Tinsley Tunes 3: Fantasie / Cossey Road

I’m determined to make as many short films while I’m based at Tingas in Tinsley, to make use of the amazing space in the main hall.  It’s got some bonkers acoustics going on, with a c. 4 second reverb, and bare floors and walls which seem to act like a giant speaker.  In this recording, I took my shoes off in an attempt to avoid extraneous noise.  But still, my creaky little guitar rest (a handy fold out support to sit my guitar on, so I don’t have to use a sciatica-enducing footrest) can be heard in the few moments where I move an inch.

This is a tribute to a young family who lost their lives as they sought shelter in bed on the 25th September 1916.  That night, Sheffield was subjected to it’s first ever air raid.  It must have been a terrifying experience as the deep drone of the German L22 Zeppelin’s Daimler engines approached from the south.  It’s target was, no doubt, Sheffield’s vast steelworks, the ‘armoury of the world’ where they were churning out armour plate and munitions for the war effort.  Instead, the raid largely damaged civilians as it blindly circled across Burngreave, Pitsmoor and Darnall.  After leaving a small wake of devastation, injured and dead (28 in total) it snuck away eastwards over Darnall.

Courtesy of ChrisHobbs.com

Spot the mistake in the article above, borrowed from the Chris Hobbs website, which has a very in-depth account of the tragedy, and it was there I found the outlines of the story of Beatrice(22), Levi(23) and their baby son Horace Hames (1).  It says simply “the second bomb hit 10 Cossey Road…as they lay together in bed.”   Cossey Road is now largely a desolate edge-land, apart from a derelict chapel which sits along at the bottom of the street.  It’s now a nice spot to do a bit of fly-tipping, and there’s very little to indicate what tragedy once took place here.

I wrote a song for the Hames family as part of a Zeppelin Raid commemorative event at Kelham Island Museum last year.  As part of a number of activities taking place at the museum, such as sensory and labyrinthine tours, I led a delicate little music session in the the Millowner’s Arms.  We had a number of fine Sheffield musicians along, who chose music and songs to pay their tribute.

Over a year on, and after only playing the song a few times at the very occasional gigs I do, I decided to make a simple acoustic version.  Each time I play the song with a different ‘Prelude’ from my classical guitar repertoire (always in my favourite key – D minor!)  This performance, I snipped the slow first section of Silvius Leopold Weiss’s Fantasie (1686-1750) and spliced it to the introduction of my song (Cossey Road – or street?).  I’m happy with how it works, and will be going with this version when I get around to doing a studio recording some time next year.

I hope you feel it’s a good tribute to that young family.


The Waterwheel Stage 2016

Looking through the Tramlines programme, I was astounded by the quantity and variety of what’s on offer during what is thought to be the UK’s largest inner city music festival.  The Folk Forest at Endcliffe Park, this year bigger than ever, and with a lineup which offered a wonderfully left-field take on ‘folk’ (Gwenno, Teleman, Jane Weaver and Field Music among loads of other great acts) has expanded their festival within a festival along the Porter Brook all the way to Shepherd Wheel, with the very first ‘Waterwheel Stage’.


A collaboration between the Folk Forest, Heritage Song (me), Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust and Friends of Porter Valley, and with financial support from the Arts Council and Year of Making Sheffield, the full day of music and spoken word brought together the community in a shared love of Shepherd Wheel and the Porter Valley.  As well as wonderful entertainment all day, the FoPV ran a refreshment stall with delicious cakes and drinks, and the Hangingwater Allotments offered mouthwatering cakes and provisions.

Running with the Heritage Song ethos of making everything we do site-specific, the line up of acts each fitted the venue in their own way.

Opening the day’s entertainment: Keith, one of the two SIMT engineers who look after Shepherd Wheel each weekend.  How apt that someone who spends so much of their time working at this place should open the event.  As one visitor tweeted…

Who knew that the engineers at SIMT were so talented?

Keith did a wonderful job of warming up the crowd with his eclectic mix of traditional and modern folk, (and a Kinks number!), beautifully played and sung.

