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!

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Sharrow Songs: The Spaces Inbetween Tour

A couple of Mondays ago, a group of Sharrow Songs explorers were invited to ‘Look Behind Walls’, as we were guided around hidden corners of Sharrow by Brian Holmshaw.

Brian led the group around Sharrow sharing a wealth of historical research about the local area, and armed with two anthologies of Sheffield poems (Poetry from Sheffield 1750-1940 compiled by Yann Lovelock and The Sheffield Anthology, edited by Agnes Lehoczky, Adam Piette, Ann Sansom and Peter Sansom)

He began with a reading of the poem that inspired the walk –

TONY WILLIAMS – THE LOOKING BEHIND WALLS CLUB 

“We looked for lost traces, evidence of things, stuff, items, trinkets”…

…along Club Garden Walk, behind Waitrose, opposite the Beer Engine, the new building that was once the Landsdowne Pub – now student flats and a bustling gym.

We spot a poem high up on the building, half hidden behind London Road restaurants and advertising boards. 

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THE SHARROW FESTIVAL POEM

To the Committee, team and artists
Many faces, different races
These are the places where nations unite.
Colour, vibrancy, people together
This is a place where everyone excites,
To capture this miracle in a loving way,
Sharrow Festival doesn’t happen every day.
Look around and celebrate
The community starts within you,
Each voice speaks multicultural words,
Long may it continue.
We sing in rainbow harmony all races
In a place with no pain,
Where we get on with our neighbours
Though we’re not all the same.
And it’s good to be different
We need more compassion
We need more kindness
Toward every nation.
We come as a family to meet our friends
Walk across the grass in bare feet
All cultures harmonising
The world in fun, food and music meet.
A tiny world in miniature
a wonderful mélange of cultures,
a superb melting pot
of hope for all our futures.
And when the day has to end
We reflect on our festival in Sharrow
in the oasis of Mount Pleasant Park
the show with a heart and a wow!!!

10.vii. 2004

We find “The left and forgotten down-at-heel sites: foxgloves, broken boxes, a flat football.” before seeking The Hermitage, Little Sheffield, and another poem attached to another block of student flats…

“Within these walls the future may be being forged.
Or maybe Jez is getting trashed on cider.
But when you melt you become the shape of your surroundings.
Your horizons become wider.
Don’t they teach you no brains at that school?”

Written for Off the Shelf JARVIS COCKER – WITHIN THESE WALLS

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On London Road, Brian introduces us to Ebeneezer Elliot, the Corn Law Rhymer, who talks of a bygone Sheffield, even back in Victorian times –  “A romanticised wistful image of a place disappeared. Now a place of crass ignorance and domestic strife.”  We wonder if, huddled outside Sainsburys, as cars rush past, all blown exhausts and acrid fumes, we might be wishing ourselves away to our own pastoral imaginings.  

Brian reads FROM THE VILLAGE PATRIARCH WHERE BLIND ENOCH TAKES THE ROAD TO TOWN PART XII and XIII 

‘harsh grates the saw, where coo’d the wood-dove coy’ 

Next, on the same theme but fast forward a hundred years or so to the 1970s, and Stanley Cook too is writing of urban decay and dislocation, leaving a sour taste which mixes with the taste of London Road fumes.  Brian reads:

STANLEY COOK – WALK INTO TOWN

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Seeking sanctuary under a newly blossoming tree in Broom Close (the name a remnant of the besom makers trade) Brian tells us of new discoveries.  How, in ‘AN ACCOUNT OF ECCLESALL’ there are references to gypsies –

“creating an image of Little Sheffield as a place of encampment, a squatter settlement on the edge of the town of Sheffield, working on woodland crafts, bonnet making, cowherds, besom making to service the needs of the townspeople, going into the Haymarket and Beast Market in Sheffield and hawking goods, knocking on doors and selling services such as knife-sharpening, tramping with their wares around sheffield and the region; and I think possibly running their own ad hoc market selling goods in the place we now call London Road” – Brian Holmshaw

JOHN CLARE – THE GYPSY CAMP

The snow falls deep; the Forest lies alone:

The boy goes hasty for his load of brakes,

Then thinks upon the fire and hurries back;

The Gipsy knocks his hands and tucks them up,

And seeks his squalid camp, half hid in snow,

Beneath the oak, which breaks away the wind,

And bushes close, with snow like hovel warm:

There stinking mutton roasts upon the coals,

And the half roasted dog squats close and rubs,

Then feels the heat too strong and goes aloof;

He watches well, but none a bit can spare,

And vainly waits the morsel thrown away:

‘Tis thus they live – a picture to the place;

A quiet, pilfering, unprotected race.

As we make our way up Sharrow Street, there are ‘damaged’ houses, previously unnoticed by many of us.  Wartime building regulations stipulated that buildings should only be re-built up to one storey in height.  The german bombs of the Sheffield Blitz helping to create a few pockets of odd Victorian-era repurposed terraced bungalows. Brian reads PIRATES by YANN LOVELOCK. 

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‘rehoused in sterilised estates’ ‘bombs exploded here, burying my neighbours two by two’. 

We climb the gentle hill away towards Sharrow Lane, and take a left to the corner of London Road, we find the grander, more solid structures of Highfield.  It’s a  High Victorian civic area for Sharrow with tall well-built shops, centres of religion, of finance, of learning and law and order.  The Civic ambition of Highfield Library, grade II of 1876, Designed by E. Mitchell Gibbs with its classic of Victorian ideals in the inscription above the door: 

“THAT THERE 

SHOULD ONE MAN DIE

IGNORANT WHO HAD CAPACITY

FOR KNOWLEDGE, THIS I CALL A

TRAGEDY, WHERE IT TO HAPPEN MORE

THAN TWENTY TIMES IN THE MINUTE, 

AS BY SOME COMPUTATIONS IT DOES”

While in general agreement with the sentiment, we struggle to make our own ‘computations’ as we round the corner back to Sharrow Lane to find the site of the old police box, just to the side of Rossi’s rastaurant (formerly a Bank). Introduced in Sheffield in 1928 by the then Chief Constable, Percy J Sillitoe, of gang-busting fame, they were eventually phased out in the 1960’s. The boxes were used by patrolmen for meal breaks and writing reports.  Perhaps nowadays they’d have WiFi and USB charging points? 

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The surprise hit of a wonderful walk – a look inside Mount Pleasant.  We giggle and shout excitedly as we are offered a rare chance to see upstairs of one of Sheffield’s oldest buildings.  A family home first for the Sitwells among others, later an asylum, a Girls’ Charity School and base for WW2 operations.  It’s home now to a group of artists and campaigners who take care of the building, offer it security, and bring new life to its old bricks.

Sharrow has never been a static community, people have always come and gone, travelled. The people living here are often between here and there, migrants and immigrants and people wanting to be emigrants, those who left in the C19th to join the gold rush to Australia and the Yukon, to make a new life in Canada and South Africa; those who come here now fleeing persecution or domestic violence, its cheap and there’s plenty of available rental. Some stay and establish themselves, being on the edge of the city suits, and whats needed for them is that it isn’t either a suburb or a city.

-Brian Holmshaw

The Last poem is read as we look back down Club Garden road towards the lights of the City Centre. LESLEY PERRINS – YELLOW

Poetry, exploration, and the city.  We all left that evening, firm members of the Looking Behind Walls Club.


The next Sharrow Songs session is meeting at Regather, Club Garden Road, on Monday 9th May at 7pm.  For more details, email scott.russell@heritagesong.org. or visit www.facebook.com/sharrowsongs