Residency and Album Recording at Tingas Tinsley


Back in August I set up a temporary studio and creative space (yes, really) in classroom 5 at the former Nursury and Infant’s School in Tinsley, with only the roar of the M1 for company.  The vast imperial-measured spaces (everything in 3’s and 12’s), discarded child-sized furniture, and half-torn notices clinging to staple-scarred pin boards indicate it’s former purpose – up until last year it was home to Tinsley’s Infants, now bundled in across the way in the snazzily extended Tinsley Meadows School.  It has a brooding quiet, (albeit with a constant white noise hum of traffic) which is occasionally now interrupted by new sounds and visitors.  

Not necessarily that these are unwelcome interruptions –  They are being encouraged and facilitated by a strong partnership, called ‘Tingas’, between Studio Polpo, Sheffield City Council, and other groups such as Tinsley Time and Travel (Heeley City Farm), Tinsley Forum, Sheffield Hallam University’s Architecture department, and small local companies like myself and My Bright Toys.  Recent events bringing the local community back in to the building have included a Medieval Fair, Arts and local Heritage Workshops (Tinsley Time and Travel) live music session recording (Heritage Song + Guests) a henna party and a 1st birthday party!  Plans are in process to bring in a range of businesses, communities and organisations to use the spaces – from local day care charities, to skills training, carpentry and hydroponic growers!


For my part, I’ve been spending time exploring the area, and ensconced in one of the classrooms recording my new collection of songs by Victorian Sheffield Manufacturing Optician and amateur balladeer, Edward Darbyshire.  He published a collection of ballads, poems and recitations in 1885, and I’ve made it my mission to arrange and records new settings of his funny old works.  Because of the size sound of the spaces, I’ve veered way from my usual intimate acoustic fingertickled guitar, and towards overdriven electrics.    It’s sounding great, and a real step on from previous Sheffield-focused pieces I’ve recorded (see Porter Songs 1, from 2015)   I’m aiming to finish the record in November for a release in spring next year, and it’ll feature some very special guests.

I’ve invited a few friends to join me in recording short videos in different parts of the school.  So, far, flute and whistle guru and part time model Michael Walsh (aka Trad Dad) has been jamming and recording for songs on the album.  Sheffield-based musician, poet and writer Pete Green read a chapter of his wonderful Sheffield Almanac poem, as well as recording one of his songs (out online this month).  Andy Whitehouse of The Silver Darlings visited both on his own, to record his song Drunken Sailor, and with a fledgling cosmic folk-jazz quartet, playing Cherry Blossoms in the Rain.   More guests will be dropping by in the coming weeks, and the semi-regular ‘Tinsley Tunes’ series will feature a range of art from the region and beyond.

I’m also doing some R&D to see what musical activities I could offer to the local community, and assessing the demand for things like guitar clubs, choirs, music listening clubs, or music production and songwriting.  Hopefully I can find a way of bringing local people in to the space to create some special community music.

Tinsley is a place that’s had it’s fair share of interruption – a notable one being the M1 motorway, which scythed through parts of the village, leaving roads divided on either side.  Siemens Road, which the school now sits on, was once Plumper Road.  The last remnants sit stranded on the Sheffield side of the viaduct, a lone caff sitting on the corner of nothing and the edge of nowhere.


Despite, or maybe because of this, I’d recommend it as a place to work in.  Yes, it’s very cut off from the rest of Sheffield, Rotherham, even South Yorkshire.  It’s like an island of community surrounded by waves of industry, wasteland, and trunk roads.  Isolated.  It has a strange strength in that.  Very different from the rest of Sheffield, un-gentrified, full of opportunity.  And if you’re a cyclist like me, the commute up the 5 weirs walk along the River Don is like embarking on a post-industrial psychogeographic epic voyage through secret ‘Edgelands’ .

If you’re interested in getting involved in a real grass roots transformation of a great building, why not come along to one of the forthcoming events, or drop either myself or Tingas a line.  They are still keen to hear from businesses, established and startup, to take on space there, either on a permanent or irregular basis.  There are spaces to rent for one-off events and activities, and there seems to be a demand for all sorts of community activities.

Watch this space for new session videos, recorded at Tingas, and for some previews of the new Songs of Edward Darbyshire album.

For now, enjoy the special atmosphere created by Andy when he came to play a song in the assembly hall…


Sharrow Songs: Creative Writing Workshop

New Mesters works at Regather was once again filled with the sound of industry and craft last night, as #SharrowSongs participants were ‘apprenticed’ to the writer and workshop facilitator Kelly Snape.

