From our own correspondent

A Book of Ours

The workshops for BOOK OF OURS, a medieval-style manuscript book, have restarted at The Booth Centre and Back on Track, with Booth Centre volunteer Sue Dean as a roving reporter taking photos of the work and writing about the flavour of the sessions. Two of Sue’s reports, below, describe the bringing together of words, music and imagery in BOOK OF OURS.

2 November: we turn to creative drawing for the huge monastic-style decorated book, THE BOOK OF OURS. There was autumnal greenery and multicoloured leaves on each table, and inspirational prints in the style of the beautifully illustrated and uncommon books from aeons ago. There was much chatter and delight in trying something new: which initially designed in pencil meant mistakes could easily be erased. Each page had an already-completed design to work with. Some took the Autum foliage as as base for their design, others the prints dotted around the room. With soft music playing and the smell of Autum pervading the room, a gentle concentration settled as each started work on their design. Ink in various colours was offered once the designs were underway. This brought a slower steady pace as some went over the initial pencil designs with colours, and some who were designing their own piece used the inks direct It was a wonderful session with one or two lingering to complete a precise small piece before break and again before dinner… 

9 November: back to creating a song, words spoken over a beat. This week we had Christine to assist with creating beats and art through music. Singing is not allowed due to Covid as it exhales too much air into the atmosphere, despite being masked: so we chant or this week the words were spoken, very monotone, almost robotically.  Each person was given a small instrument, such as an egg shaker or mini tambourine, creating our own beats – copy the person in front and add your own and so on twice round the room. We aimed to do a ‘drop’ in the music so at a signal half the room stops then at the second signal all joined back in. We discussed journeys from drug addiction to a different life now, changes chosen, changes forced on you (Lockdown or serious accident, travel or migration). We chanted: I don’t think This world will ever change. Added our own words. Matt walked round the room while the beat swayed hypnotically and and voices chanted… 

Sue Dean

The BOOK OF CHANGES project is funded by the Heritage Emergency Fund, supporting homeless and vulnerable people to participate in making the arthur+martha illuminated manuscript BOOK OF OURS. This project is partnered by the Booth Centre and Back on Track.

I explode into a million seeds

A Book of Ours, poetry

We’re making an illuminated manuscript and songs, telling the story of homeless and vulnerable lives. In the last three weeks, volunteer Sue Dean has photographed these BOOK OF OURS workshops at the Booth Centre homeless resource. Here is Sue’s first full blog account, to accompany her pictures…

The session started very jovial, with some friendly banter and teasing about looking like bomb disposal experts with the full face clear covers. A question was asked of the group: `If we could change one thing in the world what would it be?`

Answers varied from Trump and Johnson removal to giving independence to the North, equalising wealth, eradicating homelessness and feeding Hungry Children. Peaceful protests, lobby Parliament — and my personal favourite: Educate MPs on the impact of what they’re doing to the people and to the country. Also — as added extras — look after each other, equality, community and kindness, grow your own veggies if possible or join a community allotment.

We turned our thoughts and feelings into writing, poems and songs. Concentration and soft murmurings of different languages within the class were all that could be heard. We started a clap-clap chant (singing in groups isnt allowed under Covid Rules as it pushes out more oxygen). Each person read over the beat what they had written, sometimes in their first language other than English. This was recorded and the Mandolin played in the background. The whole group feel a sense of achievement and very happy — but desperate to hear the fully produced version!

Sue Dean

Writing, performing and recording A Million Seeds. Phil recording, written pages by Masoud, Jason and Farina, the rhythm section Songwriter Matt Hill and volunteer. All photos Sue Dean.

The BOOK OF CHANGES project is funded by the Heritage Emergency Fund, supporting homeless and vulnerable people to participate in making the arthur+martha illuminated manuscript BOOK OF OURS. This project is partnered by the Booth Centre and Back on Track.

STREET ART PHOTO BY SUE DEAN

A pandemic epic

poetry, Whisper to me alone

#WhisperToMeAlone is a twitter stream of pandemic poems and songs, which give tiny glimpses of homeless and vulnerable lives, in rooms, on streets, isolated in hotels…

Phil Davenport and songwriter Matt Hill have worked with homeless and vulnerable people since May, to make the WHISPER poems and songs, over the course of many phone calls. The songs include recordings of phone calls, impromtu performances and snatched conversations.

