…sorry Beyoncé it just popped into my head and I had the urge to bastardise the lyric.

With brolly and hope, I was filming John and Roland from the Hartbeats on a wet Friday morning, standing in front of where the Rink ballroom used to be.

Gradually we were moving further and further down the road (literally and metaphorically as it turned out) because the patch of grass, weeds and daisies most people assumed was the site of the Rink was, historically speaking, slightly askew. It’s interesting in that even such a simple fact; a ‘fact’ that was taken for granted by most I have met (the majority of whom went to the Rink many times) turns out to need tweaking.

Hence to the left, to the left.

We were in the process of mentally moving the building from the nice neat space I thought it inhabited, to slightly further down the road towards the football ground. Not a massive move admittedly, but one that intrigues me. One of the thrusts of my piece is how stories are told and re-told, and in the process get re-invented. I have always been aware that this piece is a re-invention on my part anyway…so to have to conceptually shift the literal space that is my theme is an interesting example of myth making at work.

I had had nagging doubts from the first time I visited the site. Wandering around the grassland it just didn’t seem as wide as I first imagined it should be. But I convinced myself it was just an illusion, that if the area was instead no longer open space but occupied by a building, then once inside that space I would realise it’s actual largess. So I thought myself out of the doubt.

Some time later I received a letter which referred to the Rink now being occupied by the football ground ticket office.’ Yes I know what Nancy means’ I thought ‘but I think she’s just got her bearing’s slightly off’. Turns out she is almost certainly right.

Standing with John and Roland they recount having a friend who lived in one of the houses that still overlook the grass – she was able to watch the crowds form on dance nights and he is sure there was open space where people would mill around… and yes Roland vividly remembers where the fire exit was… Being onstage, he was well placed to see the bouncers as they unceremoniously hurled certain unruly unwanteds head first out of the fire exit onto the grass… so there had to be open space where I had imagined the building stood. And yes the football ground wouldn’t have had a car park or a ticket office there, so said space must have been what the ballroom inhabited.

A simple shift but one which acts as a great big reminder that even the most basic facts are often not facts at all.

I am interested to take the guys around town. We stand by the junction where Roland’s house used to be. It’s all very anonymous now, featureless office buildings and scrub land. Around here were rows and rows of terraces; it used to be buzzing I’m told… all the way down to Lynne street where the tailor’s shop stood. Four red suits made to measure.

When you pace the streets you do have to wonder at the ineptitude of the developers. I am not one for standing still. Change is ok by me and nostalgia by definition a romantic rehash of reality, but what happened here appears to have ripped out the heart of the ‘pool and replaced it with a poor substitute for progress. It’s no longer even modern, just unimaginative.

Here the suits were born. Bright red in a grey world.

Apparently the first night the guys wore those suits the crowd rushed forward towards the stage in a mass;

“It was really quite scary” says Roland, but also, grinning (an electrical engineering apprentice in white winkle pickers, guitar hitched high, facing up the hysterical mosh)

“It doesn’t get any better than that” he said.



Where do you stand in the great copyright debate, when one man’s stealing is another man’s artistic soup?

It’s an issue oft mentioned in the music industry. I did used to think, like a lot of people I expect, that if you used a tiny snatch.. let’s say 2 seconds of a track as a sample for example, that it was ok if it was integrated into another, larger work. Wrong of course is the answer to that.

I often find myself in the middle of this in the Rink project. Some of what I am wanting to reference is, by its very nature, material either recorded or photographed way back when, and it can be quite tricky establishing ownership. It has been particularly pertinent this week.

Occasionally I Google for film relating to Hartlepool, and found some really quite evocative 8mm film footage from the Gowland family, shot from the 40’s through to the 60’s. It’s the usual thing… holidays, swimming, picnics, train spotting etc. but here and there the YouTube clips echoed with what I had shot myself; in particular short sequences of girls dancing in a park with post war collective innocence. Having filmed my group of dancers outside on the grass at the Rink a month or so ago – it reverberated through time in a magical way.

