So goes the lyric to the song ‘when will i see you again’.. and it’s starting to get a bit like that. Not so much for me as I still have lots of work to do on the acquisition side of my project, but the sessions that the dancers have been leading with the various groups all this year are drawing to a close.

I went over to video on Thursday and these sessions have become such a regular event in my week that I hadn’t given much thought to the fact that they would be finishing until I arrived that day. For me it’s probably not a bad thing, but for the participants, particularly the ones in the retirement homes , I get the feeling they will be sadly missed. The dancers, Amy and Kelly, would love to keep the sessions going, but they were brought in to deliver a particular project, and that project will be complete once the bank holiday dance event takes place.

When I first began videoing I did so with a very open agenda. I would just hover in the background, chat to the occasional person here and there (particularly the oldies ) and just ‘look’ with the camera. What I’ve been doing is less ‘filming sequences’ and more taking in the detail of a particular environment. I haven’t wanted to impose a narrative, although perhaps I assumed one would develop anyway. So – what is that narrative? The answer thus far is this:

a. The old folks have their memories. Some of them, understandably, have problems with recall of current events. Trying to teach a dance routine to a person who sees every session in a similar way to the first is, shall we say, interesting. For them it’s all about the activity; the heart of the moment. That’s not to say they can’t recall the past though because many of them are quite clear on that subject, if a tad repetitive. I have been struck by the light in their eyes, their enthusiasm and their willingness to join in.

b. The sixth formers are ‘the performers’. They are confident and of course represent the future. One of my own children is still in sixth form, so I should know the territory, but seeing the sessions progress, and the way the routines have come on, I (someone who has never wanted to teach) have seen how rewarding that can be when you have a group of genuinely enthusiastic students. They have their moments of course, but, for students at a performing academy, they are surprisingly self effacing.

c. The ‘young carers’; well if I’m honest this group has been the least ‘successful’ in the conventional sense just because they don’t always turn up or are somewhat less focused. It’s understandable, given the practicalities of them getting there, and being that sessions are later in the day etc. .. but despite that, there has been a core of attendees who will get a sense of achievement out of taking part in the final event. To me they represent the ‘here and now’. They are too young to grasp the future fully, aren’t too concerned with the past and live more closely to, and in, the moment than most of us.

Having said all of that – it is of course not over until it’s over and next week we have a full day of dress rehearsals at the Borough Hall – and the event itself on the following Tuesday.

I have made the major purchase of a black and while bow tie off ebay and am looking forward to chatting with the general public in a role more akin to the barman in the Shining than my usual less sartorial appearance. I will have another cameraman there, so I can focus on what’s happening and who to talk to, at what is already a sell out event.

For me – the event draws a line in the sand on a particular shore…but there are more tides in my work yet, no permanencies, and more beaches to be explored. Ok enough with the metaphors.



I joined a Facebook group called ‘History of Hartlepool in Images’ … it has well over six thousand members and rising rapidly. It’s a great resource, started by a guy called Patrick Casey last September, and I have been fascinated looking at all the pics people have been posting up.

So far so good. My big mistake is that I asked a member if I could use a photo she had put up there of the Benny Nelson Big Band as I hadn’t seen it before. No problem she said “I will get my son to scan it for you and email it over”.

Then it all started.

I shall refrain from using names in order to protect the innocent (and the not too innocent), but a gentleman I shall call ‘D’ popped up (it was his original thread so fair enough). He warned the lady off;
‘Be very careful about giving anything to this man – he is not what he seems’ was the gist of it. I was apparently a businessman from Leeds who had been brought in by the local council, and was appropriating images from people in order to make a fat profit for myself.

Then the gates of wrath and vitriol did open up.
“Denounce this imposter” came the call – “expel him from the group.. it’s outrageous how people like this are exploiting the poor folk of Hartlepool once again” etc. etc.
I watched the comments coming in thick and fast. If there had been a switchboard it would have been jammed.
” Erm.. you’ve kind of mistaken me for someone else” I proffered. It was like standing on the steps of the Coliseum and appealing to the crowd. They were having none of it.

Gradually my bemusement turned to irritation. Under normal circumstances I would have taken a deep breath and waited a day or so before replying, but this was all moving so quickly – hundreds of comments coming in – that I needed to explain my position very clearly. I composed a comprehensive reply explaining that I was not stealing work from ‘local people’ (yes someone did post the league of gentlemen sketch up there
YouTube link in disbelief). I covered pretty much every point that had been brought up, particularly pointing out that I was not funded by Hartlepool Council (this seemed to be a particularly odious thing to have happen to you) and that the funding I had been able to secure came from Arts Council England and that anyone, including ‘D’ was welcome to make their case for similar support.