“These conversations have gradually turned into a wide ranging poem of many voices, many experiences combining into a remarkable song cycle. All of WHISPER is full of life, full of humour and determination, in the face of this disease. And it’s inspiring, it’ll give any reader or listener the strength to keep on and learn from what’s happening around us. Sometimes life’s biggest lessons come from unusual teachers.” (Phil Davenport)

(Main image – Manchester street art, photographed by Sue Dean)

The project will be tweeted on 15 October and exhibited at Bury Art Museum next year, alongside an an embroidered quilt stitched with participants’ words HERE COMES THE SUN.

Poems, art and songs from WHISPER TO ME ALONE will be tweeted daily at from 15 October onward at https://twitter.com/whisper2mealone

WHISPER TO ME ALONE is funded by Arts Council England and partnered with The Booth Centre and Back on Track in Manchester. Photography throughout the twitter poem is by Sue Dean. Other contributors include members of the Inspiring Change Manchester group, associated with SHELTER, and MASH (a charity providing non-judgemental services to women working in the sex industry). Visual tweets were designed by the poets Tom Jenks and Nathan Williams.

Philip Davenport is a poet who co-directs the arthur+martha organisation with artist Lois Blackburn. For the last decade they’ve collaborated with Manchester’s homeless community. During the pandemic WHISPER TO ME ALONE has resulted in poems, songs and an embroidered quilt. Matt Hill is a songwriter who explores people’s experiences to co-write songs — with prisoners, asylum seekers, people experiencing homelessness, and others.

Riding the tsunami

poetry, Whisper to me alone

WHISPER TO ME ALONE gathers words and art from people who have experienced homelessness — and the insights of other vulnerable people in Manchester during the pandemic. Here’s WHISPER writer Anastasia:

I’m riding the waves at this very moment. It’s a Tsunami this one, but I’m not drowning. In the past I’ve hit the bottom of the ocean. This time I’m able to observe it, I am in it and at the same time outside it. Yes, I’m riding the Tsunami.

When you drown you panic, try and flap your arms and legs. But the best thing you can do is be still, stay calm. You know inside yourself that the waves will ebb and flow away, just like the clouds passing over our heads.

I see lockdown positively, it made us humans stop. Although it’s causing distress and isolation, a feeling of losing grip on reality, our whole notion of what is normal has been turned on its head – and actually that’s good. I think the positivity will continue, there are less cars for instance. Venice, New York, London, two weeks into lockdown the skies over those cities were bluer.

I’ve seen people become kinder, considerate. Customers in shops used to be demanding and rude. When I see shoppers now, they’re more appreciative, they’ve got to queue, they’ve learned patience.

It all went sci-fi. People panicked and many of us wanted to flee …

At first everyone’s reaction was panic: our personal lives and the lives of our nations, how we work, how we think, how we view things — it all went sci-fi. People panicked and many of us wanted to flee but we couldn’t because there was a lockdown and so you have to stay and face it.

But for the others, panic gradually changed into something else. Perhaps the word I’m looking for is acceptance. “I can’t flee, I’m in my house. I’m going to stop crashing about and be still in the storm. I’m just going to breathe.” Sometimes it’s all you can do, just breathe.

Then when they started lifting lockdown, the world got angry. Now they’re saying you can have some freedom, now they’ve taken all it away again. You hear the jailer come and you hear the key turn and you feel trapped.

The world is moving through a storm just like I move through my storms. People are coping. Yes, there’s been violence and despair, but also care. Support for one another gets through, like those little phone calls that mean so much between people. The world’s realised flailing and fury doesn’t work. You feel you are drowning and everything has been stripped away in the terrifying waves. But slowly, appreciation of life, of nature, of connection, is dawning. And sometimes a sense of freedom. That’s when you know you’re riding the waves.

Anastasia

The arthur+martha project WHISPER TO ME ALONE gathers words and art from people who have experienced homelessness — and the experiences of other vulnerable people in Manchester during the pandemic. The project centres on writing made during phone calls and in journal-writing, art and song, plus an embroidered quilt. The Manchester photos are by Sue Dean. Words and images from WHISPER will soon be shared on the forthcoming twitterstream https://twitter.com/whisper2mealone

This project is funded by Arts Council England and partnered with The Booth Centre and Back on Track in Manchester.