Next up, creating a really special atmosphere in their 19th Century costume, local theatre group Deny Edwards Players appeared as if transported from the past to sing excerpts from their 50th anniversary production of The Stirrings of Sheffield on Saturday Night.

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Stood out in front of the grinding hull, they drew an intrigued mix of fans and passers-by as local families, joggers and dog walkers wandered over from the Whiteley Woods path to hear their powerful renditions of Stirrings ‘greatest hits’.  Their run at the Library Theatre in Sheffield starts on tuesday, so get your tickets now (we’ll be there on Wednesday)

I dusted off my flat cap to play a short set of site-specific tunes picked from my recent local heritage musical walking tours of the Porter Valley.  As well as local ‘classics’ The Grinders Hardships and The Jolly Grinder, I sang about local stories such as the Edwardian newspaper article about a summer Sunday night in Endcliffe Woods  (The Rising Generation), and a tune dedicated to the stepping stones of the Porter Brook called, imaginatively, Stepping Stones.  I enjoyed playing to an appreciative audience, as we huddled beneath the porch to shelter from the rain showers.  Keeping the tone relatively ‘light’ for me (I chose to skip The Cruel Mother adaptation I occasionally sing to tell the story of the Shepherd Wheel pond drownings)  a highlight was singing my friend Mike’s anthem for the Porter Valley, Down the Porter, which you can listen to here, in a slightly 80’s setting I recorded for my Porter Songs 1 album

Pete Green is a Sheffield-based writer, poet and musician who I’ve wanted to see perform for a while.  A cancellation made a slot available for him, and he very kindly agreed to play at short notice.  The fact that his new Album was officially released that day added to the serendipity.

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In Pete’s words he “…writes about coastlines, islands, edgelands, walking, music, love, sex, railways, football, whisky, underachievement, and getting lost”.  His exploration of the ideas of changing places, and traces of lost  histories chimed really well with the site. Poems Songs such as Dimished, Dream of Firsby Station and When I Close My Eyes I See the Sea  expressed a kind of ‘Sheffield Saudade’, a reaching out for a missing something.  My favourite moment was his reading of an excerpt of his new long-form poem Sheffield Almanac, soon to be published, which drilled into the heritage of Sheffield’s crumbling industry, and its complex relationship between past, present and future.

Nat Johnson had decided to have a year off performing at Tramlines, but she has such a soft spot for Shepherd Wheel and the Porter Valley that she gladly made an exception in order to perform with her band at the Waterwheel Stage.  Wow, what a coup. Like all of the acts, her performance far exceeded my expectations (despite me knowing how good her music is)   She turned up, plugged in, and set free a beautiful set of thoughtful and playfully ethereal songs.  At one point, a song or two into the set, I put my sunglasses on to hide the fact that I was welling up a bit.  That’s how perfect her music was in that moment for me. Her connection with nature, life, thought and creativity is deep and very meaningful, and it’s clear to see why she attracted such a large following of lovely fans up to Whiteley Woods.  In fact, at  one point even a local heron swooped by a few times to have a closer listen.  Charming the birds from the trees, then.

The Urban Forest temporary poetry collective arrived at Shepherd Wheel just in time to catch Nat’s performance, and followed it with readings from their brand new anthology of poems written for their poetry trail that day.  Led by Oliver Mantell, the poets…

Elizabeth Barrett
Genevieve Carver
Mark Doyle
Angelina D’Roza
Suzannah Evans
Chris Jones
Brian Lewis
Oliver Mantell
Julie Mellor
Fay Musselwhite
Ruby Robinson
Shelley Roche-Jacques
Steve Sawyer
Linda Lee Welch…

shared their diverse responses to the area with some stunning spoken word.  Thought-provoking, passionate, witty, individual, and varied, their roaming community of creatives gave the audience a moment to rest, close their eyes, listen and reflect.   See a map of the poems (yes, that’s correct, isn’t it great) here and look out for the anthology for sale now in local book shops.

