As I’m considering the pros and cons of what it is to ‘construct’ history, so looking at how it’s been considered by others is both interesting and a little distracting. I’m not sure if I really need to know about the history of Hartlepool going back to pre Roman times but a document has come to light via a facebook group, itself via the Google archive mapping project… via Princeton University… that both made me smile and made me feel for a kindred soul from the past.

The hero of this particular publication is the publisher himself John Procter. On undertaking a re-print of an original work by Sir Cuthbert Sharp from 1816 he decided to update it in 1851, being that;

‘Hartlepool had changed its character since the former issue of said publication. An era of commercial activity and maritime importance now strikingly contrasts with its condition then of Tyre-like decay’

Some might say Tyre-like decay is what we have now (not quite sure what it means but I’m sure it’s none too positive), but it does serve as a reminder of the ebbs and flows of fortune. On reading his intro a little further I am taken by his humility. I’m thinking I might print it at the gallery entrance to my piece. The modern me is probably not as humble as he – no doubt it was more usual to present oneself deferentially in those days, but he really gets you on board. Speaking of his supplement to the original text and describing himself in the third person;

‘he has laboured under many disadvantages – the principal being that of his inexperience. Consequently he fears that many imperfections will appear therein – for which he has to ask the reader’s indulgence. But should he be found entitled to any credit, he would anticipate it with the confession that he is chiefly indebted for it to others – those gentlemen to whom he would now devote the most grateful of his tasks – that of sincerely thanking them, one and all, for their assistance to him, both as to matter and illustration.’

As I am also an unqualified historical researcher it made me think of what it is to be an artist. The nature of this self defined role is both unique and scarily haphazard. It’s not so much an issue when you deal with personal, non objective, material. Anyone can make a piece of ‘art’ and, hey, the rest of us either get something out of it or we don’t. But when you’re dealing with something that has a more communal legacy there are other considerations. People give over something of themselves into your safe keeping.

I’ve talked about this before, and in the end I suppose you just have to be true to yourself first and foremost and hope the work has integrity. I guess that’s why I’m considering a certain amount of narrative re-construction (some might call it fabrication), in order to make this very point. Maybe it’s not something to worry too much about though because I’m sure I will know if it feels right once I’ve put it all together.

Hartlepool is only a small place but it’s very odd. The more I find out the more complicated it seems to get. My little ‘dancehall on some grass next to the football ground’ has invisible threads that connect into the fabric of the place. It’s any place I guess; look closely enough and you see more detail.

Funny, before I started this project I had begun working with animated fractals, mainly because they intrigued me on the level of being a visual example of never ending detail and complexity. It seems you can keep going inward forever. Look out into the sky and the universe similarly goes on forever… well apparently not.. there was a BIG BANG… but now that theory is being de-bunked and we have potentially billions of other universes out there… so potentially there is no end. No end to the end.

Ha well.. I have a show in July so this particular universe will come to rest all too soon.



Spoke to my mother the other day. It turns out a photo exists of me tugging at my sisters hair in Seaton Carew. A bizarre detail perhaps, in itself of little obvious interest, but please bear with me.

I was brought up in Leeds and moved to Newcastle when I was 19, where I have lived ever since, give or take the occasional residency elsewhere. At no time, before or after, can I recall visiting Seaton Carew, or Hartlepool, until I began the Rink project this year; but apparently I did.

In the photo I am two years old, wriggling in my father’s arms as he turns to the camera for our sea front snap. I am sneakily leaning down toward my older sister, attempting to pull her curly hair as she poses below.

I haven’t seen that photo for some years and don’t now live near my parents, so this revelation took place via BT whilst I filtered my memory banks for recall. That’s one advantage of those days… people didn’t take many photos, so the photos that exist of my upbringing can be counted on the fingers of two hands. Consequently I can clearly envisage said pic even though it resides 125 miles away and out of vision.

So what’s my point? Well – what intrigues me is that now, armed with the info above, I see that quaint, candid photo in a whole different light. It has acquired a re-interpreted significance…

..Which just happens to be a central theme in this project.

