Between Stations – Crossing the Tees

This June Crossing the Tees Book Festival returns for 2017! The library services for Stockton, Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Redcar & Cleveland and Darlington are thrilled to once again present the Book Festival for the Tees Valley. As always, there will be something for all of the family to get involved with including plenty of talks, exciting events and kids activities.

On Monday 12th June you can see the first ever performance of poet, Andy Willoughby’s Between the Stations at Middlesbrough Central Library.

The multi media performance is based on Andy Willoughby’s critically acclaimed long poem Between Stations. Andy is on the train between Middlesbrough and Saltburn reflecting back to a journey he made to Siberia with Finnish beat poets whilst passing the remnants of the last steelworks of Teesside. It is a journey given added poignancy by his own survival from cancer.

Andy investigates what it means to be caught between stations in an existential as well as a physical way. A former poet laureate of Middlesbrough Andy has published several books of poetry that draw on local history, travel and mythologies both modern and ancient.

To find out a little bit more background I had a chat with Andy in the room he shares with fellow writer/lecturer Bob Beagrie, high up in Middlesbrough Tower in the University of Teesside.

Q: Can you tell me a bit of background about the Library event, please?

AW: I am performing a show based on my book, Between the Stations. I have been working on the show for a year with film maker Dan Perry and an English and a Finnish musician. So I have been working on it with Anton Flint and Masi Hukari, a Finnish Rockstar. They have composed me a soundtrack and I am performing with the soundtrack and the film for the evening.

I am also going to invite a couple of local poets along to read their travel poems.

Q: Why is it called Between Stations?

AW: Because it is about being between stations, literally. On two trains. It is about a long journey I made to Siberia years ago with the two Finnish poets Kalle and Esa (Hirvonen) to a literary conference in Siberia they invited me to out of the blue in a bar at 4 o’clock in the morning and I said I’d go and I went. (laughs..) It is about remembering that journey while going from Middlesbrough to Saltburn.

I got very interested that on a 25 minute journey you could remember a 6 day journey. Time is not as linear as you think. I did a shorter version of it but then Andy Croft said can you write a full book. And I said yes, of course I can. But it didn’t really come until the steel works closed down because when I was going through the steel works knowing that the blast furnace was finally closed that made it a lot more poignant. So, then the whole thing came together and I wrote the book which is just one long poem, really.

If I did the whole long poem for the show, my show would be 4 ½ hours long. To create the show we did an improvised version in the railway workers park in Helsinki. It was built by the unions. I did it in the bandstand there one afternoon. Massi, Ted and me went down and gave an improvised the performance for the whole book and that is how long it took. Their fingers were bleeding in the end ( Andy laughs).

I worked out what would work on its own for about a 45/50 minutes show.

Between Stations means more than that as well. I had just recovered from cancer when I wrote it. It is also that Catholic thing of being between the stations of the cross. But also the stations of being and nothingness, like the steel works. It was interesting with me riding through the entire history that had died.  But still being alive.

I didn’t know anything before I went to Siberia about the tribal peoples of Siberia but we went to this place called Khanty-Mansiysk where the Khanty and the Mansi still live. They are tribes that were recorded by the Romans so they are pre Roman, ancient tribes. They have a Finno-Ugrian language like the Finns and Estonians. Those languages came originally out of the Ural mountains, as did Hungarian. So there were professors there from all those countries.

There were also some Native Americans there. I met a really interesting Native American guy called Rocktree Boy. He has written one of the most famous Native American memoirs. They were really connecting with these tribal peoples of Siberia, with Shamanic religions that had all been suppressed under Stalin.

But when I got to Siberia I noticed there was Dorman Long written on the rail tracks. The Siberian railway is mostly Middlesbrough steel but not a lot of people know that because it has never been something celebrated. We have celebrated Sydney Harbour Bridge but we don’t celebrate the fact that we built the Trans Siberian Railway, or lots of it. So that felt synchronistic that I was there.

Also in my book (but not in my show) a couple of local English teachers kidnapped me from the conference and asked if they could abduct me with permission beyond the reach of the authorities. They took me round all the town and showed me poor bits of town and they took me to the sacred hill over the town, where the Ob and Irtysh rivers meet and flow into the Arctic.

On top of that hill was a huge steel monument, like a huge yurt, not called a yurt, it is a chum, like a wigwam. I asked what it was. They told me that is what Stalin built to celebrate the iron miners. I said, why? They said they were all Khanty and Mansi people but under communism they all got pulled off the land and shoved down the iron mines to work.

So, there I was all the miles from Eston, next to a hill, like Eston hills, that had been full of iron. The irony wasn’t lost on me.

