Missed my self-imposed update deadline yesterday as the weekend seemed to get somewhat eaten up by all things musical.

In my search for a musical arranger for the Rink song, I trawled a few friends and acquaintances and have come up with someone who specialises in vocal arrangements from the 30’s and 40’s. He hasn’t actually attempted a bigband arrangement before but we figure it’s got to be in a similar ballpark so we’re gonna give it a go. Having said that , my preliminary sound sketch of the song left a lot of unknowns, so I felt duty bound to have a stab at laying the counter melody lines down myself first to give my willing volunteer something more substantial to go on. That has meant dusting off my keyboard skills and simulating a host of instruments which I’m hoping real musicians will play somewhat better on the final recording. The brass sounds on my old Yamaha sound kind of cheesy, but all in all it does at least give a better idea now of how the complete song should sound so I’m hoping it was worthwhile.

Last week, to sort of round this aspect off, I was checking out record players on ebay. I’m quite taken with the idea of getting a little sixties portable one and having two of my 6th formers carry it around town – open it up and then play the record that we will, by that point, have made. I’m thinking that having them sing the song as a duet will be conceptually joined up – and in the finished piece I can inset them singing inside a circle that’s positioned above the record player. There are a few other objects like this that will be filmed for one screen of the installation. I like the idea of informing the future by making something that is seemingly of the past.

The Manfreds fit into the above category. If you’re too young to remember them just YouTube Manfred Mann. I have mentioned them before – but (tada!) my latest update is…I can now announce that perseverance does sometimes pay off. I have the management thumbs up to hang out with the guys before their gig at the Sage in Newcastle and video our chat for the project. They represent one aspect of what the Rink became; a venue for passing stars on their way to sixties fame. It must have been interesting times. You had the likes of Manfred Mann singing 5,4,3,2,1 – already the theme tune for Ready! Steady! Go! – breezing through the town and making the girls scream…whilst the next night the same crowd might well be trotting round the floor in a more sedate style. For a while the two worlds co-existed rather than collided. For me it will be a strange experience to interview them as I remember watching them on our two channel black and white tele when I was but a wee snip.

And then there is the Canadian connection. I managed to set up an interview on Skype the other day with June and Charles who now live near Lake Ontario. Charles was stationed at Catterick and used to bus it or hitch a lift to the Rink dances. They married then emigrated in 1959 and don’t regret leaving but still have fond memories of the place. When they have occasionally returned, they are not impressed by the way Hartlepool had its character ripped out in the name of development. I ask them about the atmosphere of the place they remember, a town that was buzzing with industry. As we talk something crops up that I hadn’t thought about before; the smell of the place. A mixture of steel works, gas works and breweries; a unique perfume of industry.

Now Hartlepool has a shopping centre and a marina – but most of the marina shops are closed.

The Skype picture was a bit fuzzy, and their voices intermittently took on a ghostly transatlantic cyber tone – but it sort of added to the charm and spookily looks like archive footage, which is an interesting twist. Thanks folks.


Take a line for a walk…
…see where it leads you.

Mr Beckenkrager tells me his name is Prussian. We are in his conservatory in Seaton Carew; a seaside passing though point just south of Hartlepool. He is 80 now and spent his early life in the navy – but he is keen to tell me about the Rink and the moment he met his wife to be.

She had gone with her cousin, who was supposed to be escorting her home, but John (Mr B) had spotted her and worked his charm. The other guys were getting nowhere with her as she didn’t know that particular dance, however John was savvy and told her it was just like a waltz and he would steer her round the dance floor. When he kissed her on the cheek after walking her home that night he shouted back to her; “I’m going to marry you!”

Yes it sounds a tad like a scene from a romantic movie…and a modern script would call for twists and turns in the relationship, but for John and Pat it seems it was written in the stars. This year would have been their diamond wedding anniversary but she didn’t quite make it.
“Without wanting to pry too much” I say ” it must be quite a change for you now”
” it is, yes” he responds.
I can see he is going a little misty, and I really am not in the business of letting the camera run and exploiting that, so I shift the subject a little;
“you said you were thinking of maybe taking up dancing again?”
“yes, I just have to be careful with my knees, but I would really like to try that”
He shows me photos. “She looks a little stern in that one John” I say
“Oh you wouldn’t want to cross Pat when she was in a mood” he laughs.

It’s a shame that the dance sessions I was filming earlier in the year in the retirement homes aren’t still taking place so he could join in, but we get onto the subject of how things have changed. I ask him if he would have done anything different in his life, but all in all he seems pretty contented with his lot.

His lot has included being a naval man on Christmas Island at the time that Britain was testing the H bomb. There he is smiling in his all white ‘anti-flash’ suit.
“Weren’t you concerned about radiation?” I ask
“No we were ok as the wind was blowing away from us. There was a Soviet cruiser downwind though and we were radioing them to get out of the area”…

He has a picture of the mushroom cloud in all its disastrous beauty.