It’s like a gift given to myself by my other self.

I had begun considering how to weave a ‘me’ into the narrative and there it is… I was always in there. You can’t get more Hartlepool street cred than pulling your own sister’s hair on Seaton Carew sea front at the age of two surely!

My god, if only I had had that photo in my possession when the mighty hordes were baying for my facebook excommunication a few months back (see my aptly numbered #13, May posting FACEBOOK FIASCO). This photo is my passport to H’pool cultural identity. It proves I BELONG.

Well ok maybe not, back off with the trumpets for now, but it’s a start. Importantly though it’s a great introduction for ‘myself’ as a character. Once I get this photo scanned it may well form a significant motif in the piece. It’s not that I particularly want the ‘real’ me in there.. but I do need a sort of composite thread to hold things together and I’m thinking I’m the obvious candidate. One’s work always concerns the ‘author’ in some way, so it’s at least an honest approach to invent a ‘SELF’.

I could go so far as to suggest that my artistic life has been based upon the concept of trying to ‘escape the grasp of authority in order to stir things up a bit’. Thus the hair pulling photo can be seen as a visual metaphor for my role as the auteur . Being sensitive to the authority of history is one thing, but tugging a few strands of tantalising unruly historical hair might have merit too.

Material I have shot thus far is sooo full of lovely memories and rosy recall, but it really wasn’t all ice cream and holidays back THEN. Conversely – Hartlepool is not what it once was. Considering the PRESENT you have to say it compares unfavourably with the PAST. I don’t think I have found anyone who would disagree with that.

Nancy was once asked by some eager tourists;

“what is there to see in Hartlepool?”

“Just get back on the coach and drive on” she retorted.

They were on a ‘magical mystery tour’ from Liverpool – pre the invention of ‘magical realism’.

Now that isn’t necessarily my opinion – I actually see a lot of positives in the place, but no-one can deny it could do with a large dose of TLC anytime soon… and the (relatively) new MARINA CULTURE isn’t really much of a solution.

Let’s put it this way – I have yet to meet a person who owns a boat moored there.

sketch #1 audio credit: setuniman



Given that a few arrangements fell through this week, I still seem to have been pretty busy. I have been, shaping my strategy… Ha! That sounds like a crass corporate slogan.

The task in hand is really for me to get a handle on how to put together this increasing treasure trove of material.

I have begun by defining what it must NOT be; confirming to myself that it mustn’t look like some worthy presentation of local history. Instead, I want to develop a vehicle that somehow denies the hierarchy of linear time. Although it uses the Rink Ballroom as a starting point, it isn’t just about the building, and it’s not just about THE people involved.. it’s about ‘people’ in general – and what it is to be a person – all considered through a very discriminating lens (mine).

“Big canvas” you may well say.. and I would agree. It will get more specific.

Over the period of the project I have defined what I’m trying to do in many different ways for various people. As we all do, I explain the work differently depending upon what I perceive the listeners potential level of understanding, or sympathy with my cause, might be. But of course it’s all just musings on the head of a pin ultimately.. if I could write it down then there would be no need to make the installation at all.

So I found myself yesterday experimenting with a little video projector – projecting some of my footage onto cylinders I made out of paper; re-videoing the result and then laying that footage back over the top of the original footage. What I’m after is a way of saying, visually, that we are watching an illusion of linear time. Like most things, less is often more. My distorted projection ‘echoes’ are interesting but to be handled with caution. I’m not after a surrealistic chaotic soup, just gentle interventions.

Whilst it’s exciting to jump into the more expressive elements, I am also aware that I have a great wodge of material that needs to be logged and then cherry picked. This is no small task, and I can’t give shape to anything without that is done first, so I am officially starting that process NOW.

In my mind, what will make this into a work of ART (as distinct from a multimedia documentary) is that I am allowing myself to decide what constitutes ‘truth’ by more than simply re-ordering it. I was thinking about how to weave myself or others into the plot… or maybe to make a composite ‘everyman’ who could represent ideas I want to explore; ideas that aren’t necessarily obvious in what people have said directly to me.