But then I went to the top of the monument and from the top of the monument I could see for 10 000 miles in every direction across the Siberian Steppes, which was just amazing. In the distance was the taiga, the forest. It is not very difficult to see how a million people could disappear there.

Q: in the Wilderness?

AW: It is just endless. We cannot experience that in England anymore, maybe on North Yorks Moors you can sometimes see a vast, desolate landscape.

In my book I am chronologically going to the stations along our line and reflecting things in my head about, flashing back and forward. Flashbacks to the Siberian journey and being out in Siberia and meeting loads of people.

Q: So people going to this event..

AW: …They can go on my travels with me. They might recognise the journey from Middlesbrough to Saltburn but hopefully I will focus on a few historical things that they will find interesting. And on the ride to Siberia I was with these crazy Finn poets. So, it was really exciting. That part of the book has got lots of beat writing in it and it is comic and manic and to weigh up against the reflective, local stuff.

It is a balance; my show is funny as well. It is important to stress that there is lots of absurd comedy in it, even though I am taking quite a serious historical subject. There is no point in giving people a long, boring message. It is a mixture of humorous travelogue and full on poetic moments of remembering and history.

Q: And very much multimedia, too?

AW: Yes it is definitely multimedia definitely, with lots of angles, we talk about football and about iron and Bob Dylan. On the train I am talking to Bob Dylan because all I had with me on the train was Blonde on Blonde on cassette. I grabbed two things as I walked out the door, my Walkman but I forgot to take any other cassettes. And the only other thing I grabbed was William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience.

On the train I have got the shades of Blake and Russian poet Mayakovsky and also Bob Dylan is following me around with his sunglasses on whispering in my ear every now and then. On a manic journey where we couldn’t really order anything except vodka, milk and dried bits of squid.

There was a translator with us for a bit but he fancied a girl on the train so he disappeared and we just had to get by with the Finns and the tiny bits of Russian the four of us had. It was hilarious.

Dan Perry did our MA but he has also got his own production company Dan Perry Productions.  He has made a few shorts and been to Cannes. I thought it would be really interesting to work with him. So Dan and me went to Finland and took a younger poet, Julie Egdell, who had done our MA. She is performing bits of her show that she has coming out later this year.

It was a good adventure and a proper collaboration. I took Dan to Finland to interview the Finnish poets, so I have got the giant heads of the Finnish poets talking behind me on the screen, as well as me talking. So, it is multi voiced, it is not just my voice. So, it is interesting, experimental, film, comedy, poetry travelogue.

It is the debut of my full work with the film, the finished show. I am putting in for an Arts Council grant to take it out nationally and internationally. I just did it in Estonia, not Eston! They loved it in Estonia, there were 20 000 people deported to Siberia in one night.

So, when I do it round here everyone is going to identify with the little journey through the steelworks and when I do it in Europe, we are the exotic bit and the part they understand is about Siberia train.

Q: And it is important here now because the steel works closure is still all too recent.

AW: It is on the nail. The first drafts were written when they had that temporary shut down a few years ago but it wasn’t enough for me to push it through as a full poem. Then I had cancer and recovered from it and the steel works were closed and with those two things I thought I have enough for a book now.

I am doing a play called Salamander Songs with two other writers. We have done lots of research with steel workers. We have written a play that also has some music by Anton Flint as well. That will be performed at Redcar on 9th and 10th June. We are doing it with Redcar Drama Lab. They are an organisation I helped to set up of former Teesside performing arts graduates trying to get their first experience. I helped them set up an organisation with MA graduate writers and playwrites and performing arts graduates and a few people from the community. I thought there was room for a local theatre company like that, that could help develop new plays. We did the Seaside Shorts Festival, the year before last with that group. There were about ten shorts by different writers, mentored by experienced writers.

On this play I have mentored the other two writers but we have all worked together and written a play and they are going to put it on 9th and 10th June, at Tuned In.

Q: A great venue within sight of the blast furnace.

AW: We are talking about looking at the empty black furnace. In the play three different men go down to look at the blast furnace, they can’t leave it alone after it has closed. And it tells their stories with their families.

The Salamander is referring to what the steel workers call what they put in the furnace in the first smelt and they leave in. The slag in the bottom. It is always in there. They never drain it out. It is what keeps the furnace hot. But it is impure. Then above that comes the ironstone, with coke on top and heat it up. The iron flows out and the salamander stays in.

I got fascinated by the idea that they called it a salamander, a fire lizard. I thought what if he was a character, with sentient abilities.

