Picasso y el flamenco

Another in the occasional series by our roving arts reporter, David Smith

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You all know Malaga; some fly over it, some drive round it, others sail past it but few stay in the city.  Well we did, and what a surprise: three days in Malaga!

I had no idea that the airport in Malaga was so big; it was huge….and it was raining. I am sure that it isn’t supposed to rain in Spain once you are off the plane! It was raining cats and dogs…wait, more than that…more like donkeys and elephants…it was torrential.

When we arrived at the hotel we were met with apologies: it was flooded.  We had to move.

The taxi dropped us off by the new hotel, much closer to the centre of the old town we were assured.  The driver vaguely waved at a bell by a doorway, indicated he could go no further and promptly left.  It was still raining.  I rang the bell… nothing… and again… nothing.  We fled to a cafe across the road and waited.  I rang the first hotel.  The number they had given me was their fax machine!  I ran through the rain again to press the bell again… nothing!  Soaked by this time I decided to look for another entrance; walked round the corner of the building to find that it was a pedestrianised area.  No wonder the taxi could go no further.  I found the main entrance to the hotel with a smiling and welcoming reception… what a fool I had been!  What a start to our three days in Malaga.

After borrowing umbrellas and finding a place to eat we were assured by a still smiling reception that tomorrow all would be well.

malaga cathedralMorning was bathed in glorious sunshine.  The Cathedral is always a good place to start.  It lies in the centre of the old town.  It was gloriously full of light.  The great paintings which formed the reredos of many of the chapels, so disappointingly dark in many of the other cathedrals we have visited, were wonderfully bright, full of vibrant colour.  It was a pleasure just to sit and look at them trying to work out which biblical story they illustrated before venturing over to read the small print.  The wood carvings on the choir stalls are magnificent.

After the Roman amphitheatre we began the steep climb to the Moorish Fort: the Alcazaba, which overlooks the city.  I confess that we gave up, came back down and took a taxi to the Parador which stands above the fortress to sip mint tea and cold beer to admire views along the coast and the city below.

parador-de-malaga-gibralfaro

flamenco

The evening offered live flamenco in a tiny theatre close to the Picasso Museum with a free glass of cava. Three dancers, one male, a guitarist and a singer offered an evening of fury and passion.  I love flamenco: the noise of the dancers’ heels on the wooden boards, the wail of singer,  the drama in the faces of the women as they feel their way into the dance, the spray of sweat from the dancer’s hair as he shakes his head.

It is as if they are dancing for themselves, ignoring our presence; yet we are totally engaged.  Fantastic!

Exhausted we fall into the street for another glass of cava to recover.

The following day the Picasso Museum is a joy.  I have enjoyed the reopening of his museum in Paris but I enjoyed this much more.

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There’s a real feel of chronology as we are met with work from Picasso’s childhood and taken through his life into his 90’s.  The works are beautifully and spaciously hung, breathing life into the white walls, exploding with colour.  My only regret was that I saw nothing from his ‘blue period’.

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Sitting in the museum’s shaded courtyard, sipping cold beer with music from a Spanish guitar drifting over the walls, I thought: ‘Hmm…I will come here again…’

Art gazing is tiring so what next?  The answer is obvious: two hours in a Turkish spa:  Hamman al Andalus, hot and cold bathing, hot stones, and a massage!

 

David Smith

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Are you going… to the ‘Burnley Buggers’ Ball? You are invited!

About three years ago we had a visit to Mid Pennine Arts from a researcher who was working with the LGBT communities in Manchester and Liverpool.  One of the issues he raised was how important Burnley was in the history of the LGBT movement nationally – a surprise to us all!

But what emerged from his visit was not the just the importance of the occasion to gay rights but for the civil rights of each member of our community.

