#BostinNews The Battle of Stourbridge

This is my final blog about the Bostin News project. Of the five pieces I initiated for this Creative Black Country commission, two were written and recorded by me. I blogged about the first one last week. Now, let me tell you about The Battle of Stourbridge.

I decided to tell this story in a poem when I came across a series of photographs on the Inland Waterways Association website. Since writing the piece, IWA have revamped their website so the photographs are no longer there, but luckily I found a different source. Here’s my favourite. The boat is Vesta, owned by Max Sinclair who is standing at the tiller. Almost in the centre of the shot is a woman looking after two of Max’s children. One of them is Ian, who kindly sent me the photographs.

Everybody involved. Don Evans on shaft. Garth Allan on tiller not his usual paintbrush.

As you can see the (original) photo caption doesn’t mention the woman or children by name; I’m not convinced they were in mind when the word ‘everybody’ was used either. Most of the photos were taken by Phil Hutchings though Max probably wrote the caption, and, together with the other shots, have an immediacy which draws us into the drama of trying to get these boats up the Stourbridge arm in 1961.

And I know how exciting it must have been. In fact I was probably there because my mother remembers it. She told me that, while the long line of boats waited behind Vesta when it was stuck under a bridge, she carved up a cake she had on our little cruiser and handed out pieces as far as they would go to hungry people on the adjacent craft. A few years later we had our own 70 foot historic boat, struggling to move it on the neglected canals and determined to do everything we could to get them restored.

I wanted to write a poem which put the photos into context and expressed the spirit and dedication of the enthusiastic volunteers. The piece, as text and video, is on the Creative Black Country blog. It’s also on my YouTube channel. I feel a bit bad that the woman in the middle of the action isn’t mentioned in my poem. One day I’d better have a go at writing something just for her.

#BostinNews Inspiring canal bridges

Having blogged about the three other artists I commissioned – Alex Vann, Al Barz and Lou Blakeway, it’s time to tell you about my pieces, commissioned by Creative Black Country. Here’s the first:

It was so good to have a creative project to get on with during the first lockdown. My car MOT was due, so I drove to Pym’s garage in Netherton, Dudley which I’ve been using since I first had a car. I was a bit nervous about being out but it was an opportunity to walk along the canal behind the garage in an area which has been landscaped, belying its industrial past. Warren’s Hall, Bumble Hole, Windmill End… this picturesque area has several names, and on this particular day the reflection of the latticed arches and the cloud formations attracted my attention. So I took lots of photos. Here are some of them:

Up to that point I hadn’t decided what I would write about for either of my Bostin News commissions. I knew I wanted to focus on Dudley, and as I took these photos it occurred to me that these three bridges would make a good subject. That’s how I came to write Three Bridges, Four Tunnels.

I used Canals of Birmingham and the Black Country, No. 2 in the Historical Canal Maps series, as well as consulting online sources, to help me learn about the history of the area. Although I had been there many, many times over the years, I didn’t know much about the industry or the full story of why the canal arms which travel under two of the bridges are dead ends. Using the bridges as starting points, I wrote a set of three poems and was lucky enough to be able to commission Lou Blakeway to create some atmospheric linocuts of the bridges to go with them. Click the link above to see the video, the linocuts and the the text of the poem.

#BostinNews Louise Blakeway

As Creative Black Country #BostinNews editor, I commissioned three artists. I’ve already shared work by Alex Vann and Al Barz. The final work is by visual artist, Louise Blakeway.

Lou Blakeway lives in Sandwell. Her work is concerned predominantly with form, space, line and colour. During lockdown she began drawing what she could see in and around her house and recording her immediate surroundings, sometimes making pigments from plants and earth. She shares her art on Instagram through her own page and that of General Office Gallery. Do take a look. I love her work.

Here’s her commission A walk through my local history. Lou also produced linocuts for my own poetry commission, ‘Three Bridges, Four Tunnels’ which was inspired by three bridges in close proximity on the canal at Bumble Hole, Netherton.

Observed shapes and colours at Gosty Hill Bridge, Stewarts and Lloyds – Louise Blakeway

Breakfast Blues

Turtle Song

Having worked extensively with people with dementia for many years, in 2016 I was involved as composer in a Turtle Song project with Turtle Key Arts. It took place in Wolverhampton and was one of the most enjoyable projects I have ever done. Turtle Song are celebrating their 10th Anniversary and have shared a video of one song from each of the projects on their website. Do click the link to see the wonderful work they do. Our song, Breakfast Blues, is here: https://vimeo.com/256636243

Suitcase Stories 2

banner - Reminiscence and music dementia social media banner 2018

I have just started work on a new project, as you will know if you read my recent blog post Grandma’s little box. Suitcase Stories 2 is an 18 month reminiscence and music project for people living with dementia and their carers in the Wyre Forest, Redditch, Bromsgrove and Wychavon districts running from November 2018 to March 2020.

Fortnightly music and reminiscence sessions will run on Mondays at The Museum of Carpet from 10.30am to 12.30pm and Forge Mill museum from 2.30pm-4.30pm and Fridays at Wallace House, Community Centre in Evesham from 10.30am to 12.30pm for just £2.50 per person. I will be kicking things off with Museums Worcestershire staff supporting with their handling objects.

There will also be monthly music workshops/performances in Bromsgrove on the 2nd Tuesday of the month from 1.30pm to 2.45pm just £2.50 per person.

This project is generously funded by Arts Council England, Elmley Foundation, Bransford Trust, Wyre Forest District Council, Redditch Borough Council, Bromsgrove District Council, Worcestershire County Council, John Martins Trust, Wychavon District Council and Museums Worcestershire.

If you want further information and to book contact Jenny Davis, Project Manager from Arts Uplift CIC jenny@artsuplift.co.uk 07946 585978

Songs and poems for historic cottages

Having written a song cycle for the historic Weavers’ Cottages in Kidderminster, I’m keen for these unique houses to be owned by people who care about the heritage as much as I do. 

The three separate properties will be sold by auction on 12th September – click here for details. The one on the right, No 22, is a rare example of a cottage specifically built to house a weaver. The top floor is light and spacious, designed as a work space which contained the loom. We know that the middle property was once a sweet shop because of the sign which is faintly visible above the ground floor window. 

Not many people can say that a song cycle has been written about their home! Here’s a link to recordings of the songs, together with poems and stories written by 4 other writers after a workshop I ran as part of a series of activities organised by Worcestershire Building Preservation Trust. 

There’s a poem version of one of my songs which you can hear in this interactive film by James McDonald. You can move around inside the cottages using your computer mouse. The film is one of several made by James which I find quite addictive. 

The songs will be available soon as a resource for young people, linking them to their own local history. There will be an online publication with the song lyrics, poems and stories, and the songs will be on a CD. This was a hugely rewarding project to be involved in, with a truly lasting legacy.