We have recorded some sections on film with the actor Bill Fellows playing the salamander. Then on stage our team of actors from Redcar Drama Lab will perform the play. But Bill has three monologues in it, which allows us to tell more of the tale. Then you see the way it affects three different steel workers. One has a flashback to the steel strike of 1980.

They left the salamander in this time at Redcar. To mothball it they have to take the salamander out. So, it can never be revived. The death of the salamander is the death of the steelworks.

It is a moment in history and you have to record it with art and interpret it. Hopefully the group can raise some money to take the play up and down the iron seam and maybe travel to other steel towns. Maybe abroad, linking to the rust belts of the world. On my project (Between Stations) I got an Arts Council grant to create the film and the show. I feel like it is important historical as well as artistic work.

I am asking a lot of questions in Between Stations like What becomes of us in these places? Who listens to us in these places? What is left of these places that made all the wealth, now the thing that made the wealth has gone? I am asking a lot of really hard questions and I am asking a lot of really hard questions about identity as well. Like who are we?

I was able to find parallels I wasn’t expecting to find between here and Russia. Thing about how the industrial revolution transformed the lives of all those people but also destroyed all the tribal lands. Then here it saved all these people who came in from the Empire, who were starving.

There is a lot of thought about identity, what Teesside identity is made of. All the steelworkers were telling me, especially the blast furnacemen, we didn’t care where anyone came from, anyone in that job has everyone else’s back. That is the most important thing. A lot of the original steel workers here came from Ireland.

I am not preaching. I am asking. What about this, what about that? I might be ranting but I am not preaching.

Between Stations Live – Monday 12th June

Performance starts 7pm. Cost £5

To book tickets online click here

Crossing the Tees Festival

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We love International Museum Day!

Happy International Museum Day!

Given that museums are so full of history, and the fact that I just can’t stop myself being a history geek, I thought today was the perfect opportunity to talk about some lesser-known local museum history.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that we’ve only ever had two museums in Middlesbrough, but in fact, there was a second museum which opened after the Dorman and before the Captain Cook Birthplace.

Exhibiting a collection of mammals and birds, and local bygones, a relatively dinky museum lived in rooms in Marton Hall (a beautiful building located in what is now Stewart Park, which was unfortunately lost to fire).  The museum opened on June 18th 1931, but closed in 1939 when the outbreak of WWII required the Fire Brigade to take over the space it was occupying.  Sadly, it never reopened.

This fab little titbit came from The History of Middlesbrough by William Lillie, Borough Librarian (1968).

The Museum, Stewart Park, Middlesbrough
(Postcard from my own collection)


Delving even further back into history, a forerunner to Middlesbrough’s museums opened in 1859.  On Monday, 18 April, the Middlesbrough Polytechnic Exhibition opened at the Oddfellows’ Hall on Bridge Street West.

It was a great collection of objects, some of which fell into neat categories like watercolour paintings, but by far the biggest category was ‘miscellaneous’, so it was probably best described as items from people’s personal collections!

Contributors included HRH Prince Albert, the Earl of Zetland (the Second, Thomas Dundas), local notables HWF Bolckow and messers John and Henry Pease, current and future mayors of Middlesbrough, William Fallows and Edgar Gilkes, and prestigious manufacturers including Minton and Coalbrookdale.

This exhibition was four years before the Middlesbrough Athanaeum – a society organised for the cultivation of literature, science and the arts – was inaugurated (also at the Oddfellows’ Hall), and thirty one years before Middlesbrough’s first ‘museum’ opened to the public in the Town Hall, so it was probably only open to a select group of people.

Pages from the Polytechnic Exhibition programme
(From the Dorman Museum’s collection)


We couldn’t have a blog post about museums without mentioning our two gems.

The Dorman Memorial Museum opened in 1904, a gift to the town from Sir Arthur Dorman, in memory of his son George Lockwood Dorman, who died in the Boer War.  Dorman Museum The museum originally showcased the impressive personal collections of notable local figures, including Ancient Roman and Egyptian artefacts, and the extensive T. H. Nelson ornithological collection, which was bequeathed to the museum in 1914.

Today, the museum holds the largest public collection of stunning locally-produced Linthorpe Art Pottery in the world, and a highly impressive collection of items designed by the visionary Victorian industrial designer, Dr. Christopher Dresser.

The Captain Cook Birthplace Museum opened on the 28th October 1978 Captain Cook Birthplace Museum – the 250th anniversary of Cook’s birth. Its site in Stewart Park is close to the granite urn which marks the site of the cottage where Cook was born.

The galleries tell the story of the world-famous navigator, from his birth in Marton to his voyages.  It also has fab temporary exhibitions on Cook-related themes like seafaring, Pacific animals, and Australian Aboriginal life.

