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.

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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’.

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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!

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.

 

#ThrowBackThursday to Porter Songs 1 – the first Album

digital Porter songs sleeve

Now the nights are really drawing in, thoughts drift back to a lovely summer, when I debuted the first collection of music and stories about Sheffield rivers – Porter Songs 1.  It’s now uploaded to Soundcloud, where you can stream to your heart’s content.

The new pieces from Porter Songs 2 (Tramlines Special) which explored Endcliffe Park up to Shepherd wheel, are scheduled for release in the new year, with repeats of the musical heritage walking tours planned for spring 2016 (drop us a line via the ‘contact’ page of the website if you’d like to register for updates on those events).

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.

The Wheels Spin – May Playlist

It’s May, the sun is shining, and I’m getting very inspired by the following collection of songs/pieces/soundscapes.  The pieces in this Spotify playlist are representative of what I think is ‘good’ at the moment, and providing inspiration for what will become the music of the Wheels project.

British Sea Power, with their move into live soundtrack playing, are making exciting links between modern ‘indie’ sounds and art music. In their music for ‘To the Sea and the Land Beyond’ they mix traditional songwriting with epic orchestral soundtrack music and brooding soundscapes, creating a wonderfully evocative world in music.

Cass McCoombs, one of my favourite American singer-songwriters, writes witty, satirical, sometimes plain sinister songs about stories of modern America.  I aspire to capture the Wheels’ stories in song with such modernity  and style.