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 

Save the date

moving panorama

Panorama expo invite3

You are invited to a Lunchtime celebration and performance of the arts project Moving Panorama, on Monday 11th June at The People’s History Museum, 12-1.00.  Moving Panorama is the latest collaborative project with arts organisation arthur+martha, Singer Songwriter Matt Hill/The Quiet Loner, The Booth Centre and The People’s History Museum.

Further details will follow shortly. But for now, please put the date in your diary and share it with interested colleagues.

Supported by Arts Council England, The Booth Centre and People’s History Museum.

Getting in the zone

moving panorama

Roy is someone who has really engaged with this project and has come back each week. Over the past weeks I’ve really seen him grow in his confidence as a writer. This week he told me how much he likes “getting in the zone” and he arrived at our session with some words he’d been working on following our visit to the People’s History Museum last week. He’d spent time looking at the sabres that were used in the Peterloo massacre and that had led him to write this.

Peterloo you needed a shield
Cos sabres the yeomans they did yield
They left a claret-stained Peter’s Field
But the working class will neva yield

Campaigning man – Sam Bamford
Marched to Manchester – what a hoard
To put his case to the manor lord
who sent in yeomans with sabre and sword
left lives and limbs hanging by a cord

As you can see here Roy is really drawn to rhyme and his poems have a distinct style in that he uses the same rhyme scheme for each line of his verse. This structure really works for him and he has embraced it, so it’s now very much his signature style.

As a songwriter rhyme is very important – the repetition of vowel and consonant sounds helps fix the melody. So for me it’s been great to work with Roy as his words fit very easily into melody. But such an approach to rhyme, also brings restriction, you are tied to the scheme and so your brain has to be able to think very creatively to continue to tell the story.

Johno and danny

Roy and Danny working on the ‘Dust’ panorama

Roy works quickly and has a fast brain which is well suited to this style but he’s also very willing to re-work. He’ll often hand me a piece, then take it back, scribble out and re-write. The great Paul Simon once said “A good song is not written, it’s re-written”. As the weeks have gone, that willingness to edit and adjust, has helped Roy mature as a writer and I think that shows here in his use of phrases like ‘claret stained’ and “lives and limbs hanging by a cord”.

Roy tells me he’s a big Clash fan so I’ll be listening to London Calling this week and hoping we can find a Strummer/Jones flavour to the next song we write.

roy drawing

Roy working on the ‘Dust’ Panorama

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

Bringing colour

moving panorama

Our days spent at The Booth Centre for the project Moving Panorama typically fall into a pattern, in the morning Matt and I work in the main one-to-one with people, it might be editing songs or gathering new material in the form of life story work, or themed interviews. Sometimes it’s simply chatting, listening, having a conversation- this activity could be easily undervalued, but it’s having time to be still and listen, that helps to build trust, builds a relationship and motivates new people to join our afternoon group sessions.

At times there are things that are very difficult to hear, cruelties re-told, re-examined, re-lived. Many if not most of the people we work with have suffered trauma of one description or another. The Booth Centre works to support people through their issues and to find ways to look and move forward.

Kathryn's sun

Kathryn’s sun

The art and music we create during the project Moving Panorama subtly supports this process. We see people’s confidence and skills improving, abstaining from drink or drugs, surprising themselves about their capabilities, finding joy in abilities they didn’t know they had. This project is also supporting and challenging my own work as an artist. The quality of the collaborative song-writing that Matt is leading, and the art work that our group is producing, is keeping me on my toes, re-freshing and challenging my art practice, keeping it fresh, motivating me.

group artwork

Yesterday afternoon we brought colour into the project- literally- until now all of our scrolls have been in black and white. Rolled out on the long table was 10 meters of white paper. We took out paint brushes for a walk, between readings of the first draft lyrics to one of the new song ‘Always Forward‘. It’s a song that thinks about all the people who have walked the streets of Manchester before us, and those walking them (or sleeping on them) right now. We all walked around the paper, filling it up quickly with vivid colours, crossing one anothers paths. The physicality of creating art, the speed and looseness, made us quickly warm up and relax into art making. We became quiet and focussed, enjoying the nature of the art materials as colours bleed into one another, the delight and magic of the process of painting.

Ian's Tent

Ian’s tent in Manchester

Into these painted pathways, we started drawing, writing and painting in response to the lyrics of the song. The scroll quickly took on a depth of meaning, a curiosity,  a maturity. The resulting artwork will look different again once they are moving across the Moving Panorama frame, at which point it maybe edited, drawn into again. The scroll artworks we are created stand alone as individual pieces, but I am confident that when they are performed with the songs, both artistic disciplines will enhance and bring alive each other.  We will get to try this out very soon….

always forward

Artist Lois Blackburn writing about the project Moving Panorama, a collaboration between The Booth Centre, Matt Hill/The Quiet Loner, Lois Blackburn, and The People’s History Museum. Supported by Arts Council England.

Ian drawing on scroll

 

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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.