Rather than learning how to hone horn into handles (say that ten times fast), we were crafting creative writing using images of Sharrow as our raw materials.

As part of our ongoing programme of creative community sessions, I invited Kelly to come down and introduce us to ways of using images of Sharrow to spark creative writing.

First, we were invited to write an imagined ‘Postcard from Sharrow’.  A written message to friends and loved ones, from the beaches and tavernas of Sheffield City Centre.  It wasn’t too difficult as it happened – the sun was out, the magpies were sunbathing on the roof, and we all had plenty to say about the exotic culinary adventures on offer in the area (mental note to check out the amazing-sounding cakes at the Old Junior School Cafe)


Two for Joy: Magpies enjoying a sunbathe on Regather Roof

We were clearly all a bit hungry, as Brian imagined tucking into a ‘mixed meze type thing’ in a Turkish restaurant, Scott describing ‘Restaurants from around the world side by side with abandoned works’ and Tina lovingly recreating a ‘custard/coconut/chocolate bar – never tasted anything like it (in a good way)’.  A holiday in Sharrow would clearly be a foodie one.

Others mentioned the ‘magical lantern carnival’ and the bright weather and happy atmosphere.  Our creative juices were flowing and ready to take on the main task – writing about images of Sharrow.






There were a range of pictures dotted around the workshop – from the permanent displays showing Horn Handle Works (Regather Works around 100 years ago)…

Horn Handle Works Display, Regather

Horn Handle Works Display, Regather

…some historical images of Sharrow such as this of the Drill Hall, courtesy of Picture Sheffield

Interior of Edmund Road Drill Hall, also known as Norfolk Barracks

Interior of Edmund Road Drill Hall, also known as Norfolk Barracks Copyright © Sheffield City Council. All rights reserved

Instagram feeds with the #Sharrow hashtag…

…photos by the the excellent Sheffield photographer Tim Dennell

No Law

…and some snaps from Scott’s commute along London Road that morning…

We were each asked to take some time to look at the images and find one which captured our imagination, for whatever reason.  When we had, we spent some time looking carefully at the image, examining it in detail, and forming a creative response to it – in whatever form that took.  We were encourage to write freely, without inhibition, and without editing.  If we got ‘stuck’, we were to write ‘banana’ until the blockage cleared and we were ready to carry on.

Kelly helped create a perfectly relaxed, comfortable and safe environment for us to create.  Many of us (myself included) probably hadn’t written with and around people in this setting for quite some time.  I know that I found it transportive, and hugely relaxing.  It was an inspiring session to be part of as we worked away, each producing our own individual take on a range of Sharrow images, nothing but the sound of pen (and Brian’s pencil) on paper, breathing, concentration and focus (and Haiku Salut’s music on the workshop playlist)

In a matter of 20 minutes the quality and range of writing we produced was fascinating.

Helen bravely went first, sharing her writing on the photo ‘No Law’ by Tim Dennell (above).  Helen lives on the Landsdowne Estate so it’s a subject close to her heart and her piece was passionate, edgy, modern spoken word delivered with real energy.  The group gave great positive feedback, comparing her style to slam poetry or beat poems.  She put into words some of the tensions of city living – wanting to make a difference in the place you live, while fearing ‘putting your head above the parapet’.

Next, I shared my stream of consciousness musings on scaffolding – the dangers (fallen restaurant signs) the challenges (1908s TV 20160418_101425assault course, winding your way through, like a crufts agility dog) the fears (one person’s elegantly faded ghost sign is another’s ‘ugly old eyesore’) and the embarrassments (coming face-to-face with a stranger “oops, sorry, you dancing?”)  It may have been too much of a glimpse into my over-caffeinated urban anxieties, but it raised a few smiles with the exploration of the mundane!

20160418_101607Next, Tina shared her pacy, electrified, abstract, impressionistic riffs on the image of flyposters on London Road.  Like the plastered shop front, Tina’s writing was multi-layered and had depth and variety.  On the printed version of the image, the dark shape on the left appeared completely black, and Tina tried to imagine what it was – where it went.  It developed a sinister presence, this nothingness, and she used it beautifully as a repeated theme in opposition to the riot of layers, nationalities and activities which the posters brought.  Again, the style of writing and delivery seemed to take on the life of the picture – fast, excited, energetic – all the things Sharrow is.  We all agreed we might struggle to sleep, as our own imaginations were drawn to the idea of this ‘black hole of London Road’ created by the torn posters.