Jim Ghedi and Toby Hay rounded off the day with a rush of magical music.  Combining two guitars (one 12 and one 6-string) they’re quickly amassing a collection of breathtaking duets. There’s a vastness to the sound they make together and the guitar parts are carefully intertwined, sounding simultaneously together and distinct.  As well as intricate, multi-layered textures, they weave haunting melodies and driving rhythms through their pieces. Here’s a great example of the special sound they create:

Considering they’ve only been playing as a duo for less than a year, it’s staggering how well they’ve gelled, and exciting to think what they’ve yet to produce.  They each have solo albums out now, and are currently recording their work together, which I’m looking forward to hearing.

So, the first of many perhaps?  A huge thanks to everyone involved, and I hope to see you there next year!

Is it a Pop-up Folk Club – Is it a Local History Society?


I haven’t been able to work out where Sharrow really is.  To be honest, my attempts haven’t been all that thorough and have so far mostly consisted of looking at historical maps, and talking to local folk in the pub.  Through my, ahem, ‘rigorous’ research I’ve gathered that it seems to reach south where it rubs up against Nether Edge; north to and abrupt and noisy end at the ring road and city centre; southwest to Sharrow Head and west to Eccleshall; and east to Heeley.  The wise old internet (via postcode boundaries?) Shows the Sharrow Area here:

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Where though are the actual boundaries and, within this area, do we also include Highfield,  St Mary’s, Lowfield,  and even the historical area of Little Sheffield?

It seems appropriate, for an area so hard to pin down, that a new project seeking to explore and interpret it, should itself start out so open-ended.  Like Sharrow, the place we will seek to explore, the Sharrow Songs project will be shaped by the people who call it home.

At the new sessions starting at Regather Works in Sheffield at the end of the month there is one clear aim – to work with whoever would like to get involved in the local community to produce a new songbook for and about Sharrow.

Initially, the sessions will be a loose get-together, for a diverse range of people who are interested in their local area, past and present, and who are interested in telling its story – all are welcome, and all art forms can contribute to the project.  Meetings will be a mix of open-floor ‘natters’, where all-comers can contribute stories, songs, research, photographs, thoughts, local legends and myths. They’ll be time to explore local history resources and space to consider creative ways to represent and reinterpret them. There are also plans to include ‘field trips’ out into the local area, to other parts of Sheffield, and to the Libraries, Archives and Local Studies.

The final product: a community created and curated publication incorporating a range of contributors and art forms.  Ambitious?  Maybe.  Achievable?  Definitely.  If the resourcefulness and entrepreneurial nature of your average Sheffield-dweller is anything to go by.

Sessions are free and will take place on Monday Evenings from 7-9pm at Regather Works, 57-59 Club Garden Rd, Sheffield S11 8BU.  There will be refreshments available including hot drinks, soft drinks, and Regather’s very own micro-brewed ale.

Email scott.russell@heritagesong.org or call Scott on 07929 316270 if you’d like more information or have any questions or visit our Facebook Event or Eventbrite bookings page.

The Merry King: Noodlings

I first found the tune ‘The Merry King’ a few weeks ago, when researching music for a musical response to the portrait of Lady Denham hanging in the Graves Art Gallery in Sheffield.  It’s a stunning tune.  Classically ‘British’ somehow, especially when heard arranged for orchestra or piano by Grainger himself.  It evokes images of lush green hills, and innocent villagers bimbling around happily.

The version, which Mr Grainger collected and transcribed from a labourer called Alfred Hunt on one of his song-harvesting trips around Sussex, seemed to tell perfectly the tragic tale of Sir John Denham, 15th Century poet and courier whose beautiful young wife was fooling around with the then Prince of Wales.  I love a bit of gossip, me, so I was immediately taken with the scurrilous story of young wife who was mercilessly and publicly pursued by the Prince of Wales.  She was to die after a sudden illness ages 21, rumoured to have been poisoned by her cuckolded husband.

