DAY FIVE: blast off…

Lewis and my stand-in singer Becky came to rehearse late afternoon. Becky had done amazingly well to learn my song in a few days and be ready for the opening night. We had decided to place the PA on the balcony that overlooks the gallery. I like that, as they will not be fully in view, but being above it fits some elements of the show…the reference to Norns in particular, those all seeing spirits who I refer to in my narrative about Jack Brunel. My angels shall be on high, delivering the song to us mortals below.

We had booked into a nearby hotel for the evening so that a sigh of relief and celebration could take place afterwards. Various people were travelling a bit of distance to get to the opening and it was great to see them in the evening. Back at the hotel I review my notes so I don’t get snow blindness when giving my talk. Shouldn’t have worried about that though, in the end I rattle on without a break about my artistic vision and of course add in some of the many thankyou’s I need to deliver.

Turns out I may have been a little verbose ha ha.. 50mins so I’m told. I had asked for a signal if I was going on too long but none had seemed forthcoming from the sea of smiling faces. Ah well – it was the culmination of a lot of thought and lost weekends so perhaps I may be forgiven.

A few people had made their apologies, you expect that. In a way an opening is not the best place to view this work as there is too much to take in if you are going to do it justice. Video can be a bit demanding like that and this work is ostensibly narrative in structure, so I was happy that those who didn’t make it to the preview promised to get over at other times.

Now the silence is deafening. The show is out there chattering to itself and waiting for anyone who is prepared to take it on. This morning I received an email

“I was quite moved watching the videos, getting into the photos, reading the snippets and finally making sense of the whole structure of your idea”.

Nice. I do worry sometimes that people won’t ‘get’ the whole of this piece without a bit of effort, so it’s reassuring, when someone does take the time, that it does reveal itself. It just takes the occasional comment like that to re-energise my enthusiasm for the next stage of the project – namely re-shaping it for further presentation and compiling the book.

Last week I went back to Hartlepool to show some of the retirement village residents my videos. I have had a few requests for copies, which is interesting in its own right. This isn’t exactly social history in the telling, but I will give those who took part a copy of the complete piece if they want one.

I was chatting to a gentleman I hadn’t met before as the videos played and I offered explanations. Turns out he was a singer at the Rink Ballroom and a veritable mine of info that would have been useful to me previously. He is interested and polite, but in a way that I can tell he wants to be the one who has all the stories, and the fact that I now know quite a breadth of stuff about the Rink is perhaps unsettling (annoying?) for him as he is used to being the font of information.

It is only after an hour of sitting ‘watching’ that he tells me he is blind. His reading of the piece must be very different from my intention. It is at this juncture that I am glad I have my ACE.

“I would be interested to get your opinion of my song” I say

“I wrote it in the style of the period and I wonder if you think it fits”

His demeanour changes markedly as he listens.

“That is really good” he says, “well done”




Day four of the installation of my installation and we are on schedule. I have a seven metre line of photos to go on the wall butted up to each other and I am glad of the assistance to put them in a nice straight line. The walls are pretty good but it’s a working space and inevitably they are not absolutely perfect. There are two breaks where a ‘secret’ door leads to the store area so I have to make a compromise and break the photographic line. This is the real world though so I aint going to cry over that too much.

There is a point when you think – yes this does make sense and I feel I have handled the space well. We all feel the overall layout has a cohesive feel to it. Having bought a toy trumpet to go with my Marion doll I now place Kip Heron’s real trumpet in the cabinet covered in my recycled plectrums. People have to peer through the gaps to see what lies within. Even to do this we have to get clearance from the museums service as I want to stand it on its bell end rather than the somewhat obtrusive perspex stand that has been made for its display in the museum. We get an ok on that one as long as it isn’t going to fall over.

When you’re dealing with audio visual material (and despite the addition of other elements in the show, this is ostensibly a video installation) the main concern has to be how it plays back. The monitors look great. Somehow the two sets of headphones for each screen is only currently one as the others have apparently gone missing… hopefully these will re-appear at some point. The main screening looks good too in its own discreet cinema space, but there are a number of variables, like the fact that each day the sound will re-set itself to lower than it should be, so I have to hope that the gallery staff get on board with checking that. I have stretched the resources of the gallery a tad and one of the videos has to play off DVD rather than digital. I have had to compromise on that which is fair enough. The audio is a little low though so we agree that a pre-amp needs to be installed at not too much cost. This won’t be done for the opening but soon after.

Luckily I have made a video to accompany the song – something I didn’t at first intend but decided to do at the last minute. My 1940s gramophone doesn’t pass the council PAT test and they aren’t allowed to do any work on it. I could get my own electrician to sort it out but in the end I decide to steal my daughter’s all in one screen/ DVD player and play the video of it instead. The gramophone stands silently on a plinth next to it, my record tantalisingly held in the stacker ready to play someday, someway, sometime… never?