He told the story of an attempt led by the late Alan Horsfall, in the early 70’s to establish a club, a meeting place for young gay members of the local community.

buggars-ball-image2As you might expect the search for a place to house the club for young people was met with hostility and many refusals until a room in the old Co-operative Society Building on Hammerton Street was found. The offer was to be withdrawn later.

The desire to set up a club was met with fierce opposition in the town from local churches, local people and councillors – it was one of our councillors, I believe, who said that “we’ll have no buggers’ ball in Burnley’!  To explain the need for the ‘club’ and what it would offer, a public meeting was called at Burnley Central Library.  Despite support at a packed meeting the bid to set up a club failed.

buggars-ball-image3Later in the 70’s another story of defiance surfaces.  A local bus driver, Mary Winter, was sacked for wearing a Lesbian Liberation badge at her workplace.   Her union refused to support her – just think of the power of the unions in the 70’s!  Mary, with support from women’s groups around the country staged a demonstration close to Burnley’s Bus Station.  Her bid to get her job back failed.

So… what is the relevance of these two stories which ended in failure?  Well, we are very familiar of a world now where ordinary people feel that they can stand up and protest against ‘the establishment’. This is exactly what Alan Horsfall and Mary Winter did when they placed a marker for the advancement of minority civil rights in Burnley more than 40 years ago.

Two playwrights, Stephen Hornby and Abi Hynes, have drawn these threads together to write two new plays which will be presented at Burnley’s Central Library.  Later they will go on to be performed in Manchester and Liverpool.

The Burnley Buggers’ Ball and Burnley’s Lesbian Liberator in Burnley’s Central Library on:

  • Saturday 18 February – 12noon
  • Saturday 18 February – 2pm
  • Saturday 25 February – 12noon
  • Saturday 25 February – 2pm

Each performance last approximately one hour and 15 minutes.   Tickets are free but you need to book via Eventbrite.

Read more about the productions on Inkbrew Productions’ Facebook page and in The Guardian.

You are all invited!

David Smith

 

(Images courtesy of Inkbrew Productions.)

My Mid Pennine Story…

Hi, I’m Katie, I’m 15 and in Year 10 at St Christopher’s CE High School. I have been doing a  work experience placement here at Mid Pennine Arts for two weeks. I didn’t know very much about the organisation before I arrived, so this is all very new to me. MPA is in the middle of compiling a digital archive, to celebrate their 50 year anniversary and I am very pleased that I have been involved in this process. Whilst looking through images, brochures, leaflets and posters I found some things that I found particularly interesting and wanted to investigate further. Throughout my time here, I have been doing just that and I would like to share some of my findings with you here on this blog.

I’ve been dancing and performing since I was three, so naturally many of the projects and events that stood out for me were about dance and theatre. I’ve tried to pick a few projects from each decade, so that you can get a sense of how MPA has developed but also because I wanted to explore the early years of the company.finished-contraptions

In the 1970’s The Mid Pennine Association for the Arts set up a travelling theatre company called TheatreMobile. The company travelled around the Mid Pennine area performing shows, plays and pantomimes in a range of venues for all different age groups. One thing that struck me about the performances was how little it cost to go and see them – I think the most scrooge-and-marleyexpensive that I found was onIMG_7365.JPGly 60p! Today you struggle to buy anything for that price and to see a performance of theduo-photo-1 same nature would be far more expensive. I decided to do some research about prices in the 70’s and I’ve discovered it cost only five pence for a pint of milk and nine pence for a loaf of bread; 20 cigarettes would only set you back 30p and you could buy a Mini for only £600! Something else I have discovered from an old newspaper article is that the early shows were done with five actors, no lights and a £50 budget, which again is quite amazing. I came across another press cutting, talking about how actors from TheatreMobile had been to visit and entertain children who had to spend Christmas in hospital; MPA is all about bringing people and communities together and I think this really shows that    the ethos has always been this way.1970s-northern-ballet-company

Also when looking through projects from the 70’s, I discovered the Northern Dance Theatre, who were the only regional ballet company. They toured around the area performing their latest ballet each season, the earliest documentation I can find of this is in September 1970. What really stood out to me was their photos and how exquisite they looked in them, and as I do ballet myself I can truly appreciate how hard they must have worked. It seems that the Mid Pennine area loved them too, because they made numerous appearances throughout the 1970’s.