So there you go, a full on history geek post for International Museum Day!

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Pint of Science

We are bang in the middle of a festival of science that links Middlesbrough with cities across the world and brings science and scientists into the more homely and comfortable setting of the pub.

“Pint of Science is a non-profit organisation that brings some of the most brilliant scientists to your local pub to discuss their latest research and findings.”  The great thing from the audience point of view is that you don’t need any prior knowledge, and it is a real opportunity to meet the people who could be the future of science (and have a pint with them).

Pint of Science runs over a few days in May in cities throughout the world from Brazil to Australia to 21 locations in Britain, including Dickens Inn, Middlesbrough. Specific topics are selected and Pint of Science, Middlesbrough has opted for Planet Earth. Programmed here by Teesside University Dr Dave Errickson, this forensic archaeologist has opted for the broadest interpretation of Planet Earth including even North Yorks folklore and the mysterious Hobs.

Tonight, (Tues 16th May) in conjunction with Middlesbrough Local History Month we have Cooking Up Local Stories and Folklore with two local favourites, Middlesbrough Museum’s Phil Philo and BBC Tees Bob Fischer. Phil will be bringing Captain Cook’s natural scientists and their incredible finds under the 21st century microscope in Gotta Catch ‘Em All. Bob will be delving into the shadowy half world of the hobs and other mythical creatures that were a very real part of rural life for the people in North Yorks Moors as he goes Hobnobbing with the Hobs.

Tomorrow night (Wed 17th May) in the same Dickens Inn venue we fly off in two very different directions again.

Spacecraft: Writing in Another Dimension – poet Harry Man has collaborated with astrophysicists, neuroscientists and ecologists, creating new interdisciplinary work which is poetry Jim, but just not as we know it.

Explore how one poem began its journey here on Earth only to be blasted into space and placed in orbit around the planet Mars, and new frontiers in adventures in the English language that evolved into poems specifically designed for those with dyslexia, poetry without words, and poetry made to be read as it slowly dissolves into the ocean or melts in the open air.

Amy Carrick River Tees Officer with Tees Valley Wildlife Trust asks: How Many Bats Can You Fit in a Pint Glass? Answer, “At least 30 (but make sure you drink the beer first!)”

Amy will tell us about all the small mammals of the Tees Valley and what the Trust is doing to monitor them. Some questions she may or may not answer are: How do we know what bat is where and what they are jibbering on about? How do we know where otters like to chill out on their couches? How do we know what water voles have for their tea?

Expect plenty of visuals with all these talks and the chance to get up close and personal with ideas, myths, facts, science and the our planet earth.

Both fun and fact packed evenings are just £4 and can be booked ahead online to ensure you have a comfortable seat to listen and a space to park your pint. Doors 6:30pm. Event 7:00-9:00pm Pint of Science

 

 

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Tom Dresser VC statue unveiled

The newest statue to a local Victoria Cross (VC) winner has been unveiled outside the Dorman Museum.  The statue was commissioned to mark 100 years since Private Tom Dresser was awarded a VC for his heroic actions in a battlefield in France, and was created by sculptor Brian Alabaster, who also created the amazing Stanley Hollis VC statue which stands opposite the Dorman Museum.

Tom Dresser was born in Yorkshire, around the beginning of the 1890s.  There are conflicting accounts of where, specifically, he was born, and in which year – it varies between 1891 and 1892.  According to the Beck Isle Museum in Pickering, which claims to have a copy of Dresser’s birth certificate, he was born near Easingwold on 9th April 1891, so hopefully this is a reliable record!

We do know that Tom was educated at Hugh Bell school here in Middlesbrough. He worked for Dorman Long, both before and after the war, before taking over his father’s newsagents, which stood at 65 Marton Road.  Many older residents of Middlesbrough still remember him, and the fact that he kept his VC in a tobacco tin behind the counter!

Tom Dresser’s VC was awarded for his actions on a battlefield near Roeux, France, on 12 May 1917, when he was aged just 24 years old and a Private with the 7th Yorkshire Howards Regiment.

His official VC citation gives more information:

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty. Private Dresser, in spite of being twice wounded on the way, and suffering great pain, succeeded in conveying an important message from Battalion Headquarters to the front line of trenches, which he eventually reached in an exhausted condition. His fearlessness and determination to deliver this message at any cost, proved of the greatest value to his Battalion at a critical period.

Private Dresser was presented with his Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace on the 21st July 1917.

A fun fact for you: Tom Dresser VC is distantly related to Christopher Dresser, the visionary Victorian designer, to whom a fantastic (and extensive) gallery in the Dorman Museum is dedicated.