There are indicators of what I always knew but still have to get used to; the fact that some people will be enthralled and others will be thrown by the fact that it’s not what they expected. It’s great to see people sat in a row in the ‘cinema’ and watching the 30min video all the way through. It’s puzzling to watch others move around the space, pondering screens as if they expect them to somehow transmit the meaning telepathically. For some there seems to be a real resistance to engage directly, as if to put the headphones on is a commitment too far. It’s as if they expected to see a static picture on the wall and that this moving stuff has thrown their world off kilter.

One woman says to me (not realising I am the artist) “this isn’t what I was expecting – it’s all people talking, I thought it was going to be about the Rink”. I wonder how she could not find anything about the Rink here- it is stuffed full of references and recall.



Walking across the tarmac to the easyjet experience, bound for Schiphol, I get a call. It’s Ashley from Hartlepool Council;
“Radio Tees want to do an interview with you can you do it live on the 3 o’ clock show?”
Such are the wonders of technology that it seems I can.

So it is that, looking out of my Amsterdam hotel window as the planes dip in every two minutes, I find myself doing a spot of Press n PR about the Rink project. It’s all a bit chirpy, and the reception seem a tad dodgy, but I make my bid for media glory and rabbit on about the upcoming show.

Yes the upcoming show, and there I was in the Netherlands filming something a lot less arty in order to earn a crust. The coming week though was to be dedicated to the 100 mile round trip to Hartlepool each day, something I was looking forward to but also a little nervous about. You never know how it’s going to hang together do you; and with this piece in particular there are so many elements that have to sit in quite a demanding space, that it was deep breath time.

Day one and there is a small team of people; four to be exact, plus me, which is encouraging. Plinths have been built for the four large monitors, which look great (and substantial so they won’t fall on anybody… always good even with that five million Air public liability insurance as backup) and a wall gets underway to make a separate viewing area for the main video. We have cinema seats too…only four but it makes it a bit special and in keeping with the cinematic theme.

Day two and the gallery is open, so rather oddly members of the general public come breezing in whilst we are putting the show up. They look at what there is to see at this juncture and I find myself sneaking sly peeks at them to assess their reactions. I have a bit of a protected space at the end of the gallery as I have put up two bright magenta banners and strung hazard tape across the opening. This leaves me room to work on one of the cabinets which, it turns out becomes a lengthier task than I had first envisaged. I have a box full of recycled cardboard plectrums and my self imposed task is to cover the glass facade of the cabinet with them. I am using spray mount.. not sure if there might have been something better to fix them with but there you are. Spray mount, three large cans as it turns out and a very tacky floor by day four, despite covers. In fact driving home on day two I noticed the soles of my shoes were sticking to the pedals.

It turns out the museums service aren’t too keen on me putting real grass in another cabinet with Kip Heron’s trumpet from the collection so I have a quick re-think. My Marion doll is going in that cabinet and I really did want grass from the ballroom site to be in there as it has become a bit of a motif and adds the element of time and decay. I decide I must get a toy trumpet instead. You would think that would be easy, but these days most things are online and ordered for collection or delivery a couple of days later. Got one eventually after scouring Newcastle and ending up on an out of the way industrial trading estate, then back to the plectrums.

Day three and we lift the Lambretta scooter onto its plinth. This is a very garish collector’s item type machine that definitely hasn’t seen Brighton, unless it went by rail. Almost immediately blokes of a certain age appear as if deposited from a train spotters convention bus trip. They coo over the pristine object and I feel like a bit of a killjoy for doing what I know I am about to do. Time to wrap it in organza, hoping I have estimated enough meters. Now that looks better and far less brazen.



You can perhaps look for too many points of reference in a piece, still it’s an interesting fact that the Rink Ballroom was open for exactly the same amount of years as I have been on this planet. Either I am very old or my impression of its lifespan is effected not so much by the building or even the people I have met who passed through it, but by its place in a wider world context.

It began life as a roller rink for pleasant Sunday excursions and local pageants, a place for Victorian families to loosen up a bit. Pretty soon it was billeting first world war soldiers and the skaters were soon up to their knees in Belgian mud and futility. Bit of a break for general societal re-ordering and the demise of the servant class. Votes for all but no real change in the Great British class structure. Then another world war; the disillusioned now given a more noble cause to fight for. You really would be pissed off if you had been unlucky enough to have to fight in both of them though. How easy us baby boomers have had it in that respect.