I1980s-collagen the 1980’s, a dance company called the Lynx Dance Company came to visit the Mid Pennine area, they were a contemporary company, who focused heavily on getting dance into schools. I found this interesting because today there still isn’t much dance in schools and I think it’s a really important and valuable thing to have.

Accidentally, I stumbled upon an exhibition of dance photographs by a man named John Austin called ‘Out of the Limelight’. I found myself fascinated by this because John said he wanted to photograph dancers because when he takes a photo, he is looking for perfection and he thought this was true of dancers also. Everyone in the dance community strives for perfection, however small the performance and even just in rehearsals, but not many people get to see this side of it all. John’s photographs not only show the pretty costumes and outstanding performance but the blood, sweat, tears and hard-work that goes on behind the scenes to create the picture that the outside world gets to see.

When setting up the MPA50 exhibition at Radio Lancashire, I discovered an extraordin60ary and beautiful project from the 1990’s. This was the Mughal Tent or the Shamiana – groups of local women joined together to create a banner, along with lots of other groups from around the UK, and the finished banners were put together in a tent at the Victoria and Albert museum in London. The finished product is exquisite and the level of hard work and attention to detail is obvious.  In May 1996, there was a performance from the Abasindi Dancers and Drummers, they performed songs and dances 1990's collage.jpgfrom East, South and West Africa. From searching through the archive, I get the impression that the 90’s was a real decade of world culture for Mid Pennine Arts as it is the first time I can see events from around the globe and from people from different backgrounds and cultures.

In the 2000’s MPA launched its largest project to date – Panopticons. Before, I arrived at the start of this two weeks, this project was the one I knew most about, as I have visited three of them on numerous occasions but still I decided to do a bit more research on them. The project got its name from the word ‘Panopticon’ which means structure, space or device providing a comprehensive or panoramic view, all of the four Panopticons are placed high up, and the aim was to get people out into the countryside so that they could see the stunning views. Throughout the building of these, MPA managed to keep the community spirit alive by involving local people, schools and organisations as well as creating jobs and supporting businesses. One thing that definitepanopticons-collagely shines through in all the projects is the community ethos of the company.

The Singing Ringing Tree is made from pipes of steel stacked in layers to make the shape of a tree in the wind; the wind blows across these tuned pipes to create a low, almost humming like song.

The Atom is located in historic Wycoller which can be dated back to 1000BC, the structure is constructed of Ferro-cement with a coating of metal-based paint. It can provide shelter but the circular cut outs also make great viewing spots for the surrounding scenery.

The Halo is a steel lattice structure suspended five metres above the ground on a steel tripod. It is situated above Haslingden on an old quarry and former landfill site. The Halo is lit at night and glows a dark blue colour, this makes it appear to be hovering over Lancashire and is clearly visible for miles around.

Colourfields is the only Panopticon that I have not visited, so I wanted to find out some more about this one. It is a transformation of the cannon battery that was installed for the park’s opening in 1857 to house two Russian cannons captured during the Crimean War. Colourfields was built here to incorporate this piece of history, rather than it being dismantled and lost forever. It adds new dimensions of shape, height and colour to Blackburn’s Corporation Park and has fantastic views over to Lytham, Southport and Fleetwood.

Before I arrived I was given some publications to read, one of which was about a project in 2014 called Truce. After reading about it, I was keen to find out more; Truce was all about commemorating the First World War, a topic I know quite a lot about through History and English. The project included: a performance about the Christmas Day truce from a local man’s perspective, a choir, made up of local volTruce collage.jpgunteers, who sang songs just like the soldiers did on Christmas Day, a textile piece made up of poppies made by local people and a young people’s football tournament- to commemorate the football game in No-Man’s Land. Again, this project involves all kinds of people and really brought people together to celebrate something that happened 100 years ago.

