IDEA 371

I have my oxygen rich shower every morning to thank for ‘moments of inspiration’ – that often seem like an idea too far once I’ve had a shave. But then I occasionally end up convincing myself that they really are good ideas and I should take the risk.

So ; idea number 371:

We will stay overnight in Hartlepool next weekend, the reason being so we can go to see the big band rehearsals in the afternoon and film a bit of the activity. They are the musicians who will be playing at the Rink Revival event in June. They’re very good actually from what I’ve seen on YouTube – but not very good at managing their enquiry mail. I have tried four times to get in touch now via websites and facebook but no one replies to me. I’m pretty sure this isn’t a personal sleight though… just a lack of online monitoring on the part of the band. I was hoping to get the thumbs up to film them and perhaps have a bit of a chat with the band leader, but I will have to travel hopefully with that one if they don’t get back to me. I don’t imagine it will be a problem but it’s always better to sort these things in advance. Anyway – that’s not idea number 371 – this is….

…to write a song in the style of the big band era with lyrics that pertain to the Queen’s Rink ballroom and, lyrically, link in some of the memories I have been collecting. Can’t be that hard can it?

I’m pretty confident of my ability to write the song, but not at all confident of my ability to write an arrangement for the song. Then I thought – maybe the band would like to get involved.. or maybe it should just be a piano arrangement.. but I still need a crooning type singer. More things to organise… but it could be fun.

Then the post-shower person in me thinks… is that a bit crass?

I have now wrestled idea number 371 and have to say I am still erring on the side of going for it. It doesn’t on the surface of it sound like art – but then actually to write something in the style of your subject – and then put it through the same process as the rest of the gathered material could add a nice touch. A sort of ‘historical recall re-presented in the style of the period’ approach. It makes me smile anyway.

Betty Brotherstone is a lovely lady who was born and bred in Hartlepool, but spent some time in Japan with her husband. I interview her for a while and she chats away about this and that and I am surprised she didn’t have aspirations to do a little extra with her life. Yes I am aware of the debate about the value of bringing up a family etc.. but I still had the feeling she appeared to have something else about her.

“So you haven’t done anything else apart from that brief period in Japan just after the war?”

“No, no not really”

“Did you see bringing up a family as your main focus?”

“Yes I did I suppose…


.. Oh I was Mayoress of Hartlepool for a few years” she says

“Ah” says I

“that might be something most people would consider mentioning as an event in their lives!”

Turns out she was the reluctant accomplice with her brother the Mayor, who had no wife and needed someone to be the Yin to his Yang. She had no political aspirations but was co-opted into attending the many official occasions that local dignitaries have to attend. I’m sure she did the job well – but it appears not to be something she rated as particularly out of the ordinary.

” Glen Miller’s quicksteps… even now – if the music’s on the radio or on the television or a CD – I could be getting a meal ready and I’m still dancing to it… gets you.. in the mood!… that was my favourite” said Betty.


“Before we begin – you do understand I’m recording this telephone conversation?”

“Yes dear that’s fine – though you do sound a bit distant and echoing”

“Sorry about that. I have it on speaker phone so I can record with a microphone. You will sound ok – it doesn’t matter about my sound – I will try and be as clear as possible”.

Thus began my phone interview with Marion Keene yesterday (mentioned previously in a post here).

We have had quite a few telephone conversations but this is the only one I have recorded, so some of the topics we cover have already been talked around previously. Although I am genuinely interested in some of the facts and figures of her singing career, it is the less obvious stuff that I’m really looking for. She takes pain killers all the time so I’m concerned not to tire her out as I know sitting in one position is uncomfortable for her – but I also know that to get to the more personal I necessarily have to go a bit of a circuitous route. As long as she’s ok with it I’m on the end of that phone until we both have had enough.

After about two and a half hours there is a natural place to stop talking;

“I feel like I’ve known you for ages” says Marion. I agree, despite the fact that only I have been asking the questions.