Credits
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Why Cattle and Cane are Dancing for Joy on Cleveland Hills

There was some good news in a grim week for Teesside when leading local band Cattle and Cane’s second album, Mirrors, broke into the midweek charts. The band celebrated with a “secret gig” at Hit The Bar in Middlesbrough.

Mirrors made no. 53 in the national charts, no mean feat for an unsigned band. Sales at venues on the band’s current UK tour do not count towards chart positions, so it has all been achieved through genuine sales.

The follow up to the band’s popular long playing debut Home was launched at an In Store event at world renowned Stockton vinyl store, Sound It Out Records. Siblings Joe, Helen and Fran Hammill performed  acoustically between the record racks for a shop full of fans.

I caught them last week on the north eastern leg of the UK tour at the wonderful Sage music venue in Gateshead. As it happens I was in good company as it appeared a very high percentage of the audience were Teessiders on an away day. There were more than a few familiar faces, like retiring Boro FC Academy Director, Dave Parnaby as well as former band members James and Vin Hammill.

The band were on top form and revelled in both the superb acoustics offered by the venue and the very welcome respectful silence from the audience. This allowed the Thornaby band the luxury of being able to play more sensitive songs in the encore. It has to be one of the very best shows I’ve ever seen the band stand and deliver.

We need a big push now to keep Mirrors in the charts announced at the weekend. So, with that object in mind here is a quick interview with singer Joe Hammill, which he completed in his gig dressing room mid tour in Manchester.

Q: The second album is notoriously difficult but you seemed to have been playing songs from Mirrors before you had even released Home.

Joe: The second album wasn’t quite as difficult as it could’ve been. We had a lot of the songs already written for a while and had road tested quite a few of them.

Q: You have come a long way in recent years. There have been line up changes. And does Fran prefer sitting down in his more mature years?

Joe: Yeah the line up has changed but the core of me, Tom Helen and Fran is still there. I think with the band we are okay to have a fluid approach to interchanging/having guest members.

With each album we write and produce the sounds will change and working with other musicians is a very positive thing. Fran is thrilled to be sat down these days! What a doddle! He’s the elder statesman of the band and it’s only right he has a chair.

Mirrors sees Cattle and Cane’s sound pushing out in different directions. There is a lot of innovative production including unusual vocal harmonies and rhythms.

Q: You have been exploring a lot of different aspects of music. There are a lot of different directions and influences on Mirrors. You have also spread song writing duties and working with others too – do enjoy this process?

Joe: We’ve definitely experimented with different sounds on this album. That’s a lot to do with Luuk the producer, whose background is electronic/dance. We totally embraced that. I love co-writing – so I’ve been writing with lots of people recently. Lucy Spraggan, Alice on the Roof, Norma Jean Martine, Sivu.

Q: There is a lot of interesting, exciting production also with unusual vocal harmonies and rhythms etc do you enjoy exploring new roads. Would you describe your sound as having gravitated more from folk to pop?

Joe: I guess our sound on this record is more pop than folk I guess the songs for this album lend themselves to a more pop sound.

You are obviously still influenced by folk and your roots. People may not be aware that Joe you won a Graeme Miles Bursary a couple of years ago, awarded as part of the legacy of the great, late Teesside song writer. The wonderful Tonight We Dance on Cleveland Hills seems to spring from this tradition. Your Teesside roots are obviously still important to your music.

Q: You achieve so much as an unsigned band but does this give you an advantage of being closer to your audience with fan pledges of money for albums etc?

Joe: In terms of being unsigned we’re quite content doing everything ourselves. We have a fan base that sustain us by coming to gigs and buying our music.

Q: How delighted are you to have charted with the album? Maybe you will all have to follow Helen now that your music is being played on Made in Essex and Chelsea.

Joe: I’m delighted that we’ve made the charts. It’s all down to the people who have pledged and supported months before the album was released! I was so chuffed when we found out yesterday!

Q: What is next? A Boro promotion song?

Joe: If Boro come straight back up we’ll write a song!

Photos top by Tracy Hyman – Sound It Out Records, Stockton.

Bottom from Louise Wilkin at Hit The Bar, Middlesbrough

How to buy Mirrors

PledgeMusic: http://po.st/PledgeMirrors
iTunes: http://po.st/iTunesMirrors
hmv: http://po.st/HMVMirrors
Google Play: http://po.st/GoogleMirrors
Amazon: http://po.st/AmazonMirrorsCD

Or in store at Sound It Out Records in Stockton or nationwide at your local hmv.

 

 

 

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