My weekends are now all spent on the project … writing, editing and generally piecing things together…and as many weekday hours as I can salvage too.

Top tip – if you’re ever undecided as to whether to throw anything away… DON’T DO IT! …I am so glad I kept my 80s hi-fi turntable. I had actually been looking on ebay but then remembered I had one in my workroom. It’s not difficult to see what use I put it to in the video below.

I am feeling my way with the sketches I’ve been editing. They’re not complete but are giving me a handle on how the piece will go together. Treating editing a bit like expressionist painting, I approach each short sequence as a blank canvas, letting it grow and develop organically. I know the subject matter but that’s about it.

Thus far each piece has created its own atmosphere I think. They’re quite intricate…and this latest one is no exception. This one has a relaxed feel too though owing to Marion’s lovely vocal.

Making convincing flares and sparkles on the doll took a bit of sweat but I’m glad I did it. Looking effortless is the goal here.

I must now write a note to the real Marion to see if she’s out of hospital. Spending hours contemplating her effigy can obscure current reality, which for her is now far from glamorous. She has lots to say though…below is just a teaser >>

it’s not for me to say… Sketch#3



It being the New Year and all… I am trying to write a big underline under the project and start making sense of all this material. I did work over Christmas but somehow the imagined stretch of expansive time never quite turned out that way. Still I did get a bit of head space and am confirmed in the way forward, having got the narrative clear in my head.

Good news is my Marion doll has arrived at last, having been captured by the Post Office over Christmas and held to ransom to the tune of seventy one pounds and fifty seven pence. That apparently is VAT plus various additional ‘handling’ charges that mysteriously occur. I was under the impression that when you pay Parcel Force to deliver an item that it also includes handling, otherwise how does it work for heaven’s sake??? They already have 60 quid for delivering it… yes I was not happy… but such are the Chinese walls within the process that you give up the will to live if you attempt any futile questioning of how this came to be.

On the up side – she looks good! 1:12 scale which means tiny… and lovely detail. Now I need to make plans for her film career. There is a certain irony here as, despite an impressive concert and television career, the real Marion steadfastly refused to be made into a film star… and there were plenty of offers. She was more inclined to look after donkeys, and still would be if she were fit enough.

Gavin in Hartlepool reckons the arrangement for my song should be fine tuned by next week too which is exciting.

I’m giving a talk on my work at Cleveland College in a couple of weeks, where this project will be the main subject, so I look forward to combining that with a musical meet up. Next step is getting the band to play it; a task which I have every confidence I can manage, but I really don’t imagine it’s going to be straightforward. I have invented a character who is a composite of two people I knew in the past, and he will be the person I credit with writing the melody for this monster of a song. I am calling him Brunel (christian name yet to be decided) in reference to the bridge building required to bring this thing into being.

I have another clip put together – see please take a look… I am feeling my way forward with these ‘sketches’ (I take perverse pleasure in calling them that as my old art master used to say you should always say ‘drawings’ not ‘sketches’.. but in this context it is appropriate).

A Rainbow – whisper #2



So Christmas is on its way and I am ever more aware that I still have lots and lots to do (and that doesn’t even take into account buying presents)… so the break will see me in the edit suite no doubt.

In the new year we (by that I mean Hartlepool Borough Council and myself) will be running what we’re calling a ‘whisper campaign’. The aim is to send out regular emailer links to snippets of video from my piece, and in that way hopefully build up an ongoing awareness of the show in July.

Apart from the obvious publicity angle, this does actually serve a useful purpose. It focuses me on the narrative and, far from being a diversion, it helps me think through the process. I tend to see things in fragments, which I inevitably eventually draw together, so this exercise suits my working methods.

Here is the first one. I have posted other clips before, but this will be the actual FIRST in the series.

If I don’t get round to posting again before the break.. have a wonderful whatever floats your boat y’all!!



My Marion Keene doll lives! Karin in the States has done a great job of bringing mini Marion alive. The doll is a combination of poses from Marion’s 50’s heyday and I am looking forward to her arriving safe and sound from across the pond.

As you can see, her eyes are blue. I was beginning to get a little concerned for the real Marion as I knew she would ordinarily have been in touch with the vital eye colour info I requested a couple of weeks ago. Eventually she was; well her neighbour rang me up following my letter. Seems Marion is in hospital having fallen and broken her hip. She is on the mend now though and I’m hoping my continuing interest in her on-stage career (albeit somewhat virtual now) might cheer her up.

As you can see, I have collaged her into a couple of scenarios just to get a feel for how she might look in situ. When eventually the doll arrives I plan a number of scenarios. Firstly she will be filmed rotating on a turntable in front of a green screen, so I can effectively ‘collage’ her in a variety of scenes that have other backdrops. In the one here, where she is stood in front of the band, you can just see the real 14 year old Marion sat with the band – looking forward towards the ‘future’ Marion. I’m not yet sure how this is going to work, but I like the juxtaposition, and a major element of this piece is concerned with images being moved through time so I will experiment with these ideas.