The’ person’ we know of each other is of course a very focused one. She is in the spot light and I’m some sort of ‘media man’ to her as I’m not sure the concept of ‘artist’ in this context is helpful . Her image of me comes from a press clipping sent to her by a cousin back in Hartlepool a couple of months ago. My image of her is gleaned from a myriad of photocopies she has sent of her press clippings from all manner of music and general publicity over the years.

Marion doesn’t have a computer. She can’t be doing with such things. We both exist in the world of the imagination. We both complain about aspects of the impersonal and the ironic falseness of targeted marketing et al. Of the pursuit of celebrity status for its own sake brought on by the adoption of mass media culture…

…and yet I can’t help thinking that ours is a virtual friendship in a spookily 21st century way and that for all our talking about when she was a little girl in the 40’s, that the’ here and now’ of our adult voices is based on an unequal balance of me having all the agenda and her having only sent me pictures of herself from over 40 years ago.

I still might go and see her in the summer – but quite how that will work out I don’t know yet.

Marion’s ‘other-worldly’ presence in my work is very much offset by a whole bunch of other scenarios I have been filming. I don’t really know what to call them. In some ways they are traditional ‘interviews’ but I know that I’m really looking for some of the spaces between the obvious meaning, so am in effect using a recognisable format merely to put the subject at ease. It’s easier to call them interviews I suppose, though, in my mind, they are really ‘hunting for clues’. I totally understand how some cultures could conceive of photography as the process of soul capturing.

I do my ‘fly on the wall’ and general bonhomie chat thing when filming some of the sessions with the project participants and then try and spirit one or two of them off to a quieter spot to get some more considered responses from them.

It was particularly heart warming the other day when the 6th formers from English Martyr’s college met up with the over 60’s (one lady is 100 – and full of smiles) to work on dance routines for the Rink revival final show.

“Days like these are what make my job worth doing” said Sandra from Hartlepool Council’s outreach team. I had to agree… it was a grand day out.



Whether something is art or not has been the subject of many a public debate. It’s one of those things, like’ the meaning of life, the universe and everything’ that most of us hold in the back of our minds but only bring to the front occasionally. It’s just too tiring to consider all the time. But it is something that I like to review now and again because I think it’s important to know what you’re aiming for.

To answer the question you do of course need to have sorted out what your personal definition is, and that can often come down to something akin to believing in god i.e. a suspension of logic and a leap into the pool of ‘faith beyond reason’. That though leads to the road of sloppy thinking and a general ‘I know what I feel but don’t know how to define it’ type approach which also isn’t very helpful.

I was thinking about this the other day as my partner and I were in the office working together. She is currently doing an MA in Sociological research and it just so happened that we found ourselves transcribing interviews at the same time. Whilst everything she has to do is referenced in order to qualify the source, when you actually look at what the source is, the opinions expressed therein are often very debatable, but find themselves being used to qualify another person’s point of view. It’s almost like the act of referencing makes something legitimate. I do understand the nature of how this works, that it opens up the debate and adds to a larger perspective but it doesn’t make it necessarily more valid than a more singular approach.

So I wondered at my own activity.

I sit here going through the sessions I have thus far been involved in with the Rink project and pick out what video clips or conversational snippets appeal to me. I filter them and put them in a pile of ‘things that might be useful’ when I put the whole piece together. Working with people in this way has made me think more about the nature of my activity. Whilst an academic researcher might reference Goffman, Foucault or Durkheim to back up certain sociological propositions, who do I reference?

I seem to run off instinct, but it is an instinct that I know isn’t just floating about in an intellectual no-man’s land. If I ask the big question of myself I come up with a mixed bag of references. I am tempted always to run to the history of painting – to a history that eventually led to the dematerialisation of the art object and to performance art. Once into that loop I could even go back to the history of the moving image, and to what constitutes ‘documentary’. The Grierson tradition and all that followed. The French new wave film makers, in particular Godard (who for some reason I frame in my head as a 60’s Sartre) still operate within a defined tradition… and then further on, circling round to video art which was a product of that very ‘art dematerialisation’ process.