Brian chose the image of the Drill hall – a building he has personal ties to, as his family used to attend dances there back in the day.  He astonished us by somehow, with very little editing, creating a complete historical fictional setting, with a Sheffield anti-hero (Bunting) his nemesis (the Drill Sargent) and a captivating setting of the scene.  Bunting is defined by the place in which he lives – a very specific part of Sharrow – and the places he goes, the church he attends and the pubs he visits.  All delivered in a carefully chosen voice, Brian transported us to another time, created with the help of the evocative picture of the Drill hall, and an impressive amount of knowledge of the local area (Brian will be leading a walking tour of Sharrow for us next Monday 25th April – details here).  When Brian had finished reading, we were all hooked, and ready for the next episode.  Look out for a novel coming soon I think!

Finally, Kelly shared her own piece of writing about Harland Works on John Street, a vibrant modern works.  Proving that even Sheffield folk from the lofty heights of Walkley 😉 have Sharrow Stories to share.  She described how, like the saw blade manufacturers who used to earn their living in the Works (formerly Clifton Works), she too is an apprenticed craftsperson taking Guitar lessons in one of the units there.  Now, instead of steel and blades, it’s guitars and yoga, pottery and architects.

We could have gone on longer, and it’s a sign of a good workshop when the time flies.  The writing produced about a variety of Sharrow stories was wonderful, and aligned perfectly with the aims of the Sharrow Songs project:  The local community brought together and inspired to create together.  New works exploring what it means to be in Sharrow today.

It is hoped that these new seeds of Sharrow writing will now go on to grow, and hopefully form part of the future Sharrow Songs anthology.  Watch this space for future announcements on writing and songwriting workshops to follow up this creative session.  A huge thank you to Kelly Snape, who did such a great job of guiding us on a creative journey (as one of us said ‘It wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be’) and for helping us to bring out such meaningful responses to Sharrow.  And, of course, special thanks to all the brave community creatives who came along and shared your thoughts and words with such openness and generosity.

See you next week for Brian Holmshaw’s walking tour of Sharrow: The Spaces Inbetween.  Monday 25th April, 7pm, Regather Works, Club Garden Road.


Special mentions to Regather for room hire and support

Kelly Snape, who is wise enough to not be on Facebook, but you can find her on Twitter Here

Picture Sheffield for a wonderful Sheffield archive resource

the lovely Sharrow photos by Sheffield photographer Tim Dennell

Haiku Salut‘s perfect creative soundtrack (‘Curated’ by Kelly)

Old Junior School Cafe for Tina’s cake

and Harland Works for being a great Sharrow hub.

Sharrow Songs: Week 2

A quieter evening, it’s fair to say, at the second meeting of the #SharrowSongs community creative collective, but no less productive.  What we lacked in bodies, we made up for in inspiration.  The evening centred around discussion of two ‘Digital Artefacts’ which Helen brought in to ‘Show and Tell’ to the group.

First,  we looked at an advert on ‘Rightmove’ (other online estate agencies are available) of an apparently ancient house of Sharrow Lane, for sale…

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 14.01.02

Streetview image of the Sharrow Lane House which caught Helen’s eye.  Copyright 2016 Google.

It’s a building I’ve walked, driven and cycled past without a second look being, as it is, set back from the road, smothered in grubby pebbledash, and fronted by tarmac.  Some sort of electricity substation sits by the gate, with it’s aggressively spiky-hair anti-intruder razor wire.  Now it’s on Rightmove though, we can look ‘through the keyhole’ and have a nosy inside and out… we learn that it is, apparently:

…thought to have been occupied since approximately the 1400s. This old coach station was once the Sheffield stop on the London to Scotland route. Developed in the 1800s to its current size, this is a four bedroom, link detached, family home with a fantastic garden.

Merely estate agent spin, or is there truth in the claim that this was once an important stop off for travellers passing through Sheffield?  It’s a great story, and one which we’ll try to follow up to find out more.

When combined with Helen’s second Sharrow story, there emerged a strong theme to do with a sense of ‘changing homes’ in the buildings of the area.  We looked at a picture she’d taken on her phone, of the plaque which commemorates the building of the Landsdowne Estate, where she lives in one of the low-rise flats.  Helen had researched into the history of the area and found that her flat is more or less situated in the place where an old road called Cliff Street once was… here is a powerful image of it being demolished back in the 1960’s…


Copyright Picture Sheffield, Sheffield City Library

Formerly a row of terraces which were demolished as part of Sheffield corporation’s development of ‘slum’ areas, now a cluster of modern, brutalist homes.

