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

Fear

armour
safe in

Peggy Prestley’s embroidery for Armour, work in progress

Armour Project

Regime

 
Rage that’s used in order to control
relations, intimate partners
to achieve a golden dream a chiselled cold
fear that stings fear
where one isn’t aware
it looks like metal but it’s not.
 
Gavin
Phil writes:
The Booth Centre: there was also anxiety in the air this morning, it hit like a shock wave as I came through the door. Someone was trying high level intimidation, with raised fists, loud shouted outbursts, staring competitions. He was dressed in black, he paced the room, moving erratically and occasionally launching into another confrontation, while the staff tried to defuse his anger. Because people in the Centre are very attuned to threat, their radar was on  alert. They looked over each other’s shoulders while talking, there was an unsettled feel, objects kept being knocked off tables, people bumped into one another. It was as if an earthquake had dropped in for a cuppa.
As is the often the way there, I spoke to some people I have known for years and some I’d only met this morning. Every conversation was fragile, lightly touched by the presence of fear, yelling its head off in the corner. The first person I talked with was fighting back panic, he said. The next was joking with me, but kept checking the threat potential. The last had been awake four days straight, out on the streets. He’d not been eating, because of grief. He looked shrunken, like a an inhabitant of an institution, with over-large, over-bright eyes.
ryan giggs

Footballer Ryan Giggs on visit to the Booth Centre, Manchester. 

But walking alongside fear, and just as powerful, was the feeling of being thoroughly, immediately alive, and the intensity of each shared moment. A day at The Booth Centre is like this, you can squeeze several hours-worth of living into an instant. There’s a surreal-ness to the fast-forward rush of it all. It came as absolutely no surprise that the footballer Ryan Giggs suddenly turned up with a camera crew to meet folk, sign autographs, and add a further manic element. Suddenly beaming smiles and a celebrity frisson punctuated the atmosphere.
In the afternoon, making an oasis of stitching and poems, we read The idea of order at Key West by Wallace Stevens, a poem about reducing chaos. Its subtitle might be how to insure yourself against the effect of the world by finding safety in art. Or in other words, how to write your way out of fear. The writing was made sharper by the recollection of our morning demon, a malevolent drug dealer stalking his own mad shadows.
When I was fighting didn’t think that was dangerous
When a knuckle duster knocked out my tooth
Didn’t think that was dangerous 
And when I was driving 130mph, 
Didn’t think that was dangerous.
When I hold a knife, that’s the closest I come.
That’s closest:
“If I’m not careful with this
In my hand
It is dangerous.”
 
K
 
fish and chips I like to order
I don’t like the word chaos
it brings disorder
danger comes in all sorts
car, bus, tram
suicidal thoughts.
Peter Twigg
following mine

Peter Twigg’s embroidery- work in progress

Solice from memory dark

armour, Projects

When I was homeless, I used to put my head in a box- I was sleeping on a park bench, with cardboard to keep the draft from below and a box to keep the wind of my head. A box, a lovely form of protection- it works very well.”  Georgina.

Our third session at the Booth Centre, for the project Armour, and this time we were joined by artist/poet/performer Johnny Woodhams.

It’s a hard to explain in words sometimes, better to experience. As I have talked about in previous blogs, The Booth Centre does something remarkable- gives a safe space to some of the most vulnerable in society. And more than that, creates a tolerant, optimistic, creative working space that I feel privileged to work in.

‘Making art, takes your mind away from things.’ Garry

 Shrine
Shrine, part of the Armour project

With Johnny leading the session, the room took on a jovial atmosphere and somehow, at odds to the stereo types of the pained artist, in stickered misery,the laughter and support allowed people to talk about some darkness, darkness that nobody would want to face. One man, living with his fiancée and son, recently dying in a house fire, created a shrine. A deeply personal brave piece, that effected all of the viewers.

‘Making art, helps an erratic mind, it stimulates- you’ve found the secrete to help homeless people.’ Dave.

Johnny had filled a two tables with an eclectic mix of objects, bones, wooden boxes, an old violin, books, tiny figures of people. Without pausing anon, (a veteran of the armed forces) choose a large piece of tree bark and started writing his train of thought onto it.

Peter's bark

“The sway from your branches, to and fro, my home, not to share, my solace from memory dark, noice, panic, fear, tearing at my brain… you comfort me still, my house, my treehouse’  (insert photo)

Quietly spoken, he explained to me later, that he had spent 2 years living in a tree house, only coming down to the ground in the dead of night.

Gary’s artwork coincidentally picks up on another aspects of trees- their life cycle and the importance of trees/cardboard and wood in a homeless persons life. Taking us back in a circle to Georgina….

Lois Blackburn

 Johnny and Armour
Johnny Woodhams at the Booth Centre

I had no real idea what I was expecting to find and feel at the Booth Centre having never been there before. I was afraid that my concept for the session might be met with boredom or resentment…after all what do I know about what it’s like to live on the street? What I found was the best ‘family’ of folk I’ve met in a long time….staff, volunteers and visitors alike…genuine, welcoming, comforting and inclusive….what an absolutely great place.

The outcomes of the session were raw and hugely emotive but the power of humour and strength were ever present throughout the day….I cannot wait to go back….I can see a hundred more things we could do! Writing is at it’s best when it is honest  and rooted in truth…there are some bloody great writers here but often my favourite pieces are the most basic and simplistic because no language is wasted…it is as the person speaks….

This session was utterly touching, emotive and beautiful even in its sadest themes…it lifted my spirits enormously and reminded me how important the power of art is even more so in these current climes….

Any one of us could easily fall into this position…the mixture of amazing characters was complete testament to this…..

Johnny Woodhams

Armour

armour, Projects

arthur+martha are pleased to announce that we have been awarded Arts Council Funding for a new pilot project called ‘Armour’.

Armour will be a six month pilot project with homeless veterans, developing creative ideas based on medieval armour. How can veterans live peacefully with the memory of war? We will re-think, re-examine, re-create quilted medical armour, as garments embroidered with meditations on war and peace.

Workshops will discuss how we protect our deeper selves and how we heal. Discussions will be edited to create a collection of poems. Based at The Booth Centre homeless resource centre in Manchester, we will train peer mentors, involve organisations working with veterans, partner art/museum venues to research and exhibit the artwork.

Like any new arthur+martha project, I am sure this project will stretch us into profoundly new areas of working, that will bring us many challenges, but will also bring us joy,  open new approaches, audiences and collaborations.