What seems to make what I am doing different to an academic pursuit is that I decide entirely which references I use and am under no obligation to qualify my sources. I am in effect making my own language, whilst using the predominant alphabet and many of the existing words. There is a freedom which I would say art allows, which isn’t so evident in other disciplines.

My nature is to to look logic straight in the eye… and then take a side step… trying not to let ‘the bride stripped bare’ become just another naked lady. Occupying this space demands a degree of integrity, particularly as I am using the representation of others as a subject.

I think I know where artisan ends and art begins (or blurs anyway) but it’s a personal jigsaw definition and I imagine my work is made out of these jigsaw pieces of history, partiality and prejudice… which is fine by me.

Now back to the plot…



Local legends of the time, and all round Hartlepool superstars, the two remaining members of the Hartbeats are sat round a table with me, unassuming and down to earth. They formed at the turn of the 60’s and wasted no time getting down to the local high street tailors to get the snazzy red suits run up that were to become their calling card to recognition.

My first meeting with John and Roly is arranged by Sandra Brauer from the council in order that they might bring in some photos and memories from that time. There is also a contingent from the council’s archives department, keen to get something digitised for the records. I introduce myself and my project and then take a back seat to allow my hosts to follow their own agenda. It soon becomes obvious though that I have more in common with the Hartbeats than anyone else around the table. It’s a band thing.

I have been in bands since I was at school, still am, and have been an avid songwriter since I was 14. Inevitably there is an understanding amongst those who play seriously. We discuss the almost fetishistic appeal of guitars. Their shapes, their colours, their status as objects of desire. It so happens that I still have an original AC30 under my bed at home – the amplifier of choice in the early days for groups like the Beatles and Stones et al. They can in fact remember owning an AC15 (15 amps as opposed to 30). State of the art sound reinforcement at the time.

Roly recalls ordering an original Fender Stratocaster, via a Hartlepool music shop, from the States and having to borrow the money from his hard working postman father. This was the period when youth culture was being invented, though they didn’t quite understand that at the time of course, and his father must have been a pretty enlightened man in his own way. He wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about the purchase and tried every which way to put Roly off, his final tactic being to take out the 50 guineas (yes guineas) from the bank and spread it out in front of Roland on the table in order to show him the enormity of the intended purchase. No-one in his family had ever seen that amount of money lying naked in all its glory in such a way. It was a scary moment says Roland, but not one that made him waiver in his resolve to be the guitars owner. Blame Hank Marvin for that.

People used to come and see them play just to look at the guitar apparently, as there were none in the north-east at that time.

Girls really did scream and shows were packed. Crowd control hadn’t been invented, stages were about 2 feet above the level of the audience, and consequently they were both exhilarating and dangerous times.

They did in fact go on to win Opportunity Knocks with Hughie Green, changing their names to The Harts Show Group. Now having turned professional, they won through on viewers votes, losing in the next round but re-appearing on the winners show.

I look at them and wonder how it sits in their lives now. Are they disappointed they never had a hit record, or satisfied with what they achieved? Pretty much the latter it seems – they didn’t make a fortune, they were toured relentlessly throughout the UK and Germany as a cash cow for the legendary string of ruthless agents that existed in those days, but they don’t seem too bitter. It was an experience that they certainly would not have substituted for a more conventional lifestyle.

I hope I can do right by all these people I am meeting. I want to make something that is in some way true to their collective histories. At the same time I am aware that their expectations, despite my caviat of artistic explanation that this is not a conventional documentary, are inevitably of something perhaps more familiar than I shall be serving up. I hope the piece will be a ‘pleasant’, rather than merely surprising surprise for them once it is born.