Moving swiftly on, post war you actually get a health service, a dwindling empire and a little hope on the horizon for better days ahead (even though the majority are still in comparative post war poverty). You make it through the fifties into a generational revolution where all previous values are turned on their head and for a brief moment love and peace prevail as a plausible concept at least. You have to say that’s quite an accelerated burst of history going on there. From servant to soldier to master of your own destiny.

By comparison what has taken place in my lifetime? On the surface technological development has been exponential. We brits have been blessed with avoiding compulsory war. You can of course still follow it as a career route. We have seen the rise of consumerism as god, and the idea that year on year growth is the only possible model for mankind; so we have obligingly consumed as much as we can. I was lucky enough to come from a back street in Leeds, go to sixth form and then art college without too much pressure to conform to previous employment or obvious class models . I did my own thing. I am a product of relative societal affluence and freedom. Even when I hadn’t a bean to my name I felt positive about the future. There was a safety net of sorts.

As far as I can see the biggest change in my lifetime has been the explosion of information and the challenge of what to do with it all. We exploded a communications bomb and got buried in data fallout. Our ability to evolve as a bunch of people who can all get on together doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere fast though. We just have more and more background noise. Jaw, jaw is only any use if you speak the same language. We are still somewhat in need of metaphysical interpreters.

So I look at the sad black and white photo of the Rink Ballroom with its windows boarded up. It’s difficult to appreciate the journey it has been on. I talk to the people who made the building come alive and I am impressed by the diversity of their lives, but it is my imagination powered by the background of documentation from earlier times that puts it into context. It is actually quite annoying that early BBC television broadcast tapes were typically erased for re-use, but in another way that lack of total documentation allows other forms of reconstruction.

This piece is about how a grain of sand can make a pearl; about making magic from the not obviously magic. It requires that you see it through both a macro lens and a wide angle. My own life seems to have been uneventful in comparison, but maybe future generations will be amazed by the fundamental shifts in world order and perception my generation have (albeit grudgingly) had to adapt to.



Four weeks and counting to my show. I had a blitz over the last month and have ironed out what goes where and, most importantly (bar tweaks to the technicals like colour grading and audio balancing) the content for the various video pieces is all complete. I suppose I always knew I would be flying close to the deadline, but by virtually living and breathing this piece for the past month I have wrestled it into shape.

There was a point the other morning where I was just about to squirt shaving gel onto my toothbrush. It was a close thing. I will check back into the real world shortly.

Typically my daily routine involves making cardboard plectrums mornings and late evenings, out of the content of whatever is left to go out into the recycle bin. I hardly give it a second thought. Will I miss the routines this piece has imposed on me? Hmmm.. I’m sure I will get over working 7 days a week (including bank holidays) but no doubt something else will replace it in due course.

Getting so close to the show’s opening has made me reflect on its shape. When I first imagined this piece it was going to be a number of mute video projections in a darkened space with one audio track. Over 18 months it has evolved into a much bigger beast. Six unique video screen narratives, each with their own audio, plus a projected video to be viewed in its own discreet viewing area. Added to this, I now have two glass cabinets which include such things as a trumpet, a box of coal, my Marion doll, an electric guitar; the aforementioned plectrums applied to the inside of a display cabinet… a Lambretta wrapped in organza…two banners on which is written the back story of a constructed character, a gramophone which will play the now complete and mixed bigband song I wrote, my 1950s typewriter on a plinth which invites contributions to the narrative echoes on the wall that will be dotted around the gallery…. various framed prints and a 9 meter length of 8cm square photographs that will traverse the walls in a way that invites the viewer to consider the powerful tool that is the frame of authorship .

In short – there is sooooooo much more here than I initially envisaged. It has been a journey and a half for me and I am now hoping that some of what I intend will transmit to the visitor and that perhaps other unknowns will pop up along the way.

I have had two vinyl records pressed of my song (I am hoping nobody pinches them from the gallery) and a short run of vinyl cds. I am really pleased with these – they look like smaller versions of the real thing… grooves and all. I did worry that the making of the musical element of this piece was taking up a disproportionate amount of time and effort, but now I have it in my hands as an actual real thing it seems worth it. In fact it was never just about the song itself but more about the process of working through the idea and gleaning experiences along the way that I couldn’t have obtained any other way.

Sifting though some of the photography, juxtaposing my own photographs alongside still frames I have taken from archive Hartlepool shipping company films, has been an archaeological journey of magic. Blowing up details of pics I took a year ago, I have discovered things I didn’t initially realise were there. In the same way, taking still frames out of 70 year old film stock gives you the feeling of being the first person to examine them in such detail. Enhancing and selecting has allowed me to bring alive material which I am sure has never been seen before. Digging through the past, sifting it and reforming it, provides a unique medium to model something that hopefully has a relevance to the world of today.

I knew there was a reason I enjoyed museums so much when I was a kid.