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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Thanks

armour, Projects

I am so very proud to be part of the Armour Celebration event yesterday, a collaboration between veterans, people who have experienced homelessness and arthur+martha.

We started with a performance of the song Behind Brittle Barriers, co-created with singer songwriter Matt Hill and people from The Booth Centre.

From my notes, I nervously shared my thoughts on the project- whilst Gavin, Danny, Anne Marie and Peter spoke about the impact the work has had on them, with passion, dignity, articulately and without notes! Then went onto read their poems. I have much to learn!

It was an emotionally charged day, two people broke down in tears when they saw their work, seeing a moment in their history, caught up in embroidered stitch, the pain of unresolved issues?  the relief of moving on? a sense of pride seeing their word shared? a letting go? There was lots of laughter also, and most of all a celebration of the amazing artwork, poetry and song created.

Danny and armour

Danny sharing his poem at Armour Celebration

 

There are so many people to thank, The Booth Centre who hosted the project, Arts Council England who supported the project, The Imperial War Museum who hosted an outreach session, The Royal Armouries Leeds, Walking with the Wounded for their advice, the staff and volunteers from the above organisations, our guest artists/writers/singer songwriters, Johnny Woodhams and Matt Hill, and as ever most of all to our amazing participants.

To see the documentary film about this project please visit  ARMOUR

audience

Lois and Matt

Artist Lois Blackburn and Singer Songwriter Matt Hill the Quiet Loner

Armour: an invitation

armour, Projects
INVITATION
Poems, embroidery and song, made in self-defence.
Thursday 11th January, 1pm to 2.30pm
at The Booth Centre, Edward Holt House, Pimblett Street, Manchester M3 1FU

 

We are delighted to invite you to a celebration of the project ARMOUR, made in collaboration with people who have served in the Armed Forces, people with lived experience of homelessness and arts organisation arthur+martha. Sharing ARMOUR artworks, poetry readings, with a music performance by The Booth Centre and The Quiet Loner. Refreshments provided.
 

 

ARMOUR
Armour is a project that uses words and stitches to explore the ways we protect ourselves. It is a collaboration with veterans of armed conflict and with people who have lived experience of homelessness. We asked people to describe their personal “armour”, physical and mental. Artworks were inspired by gambesons, the quilted jackets worn under suits of armour, made for our project out of rust-dyed fabric and embroidered with poems, and other writings.
 
I’ve never done anything like this before, many people said during the project. But the art and poetry they made weren’t just a technical exercise, they were a gesture of courage and connection. They overthrew defensiveness and they let in life.
 
For more information please visit: /armour/

Behind brittle barriers

armour

Armour project, Booth Centre Manchester, 13th July 2017

Behind brittle barriers

Guest blog by singer-songwriter Matt Hill www.quietloner.com 

Here’s a question. Is it possible to get a group of non-musicians together in a room for a couple of hours and get them to write a song? I was asked by arthur+martha to come to the Booth Centre in Manchester to help them find out. I’m pleased to report that it certainly is possible!

Matt and Christine

Matt and Christine at the Booth Centre

Although none of our group had direct experience of writing songs they were certainly no strangers to creativity and ideas came thick and fast.  We started by thinking about the theme of our song – that of armour and protection. We did some exercises to help us find words associated with armour and words related to how armour makes us feel – safe, secure, protected.

To give us some inspiration we spent some time listening to and discussing a song called ‘I am a rock’ which was a hit song for Simon & Garfunkel back in 1965. The character in the song is someone who has been hurt deeply and is now a loner, without friends, hiding behind a self constructed wall.

We wondered what might have happened to this person to make him that way? We thought the most likely cause would be a family or relationship breakdown. Those kinds of problems are a known factor in causing homelessness and we found other parallels to the issues homeless people face.

The discussion touched on the extreme vulnerability of sleeping rough, when a sleeping bag is your only armour. We talked about how drugs and alcohol can create an emotional fortress giving a (false) sense of protection. Above all we felt a sense of strong sadness that the person in ‘I am a rock’ was cutting themselves off from possible support and help. We decided our song would have some elements of positivity about love, faith and support.

‘The whole thing  (‘I am a rock’) is about me. But I am coming out of it. I want to face the music, not run away- to give up on love is to give up on life.’ Karlton

When we came to write our song we zoomed in on the word ‘barrier’. A barrier can be something that is put in place to keep people out. But it can also be put in place to offer us protection and keep us safe. We liked that it had two different sides to it. We discussed the implications of this – positive and negative – on people who put up barriers to others.

notes

An effective technique in songwriting is alliteration where several words beginning with the same letter are strung together. We decided to adopt this and went for ‘Behind brittle barriers’ as our title. We included the word ‘brittle’ to reflect that emotional barriers can be broken down, given the right amount of love and support.

‘I didn’t know I had this in me.’ Christine

After some thrashing out of melody and chords (we definitely wanted the song’s music to sound upbeat) we arrived at a finished version just as our 2 hour deadline approached. We then ran downstairs to do a very quick and impromptu performance! (Video link)
As a songwriter I’ve never worked on a song that was finished so quickly or one that was so truly collaborative. Each person in the group contributed something useful and different and the song reflects that with a broad range of ideas. Above all what I get from the song is a sense of hope – that everyone – brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers – are hiding behind barriers of some kind, but that they are brittle and with hope and faith in each other we can find the support we need.

 

 

SONG LYRICS
Behind brittle barriers

Behind brittle barriers you can’t feel safe

Behind brittle barriers you can’t feel the bass

Barriers block the way, push obstacles away

Behind brittle barriers

 

Cradle me in your arms and keep me safe

Don’t let me loose or lose my faith

Behind brittle barriers, behind brittle barriers

People behind brittle barriers

 

Clashing through conflict (Behind brittle barriers)

Sisters and mothers (Behind brittle barriers)

Encased in emotions (Behind brittle barriers)

Fathers and brothers (Behind brittle barriers)

 

Behind brittle barriers, behind brittle barriers

People behind brittle barriers

 

Soul, child, adult  (Behind brittle barriers)

Don’t lose your faith  (Behind brittle barriers)

Barriers block the way

Push obstacles away

People behind brittle barriers

 

Behind brittle barriers, behind brittle barriers

People behind brittle barriers

 

Stitching

Gavin stitching for the Armour Project