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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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).

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.

Halloween Happenings at the Hamlet

desktop_low_res_P1000408Scott appeared at Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet as their resident ‘Singing Sycthe Grinder’ last week, guiding fearless families on a musical journey into the grisly past, as he led the annual Spooky Songs Halloween workshop!  Children from the ages of four to eleven joined their parents on a ghost hunt around the site, where they learned about the kinds of accidents and dangers that befell workers at the historic Scythe and tool works.

Bill Packham (Scott, in his best ‘Mumford’ outfit), Scythe and Sickle grinder of no. 22 Totley, loves a good singalong (especially if he’s in the Cross Scythes, the Inn at Totley) and was joined in singing the new traditional tune The Ghost of the Hamlet (click link for a song sheet), a song which tells the tale of the tragic boiler explosion of 1870.

Visitors were shown around Abbeydale works, where spooky soundscapes were installed, filling the spaces with otherworldly sounds, like auditory hauntings from the past.  In the Grinding Hull the screeches and wails of the normally silent grindstones could be heard, as Bill explained the terribly treacherous trials and tribulations of working as a grinder in Victorian times.

“If a broken stone doesn’t get you, the grinder’s lung will!”

Bill isn’t allowed in the Manager’s House (He and Mester Tyzack don’t see eye to eye – union disputes) but he sent the intrepid children to investigate reports of a haunted piano in the parlour.  Talk is, it’s been playing all day, but no pianist can be seen…

When the group returned to the warmth and safety of the learning building, they set about working together to turn their spooky inspiration into their own songs and stories.  Here’s how well they did… songs about horseless carriages riding through the night, exploding kettles and dripping rain at freaky houses.  Terrifying stuff!

If you’re still feeling in the Halloween mood, why not print off a copy of the Spooky Songbook, and take it down to Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, and see if you’re inspired to re-write the ‘Ghost of the Hamlet’ or ‘The Grinder’s Hardships’ with your own ghoulish rhymes?

The Community and Learning team at SIMT are dedicated to offering activities that investigate and interpret the unique history of the sites and collections in innovative ways, inviting visitors to use their senses, creativity and imagination to bring new life to old stories.

Mapping things out

It’s been a while – several months since I last posted to the site – but I wouldn’t want you to think I’ve not done anything.

All sorts of things have grown and developed since I started my first tentative posts on this site.  This site still remains as it was intended, a note book and journal of the work in progress.

What progress is there, then?

I’ve been very fortunate to find myself working at the very places that helped inspire this project.  Now part of the team of Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust ‘Interactors’, one of my tasks has been to bring the history of Sheffield alive in school workshops.  As part of my role at the museums, I hope to include some of what I do with this project in terms of workshops, performances and installations.  Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet is, after all, a wonderfully preserved example of the water-powered industry, so a perfect place to involve in my work.

I’ve also renovated and settled into a new workspace / studio in the heart of ‘Little Sheffield’ another place which fired my imagination when I visited Portland Works earlier in the year.  I now have my base in a former file grinding workshop in Harland Works.  Where better to be working, than a historic building that was home to it’s own ‘Little Mesters’.  As I stripped the grim carpets back and scoured the floorboards (see above picture) I found myself scraping off years of grease, presumable used to lubricate the machinery or grinding wheels.  Interior design show meets archeological dig.  It was hard but rewarding work.

Also, getting to know the modern city along with its fascinating past has been a real focus of the last months.  It’s proving to be a vibrant, proactive, busy place.  Festivals such as Tramlines, the brilliant festival of the mind, the Off the Shelf Festival, Sensoria, there’s so much going on, and so much of such good quality.

I’ve made a map.  An eight foot, nineteenth century ordinance survey serpent, which is spread across the north wall of the studio.  It is a map of the Porter Brook and it’s nineteen or so water powered works, the subject of my first run of pieces, songs and activities.  I chose to explore the Porter first as it’s the nearest to where I live and work, and as I’ve been getting to know it very well through many runs, bike rides and walks along it’s length.

It’s a great to call home, and and even better place to work, now at least.  My aim is to try and discover as much as I can about what it has been like through the ages, for the people who also made it home.

Field Trip: 8th May 2014 | The Cutting Edge

It seems there’s always lots going on in Sheffiel .  It’s not surprising given it’s long history of hard work, industriousness and graft.  I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen events listed on the brilliant ‘Timewalk Project’ Google Calendar and thought “I’ll get to the next one”.

Finally, I have an evening off, and there’s a cracking event for me to dash to in the Punto.  “A brief history of Sheffield’s involvement with the Cutlery trade” a presentation and fundraiser at the Portland Works just off Bramhall lane.

About halfway between the city centre and my house, Portland Works is a place brimming with history brought alive by a dedicated group of volunteers.  Without the hard work and passion of these people, one of the last remaining cutlery works in Sheffield was threatened with development into yet more identikit ‘luxury’ flats.

Instead, it’s now home to a bustling mix of creative and manufacturing industries.  From hand-made custom knife maker Stuart Mitchell, to fine artist Mary Sewell,  vintage vehicle restorer Jimmy Holmes to experimental electroacoustic record label Singing Knives Records, it’s all going on at the Works, where traditional industrial manufacturers work side-by-side with Sheffield creatives.

Many of the tenants were there last night for a special presentation by ‘naturalised Yorkshireman’ and owner of the Famous Sheffield Shop, Paul Iseard.  He told the story of his lifelong love affair with knifes and cutlery, how Sheffield became one of the centres for metal and cutlery manufacturing, and how changes in social dining paved the way for cutlery design innovation and development.  He also shared with us some of his prized collection, a stunning treasure trove of beautifully designed and made pieces.  I’ll be saving up to make a trip down ‘Eccy Road’ soon (I think ‘Pocket Knifes’ is my thing).

After the talk I got to meet some of the team behind the Works, and a few of the businesses based there.  I even got a ‘backstage’ tour from Carl Witham, (who is a local photographer and runs the Portland Works Studio) seeing the cramped ‘village within a village’ layout of the factory from one of the workshop roofs.    It’s easy to imagine the place one hundred years ago when Harry Brearly and Earnest Stuart were making their groundbreaking discovery of stainless steel.  Hundreds of workers, men, women and children, busily going about their back-breaking work, completing the full chain of production from metal working, to grinding, to buffing, packing and selling.

Truly a hive of industry then, just as it is now.  Long may it remain so.