…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.



Missed my self-imposed update deadline yesterday as the weekend seemed to get somewhat eaten up by all things musical.

In my search for a musical arranger for the Rink song, I trawled a few friends and acquaintances and have come up with someone who specialises in vocal arrangements from the 30’s and 40’s. He hasn’t actually attempted a bigband arrangement before but we figure it’s got to be in a similar ballpark so we’re gonna give it a go. Having said that , my preliminary sound sketch of the song left a lot of unknowns, so I felt duty bound to have a stab at laying the counter melody lines down myself first to give my willing volunteer something more substantial to go on. That has meant dusting off my keyboard skills and simulating a host of instruments which I’m hoping real musicians will play somewhat better on the final recording. The brass sounds on my old Yamaha sound kind of cheesy, but all in all it does at least give a better idea now of how the complete song should sound so I’m hoping it was worthwhile.

Last week, to sort of round this aspect off, I was checking out record players on ebay. I’m quite taken with the idea of getting a little sixties portable one and having two of my 6th formers carry it around town – open it up and then play the record that we will, by that point, have made. I’m thinking that having them sing the song as a duet will be conceptually joined up – and in the finished piece I can inset them singing inside a circle that’s positioned above the record player. There are a few other objects like this that will be filmed for one screen of the installation. I like the idea of informing the future by making something that is seemingly of the past.

The Manfreds fit into the above category. If you’re too young to remember them just YouTube Manfred Mann. I have mentioned them before – but (tada!) my latest update is…I can now announce that perseverance does sometimes pay off. I have the management thumbs up to hang out with the guys before their gig at the Sage in Newcastle and video our chat for the project. They represent one aspect of what the Rink became; a venue for passing stars on their way to sixties fame. It must have been interesting times. You had the likes of Manfred Mann singing 5,4,3,2,1 – already the theme tune for Ready! Steady! Go! – breezing through the town and making the girls scream…whilst the next night the same crowd might well be trotting round the floor in a more sedate style. For a while the two worlds co-existed rather than collided. For me it will be a strange experience to interview them as I remember watching them on our two channel black and white tele when I was but a wee snip.

And then there is the Canadian connection. I managed to set up an interview on Skype the other day with June and Charles who now live near Lake Ontario. Charles was stationed at Catterick and used to bus it or hitch a lift to the Rink dances. They married then emigrated in 1959 and don’t regret leaving but still have fond memories of the place. When they have occasionally returned, they are not impressed by the way Hartlepool had its character ripped out in the name of development. I ask them about the atmosphere of the place they remember, a town that was buzzing with industry. As we talk something crops up that I hadn’t thought about before; the smell of the place. A mixture of steel works, gas works and breweries; a unique perfume of industry.

Now Hartlepool has a shopping centre and a marina – but most of the marina shops are closed.

The Skype picture was a bit fuzzy, and their voices intermittently took on a ghostly transatlantic cyber tone – but it sort of added to the charm and spookily looks like archive footage, which is an interesting twist. Thanks folks.


Take a line for a walk…
…see where it leads you.

Mr Beckenkrager tells me his name is Prussian. We are in his conservatory in Seaton Carew; a seaside passing though point just south of Hartlepool. He is 80 now and spent his early life in the navy – but he is keen to tell me about the Rink and the moment he met his wife to be.

She had gone with her cousin, who was supposed to be escorting her home, but John (Mr B) had spotted her and worked his charm. The other guys were getting nowhere with her as she didn’t know that particular dance, however John was savvy and told her it was just like a waltz and he would steer her round the dance floor. When he kissed her on the cheek after walking her home that night he shouted back to her; “I’m going to marry you!”

Yes it sounds a tad like a scene from a romantic movie…and a modern script would call for twists and turns in the relationship, but for John and Pat it seems it was written in the stars. This year would have been their diamond wedding anniversary but she didn’t quite make it.
“Without wanting to pry too much” I say ” it must be quite a change for you now”
” it is, yes” he responds.
I can see he is going a little misty, and I really am not in the business of letting the camera run and exploiting that, so I shift the subject a little;
“you said you were thinking of maybe taking up dancing again?”
“yes, I just have to be careful with my knees, but I would really like to try that”
He shows me photos. “She looks a little stern in that one John” I say
“Oh you wouldn’t want to cross Pat when she was in a mood” he laughs.

It’s a shame that the dance sessions I was filming earlier in the year in the retirement homes aren’t still taking place so he could join in, but we get onto the subject of how things have changed. I ask him if he would have done anything different in his life, but all in all he seems pretty contented with his lot.

His lot has included being a naval man on Christmas Island at the time that Britain was testing the H bomb. There he is smiling in his all white ‘anti-flash’ suit.
“Weren’t you concerned about radiation?” I ask
“No we were ok as the wind was blowing away from us. There was a Soviet cruiser downwind though and we were radioing them to get out of the area”…

He has a picture of the mushroom cloud in all its disastrous beauty.