 

Completely bycopy 150.JPG chance, I found out that MPA was involved with tbest11smhe redevelopment of the Coppice in Accrington; I’ve lived in Accrington virtually all my life and never knew who and what had actually gone onOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA. There were talks and workshops in the allotments for the public and local primary school; a chance to think and put forward ideas for the further development of the area in the future and the Avenue Parade entrance to the park was completely restored by artist Michael Scheuermann along with the steps leading up to the monument at the top.practical-comp-4-5-12-007

Projects are constantly going on, sometimes right underneath our noses that we don’t know about or get involved in. I think this should be a lesson learnt to everyone that you should find out what’s happening and get involved in some fun activities and projects in your local area!

 

 

Are you a bit ‘sniffy’ about musicals?

Another blog in the series from our roving arts & culture reporter David Smith

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Well I am… or at least I was…  Over a family meal when the subject of musicals came up I dismissed them all with:  “I don’t like musicals!”  And then, of course, I had to start trying to justify my arrogant posture.  “Come on Dad, explain yourself; that’s a bit of a scattergun approach…”

“Well, most of the audience are ‘of a certain age’.”

“Like you?”

“Well  yes; you don’t see the theatre full of young people.  The narrative is always weak, characterisation thin and often you are lucky to find one memorable song.”

Have you ever felt like you are walking on ice and you can feel the ice cracking underneath you with each step you take?  That is exactly how I felt and waited for the broadsides to come.

“Wait a minute; you took us to see Joseph, Blood Brothers, West Side Story, Cats… I suppose Billy Elliot doesn’t appeal to young people either!”,  and the list went on.  “They may not have the characterisation of King Lear but those theatres were full of young people.”

Basics in Burnley produces a musical each year with a cast wholly of young people, and you encouraged me to audition for Burnley Youth Theatre‘s West Side Story, came another voice across the table.

“Then you won’t want to have one of the tickets I’ve bought for Sweet Charity at the Royal Exchange”, chipped in my wife Kay enjoying my discomfort.

“I give in…”

And so at the  weekend we went to see Sweet Charity.  What a show!

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Charity Hope Valentine is a ‘hostess’ dancer in a New York gents’ club.  She falls in love with clients – always the wrong one – believing everything they say, longing for the marriage proposal which her friend know will never come.

Kaisa Hammalund is terrific as Charity.  She fills the stage with a an energy and vibrancy which left me exhausted.  She engages so perfectly with her audience that we are all wanting her love quest to succeed… the underlying irony in the show is that there is no charity on offer.  It highlights attitudes to women, makes fun of the excesses of 60’s hippies… and more.

The whole cast is excellent I can hardly say that there are no memorable songs when I am still singing them in the car: Rhythm of Life, Hey Big Spender, If My Friends could See Me Now, There’s  Gotta Be Something Better Than This.

The direction from Derek Bond is brilliant.  There is a disco sequence which took me back to my 60’s disco days with all the moves I attempted exaggerated and presented like a Matthew Bourne piece of choreography.  The scene where Charity finds herself in the bedroom of a film star when his partner returns, hiding under the bed and under a covered tea-trolley is hilarious.  The stage craft making use of a minimalist set allows each individual member of the audience to be engaged throughout yet showing smooth transitions between scenes with clever lighting.

…and the music from a band visible on stage throughout is magical.  It is a show that had me laughing out loud, miming the songs and tapping the lady’s foot next to mine.

Go and see it, if you can (on at the Royal Exchange, Manchester until 28 January).

I love musicals;  I can’t understand anyone who says they don’t… I’m off the see Strictly Ballroom at the West Yorkshire Playhouse next week… watch this space.!