These lovely photos by Tim Dennell show snapshots of the estate back in 2010, before it was given a spruce up by the council…

Wash Day at Lansdown

View From a Towerblock Over Lansdown Estate Maisonette Blocks

(Copyright Tim Dennell)

A piece of creative history emerged, organically, when Helen was invited to imagine herself back at the time when she had just moved in, and was making her new flat into a ‘home’.  She described how, when she was decorating it, ‘giving it back the love it needed’, she was peeling back layer upon layer of wallpaper, which seemed to chart the decades of the property’s exsistence.  After scraping away years of interior design fad and fashion, removing traces of former residents, she reached what we thought was the bottom layer – the late-60’s / early-70’s.

Crudely done, lurid bright red above

turquoise below.

We quickly set this scene down on paper, and it began to emerge as a powerful piece of creative writing.  An ode to her home, and its place in the continuum of former and future homes.

This week 14th March, we’ll be building on such thoughts and feelings, using the story of home and domestic life in #Sharrow as our inspiration.

Next week – 21st March, we’ll be using pictures and maps to spark creative writing.

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.


LIVE LATE: The Folk Forest presents Musical Museum

Saucy stories of a Beauty of the Court of King Charles the Second

Saucy stories of a Beauty of the Court of King Charles the Second

I’ll be performing as part of the Folk Forest gallery takeover at the Graves Art Gallery a week on Friday, and I’m looking forward to making some new musical connections with some of my favourite art works on display there.

From 7.30pm on Friday 20th November I’ll be roaming around the gallery, performing newly written and arranged pieces with, for and around some carefully chosen works.   In the style of the Heritage Song ‘musical heritage walking tours’  I led along the river Porter, we will wander from one artwork to another, sharing my take on their unique stories and playing some specifically chosen and composed works.

A volunteer-led tour of the Graves Art gallery

A volunteer-led tour of the Graves Art gallery

I enjoyed a tour around the gallery last Friday, and found some great subjects to get my creative juices flowing.  The playlist currently takes in a musical setting of Edith Sitwell’s poetry (to accompany her portrait by Roger Fry), Edith Sitwell, portrait by Roger Frya song-setting of a WW1 poem (for C R W Nevinson’s ‘Rain and Mud after the Battle’) and a new song for Peter Blake’s ‘Footsteps’.

I love an Art Gallery as a musical venue.  Back in 2010, with the Liverpool Guitar Society, I helped programme a guitar takeover of the Walker Art Gallery as part of Liverpool’s Light Night.  It was great seeing a whole new audience, brought together in an unusual venue, at an unusual time, to experience music with and as art.

Since then I’ve had a real appreciation for connections between art, music, story and place.

There’s lots of other great acts performing on the night, and I hope to be able to fit among and around them as they share their own musical responses to the wonderful venue.    If you’re a Facebooker, visit the Folk Forest and Museums Sheffield event page for more info or if you’d prefer, the Museums Sheffield website.

rain and mud after the battle

Useful info:

Museums Sheffield has teamed up with The Folk Forest to re-imagine your gallery experience.

Each room of the beautiful Graves Gallery has been carefully curated for your entertainment, with more than 10 ‘live exhibits’ bringing together the finest folk, acoustic and atmospheric artists from across the UK.

Artists confirmed on the night include The Buffalo Skinners, Nuala Honan, Woolly Mammoth, The Little Unsaid, Dean Mcphee, Bellevue Gypsy Jazz Band, Pete David & Landon Shaffer, Sarah Morey, Scott Russell, Winkie Thin, plus more TBC.

£8 per ticket.

Limited tickets are available in advance- please call 0114 278 2655 or Tickets will also be available on the door.

Sound Survey #1: Nether Spurgear and Holme Wheels

A shaky first attempt at a Porter Brook field recording late last night.  IMGP0835Laden with hundreds of pounds worth of very steal-able recording gear, I walk into Endcliffe Park at around ten thirty.  I’m attempting to get some clean, crisp, traffic-free recordings of the Porter Brook as it works it’s way through the remains of the centuries old weirs, sluices and goits.  It was a useful ‘trial run’, if only to demonstrate that sound recording in the great outdoors in the pitch black is unwise.

Still, complete with head torch, clipboard, tripod, headphones and, of course, my Tascam, I cut a creepy figure as I point my furry microphone at various parts of the river.