That didn’t go down well. Faced with indisputable facts ‘D’ decided to remove the entire history of the debate. Patrick, the group initiator was also coming in for flack, as his even handed interventions had led to him be similarly shouted at. Patrick invited me to explain my project again and posted up a link to this blog, in order to show people what it was really about. He was accused of allowing ‘advertising’ on the site by doing that… and so it raged on.

The good part was that I began getting mails of support and encouragement from the less partisan members.

The following day the debate showed no signs of letting up. I kept checking throughout the day, until a new strand started to appear – “I will in-box you” D was now saying, so that it wasn’t possible for me to see what was being said. I started to think this could really have a negative effect on my piece so I demanded D show me what he was saying to others as I had no recourse to reply.

Surprisingly he agreed to do that. He explained his history of disappointing dealings with the local Council. I put him straight on my position.

We agreed on something at last.

It could all have been so simple. I announced to the crowd that peace had been declared. It was all a bit bizarre.

The lady who I originally requested the photograph from eventually got back to me;
“phew she said – here’s the photo you wanted, is it safe to come out from behind the sofa yet?”

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There are rhythms to these things, or perhaps more accurately, oscillations, and I am beginning to feel the build up to one of those as the date for the Rink Revival event fast approaches.

For the dancers, Amy and Kelly, that will be the culmination of their work on this project, and at this juncture I really should say that they have been as enthusiastic and motivating as I could possibly have hoped for. They aren’t trained ballroom dancers – their thing is more contemporary dance, but they have taken the task on with verve and, most importantly, have the ability to relate to both the 10 to 17 years olds as well as the 50 to 100 year olds. That’s no mean feat sometimes, and you need to have a thick skin when, like this week, you have a group of sixth formers visiting a sheltered accommodation complex to co-ordinate dance routines, and one lady with Alzheimer’s starts first of all questioning the size of your bust and your sexual appeal and then proceeds to try and kiss her favourite 16 year old boy. We all smiled nervously. I was impressed by the general level of understanding in the room from all parties.

An ex radio Cleveland presenter Stan Laundon has also been very helpful this week. He runs a really comprehensive website that is a goldmine of information about 60’s bands from the Hartlepool and Teesside area. I had contacted him about the source of some of the photos he has on his site and described my project. I’m not sure the nature of my approach is something he is fully in tune with, but he is just a generally sparky character who is very generous with his time and extensive contacts. He put me in touch with a number of people who he reckoned might be interested in talking to me about their time playing the Rink – and it culminated this week in me co-opting a bit of space in the Borough Hall to sit 4 of these gentlemen down in front of my camera and swap stories. Well 5 actually as it turned out because whilst I was in the building I met another guy who was actually a (mature) student on the local media production course who turned out to be a very knowledgeable member of the audience from those days… so he joined us as well.

Following on from that I met another three ex-band members at a house in Washington on Friday to continue a similar theme. All this is great material – and I am particularly pleased when people who say they “haven’t really got much to say” end up being the most contributory of the group. Once you get a good discussion going it’s best to just let the camera role. I am getting very good at nodding and smiling.. and then interjecting to steer a certain direction that interests me.

Talking to the band members is like eavesdropping on a private club. Similar for me was the new wave period in the late 70’s – when I was playing in a Newcastle band and knew all the movers and shakers of the local music scene. For them their period was the 50’s into the 60’s and it really does sound like they were an extended family. My disadvantage is that I don’t know who is who until I meet them and I’ve never been good at recalling names until I can put a face to someone. I look at the archive piccies before I meet them, but they are just images from another time. Once we’ve met though – looking at those same pictures has a totally different connection for me.

If you’ve been watching ‘Homeland’ on the tele – you’ll know Carrie – the slightly deranged bi-polar CIA operations officer who flipped in the last two episodes. In the penultimate programme she has a sort of ‘beautiful minds’ moment. She pins everything to the wall in the hope of seeing a pattern emerge that will decipher the web of information into a coherent story. Carrie…I totally understand.



“Meanwhile – out at sea off Blackhall Colliery there’s work to be done… Already this particular tower has proved supplies of coal which could extend the life of the Durham coal field by two hundred years.” So says the voice-over man from what I think was Pathe news.

I’m watching it in a film called Double Vision: Boxing for Hartlepool, made in 1986 by Amber films – the much respected social documentary film makers based in Newcastle.

It’s necessary to understand a little about the history of the surrounding pit villages of this part of the world if you are to get to grips with what made, and to some extent, still makes the place tick. The film may be a little too self conscious for my taste but it makes some telling points. In particular Ray Stubbs, playing the cynical journalist who is writing an article about George Bowes, local ex-collier and all round local boxing hero says:
“it’s like your town – might have been – could have been the greatest seaport in Europe – had everything going for it…When you’ve done everything to deserve success and it’s denied, it’s like the hope never dies of being champion. He’s holding onto it…keeping it alive.”