My second plan is to have her go on a little journey around Hartlepool. I want to see her in a shopping centre… in the Grand Hotel and perhaps stood on a table in the local Subway… oh and a trip to the Marina is on the cards too…and the (closed) cinema she used to bunk off to. I’m thinking that the juxtaposition of her glamour next to the actuality of the here and now might provide an interesting tension. She should really be carried around by a little girl… I need to work on that.

As I am considering how my own narrative will work, in an attempt to draw things together a little, so one of my hoarded historical objects has come into play. The object in question is the Olivetti Lexicon 80 typewriter… first made in 1942 and retired in 1968. It fits the Rink Ballroom period perfectly, and it so happens that I have one. Last night was spent pushing a cloth into the hard to get to places that have gathered fluff and other unsavoury material. On the one hand I like things to not be too joined up, life is by its very nature fractured (hence my multi-screen video arrangement) ; but I also want to construct a more linear story out of some of this material to act as a counterpoint.

To make another arrangement of history and to impose a hitherto non-existent narrative.

My typewriter will be the visual device for this. Amazingly you can still get ribbons for the Lexicon 80 on eBay so I feel a purchase coming on. The ribbon still works though, and gives an appealingly uneven texture to the hammered keys on paper, so I shall see how that goes before replacing it.

In the gallery context , I’m thinking it would further underline the leap of technology (or perhaps the non-leap?) to have this part of the piece played back on a laptop; ceremoniously placed on a plinth.

Of course…how many of these ideas actually make it into the final piece…is a definite known unknown, but I am glad to have reached this stage of experimentation for as you know dear reader…

…All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy!



Marion doesn’t answer the phone. I have resorted to writing a letter to try and raise a response.

The lady in the States who is making my Marion Keene doll for the show asked me what colour Marion’s eyes are and of course I don’t know. How could I? as we have never met, and all but one of the photos I have ever seen of her are in black and white. The one colour pic was taken just a few years back, but she had sunglasses on. Thing is… she is always on the end of the phone and rarely goes out, so if my letter goes unanswered I’m not quite sure what to do…

Better news with the Manfreds. The day (last Thursday) finally came for my interview with them at the Sage Gateshead. I had prepared by stalking them on YouTube mainly. Research is sooo much easier these days. Knowing I had only 30mins had made me take a more structured approach. I arrived with three sheets of A4 peppered with meaningful questions, designed to sound sort of general interest but slanted in a way that they might illicit less stock answers than might be the case in a more usual journalistic scenario.

Having run out of cash to pay anyone for anything at the mo – I am resorting to calling in favours. Ken the cameraman (he has always been called thus) was duly roped in. Ken has many years of experience as both a documentary film maker and a BBC freelancer, so I knew he would be safe hands in a situation where there would be some pressure. It so happens he was also my photography lecturer when I first arrived in Newcastle in 1974. Oh and he has also played in bands with me, so I thought he might actually enjoy meeting the Manfreds.

Having arranged the interview months before somehow it still transpired that I was busy emailing insurance documents and health and safety certificates to the venue on the actual day. Seemed like a lot of hoops to jump through but all was eventually well.

Stuck in traffic on the Quayside, Ken and I arrived at the Sage just in time. No probs getting through the stage door and then, scarily quickly, we were at the side of the stage watching the guys sound check. A dressing room was offered to me as a potential interview space, but was a bit claustrophobic, so I asked if there was any chance we could use the stage instead. The lighting guys were due to go on a break but Paul Jones shouted over and asked if someone could sort some lighting out for us. One of the crew was predictably grumpy but hey… it got sorted so – RESULT. There we were in the middle of the stage in Hall One and I was clutching my questions, a rifle mic and the collection of photos I had brought along as prompts.

I had worried I might go blank but the adrenalin pumped in and away we went. I was massively helped by the fact that the three Manfreds I had asked to interview, Paul Jones, Tom McGuiness and Mike Hugg were such genuinely nice guys. No pretensions, happy to engage and very generous with their time.

My questions didn’t all get asked of course. In fact I rarely looked at the sheets of paper as the conversation flowed. My interview technique is, shall we say, ‘unorthodox’, as I tend to ramble a bit before getting to the crux of the question. I have however enough experience to know when to do the ‘noddys’ rather than talk all over the answer.

Somehow I always seem to get people to talk longer than they intended. 30mins became 45 and even then we continued chatting after the camera was packed away.

Back at base I downloaded the footage, and then felt a little tired. It had been like doing a performance myself, but so worth doing for the project.

Bottles of strong booze in the post for my musical arranger Karl and another one for Ken.

Worth every penny.