#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

#BostinNews Al Barz

When I commissioned Al Barz for the Creative Black Country #BostinNews project I knew he’d come up with something special. Given the theme of Water & writing about Walsall, Al created a poem & video which tells a story created from local history which is very relevant to today. I love his armchair storytelling! There’s a link to the poem at the bottom of this post. Here’s what Al said about the commission:

For Spoke, my monthly poetry entertainment event at Brownhills Community Centre, Martin Hughes has been creating A5 flyers for me and delivering them to my house with a little cartoon of himself on a Post-It. “I’d love to see what more he can do”, I thought.

Sandfields is a historically important part of the Black Country heritage that only came about because of a pandemic. I signed up for its newsletter from David Moore of Lichfield Waterworks Trust a few years ago. They have saved it from being lost forever and I’ve been amazed at the huge amount of restoration work carried out by their team of dedicated volunteers.

When Heather Wastie approached me to be involved in Bostin’ News, I could see an exciting way of bringing possibilities together. A poem from me, cartoons from Martin, and all based on the tremendous achievement of Walsall’s life-saving water supply at Sandfields.

During coronavirus isolation we were unable to have our regular event, so I created SpokeScreen, a poetry video composed of clips from eight local poets in lockdown and a book launch by a Black Country author. The skills developed for that have helped enormously towards editing together “Rising From A Pandemic”, a video combining poetry, cartoons, archive photographs and heritage. Bostin’ News indeed!

Cartoon by Martin Hughes

Follow the link for poem, video and photographs: Rising From A Pandemic – Written & read by Al Barz (Bright Fork Poetry Media)

#BostinNews Alex Vann

Not long after lockdown started at the end of March I applied to become a content editor for a Creative Black Country project called Bostin News. Together with three other editors, alongside producing our own pieces of work, we were also able to commission other creatives from across the Black Country. This blog is the first of several in which I will share links to the work produced.

I commissioned three other artists working in different disciplines, and created two pieces myself. We each responded to our chosen theme of ‘Water’, thinking also of Black Country locations.

Alex Vann is a singer/songwriter and visual artist based in Wolverhampton. Real Arts Workshops run a weekly arts session with residents of Mossley estate, near Bloxwich, Walsall (online during Covid). Alex worked with the group to write a poem about a visit to Sneyd Reservoir, set it to music and created a video incorporating art by the group. To find out more about how this beautiful song was created and to watch the video, click HERE.

As an unexpected bonus, the group entered their poem ‘The Bliss of Solitude – Ode To Sneyd’ into the Mossley residents’ newsletter poetry competition. They were over the moon to win a £20 Amazon voucher for their entry. The voucher has been used to purchase art materials for the group so they can get busy creating more artwork!