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.


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…

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).

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!