Manchester umbrellas. Photo by Sue Dean

Singing melodies into a mobile phone

poetry, Whisper to me alone

Songwriter Matt Hill:


For the last few weeks I’ve been writing songs from the remarkable work that has sprung from the WHISPER TO ME ALONE project. I’ve been presented with poems, spoken word pieces and other sets of beautifully-expressed words.  My job is to try and find the music in them, to tease out melody and emotion and to find my own connection to the words so I can sing them convincingly. 

As a singer and songwriter my job is all about finding connections. Songs that connect the singer and the listener. Melodies that connect the head to the heart. When I’m co-writing with people I am used to having that connection eyeball to eyeball, like I have done on previous arthur + martha projects like Moving Panorama https://arthur-martha.com/portfolio/moving-panorama/. But in a time of Covid-19 those usual connections have been severed. 

Instead I’ve had to delve deep into people’s words, looking for meaning and expression. Phil Davenport from arthur+martha, who is leading WHISPER, has been there for the creation of the words and so he’s been a valuable source of information. Phone calls have been made to speak to the writers themselves so I can find out more about their lives and the words they’ve written. 

Those phone calls have been an adventure I wasn’t prepared for. I’ve spent time singing melodies into a mobile phone with people I’ve never met. Along the way I’ve been schooled in Norse mythology, learned things I didn’t know about garden wildlife and had some wonderful nostalgic trips down memory lane to a Manchester that was free and easy and not locked down. I’ve even picked up the guitar and strummed down the phone, attempting a remote jam session. But whoever I speak to we always acknowledge just how weird and strange these days are, as we sing and laugh down a phone line, despite having never met in person. Both of us trying hard to find that connection. 

Matt Hill is a singer-songwriter and a freelance creative artist who uses songwriting as a way to connect with people.  matthillsongwriter.com The street art photograph at the top of this blog is by Sue Dean, taken on her mobile phone.

WHISPER TO ME ALONE gathers words and art from people who have experienced homelessness — and the experiences of other vulnerable people — in Manchester during lockdown, using journals of writing, art and song lyrics and phone conversations. The poems, songs and artworks will be launched as a twitter poem later in September. Supported by Arts Council England, partnered by the Booth Centre and Back on Track.

Top Kid

moving panorama

I am delighted to share our first film from the Moving Panorama performance at People’s History Museum with the Booth Centre as part of Manchester Histories Featuring Roy Johnson, Matt Hill/ Quiet Loner With artwork led by artist Lois Blackburn…. Look out for more films in the next while…

A TOP KID (Lyrics by Roy Johnson, music Matt Hill)

 Fightin a cause,                            on no ones bid
A union boy fought                      for an xtra quid
Shouted in the bosses kipper     he no hid
Ended in the big house,              2 years he did


Campaigned for the workers, stood up for the men

Like others had before him and like others will again

His name was Ricky Tommo and we’ll remember him

He’s a top top kid, He’s a top top kid, He’s a top kid

A mixed race lad        a freed slave Dad
Worked as a tailor     when times waz bad
Three times he wed   three times a cad
Van Diemans land     His end waz sad

Campaigned for the workers, stood up for the men

Like others had before him and like others will again

His name was William Cuffay and we’ll remember him

He’s a top top kid, He’s a top top kid, He’s a top kid 

BRIDGE
Top top kid                         Top top kid

Top top top top, top top top top kid

Top top top top, top top top top kid

A Glazgie boy             Jock waz a rock
Morning Star              rolled up in iz sock
What a man                like a barrel and a lock
Hated the bosses       with their shares and stock

Campaigned for the workers, stood up for the men

Like others had before him and like others will again

His name was Jock the rock and we’ll remember him

He’s a top top kid, He’s a top top kid He’s a top kid

[Bridge to playout]

Cover photo, thanks to Jenny White.

Leave it at the door

moving panorama

The reality of working with any group of people- particularly when you throw together a mix of people by circumstance rather than design- is you are sometimes going to hear opinions that differ from your own… occassionally these might tip over to racist, sexist or other ‘ists’, people can be quite extreme in their politics- or deeply apathetic.

