It’s been a couple of weeks since we helped look after Quarantine’s karaoke booth at Accrington Market Hall and the time is right for some reflection. Now if you don’t know anything about this project you’ll be wondering, quite rightly, what on earth we were up to!
Quarantine are a highly regarded, experimental performance company based in the North West, and we were very keen to work with them. During April Live at LICA brought the installation by Renny O’Shea to both the Harris Museum in Preston and the market hall in Accrington. The work explores the world of currently serving British soldiers through the music they listen to. Quarantine developed the The Soldier’s Song, which takes the form of a karaoke booth, where the visitor finds a video screen, a microphone and an invitation to sing. A chance to share a moment with a soldier, a chance to think about that person and our connection with them, a chance to join in if we choose.
MPA had offered to staff the booth, to be there to persuade visitors to the market to step inside. It turned out to be hard but very rewarding work and we met some unforgettable individuals along the way. First let me tell you about the booth, it is a solid, large, wooden box which took up most of the sitting area in the centre of the market hall. You couldn’t miss it! Lots of people were intrigued and wanted to know what was going on but the second you say ‘sing’ most get hit by serious stage fright and disappear. ‘It’s completely sound proof’, you say, adding, ‘and private’. We heard the same answers over and over again. ‘You wouldn’t want to hear me sing’, ‘I can’t sing’, ‘you must be joking love’. The funny thing was that once we got someone in there they loved it. Everyone came out with a big grin on their face, many came back to do another song.
Of course, we all had to have a go. I stepped in warily wondering just how sound proof it really was! Selecting to sing Rose Garden with Sergeant Heather McGregor I started off tentatively but by the end was belting it out with gusto. Just imagine singing in the bath or in your car when you’re alone, it was that sort of sensation, made all the more enjoyable, and poignant, due to who you’re singing with.
Although some visitors travelled especially to take part, most of the people we met were regular market hall customers and were a little wary about just what it was we were selling. Persuading people that participation was free was the first hurdle but much harder was persuading them to sing. Singing is something that all children love to do but somewhere along the way to adulthood most of us get convinced that we can’t do it. It was a wonderful experience to see the sense of freedom and fun that people enjoyed once they were brave enough to step inside the booth. As one visitor said to me, ‘I felt really fed up this morning but that’s cheered me right up’!
A lot of the visitors had family members who are or were in the forces and for them it was especially poignant. I was concerned for one woman who came out, obviously tearful, but she’d found the experience very comforting, thinking about her own son, who’s in Afghanistan, as she sang. We also met some ‘old soldiers’. Danny was a regular visitor during the week we were there and was not shy about singing, leading a rendition of It’s a long way to Tipperary which the market hall shoppers joined in with and applauded loudly.
Overall more than 150 people enjoyed singing along with the soldiers and many more were interested in hearing about the project. We enjoyed our time at the market hall, which for anyone who hasn’t visited is not only a magnificent piece of Victorian architecture, but has stalls selling some great food, the vegetable pakoras were my personal favourite!
Thanks to Live at LICA and Quarantine for involving us and a special thank you to our volunteers who staffed the booth: Dominque Dunand Clarke; Giorgia de Maio; Raechel Beardwood and our old colleague Hannah Jones.
Melanie Diggle – MPA