 

 

Digging a Little Deeper in Spodden Valley…

 

On the weekend of 2 – 4 December an exciting new phase of the Spodden Valley Revealed project started, with field survey work by Archaeology team Dig Ventures  and volunteer Explorers.

field-survey-weekend-2-4-12-16-1

Starting out from Whitworth Library and Whitworth Museum the team recorded heritage sites such as Facit Incline and Peel Chimney, Healey Dell, Cowm Reservoir and a ruined farm and exciting standing stones at Brown Wardle.

Interesting finds included a fully intact cellar at the ruined farm site, with vaulted ceilings, and intriguing standing stones that are exactly nine metres apart with curious indents and uniformed points, are these stone tenter posts as part of tenter frames to dry cloth as part of the cottage industries?  More to come as we investigate further – it has certainly caught the interest of our archaeology team…

It was such a great weekend, especially with our younger Explorers who really enjoyed being a part of the team, learning new skills and getting out into the wonderful landscape of Whitworth.

Keep an eye out in the New Year for more family based archaeology activities and for more ways you can get involved.

For more information email Diana Hamilton, visit the webpage and follow us on Facebook.

 

Thoughts from the Singing Ringing Tree – Ben McCabe

Music Leader from the Songs from the Singing Ringing Tree, Ben McCabe, recalls his experience…

Looking Back

I have, of course, moved on or at least over to, various other projects now whilst the Songs from Singing Ringing Tree quickly becomes a fuzzy but friendly memory.

We’ve just had an evaluation meeting at Mid Pennine Arts which included viewing videos we’d made and thinking about ways forward. It seemed pretty obvious to build on what we’ve done – playing, chatting, composing, exploring with children, staff and parents in nurseries in Burnley and Brierfield.

I’ve had a mixture of feeling confident and like the right person in the right place, and then feeling like a fraud with nothing to offer. Often within a space of a few minutes.

Now we’ve finished, my main sensation is that the project was a bit too long for me to maintain focus and energy, and to stick to what I felt the brief was – improving life chances for nursery children through developing speech and language skills and confidence through music making, all through the method of being inspired by a visit to a work of public art and then responding to that.

It was great to get comfy in each setting and to get to know the children and staff so well and we certainly were able to pursue some pleasingly playful and creative avenues of song writing, storytelling, performing and arranging. Becoming part of the rhythm of the week meant that some of the specialness and engagement from all directions wore off – although not in one to one interactions. I feel I should have more willingly to let go of referring back to visits to Halo or Singing Ringing Tree and just made new music every week – following our noses. Gladly there were many occasions when a group or a particular person steered sessions out of my control and into more interesting in-the-moment play.

Going on a Trip

My first outing with Stoneyholme Nursery was wisely delayed for quite a while as the children had only recently arrived at nursery and were still finding their feet. The staff felt that they wouldn’t be able to offer much of a response to a visit to Halo if they were too stressed out dealing with getting through the day.

So we waited a while and I therefore adjusted things a little. Looking at pictures of where were going to go and trying to work out what on earth it could be.

Loads of ideas sprung up and we were always drawing pictures in our discussions and then turning them into songs. Sometimes songs would emerge in the moment with tunes supplied in response to the question “can anyone sing how this one goes”. Sometimes we couldn’t get the thing moving so with smoke and mirrors we’d move on and I might write a little music myself to match our words in the staff room just before lunch. I think this mixture of shared compositions, and stuff I know I can make work, is fine. Working quickly seems important. Keeping going back to the beginning works well too – feels like a game.

We prepared messages – actually pictures – to tie to the legs of the Halo which we decided was a spaceship and then we’d send them off into space when we eventually got there.

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fullsizerenderWe also prepared a disco tune – I can’t remember why but we certainly danced in the breeze once we made it to Halo.