Anyhow, while recording a new ‘cover’ of this old song (I’ve not been able to find the origins of the song, but it ‘feels’ very old) I took a break to do some playing around with the melodic theme, and recorded a one-take improvisation on my guitar.  It’s very rough around the edges, with plenty of missed notes and musical dead-ends, but, in my defence, it is totally improvised and unedited, warts-and-all.

I’m playing in an open tuning – my favourite actually – open G6 – with the 5th A string dropped to G and the 6th E dropped to D.  BUT – for extra guts, and to make the key more ‘singable’ for my weedy baritone, I’ve detuned the whole guitar another whole step down.  Giving me:

1 – D

2 – A

3 – F

4 – C

5 – F

6 – C

With medium gauge strings it makes for an occasionally ‘flappy’ sound, but with a little care when playing I mostly avoided the buzzes and wobbles you get with very low guitar tunings.  Here’s a notated version of the basis for this tune on guitar, free to download:

The Merry King – Guitar Arrangement – PDF

After the first statement of the song’s tune, I chose to re-play in 5th position, so I could make use of over-ringing open strings.  I love hearing the opening G-A-B (F-G-A in real-tuned terms) over ring, creating unsettling clashes as the G(3rd string) hangs over the A (4th string) which hangs over the B (2nd string).  There’s the added benefit, me being a bit lazy, of being able to simply arpeggiate the notes with a simple m-i-a right-hand roll while the left hand sits happily in position.

The full song version will be ready soon, and will be part of a Graves Gallery-themed collection of music.  I hope you enjoy.


Album Release: Porter Songs 1

Ltd Edition Hand-made Porter Songs CDs

Ltd Edition Hand-made Porter Songs CDs

We nearly sold out the of the first batch of limited edition CDs at the first Porter Songs tour, but we held some back to sell online and at the second run of the tour in August.  You can also download the album, or individual tracks from Bandcamp, for as little as £3 for the album, or 50p per track.

Porter Songs 1 Programme

Here’s a breakdown of the tracks…

1.  The Grinder’s Hardships aka The Sheffield Grinder (Trad)

A lazy, weary arrangement of the well known traditional song.  I used samples of Sheffield steel saws and flatware (spoons) to build up the tetchy, awkward, uncomfortable layers of percussion. Inexplicably, it features a distinctly Latin-tinged solo.

2.  The Jolly Grinder (Trad)

Of the several recordings I have made of this song, this one was my favourite.  A full-on, driving rock ballad which befits the defiant, strident tone of the song.

3.  An End in Shepherd’s Pond (Instrumental)

The first piece of interlude music, which merges from the Jolly Grinder, taking the scraping violin effects from that song and adding the metallic, bell-like sounds of the pitch-shifted glockenspiel. This was written to accompany the short walk from the back of Shepherd Wheel, to the top of Shepherd Wheel dam.  Uncertain, shifting, unsettling textures slowly bring us to the next song…

4.  The Cruel Mother (Trad, arr. Scott Russell)

Based on words and tunes found in the EFDSS Full English archive, this is a re-write of the ancient folk song about infanticide.  A deliberately challenging listen, it incorporates echoes of the previous grinding / scraping motives, now in the form of distorted electric guitars, along with watery ripples of tuned percussion.

5.  In search of Leather Wheel (Instrumental)

The first of two pieces improvised in situ on the Porter Brook, then re recorded (in one take) back in the studio.  After the intensity of the previous song, I wanted to have a little light relief with a more pastoral, impressionistic feel.  Towards the end it begins to segue into the main riff of The Sheffield Outrages song by Chris Bullivant (the next song on the tour, but not included on this album)

6.  Up to the Porter (Instrumental)

Taking us from the old site of the Leather Wheel dam, this is the second in the set of improvised pastoral instrumentals, composed to guide us along the river, until we choose a spot to sing the next song…

7.  Down the Porter (Mike Warnes)

Written as an ode to the Porter Brook, this is a romantic anthem, almost a secular hymn to the river.  It’s a genuine and emotional response to a feeling of the layers of past and story which are washed along in the river water.  I wrote the music for this arrangement, which I naturally went ‘full singalong’ for.