There is definitely a sense in Hartlepool of the underdog having something important to say. But they don’t shout it. They say it in a surprisingly quiet way. If you don’t know the place it seems to have no heart. It seems to be a bit here and a bit there. Even the geography means that the town is split into two – the headland (old Hartlepool) and across the water what was formerly called West Hartlepool is now the town itself.

I had contacted Amber Films to ask if they had any archive film footage of collieries along the coast – hence watching the film. I’m not sure on reflection what having some footage of a local colliery would do for me. It’s more about a general attitude that the place has evolved really I’m thinking… and that extends to the way the project is developing.

I am finding that connections come at me from directions that I hadn’t expected. There is no linear way through what I am collecting. I find myself going over this in the dark sometimes, laying in bed trying to make it all come together. I have to have some idea of structure… but there are many paths through these partial pieces of history (that was to some extent always my point anyway).. so I just need to decide which path I’m taking.

When I first started this piece I thought shipbuilding would have been quite central. As it turns out that is less so. It is definitely about people merging and meeting though. There is the ‘I met my wife or husband there’ element, but there is also the ‘they came from out of town’.. or ‘we weren’t allowed to go there because’…elements. There is also a certain amount of class consideration, though again not as much as I might have expected.

These days Hartlepool has what most towns have; a Morrisions, Asda, Boots. A Marks and Spencer, a Burger King etc. etc. but because of the odd backwater nature of the place it doesn’t quite seem to have been fully remodelled by this development. Even the relatively new marina doesn’t seem to get much of a mention in day to day conversation. The fractured nature of the place seems to have prevented its total absorption into the more common contemporary ‘city out of a box’ style and instead lives in a space between ‘now’ and ‘then’. I quite like that, even if it’s probably not what a politician would want to hear.

I was discussing these issues with a friend of mine. He was of the opinion that I should politicise my attitude to the place. I explained one of my planned shots. The camera moves high above where the Rink ballroom used to be and looks over the landscape across the town and towards the sea.
“I’m not sure you need to say any more than that” I said.



Wet and windy it may have been – enough to blow the brolly inside out a few times actually, but inside it was, in a Hot Club de Paris kind of way… rather hot.

Not that we were in the most obviously romantic city in the world, but then sometimes looks can be deceptive.

From outside the Park Inn on Park road in Hartlepool looks nothing special – but inside it was packed with folks already seated by 12.15 for the 1pm kick-off of Musicians Unlimited. This mixture of musicians re-create the Bigband sounds from the Rink period, and of course some of them (the average age of the band is on the mature side – tho quite a mixture of ages) remember the Rink Ballroom very well. They play a bag of songs that span Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, Woody Herman and Count Basie, through to Glen Miller and the crooner himself, Frank Sinatra.

I am once again struck by the generosity of people once you get to actually engage with them. As I mentioned in my last posting, I had tried every which way to get in touch with the bandleader Mick Donnelly and nothing had appeared in my in-box. Later I broach the subject of communication with Gavin – one of the musical arrangers for the band “Oh god no” he says deadpan – “he never replies to anything from anyone”.

Ah well I don’t feel left out then. Mick is a busy guy though, being a pro musician, and does this for love so I’ll let him off.

We were always going to go anyway. To be honest we could have done a speculative round trip from Newcastle, but it was my birthday and I really wanted to both film the gig and have a good time doing it. I also feel that, in this sort of scenario it’s not like I’m going in all ‘high brow film producer’ style. I prefer to try and mix in as much as possible (well as much as you can with a camera on your shoulder and a hairy microphone that Mick referred to as a rat).

I had booked the Grand Hotel so a few ‘social beverages’ could be consumed without having to drive. Obviously my excuse is that this facilitates the process of creative ‘tuning in’ rather than formal observation. A sociologist might not approve – but I’m an artist so I make the rules.

Being in a room full of people you just know come here every week to see this band play, is like being at a family event. In fact it was a couple’s 50th wedding anniversary so there was free food on all the tables. When eventually I got to speak to Mick it was a quick – “oh yes I got your mails – no problem – I’ll ask the band when they’re all assembled but I’m sure it will be fine”. I felt better then… dash to the car, get the gear out without trying to look too conspicuous.

This is a pub – so there are a lot of musicians packed onto a rise area (you couldn’t call it a stage) and it’s not the best location for getting uninterrupted footage of the band, but i didn’t want to be toooo in their faces. Anyway, after the opening tune had kicked in Mick came over to where I was with the tripod, leant over and said “it’s ok if you want to get in with the band you know – they’re all ok with it – just kick me out of the way if you want!”. Now that was actually very generous being that he’s the conductor – it was a thumbs up to get close and personal – and in that venue it was virtually a case of sitting on the sax players knee.

Afterwards we chatted to a couple of lovely guys who had loads of memories of the Rink time. There was never a hint of drifting tumble weed – we just felt included even though we were the obvious out of towners. The beer helps of course.