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In additition each of us brings with us baggage from our lives.  Working at The Booth Centre, (a day centre for homeless people in Manchester) the baggage can be very heavy, the history each person brings with them, the struggles of daily life. The trick is to leave it at the door. It’s not always easy, particularly when we are not in the workshop session- those between times seem to be when things kick off. But in the sessions, if things are going well something magical happens, we all are caught in the moment, the outside world seems to disappear, any problems, stresses are reduced. It’s medicine with no warning labels, no bad side affects. Now-a-days it might be called mindfulness, but anyone who has really enjoyed and been absorbed in art making will know, its a beautful side affect of creative activity. And it’s not just the art (and for Moving Panorama, beautiful songs and performance) that works for us, it’s the group dynamic to. I’ve talked about it this on these blogs before, but I am repeatedly delighted by how supportive our groups at The Booth are- more than in any venue I have ever worked at before. Our group nurtures, encourages and as people’s confidence grows, people gently challenge.

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So I know what ever baggage I have brought of my own to the session, I will come away feeling lighter, a weight lifted, my eyes clearer. We witness this happening to our group, we are told this in the feedback. This is arts and health in action- Ian one of the group has asked me about my job a few times, he often remarks how happy I seem, how much I seem to enjoy my job- It’s simple for me- why would I want to do anything else in life?

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Artist Lois Blackburn/arthur+martha, writing about the project ‘Moving Panorama’, with singer songwriter Matt Hill/The Quiet Loner, and groups from The Booth Centre. A free public performance of Moving Panorama will be at The People’s History Museum, on the 11th June between 12.00 and 1.00.

Supported by Arts Council England.

Press Release

moving panorama

Live performance in museum will see voices from the streets take inspiration from the past.

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

A new collaboration between people who have experienced homelessness and local artists will be shown at the People’s History Museum on Monday 11 June 2018 as part of Manchester Histories Festival.

‘Moving Panoramas’ will combine visual arts with original songwriting to create a performance piece centred around scrolling artworks that reflect on our past but also give voice to experiences in the present.

Arts organisation arthur+martha’s lead artist Lois Blackburn and singer songwriter Matt Hill (Quiet Loner) have worked with people from the Booth Centre, a day centre in Manchester for those who have experienced homelessness. Taking inspiration from the People’s History Museum they have created songs and artworks that explore the rich history of Manchester’s streets as well as their own personal histories and stories.

always forward- moving panorama

As the project began it became clear that museums are places some homeless people like to go to. One of the project participants said “I’ve visited more museums since I’ve been homeless than I ever did before”. The People’s History Museum with its story of the struggles of ordinary working people provided lots of ideas that have been expanded and explored to create the new work.

The songs and artworks created speak of 21st century issues such as debt, living in poverty and lack of representation. They also draw parallels with similar struggles from the 19th and 20th centuries.  The idea of struggle was one of the main themes to emerge. Gary from Salford who was recently homeless said of the Booth Centre “Everyone who comes here finds something a struggle, from the past, present or the future.” Gary later reflected on that in lyrics for a song he wrote called ‘I’ve seen you there’ – “I’ve seen you there but you have no time to spare. You see the trouble but you don’t understand my struggle.”

The performance, taking place from 12.00pm to 1.00pm on Monday 11 June 2018, will be filmed and will feature some of the project participants from the Booth Centre performing alongside the scrolling artworks. The performance has been created in response to the People’s History Museum’s collections, and on issues within their exhibition Represent! Voices 100 Years On which runs from Saturday 2 June 2018 to Sunday 3 February 2019. The project has been supported by a grant from Arts Council England.

Booth Centre workshop

 

Notes for Editors 

1) This event is part of Manchester Histories Festival 2018, the 5th edition of the Greater Manchester-wide biennial festival with the theme protest, democracy, and freedom of speech. Delivered by Manchester Histories the 2018 Festival will offer a long-weekender of music, film, debate, talks, performance, walking tours, arts and more. Visit www.manchesterhistories.co.uk

2) This event coincides with the launch of arthur+martha’s new book, THE WARM /&/ THE COLD, an illustrated poetry book by many authors. Life stories of homeless people, older people (often with dementia) and young offenders, are expressed in the form of poems, artworks, and quilts, ceramics. Manchester Central Library on 10 June 12-4pm, as part of Manchester History Festival Celebrations Day.