I asked the person who posted these how I could get permission to use short clips in my piece. Not getting a reply, I trawled other sites – and came across a reference to the same footage in the Northern Regional Film and Television Archive (NRFTA). I opened a dialogue with them about using the films, along with some other more obvious flicks they have showing the town and local industries. Result; now negotiating rights and licenses in a way I hadn’t initially considered when just looking to ‘see what was out there’.

Now this is not a criticism of NRFTA who I totally understand have guidelines to adhere to and wages to pay, but what it has highlighted to me is the grey area that ‘art’ occupies in terms of where reference can be drawn from and how source material can be completely different in a different context. The more usual model seems to be that people hire films to view for a weekend or a term perhaps or to put into a television prog. that will be broadcast on a particular date. Typically licenses seem to be granted for a certain length of time.. 1 year..5 years maybe even 10 years. The assumption seems to be that the clip will have a particular, time delineated purpose, after which it will no longer be required.

Well that may well be the case with my work – perhaps it will be shown once and never seen again! I sincerely hope not though. But when will it next be seen? 1 year 5 years 20 years later? I see my work in the same way as a painter would. If I stick a picture of a hat from a magazine onto my canvas, splash some paint over it and continue working that canvas until I’m happy with the painting – what then if I had to license the picture of that hat for say 10 years? After 10 years do I then peel it off the canvas and thus render the picture incomplete? It’s an odd dilemma.

Andy Warhol could have had the same problem with the Campbell’s soup cans. He didn’t seek permission to paint the brand. As it turned out the company apparently saw it as good publicity, though after his death the Warhol foundation and Campbell Soup Company formed an official legal agreement on licensing.

Damien Hirst on the other hand agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to head off legal action from the designers of the original educational toy that Hirst had admitted was the basis of his 20 foot bronze sculpture ‘Hymn’. It was as near a copy as you could get and yet, some would argue, transformative in a way that made it a unique piece.

A one million purchase from Mr Saatchi no doubt oiled the wheels.


It’s holiday season

so some of the things I wanted to do this week just didn’t get done due to people being away… well I’m hoping they’re away otherwise they’re just ignoring me ha ha.

This should be a good opportunity; I have a backlog of tasks that really should be addressed but which I find ways of de-prioritising. I should be writing to galleries, and to be fair to myself I have started, but I need a bit of momentum and, because I know the chance of a reply any time within the next few months is slim, I have tended to relegate the task to the ‘later’ pile. This is stupid of course as knowing something has a long lead time should really make me speed up sending the proposal in order to get it back sooner, but it doesn’t seem to work that way. I’m sure there is an interesting psychological phenomenon at work here.

I’d be interested to know how other people approach this task, but personally I have decided to be very selective with who I contact. I did that with my last show, only sending one proposal to Durham gallery, knowing they incorporate a military museum in the same premises. As the piece I wanted to show had military overtones it was appropriate to the space. That approach obviously worked as, at our first meeting, the curator actually said he found it more appealing receiving proposals from artists who fit the ethos of the building, and wished there were more like that.

Thus my plan is to approach galleries that I feel have a link in some way to the essence of the Rink Project. I guess a case could be made that the project relates to issues inherent to many communities, and that is no doubt true, but I am wanting to be more prescriptive.

I really need to show somewhere in Leeds, as my father spent most of his life there after leaving Hartlepool and it therefore became the place I was brought up. That would be of no consequence normally, however this piece has a ‘back story’ element which involves him in an obvious way (he will be filmed making the journey back to Hartlepool from Leeds as part of the project) and me; less obvious, but interwoven throughout.

My role, as the instigator of the piece, is the unseen hand, threading the stories I’m given and deciding how to re-present them. In a way of course the whole story is mine. It’s me selecting a subject to examine, based on a vague impression I gleaned as a child. We never made trips to Hartlepool and yet I knew one side of my family came from there. Living in Leeds was my roots, my normality; our little house in Horsforth. Hartlepool was my Narnia.