8.  Waltzing along Whiteley Woods (Instrumental)

Inspired by the story of the Whiteley Wood tea gardens, a pleasure gardens, tea rooms and boating lake which made use of Forge Dam after it had ceased to be a working factory.  It incorporates found piano, birdsong and Whiteley Woods ‘ambience’, with electronics.  It’s composed to draw the walk towards Forge Dam, as if, in the distance, we can still hear the sounds of Edwardian Fulwood making merry by the river.

9.  A Shot that Failed (Scott Russell)

A short form ballad, exploring the life of Herbert Maxfield, former proprietor of the Whiteley Woods Tea Gardens, whose various business plans were foiled by local meddlers.  I began with the acoustic guitar melody (as I so often do) which dictated the harmonic structure.  With punchy electric guitar stabs, and reverb-laden drums, I wanted to create an atmosphere of simmering, bitter, menace.  Not perhaps the best mood to end a historical walking tour?!

All the proceeds of the sales go back into the furthering of the project itself, so by buying an album, you’re supporting Porter Songs!

The first event: Porter Songs 1

Scott singing at a shady Shepherd  Wheel.

Scott singing at a shady Shepherd Wheel.

The first Porter Songs ‘musical heritage tours’ took place last Sunday, with two groups of lovely people from across Sheffield and beyond enjoying music on the move.

Conditions were ideal to take to the Whiteley Woods trail from Shepherd Wheel to Forge Dam, where participants were guided from one musical story to another by musician and animateur Scott Russell.

The tour was carefully researched and curated, with a collection of traditional song, songs by local writers, instrumentals and new compositions.  Each piece of music was chosen to interpret the story of the particular spot in which it was performed.  The intention was to create a creative, imaginative response to real-life stories of the area, bringing the past to life with music.

Scott sings the Cruel mother at Shepherd Wheel dam.

Scott sings the Cruel Mother at Shepherd Wheel Dam.

Meeting at Shepherd Wheel, and enjoying the delicious refreshments of Wheel Coffee, over 35 people followed Scott and co. as he told and sang tales of the hardships of the Jolly Grinder (at Shepherd Wheel), the tragic story of The Cruel Mother (at Shepherd Wheel Dam), and The Sheffield Outrages at the remains of the Leather Wheel dam (with a song written by local heritage and museums interpreter Chris Bullivant).

Then, continuing up along the Porter, which was in song itself after a showery week, they were treated to more new songs about the river (Down the Porter, by Mike Warnes) and specially composed instrumentals sound-tracking the walk up to Forge Dam.  At Forge Dam, where many more visitors were enjoying a sunny fathers day outside the cafe, the guests were introduced to the story of local businessman Herbert Maxfield, who ran the Whiteley Woods Tea Gardens from the late 19th to early 20th Century.

A Shot that Failed, a newly written song about his troubled life rounded off the set, before the guests were invited to an al-fresco dance-along to Scott’s guitar playing in tribute to the late Maxfield, who wished for Forge Dam to have licensed music, drinking and dancing.

At the end of the tour, Scott sings about Herbert Maxfield, former proprietor of the Whiteley Woods Tea Gardens at Forge Dam.

At the end of the tour, Scott sings about Herbert Maxfield, former proprietor of the Whiteley Woods Tea Gardens at Forge Dam.

There was some fantastic feedback from guests who enjoyed the music, the company, and above all, the wonderful location.  We sold out of the souvenir programmes, with some guests coming back to buy more copies for friends and we very nearly sold out of the CDs, which were recorded by Scott Russell with music featured in the tour itself.  More CDs are available to buy online via bandcamp where you can also download the tracks, and some will be for sale at the next Porter Songs 1 tour, scheduled for late August.  We also raised a small amount in donations for the Friends of Porter Valley, which we’re looking forward to passing on.