The journey is just as important as arriving for many of us.  It’s nice to get excited about things we know about. So we wrote songs about getting the bus, going on a trip, playing I-Spy on the way there

As we’d learnt on the Wonderful Things in Song project, that this team had delivered previously, it was valuable to have reminders up around the nursery for children and staff to refer back to in groups or during a more open session. We developed this a little more at Stoneyholme, recording songs as a group as well as versions which I recorded in the staff room. These were available for children to play back in nursery as well as becoming backing tracks in our sessions as well as being the soundtrack for our coach journey to Halo.

 Fliers and Weepers

The groups were a nice size 5 – 8 children with a staff member and me as well as one to one sessions with me plonked in a bit of the nursery as the children went about their day.

Each day I seemed to challenge myself to try and get the balance right on allowing children to lead us through a session but still cover enough music making that would seem meaningful to the staff that were with me. Hoping that they’d see the value in what we were doing as well as any leaps, bounds and increments that individual children might be making.

It was lots of fun to be guided by particular children who were having fun with taking the lead – sometimes completely dominating a session, sometimes talking themselves stuck, sometimes getting carried away and getting a little too cheeky for the group to be able to continue down that road.

And I always feel a really strong urge to make things FAIR for everyone. I suspect this isn’t that fair of me and probably coming from my own experiences at school?  So I’d invite someone who’d not had a turn or not given us a lyric yet to have turn. Sometimes this was too much to have asked and there’d be tears or just frozen silence but often we’d get a quiet word, picture or a tap on a drum. Tiny moments of progression that could open the door for a lot more interaction and involvement as the weeks went by that build on the resulting trust formed.

Ben McCabe

You can read more about the project and view the documentary film on our website.

Thoughts from the Singing Ringing Tree – Beth Allen

Music Leader from the Songs from the Singing Ringing Tree, Beth Allen, recalls her experience…

Two years of nursery experiences makes for quite intense experiences and deep learning. I see nurseries as a community to enthuse with the love of voice.  If I can enthuse the kids  and show them that songs can make them laugh when they are low, help them remember things they are struggling with, control words they wouldn’t have ever controlled, played out stories they had never really heard before… then they will always remember those feelings.  I am one of those children, having been enthused by a visiting music specialist at my school when I was five years old!  If I can enthuse the staff and build their confidence to mess and play with songs to make them their own, to make them relevant and make them fit for purpose… or if I can find songs that work for them, using backing tracks, or instruments, or nonsense, or with props or pictures, microphones or folk songs… I will find any way in to help staff find their own, sustainable way, to use songs when I’m not there any more.

Some prefer putting on a show for celebrations, while others like to keep it simple and just mix up the occasional words?  We have played with our voices to bring life to the characters in a song, with soundscaping to set a whole scene to a song, with nonsense language to express more than second language children can express with words, with instrumentation to grow the meaning/emotion of a song… add to that lighting and dance moves, then an audience… and the more confident staff enabled their kids to experience something bigger. For me I have found that it is the relationships that allow me to work creatively and that when there is a relationship of trust… a whole group or a pairing can work together to write really lovely little nuggets that stick and are remembered weeks later, because they caught a moment and remain relevant. Some members of staff obviously thought about words and language between sessions and came back having written new songs… or improved on mine.  Some children thought about the games we were playing with language and offered really interesting and fun alternatives, remembering additions from week to week.

The one big failing I felt was after reading a dissertation from an Assistant Teacher at Woodfield Nursery.  She talked about the aural tradition in Pakistan, and about the different regions placing different emphasis on writing… and how this effects ability to learn writing skills once in Britain.  I became very aware that I was trying to make links and encourage development of the English language but that I couldn’t make culturally relevant links if I knew nothing about the prevailing culture of a nursery, ie Pakistan or Bangladesh.  I felt, and still feel, very short on stores and rhymes and songs from those cultures.  I am aware that we show respect for each other by learning each others aural traditions, and by learning them we give them a value.

Beth Allen

You can read more about the project and view the documentary film on our website.