Except I was never inclined to go into the wardrobe until now…

…and now I have all these things I want to bring back.

When I was a teen I worked in a newsagents that opened out onto the main drag, the Headrow, opposite Leeds City Art Gallery. In my lunch break I would often pop over the road to have a look at the exhibitions. Preparing as I was to go to art college, that gallery was my main regular contact with high art. It’s the obvious place to display my treasure. It would close a circle, and this piece is characterised by the many circles that overlap, concentric and eccentric, making shapes I could never have anticipated.

Don’t expect a reply for 6 months says the form… I can wait.

There are other places too that I think might connect with the ‘otherness’ of Hartlepool. Glasgow would be one of them, perhaps even Liverpool. My experience of Wales is limited but I’m thinking the Welsh would understand. The east end of London too. I’m thinking shipbuilding, docks, a sense of identity and pride in a community that might have taken a few knocks. I’m thinking Hull because of its geographical position out on a limb.

One or all of them would be good. Fingers crossed. It’s the only lottery I play.



…that was how Nancy O’Connor ended her first letter to me. In fact her writing is all in block capitals and on ruled paper, so it was very easy to read.

She had heard about my project from a gentlemen I chatted to the other day (Mr B ; he of the healing hands). He gave me her three pager, packed with info and memories including a poem she wrote thirteen years ago about the Rink and how she met her husband there. In it she describes how her prospective asked her to dance even though he couldn’t, so they just shuffled around the perimeter.

“I will take lessons he said to me
don’t you worry just wait and see”

When she wrote the poem her husband was still alive. After a few more lines it concludes

“We’ve been together through laughter and tears
but he still can’t dance after forty six years!”

How many dance halls have inspired poetry I wonder. They are certainly vessels of memory. Even though the building no longer exists physically it seems to have persisted as a collective ideal of what the community used to represent, and what many it seems still wish it did.

Nancy knows exactly where she was when she heard of the death of local band leader Benny Nelson; she was outside her second haunt – the Lex cinema. She was shocked.

She has other details that add depth to a picture I have gleaned from others. Her and her friends didn’t want to carry purses around in the ballroom so they rolled up their cloakroom tickets, flattened them out and pushed them under their signet rings. Sorted.

I’ve seen a couple of uninspiring photo’s of the outside of the Rink and she backs that up…it looked like the exterior of a garage or an aircraft hanger she says;

“any stranger passing – they could have had no idea of the tremendous pleasure the inside held for all that went there”

I haven’t met Nancy but she sounds like she was a bit of a girl in her day. She tells me she was the first lady to go to the Rink in a polo neck sweater. Apparently it caused a real stir. Every now and again girls would stop her and ask where she bought it…and how much it cost. Within a few weeks there were others dotted about the crowd. Nancy was a fashion pioneer, and she must have known that her polo neck sweater was a symptom of the change taking place which would very soon usurp the dominance of the big bands that she so loved. The rebels in polo necks and ‘sloppy joe’ tee shirts had more in common with beat culture, the rise of skiffle and the arrival of Bob Dylan et al. The times they were certainly a’changin.

I wrote back to Nancy thanking her for her lovely letter and asked if she would like to chat to me in front of the camera one day. She wrote back by return. Twelve years ago she would have jumped at my offer she says, but it seems she is a less inclined these days. She does however give me lots more info about the Rink days and offers to lend me a photo she has of the outside plus, loan me an LP of Eric Delaney who she saw there many years ago. I of course accept her offer, though I am faced with the problem of copyright. Like so much of this material, it’s not always easy to find the publisher after such a length of time. The law has recently changed so it remains with the performer for 70 years, which means that although some of the recordings I have are quite old they often don’t fall beyond that time frame, presenting me with a bit of a dilemma.

Nancy tells me her memories are pretty much all that keep her going these days. To me that sounds a little sad – but I get the impression from her sparky prose that it’s a happy place, so I guess it makes sense to stay there.