IMGP0834I focus on the action, obviously.  I want the places where the noise of the water is strong enough to drown out (no pun intended) the general background noise of trees, cars and, somehow, air.  What I get, generally, is a kind of white noise.  An harsh hissing as the river is diverted into the large mill ponds which are the clearest clue of the water wheel’s previous existence.

I’m interested in the way the two man-made processes create the harshest audio.IMGP0837  The Weir, which tricks the river into taking a diagonal path into a channel which runs into the pond. Here, the water takes on a flat, brittle, hissing sound, rather than the bubbling, trickling, varied noise of the general stream.  Similarly, at the bottom end of the ponds, a sluice gate allows overflow water to gush out violently, down prettily landscaped waterfalls back to the river below.  It’s definitely nature vs nurture.  The two ponds loom above the river silently, as it makes it’s noisy and chaotic way along towards the next man-made obstacle.

IMGP0833I try and make notes, tag my locations on the map and GPS (which makes those ‘mobile phone cackles’ at times, ruining my recording)  It’s difficult in the darkness, with the confusing light of the head torch, which destroys your peripheral vision.  I only need to see one or two other park-dwellers to get the feeling that I shouldn’t be here.  They seem like they’re ‘lurking’, but perhaps they’re just ‘sitting’.  Once you get that mindset, it’s hard to shake.  The last recording, at the bottom of Holme Wheel Pond, is cut short as I get spooked and hurry to the relative security of Rustlings Road and it’s street-lit suburban comfort.  It’s the same sensation as swimming in a dark sea, where you can’t see the bottom – my imagination  thinks the worst and I end up furiously paddling back to shore.IMGP0831

I’ll try recording at dawn next time.

10 Jun 2014 23:03 – Lat,Long:

53.3684403,-1.50903466(Holme Wheel Pond – Head, and Overflow)

10 Jun 2014 22:59 – Lat,Long: 53.36840069,-1.51145355(Weir and inlet sluice above Holme Wheel Pond)

10 Jun 2014 22:55 – Lat,Long: 53.36849862,-1.51265282(Natural dam on river upstream of Holme Wheel)

10 Jun 2014 22:49 – Lat,Long: 53.36896708,-1.51534362(River Between Nether Spurgear and Holme Wheel)

10 Jun 2014 22:47 – Lat,Long: 53.36909965,-1.51561101(Nether Spurgear Overflow)

10 Jun 2014 22:38 – Lat,Long: 53.36888273,-1.51762608(Nether Spurgear Weir)

10 Jun 2014 22:35 – Lat,Long: 53.36911645,-1.51807693(River Upstream of Nether Spurgear)

Exploring the Caucasus

In the top room of the Red Deer pub a very special screening and presentation brought the rare and exotic sounds of the Caucasian mountains to inner city Sheffield.

Mountains of Tongues

Mountains of Tongues

The work of Ben Wheeler, Anna Harbaugh and  Stefan Williamson-Fa, The Sayat Nova Project is collecting, preserving and promoting the many wild and wonderful variants of folk music at risk of dying out in disparate communities across the region on the border of Europe and Asia.

A crossroads between eat and west, the Caucasus is a true melting pot of music from very different cultures which, now cut off and ignored to an extent in favour of other ‘big name’ cultures, seems to have developed many unique musical traditions.  During several inspired trips across the area, the team have filmed and recorded a huge amount of performances in a broad range of settings: from village wrestling competitions, to weddings, funerals, and general roadside piss-ups.  The footage was presented in a refreshingly no-nonsense way, focusing as they were on getting quality sound recordings.  The videos are like intimate home videos, cobbled together into a fascinating collage of local musicians, singers and characters.

What struck me was not necessarily the differences between these individual traditions, but the similarities. To an ethnomusicological layman like me, with no knowledge of the subtle linguistic differences at play, I could hear similarities of the musical styles…drone notes, modal harmony, virtuosic playing and singing, emphasis on rhythm…all characteristics I hear in an array of world musics.

You can get the first collection of music

“Mountains of Tongues” – Musical Dialects from the Caucasus

on vinyl from the band A Hawk and a Hacksaw’s label, L.M. Dupl-ication,with free download of the tracks and a PDF of the liner notes.  If you’d like to keep up with their progress, follow them on Facebook, Soundcloud, and Youtube (where they’ve collected some of their brilliant recordings).

I got my LP, grab one while you can!

I got my LP, grab one while you can!

I’m still trying to get the image of a mountain of actual tongues out of my head.