He left the navy to bring up a family and didn’t go back to the Rink now the pop era had arrived. They were family focused, and played cards a lot. For them the Rink had a certain time and place in their lives and he only recalls it being derelict when he returned to Hartlepool, although it was in fact still a thriving venue by all accounts. It has a particular place in his life; forever fixed.

But John has another side to him. He heals people. He sees dead people. He can ‘remote’ and sometimes receives instructions to lead souls towards the light if they are lost.

His particular dance with death is one in which he partners souls. He feels Pat enter inside him when he heals people and has glowing testimonials from people who have been helped by his healing hands. He believes we are reborn and he is guided by the spirits of North American Indians.

Ever one to be looking for clues to this cosmic puzzle, I quiz him a little more. If he has taken people to the very door of the afterlife, what does it look like? what is the purpose of life and where did the universe come from?

John has a mild smile on his face;

“the flowers are very bright on the other side” he says

but I’m not sure he knows.

Perhaps I am asking the wrong questions.



(continued from previous post)

6. My father has to have a pacemaker fitted so will need a little time to recover before I film him taking the journey back to Hartlepool. Looks like it will be the end of the summer now.

7. Still have to film the Hartbeat boys wandering around their haunts of yesteryear. I particularly want to see where they bought their first (red) suits.

8. A very important aspect of the project is that it doesn’t just look back but forward too. For me this has always been a piece about the nature of time. Early on when I was visiting the care home residents every week, I was struck by a lady who sang all her vocal interactions. Next term I shall re-visit Brinkburn College and get some of the talented students there to sing various spoken phrases for me, so I can weave them into my soundtrack. I also want to get a little flavour of the students hopes and dreams for the future. In fact some of them are the product of Rink romances and have interwoven family connections to the ballroom.

9. Did I say? – I am commissioning a lady in America to make a doll for me. More of that later, as I want to clear it with the subject first!

10. I want to film inside one of the still standing cinemas. Many have now gone but I am particularly interested in getting into the now closed Odeon and scaring away the pigeons. I have a contact number so who knows… also one that is still open but is now, predictably, a bingo hall.

11. There is bound to be an 11 by the time I get to 10

.. and I have a definite date for my premier show in Hartlepool.

7th July to 1st September.

Seems a long way off – but I have soo much to do yet so it feels right. I do need to sort out some other gallery venues too and they programme a long way in advance of course… and I really don’t know what the response will be – but then I’m sure any of you reading this are familiar with that particular chestnut.

Even though the list still seems quite long, I am now able to start thinking more about the shape of the piece. I always had an idea of how it goes together, but if you set off in a direction not knowing what is down the road you can’t really plan that comprehensively. I carry with me what I refer to as my ‘dysfunctional tool kit’ which I adapt to the situation (one definition of the toolkit would be ‘a mindset set to expect the unexpected’).

Occasionally I have’ insight moments’ which, without wanting to sound pretentious, are just moments where the things you kind of already knew seem to focus into a clearer picture. I am not alone in this I’m sure. Anyhow I had one of these the other day. For what it’s worth it goes like this:

So there I am making a piece that I have set in my head, but circumstances and actualities have effected what I initially envisaged. That being so, I have ‘acquired’ lots of material that is within the general scope of what I’m trying to make. I can now look at that material as if it were a library given to me by someone else. I can sift through it with new eyes and make it into a cohesive whole. Like chasing paint around a canvas until it balances perhaps.

Not sure I’ve made it very clear but to me it makes a lot of sense and allows me the freedom to work in a very flexible way. Sort of like giving yourself permission to use your own work…or; in another way:

Here I am, 20 years on, having found a box of film in the attic and looking through with ‘first time’ eyes. How I now assemble it is not coloured by the history of that material’s acquisition, but by my own personal agenda brought from a different time and space.



I’m at a stage now where the list has to be made. I sometimes joke to people that this project could become my life’s work. The temptation is to follow up every lead and see how it fits into the overall. To some extent that state of affairs is still the case, however I do have to be realistic in the sense that I have soooo many hours of material now and need to start to making some shape out of it all.

Hence the list… an attempt to collate the’ things that must be done’.

1. Mr Bekenkragor called me this week – he is full of memories and interesting perspectives. It just so happens that he is also a spiritualist and has testimonials to his name from people who have been ‘cured’ by his healing hands. You may or may not be sceptical, but it certainly adds a new dimension, as he also apparently picks up on voices from the beyond. I shall test him on that one when we meet ; perhaps I can do an interview with Benny Nelson or Joe Loss from the ether. Now that would be something… I have arranged to interview him in Seaton Carew; just a few miles down the coast from Hartlepool.

