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.

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.

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