3) The People’s History Museum (PHM) in Manchester is the national museum of democracy, telling the story of its development in Britain: past, present, and future.  The museum provides opportunities for people of all ages to learn about, be inspired by and get involved in ideas worth fighting for; ideas such as equality, social justice, co-operation, and a fair world for all.  PHM offers a powerful programme with annual themes; 2018 looks at representation and commemorates 100 years since the first women and all men got the vote, and 2019 will see a year of activities around protest movements to mark the bicentenary of the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester, 1819.

People’s History Museum is open seven days a week from 10.00am to 5.00pm, Radical Lates are on the second Thursday each month, open until 8.00pm.  The museum is free to enter with a suggested donation of £5.  Winner of Kids in Museums Family Friendly Museum Award 2017.

phm.org.uk | Twitter: @PHMMcr | facebook.com/PHMMcr | Instagram: @phmmcr

4) The Booth Centre brings about positive change in the lives of people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, and helps them plan for and realise a better future. They do this by providing advice to find accommodation, education, training and help to secure employment, free healthy meals, support in tackling issues with health and addiction, and creative activities to boost confidence and self esteem. The Booth Centre is an independent, registered charity (no. 1062674) http://www.boothcentre.org.uk

5) For more information on Arts Council England visit http://www.artscouncil.org.uk

 

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.

Art and Music?

moving panorama

How does visual art and music work together? Complement? add something? Make you look or hear something new? Its a subject I’ve been thinking about a lot with our current project ‘Moving Panorama’.  Today I’m sharing some of these thoughts- take a look at the value of choice, creative stimulation/inspiration, and performance.

Matt and Roy

Matt and Roy, working on a song for Moving Panorama

Being able to offer a combination of visual art,  song writing and performance, means that our group has far more choice- if they are not in the mood to try one thing- they can concentrate on another. We all come to creative activity with one burden or another- it might be that you’ve been told as a child that you can’t draw, or you lack in confidence, or maybe you have never learnt much reading and writing, or maybe you are just not in the mood- are suffering from lack of sleep, or mental or physical issues.

By offering the choice of a visual art or writing or performing- we give people an opportunity to take a look at something might intimidate them, they can be joining in the singing and at the same time seeing that the art making isn’t so scary- or visa versa. There is never pressure to join in, we always welcome people just to sit and watch if they like- although this rarely happens for long. We create a safe environment for people to try something new, or re-visit something that has been lost.  And choice should never be taken for granted. Many of the people we work with have restricted choice in their lives- whether restricted by ill health, disability, or social and economic reasons.

One of the joys for me of working collaboratively is the inspiration of different artistic disciplines- working with skills unlike my own, looking at the subject with fresh eyes. It stimulates my artistic practice, makes me look again, think freshly. I witness this in the group with other people- for the last few weeks in our Moving Panorama session we have been working on 10 meter scrolls of paper, filling them with responses to the songs, as we draw/paint/write/print, we are referring to the lyrics.

Top kid artwork

artwork to be scrolled with the song ‘Top Kid’

The most exciting and stimulating experience, is when we get a live performance led Matt- we hear the song as we create the visuals. This artistic conversation is not just one way- the artwork created feeds back into the song- for example changing the order of the verses, inspiring new lyrics, thinking about rhythm and speed.

Then there is performance. We are still to try this out properly- the Moving Panorama frame is in production. The songs and the art each stand on their own, but I have a feeling when they are put together they will create something wonderful. We have experimented with hand rolling the scrolls whilst listening to the music- it appears to work-  there is a joy in simply watching our performers singing- and the songs are really, really good. The art complements, at times tells a slightly different story, showcases different skills, other ideas. We are yet to really discover the limitations and all of the joys, it might take another few years, and a few after that.

Join us at lunchtime on the 11thJune at The People’s History museum 12-1.00pm for a performance of Moving Panorama, as part of the Manchester Histories Festival.  A collaboration between The Booth Centre, singer songwriter Matt Hill/The Quiet Loner, artist Lois Blackburn/arthur+martha and the People’s History Museum