In fact the manipulation of fact is no stranger to many of the musicians I have come across. Some have changed their names more than once; their stage names becoming their real names eventually. I like that; it allows me to re-invent some of my material. Fabrication in pursuit of truthfulness. Fabrication as a enabler of integrity.

Back on planet earth, a couple of cancelled meetings mean I’m a bit behind and the week has been taken up with various practicals. One of these more enjoyable tasks was picking a number of images that might represent the project. You could loosely describe them as ‘publicity’. With the first show still 8 months away it might seem a long way off but the PR machine needs feeding. Deciding on any one image is an interesting dilemma given the scope of this piece. I have decided on the one posted here. It’s an informal, almost throwaway shot that I didn’t even have in my initial go-to pile but, on re-trawling, it just seemed right. Suitably of ‘the moment’.

Signing the exhibition contract also made me focus on what the final name would be, as ‘Light Fantastic’ was always just a working title. ‘Send three and fourpence’ seems to be in the spirit of the piece… being that it deals with the idea of a message re-interpreted by repetition…

Google it if you’re not familiar with the reference :)



Maybe not the first thing I would have thought might come out of the Rink project but it’s an idea I fleetingly mentioned way back, which is now about to happen. I am having a doll made.

First time for everything… and in the spirit of nurturing my feminine side who can say I shouldn’t? When I was a boy they came up with the idea of Action Man – tough, camouflage clothing on a body that owed a lot to Barbie, just swapping boobs for pectorals. Didn’t do it for me as I was an Airfix Army boy myself, preferring to arrange a rematch of the 8th Army versus the Afrika Corp or some similar ‘true to life’ conflict.

The doll will be a scale model of Marion Keene – the glamorous singer who first sang with the resident band at the Rink when she was 14 and very quickly became a face on television after being signed by Oscar Rabin. I have written before about Marion, and still chat to her on the phone now and again. She calls a spade a spade and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Somehow I have slipped under this radar and she says she enjoys talking to me, so I have felt able to take the liberty of making her into an icon in a quite literal way.

Marion lives on the south coast now, and I had thought I might go and film her one day, but as the months slipped by it began to feel more appropriate to represent her in a way that was more remote. A Marion doll, resplendent in shimmering fish tail dress, is the essence of what she is to me. Marion laughs at the idea but I think she secretly rather likes it.

Having trawled the internet, it was surprisingly difficult to find someone who makes dolls like this. I settled on a lady in the States who specialises in personalised dolls with accurate features. It might be a bit spooky – I won’t be sure until I see the finished article, but I can’t wait. The lady in question has been busy with other dolls up until now and has just written to me to say she is now able to take on my commission. Not sure that she is used to people commissioning her dolls for such purposes… but I’m sure she’ll make a good job as it seems to be a passion rather than a job to her.

Hanging in on the fashion theme…I just finished talking to Nancy O’Connor this afternoon.

“You know when you asked to talk to me on the phone today” she says “I thought it would take about ten minutes… no I don’t mean anything by that Neil… I’ve loved every minute of it”

I look at the timer on the phone and we are just nudging 2 hours. Not once did it seem like she was struggling for words. It was a flood of memories, interspersed with hearty laughter and some sad, funny and surprising stories. She had written to me about being the first girl to wear a polo neck sweater to the Rink and I wanted to get her to talk directly to me about that and other stuff. Her family lived in a 2 up, one down terrace house. She says, whenever she came home you might ask where’s dad?… or where is my sister? or whoever…but she can never remember having to ask where her mother was. Her mother was always in the house. Her mother presided over the most immaculate oven range in the street. It shone.

If her mother was a social recluse, Nancy made up for it by going to the Rink as many nights as she could afford – and the fact that the polo neck cost 29 shillings and eleven pence is etched clearly in her mind. It was more than her weekly wage, but Nancy’s mother paid for it. Some people didn’t even have glass in the windows on their street, they put carpet up instead, but Nancy had a polo neck.

How’s that for designer prices.