Eurovision and singing with Bob Hope and Julie Andrews are some of the highlights of Marion Keene’s career. She began singing at the age of 14 with dance bands and before that danced and sang, lit by torchlight, in the shelters during bombing raids over Hartlepool.

Now 80, Marion contacted me after one of her relatives had sent her a clipping from the newspaper article describing my project. She sounded lively and very sprightly, and was full of great stories about her time with the dance bands and then later on as a TV star in the heyday of light entertainment. She was a regular singer at the Royal Albert Hall. Happy days.

I suggested it would be great if I could come round and chat to her about those times and maybe video her for the project. For someone so full of life I was surprised at her reticence. “Oh I don’t get out much these days dear”…

“no I will come to you”…

“you will?”

“well I’ve just had the house painted and they have left a mess outside”

“don’t worry I probably won’t film outside” says I… “where do you live in Hartlepool?”

“oh no dear I live on the south coast near Dover”

“ah I see!”

“yes I did wonder how you thought you might just drop round!”

Despite the geographical obstacle, which is not of course insurmountable, there are other issues. She had a fall a couple of years ago and now can only either stand up and walk with a stick, or lay horizontal. She is in constant pain and yet lives on her own surrounded by memories and relics from her past. She used to make her own dresses – and very film star they are too (she sent me photos), and is addicted to Wall’s Cornettos… her motivation to go downstairs to the fridge.

Despite this she manages to send me a cassette of the 1958 studio recording of the musical Marie Rose, lots of press clippings and various posed publicity shots. I tell her she looks lovely and she tells me that has made her day.

I am still pondering whether to go visit her sometime or whether there is some mileage in the element of distance. She has a compelling speaking voice and I ask her if she would be happy for me to record a telephone conversation with her? She is happy to do that.

There is something here about the nature of sound across time. The recordings she has sent me, and a subsequent one I have heard re-mastered from an old 78rpm are faint and distant despite modern technology. Recording her from a telephone line will not be perfect, but will have a similar quality. I think of how we get used to poor quality from modern technology.. the massively compressed audio of the telephone – the high compression of YouTube, the less than perfect (though admittedly improving) quality of mobile phone photography. I quite like the idea of this odd convergence, so resolve to record her remotely through the ether.

I do also suggest to her during another conversation that she might like to ‘sing’ various lines and phrases that I will be emphasising in my final piece.

The idea comes from recently talking to a lady suffering from dementia. She sang everything to me as if it were normal dialogue. I filmed this but don’t really want to include it in the piece as somehow it seems too exploitative. It did give me the idea though that I might get various people to sing phrases that have occurred in general conversation. I like the idea that, alongside documentary type voice there will be occasional more structured interventions which imply something being worked and re-worked. I thought the idea might appeal to Marion so I describe my thinking. She is a little nonplussed so I give her an example. I sing a few lines down the telephone in something akin to plainsong…

“See what I mean?”.

“No dear I don’t understand”

“OK – we can talk about it later.”


Press for POWER

Anytime I have ever put my head above the press parapet I have always been amazed at the ability for a fairly straightforward story to be misinterpreted, sometimes by the journalist, sometimes by the reader and sometimes by both.

I contacted the Hartlepool mail to tell them about my project and to see if they might be interested in doing a little piece – in particular asking the local readers if they had any memories they might like to share of the Rink ballroom and perhaps some memorabilia stashed away in the attic that they might like to share. Well the reporter at the Mail was very good – she got straight on board and suggested they might be able to do a double page spread. I also mentioned my father – in that he had a photo, taken during WW2, showing himself and a group of youths of a similar age (15ish). They were the civil defence squad. Boys on bikes who scurried across Hartlepool before, during and after bomb raids carrying messages when communications were down. He is interested to see if anyone is still around from that time and maybe establish contact. This dovetails into my project, as the recounting of his time in Hartlepool forms an entry point into an aspect of my work. The Mail was once again very obliging and ran another article a few days later around his appeal, with a mention of my project at the end… so all good on the general ‘getting it out there’ front.

Within a couple of hours of publication I received an email. Great I thought – this bodes well. Said person however was more intent on telling me that there were “quite a few confused and slightly disgruntled people” in the locale who wondered why I had been given this ‘gig’ (as he put it) being that it had local historic content and that (he noted) my only connection to the place happened to be that my father and his family come from Hartlepool! I have to admit to slight bemusement at this point as surely, even from his inward looking perspective, having half of one’s family coming from that very same town should qualify a person for a little local connection credibility. Ah well.

I took a deep breath and resolved not to reply the same day in order to regain my inclusive perspective. He is entitled to his view.

The following day I replied and thanked him for his interest and pointed out that in fact no one had given me this commission. I felt I should explain the distinction between how an artist (such as myself) typically works – i.e. following their own practice and developing themes as they form out of the work.. as opposed to the way a commercial documentary might be made, with more obvious agendas and a line of authority to accede to. I’m making my own work – I make it for myself primarily and hope that by doing that other people are able to experience something of a more ‘pure’ form. I didn’t quite say that to him, as I fear it may have gone over his head, but I was as warm and cuddly as possible and invited him to participate in the project if he felt inclined. Needless to say I never heard back.

He was, thankfully the only one who read the article the wrong way – though it has to be said local newspapers are typically interested in the human angle, sometimes at the expense of the facts or real detail.

Having said that – I do appreciate the way it has allowed me to connect into the local readership – and there is a lot to be said for that. A surprising amount of people seem to cut things out and send them on!


(…continues from previous post)

And so? well … once I had pressed the online ‘send’ button there was no going back.

Once it had gone I started thinking of all the ways I could have made it more persuasive. I convinced myself it was not to be.