1b. He rang me again this afternoon. His wife’s cousin Nancy has written me a letter which she has given him to pass on to me. He read it to me over the phone; it’s quite long and full of detail. She hopes that some of it might be of interest to me. She says that these days she mostly looks back and remembers her happy times. You can’t fail to be humbled by people making such an effort. She writes poetry too and has written a poem about the Rink. I ask if I can use it and he says “yes of course, she sent if for you”. She also lived next door to the singer Marion Keene, who I have written about previously here. It’s as if everyone was part of some pre-ordained Queen’s ballroom cast. She says she can remember the day local band leader Benny Nelson died. She was outside of the Lex cinema . For her it sounded like a ‘where were you when they shot Kennedy?’ moment.

2. I have been swapping emails with a lady in Canada. Her parents, also in Canada, met at the Rink. Her father was stationed at Catterick army camp and he was one of quite a few army lads who made the weekly round trip when they could. His perspective will be unique as I haven’t found anyone from the camp who went there up until now. At first I am under the false impression that she lives in Hartlepool, so ask if I can interview her. Once we clear up the confusion we decide to use Skype. I’m quite liking that idea actually as they represent a significant number of ex-pats who still, for whatever reason, keep tabs on local Hartlepool events even though they left so many years ago.

3.There is a reunion of local guitar heroes ‘the Kavemen’ planned this year. Their most famous member is a massively respected blues guitarist called Ray Minhinnett who was also nominated for a Grammy for his seminal programme on the fender stratocaster. I will talk to him and also film the band when that happens.

4. I am currently planning a strategy for interviewing a well known singer from the sixties, whose name I shouldn’t mention yet. I have his image as a far depth of field phantom in a BW photo taken inside the Rink. Chasing down this photographic phantom in a similar fashion to David Hemmings in the 1966 Antonioni film ‘Blow-Up’ seems like an entirely appropriate thing to do.

5. I’m getting no joy from my errant musical arranger, so need to find another worthy soul who is willing to write the BigBand arrangement for my original song. Once recorded I would love it to become a charity download, something that might leave a tiny legacy from the project.

more of the list next post…



One of the themes that crop up in this piece is whether things change for better or worse, or whether we tend to think of our own time as always having been the ‘best’.

When I ask people about their memories of the Rink days they invariably say they were “the best days of my life” or something similar. You might think that is due to collective, selective memory and that we all tend to view our past with a rosy glow.

My job isn’t necessarily to take a position on that, but I think my job is to make a work that may suggest interpretations, whilst also allowing the viewer a way in to bring their own experiences and take their own position.

There are many elements to this. For instance people talk about the thrill of dancing on the quite unique sprung dance floor. A gentleman left a message on my voice mail last week – he described how the floor would ‘ripple’ when people did the Palais Glide. It was obviously a very fond memory not now possible to replicate. Other people describe the thrill of dancing with your partner. For them there is nothing to compare, and although they might still go to such dances now… it was somehow different then.

But my piece is centred around a building, and a building of that age invariably changes with the times it finds itself in. People bemoan that it was knocked down;

“it was such a waste they” say;

“it could have been kept open and then this generation could experience what we had… there’s nothing to compare now “

Something similar was said by Kayleigh’s nana.

Kayleigh is one of the dancers on this project and is looking to pursue dance as her full time career. Her nana is her biggest fan. She was there all afternoon last week (see previous post), stood in the tall grass, watching admiringly from the perimeter as we filmed her granddaughter dancing on the site that she herself had danced around as a young woman when it was a ballroom. I interviewed them together on camera and it was quite touching to see the connection between generations being made via the project. Kayleigh had used her nana’s recollections to inform the way she danced. She also said that having been part of the project had convinced her to go out and learn ballroom dancing as she felt there was nothing to compare in these contemporary, singular times.

I find that point of view interesting and yet strangely at odds with the sentiments expressed by people who went to the Rink later in the sixties. To many of them the previous Bigband days represented a link to older, more repressive values, and the fresh air blown in with pop culture arrived none too soon for many of them. Those days of pop idols and screaming signalled the death of partnered dancing and heralded the arrival of the ‘me’ generation.

You can see the life and death of a ballroom as a metaphor for the way society has changed in general. I’m not sure that if the Rink was still standing, it would have been much used for partnered dancing now. It’s far more likely it would be a nightclub or a sports centre.

We now live in an age of plurality and allow ourselves to dip in and out of differing historical genres. Cultures tend to co-exist rather than any one being predominant (in the west at least). So maybe where one social phenomenon replaced another, often in a fairly destructive way, with the passing of time perhaps Kayleigh can benefit from a wider choice and take the best from history.

That, to me, doesn’t seem like a bad model to adopt… but then maybe for me, plurality is my own historical ‘best of time’.

It’s interesting to ponder what Kayleigh’s view will be in 65 years from now.