As it was the first event of it’s kind, it wasn’t without some hiccups – we forgot the hi-vis tabbards for the stewards, we were lacking a fiddle player sadly, and we needed to take more care crossing the road by the top of Shepherd Wheel, where the combination of blind corners and speedy drivers made for slightly fraught pedestrians!

Winding our way up to Whiteley Woods.

Winding our way up to Whiteley Woods.

It was a wonderful experience for the organisers though, and the opportunity to sing songs like Down the Porter, and The Cruel Mother, on location, is one we will never forget.  Next time you visit Shepherd Wheel, see if you can make out a package in the mill pond – wrapped in brown paper, newspaper, and half a brick.

Thanks to UnLtd, The Esme Faribairn Foundation and Regather for financial assistance in getting the project off the ground.  To Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust for their guidance, support, photocopier, and use of the space at Shepherd Wheel.  The Friends of Porter Valley for the posters which helped spread the word about the event, and their tireless and invaluable work protecting and sharing the Porter Valley.  Keith, the engineer, who hosted us on the day, and is himself featured on the Shepherd Wheel listening post with his great arrangement of the Grinder’s Hardships. Mike Warnes, for his help on the day, and the great photos and videos, and Hannah Stelman, for her smile, and merchandise stall-holding.  June Burke at Sheffield Council for encouragement and advice, and Chris and Joy Bullivant at Now n’ Then and TImewalk for the same.

Thanks everyone and see you the next one!

Thanks everyone and see you the next one!

Finally, most importantly, all the guests who came along for a wander and a wonder, along the Porter Brook, who shared their own thoughts, stories and knowledge, and helped create a magical atmosphere of learning, listening, experiencing and celebration.

The next Porter Songs events are taking place as part of the Folk Forest at Tramlines Festival 2015.  Several short ‘taster’ tours will be setting off from the Folk Forest in Endcliffe Park (the free area) and taking a musical ramble up to Shepherd Wheel.  The tours will be free once again, and will explore the stories of the sites we discover along the way. Timings are yet to be confirmed, and will be advertised on the day at a stall in the park (but they are likely to take place between 2pm and 6pm).  See you there!

Porter Songs: 1

Event: Porter Songs 1: A musical walking tour from Shepherd Wheel to Forge Dam

porter songs 1 map graphic

I’m pleased to be able to announce that my first ‘live’ performance for the project is set to take place on Sunday 21st June 2015 at Shepherd Wheel. The research is done, the programme is taking shape, risk assessments completed and I’m beginning rehearsals for what should be a great day of music and storytelling. Shepherd Wheel on a cool, sunny day I’ll be taking two tours on the day, one at 11am, and one at 1:30pm, which will start with some music at Shepherd Wheel, before going up along the Porter Brook for a musical history tour, finishing at Forge Dam.  I’m very excited about what will be a new way of performing for me – as a kind of historical busker on tour.

My aim is to share some hidden stories of the Porter’s past, through a carefully prepared programme of traditional and original songs, as well as a couple of modern covers.

Details of how to get to Shepherd Wheel can be found via the SIMT website here.  There’s plenty of opportunity for refreshments both at the end of the performance at Forge Dam Cafe (they do a mean chip butty), and now with the lovely Wheel Coffee, which is set up right opposite Shepherd Wheel.

Because of the off-road nature of parts of the route, I’m afraid it’s probably not suitable for wheelchair users or people with limited mobility (but there are plans to develop separate events to cater for all audiences) The event is free, but donations are welcome.   There will be a small merchandise stall there, selling CDs and Souvenir Programmes.  Money raised will be shared between me and other performers, SIMT and FoPV. Please book a place at the event by emailing scott@sheffieldwheels.co.uk stating whether you’d like to come for the morning or afternoon trip.  The performances will start at 11am and 1:30pm sharp, so please get there with time to spare.

The overflow weir at Forge Dam

The overflow weir at Forge Dam

Here’s a nice selection of music to whet your appetite… all music which is inspiring and informing me at the moment. https://open.spotify.com/user/scott_russell/playlist/7EIsYYDAcwDSlgdh9li6vA