And yes you guessed it.

A few weeks later I got the thick envelope, not the thin ‘thank you but no thank you’.

I like to think they saw in this project something important that will touch quite a few lives – that it will also be an important piece for me at this stage of my artistic career. To be honest I don’t know how the decision was made – but I am of course extremely grateful!



Playing catch-up with this blog – but I think it is worth outlining the background before moving on to a more conventional day to day blogging approach.

Just before Christmas I was told there were a number of slots available to meet an ACE officer in Hartlepool for anyone seeking advice on potential funding routes. I have always believed it is better to talk to someone than stare at a blank form so I signed myself up for a consultation. In a chilly backroom of the Art Hartlepool space (situated in the Middleton Grange Shopping Centre) I met with Ann Fletcher-Williams from ACE. I think she may have expected me to have more general concerns and questions, but once I made it clear that my thinking was quite advanced down this particular road, she was very encouraging. I showed her some of my work (in particular a small book I had made for my last show) and I think she got it. It was she who suggested that my approach was just what the area needed. She convinced me that, even in these lean times, an ambitious project might be looked on favourably.

I have read various takes on the AN website about the current application process. I have to say, if I was a painter having to make a case for my work within the confines of THE FORM structure, I would struggle even more than I did. It almost requires the same approach as one might make towards a business plan. In this respect I was lucky. Not only have I actually written a business plan but the nature of the way I work means that there has to be an element of logistics – or shall we say ‘consideration of the practicalities’ to make everything happen. I’m no fan of form filling but I don’t mind writing things down – I do quite a lot of that anyway.

The form is slightly more general in its approach than it used to be I am led to believe. The last time I filled one in was about 6 years ago so it’s a bit of a blur – but I do remember thinking, when faced with all those little boxes in which to insert relevant text, that it might be better to just write a proposal in a way that seemed natural to myself, and then hope that I could cut and paste relevant paragraphs into the relevant slots on the form. This worked to an extent – I had too many words so reduced some of my more esoteric ramblings. In fact the whole tone of THE FORM leads one towards a very practical approach. After I had written draft one I realised that I had put in far too much about my concepts and artistic concerns and thereafter hardened the whole thing up.

One thing Ann had said to me was that, as the project was imminent, there wouldn’t be enough time to allow turnaround if I applied for anything over 10K, as timescale for consideration goes from 6 weeks to 3months for anything over that amount. I had already calculated that I would need more for the whole project – so was advised to apply in two parts – making it clear what my intention was in the first application. There would be no guarantee that a second application would be successful, but at least it meant I could go for a quick turnaround and get things moving if I was successful initially.

One other thing – I run my own company. It’s the way I make my other living, and it is the way I am able to provide some external funding input. THE FORM requires that you somehow raise an amount of contributory funds from elsewhere. I am aware that not everyone is in this position so in that respect I am fortunate. Having said that, I have lived virtually all my adult life by the fruits of my own labour. The sword is a sharp one and it definitely has two edges.




I first saw a call for dance companies to apply for this project late 2011. I’m not a dancer so wasn’t interested in that aspect, but I read the brief out of curiosity because my father comes from Hartlepool – as did all of his family. It is a place that I know very little about but have heard spoken of throughout my life so I was curious.

The idea of the project from the council’s perspective is to work with various groups in retirement villages and sheltered accommodation to capture some of the residents memories of what was less an iconic building and more a social phenomenon in Hartlepool before, during and after world war 2. They have a grant to employ a dance company to help re-create some form of dance piece for a planned event on the Queen’s jubilee bank holiday in June. Two 6th form colleges are also on board – to add the inter-generational aspect. They bring the legs to the project. The final event is due to take place in the Borough Hall – which is a similar size to the Rink and not too far away from where it used to stand.

As far as my project goes – well – my concerns revolve around telling and re-telling – the ‘past and future in (and as) the present’ – the tyranny of time. I saw here a working subject model with a personal twist, given my Hartlepool connection. Add to that the fact that I took ballroom dancing lessons when I was younger and that I understand what it is to ask a lady to dance, in the ‘traditional’ sense.. and, well, there was a certain serendipity that I couldn’t ignore.

I approached the council and asked if they would be interested in me working with them in tandem. I made it very clear that I did not want to record their project as such, but that I would be making an artwork which followed on from the concerns of my previous art practice. I didn’t hold my breath on that one as I thought it might be a bit left field for a council run department.

It only took a couple of days for me to be proved surprisingly wrong.

Within a couple of weeks I was having a meeting in Hartlepool with the head of tourism, the exhibitions and events officer and the person directly in line to manage the project. It was genuinely gratifying to find that, rather than having to sell the concept to a sceptical audience, in fact they were so pleased to have someone approach them to add to the kudos of the overall project, and even took me over the very same day to see their art gallery (quite a space as it turns out) which is housed in a beautifully restored Victorian church.

Of course I do offer benefits, and I have begun to see how this works. Often with such projects they take place and then fade back, or at the very least have little impact in a wider sense. Hopefully the piece I make will have some legs. I intend to premier it in Hartlepool but thereafter find other venues too. The single screen version I make will be pushed around world video festivals in a bid to reach international audiences. I bring potential profile.

I also come cheap – well if you consider I don’t cost them anything except a little extra logistics and an enhanced CRB check.

Which brings me to the crunch. My work – if it was to be worthy of the potential the project offered, would require quite a bit of time, travelling and a few additional hands at strategic points. I would need some form of funding and there was no chance of further funding from the borough arts dept. They in fact like most councils are facing massive cuts in staffing levels across the board and are having to make do and mend.

Christmas was spent pondering the online Arts Council England grant application form.