away, Matt worked the room, meeting new people, drumming up interest in the project, sounding out the themes. Quickly a group of people who where interested in drawing joined me in a side room.

Joan and her drawing

Joan and her drawing of Manchester

Phil and I have been lucky enough to run a series of projects at The Booth over the last few years. It means we are pretty much guaranteed at least one person along to a session who has been before to a previous project. They are huge assets- a trusting relationship has already been formed, they work as advocates to the project- sharing their enthusiasm with others, they can help point out to us who might enjoy or benefit from being part of the group, they advice and feedback on the individual workshop and project itself. On Thursday I’d like to thank Lawerence, Joan and Johno who did just that, with their support, new people felt more confident to join in.

Johno

Johno and his drawing of The Pankhurst Centre

In the afternoon Matt, our new group and I sat on a big table and started creating, infact even before Matt and I had finished our introduction, people had started drawing and writing. I was a little overwhelmed by how much energy and enthusiasm people put into the afternoon. One of the highlights for me was when the group took it in turns to read out ‘pen portraits’ of individuals whose stories are told at The People’s History Museum.  Extraordinary stories like William Cuffay’s below.

william cuffay

As we hoped would happen, people found connections to the stories, either with their own life experiences, or experiences of friends and family. Many of the group haven’t been to the PHM before, many haven’t done any artwork since school, many haven’t written or performed music.  Finding these personal connections, will be the way into the PHM museums collection, and meaningful artworks and songs.

Crystal's drawing

Crystal’s drawing of Hannah Mitchell 1872- 1956

We’ve got a lot of work to do together, and not a lot of time to do it, but after the first day, I’m confident that we are going to do some extraordinary work together.

Lois

Thanks to Johno, who did his own summing up of the day:

This is the 1st – Day one

part of the firm- Lois the don

ain’t no sun, but the company warmth shone

going good all tres bon

all is sweet- mither non

 

 

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