He left the navy to bring up a family and didn’t go back to the Rink now the pop era had arrived. They were family focused, and played cards a lot. For them the Rink had a certain time and place in their lives and he only recalls it being derelict when he returned to Hartlepool, although it was in fact still a thriving venue by all accounts. It has a particular place in his life; forever fixed.

But John has another side to him. He heals people. He sees dead people. He can ‘remote’ and sometimes receives instructions to lead souls towards the light if they are lost.

His particular dance with death is one in which he partners souls. He feels Pat enter inside him when he heals people and has glowing testimonials from people who have been helped by his healing hands. He believes we are reborn and he is guided by the spirits of North American Indians.

Ever one to be looking for clues to this cosmic puzzle, I quiz him a little more. If he has taken people to the very door of the afterlife, what does it look like? what is the purpose of life and where did the universe come from?

John has a mild smile on his face;

“the flowers are very bright on the other side” he says

but I’m not sure he knows.

Perhaps I am asking the wrong questions.



(continued from previous post)

6. My father has to have a pacemaker fitted so will need a little time to recover before I film him taking the journey back to Hartlepool. Looks like it will be the end of the summer now.

7. Still have to film the Hartbeat boys wandering around their haunts of yesteryear. I particularly want to see where they bought their first (red) suits.

8. A very important aspect of the project is that it doesn’t just look back but forward too. For me this has always been a piece about the nature of time. Early on when I was visiting the care home residents every week, I was struck by a lady who sang all her vocal interactions. Next term I shall re-visit Brinkburn College and get some of the talented students there to sing various spoken phrases for me, so I can weave them into my soundtrack. I also want to get a little flavour of the students hopes and dreams for the future. In fact some of them are the product of Rink romances and have interwoven family connections to the ballroom.

9. Did I say? – I am commissioning a lady in America to make a doll for me. More of that later, as I want to clear it with the subject first!

10. I want to film inside one of the still standing cinemas. Many have now gone but I am particularly interested in getting into the now closed Odeon and scaring away the pigeons. I have a contact number so who knows… also one that is still open but is now, predictably, a bingo hall.

11. There is bound to be an 11 by the time I get to 10

.. and I have a definite date for my premier show in Hartlepool.

7th July to 1st September.

Seems a long way off – but I have soo much to do yet so it feels right. I do need to sort out some other gallery venues too and they programme a long way in advance of course… and I really don’t know what the response will be – but then I’m sure any of you reading this are familiar with that particular chestnut.

Even though the list still seems quite long, I am now able to start thinking more about the shape of the piece. I always had an idea of how it goes together, but if you set off in a direction not knowing what is down the road you can’t really plan that comprehensively. I carry with me what I refer to as my ‘dysfunctional tool kit’ which I adapt to the situation (one definition of the toolkit would be ‘a mindset set to expect the unexpected’).

Occasionally I have’ insight moments’ which, without wanting to sound pretentious, are just moments where the things you kind of already knew seem to focus into a clearer picture. I am not alone in this I’m sure. Anyhow I had one of these the other day. For what it’s worth it goes like this:

So there I am making a piece that I have set in my head, but circumstances and actualities have effected what I initially envisaged. That being so, I have ‘acquired’ lots of material that is within the general scope of what I’m trying to make. I can now look at that material as if it were a library given to me by someone else. I can sift through it with new eyes and make it into a cohesive whole. Like chasing paint around a canvas until it balances perhaps.

Not sure I’ve made it very clear but to me it makes a lot of sense and allows me the freedom to work in a very flexible way. Sort of like giving yourself permission to use your own work…or; in another way:

Here I am, 20 years on, having found a box of film in the attic and looking through with ‘first time’ eyes. How I now assemble it is not coloured by the history of that material’s acquisition, but by my own personal agenda brought from a different time and space.



I’m at a stage now where the list has to be made. I sometimes joke to people that this project could become my life’s work. The temptation is to follow up every lead and see how it fits into the overall. To some extent that state of affairs is still the case, however I do have to be realistic in the sense that I have soooo many hours of material now and need to start to making some shape out of it all.

Hence the list… an attempt to collate the’ things that must be done’.

1. Mr Bekenkragor called me this week – he is full of memories and interesting perspectives. It just so happens that he is also a spiritualist and has testimonials to his name from people who have been ‘cured’ by his healing hands. You may or may not be sceptical, but it certainly adds a new dimension, as he also apparently picks up on voices from the beyond. I shall test him on that one when we meet ; perhaps I can do an interview with Benny Nelson or Joe Loss from the ether. Now that would be something… I have arranged to interview him in Seaton Carew; just a few miles down the coast from Hartlepool.

1b. He rang me again this afternoon. His wife’s cousin Nancy has written me a letter which she has given him to pass on to me. He read it to me over the phone; it’s quite long and full of detail. She hopes that some of it might be of interest to me. She says that these days she mostly looks back and remembers her happy times. You can’t fail to be humbled by people making such an effort. She writes poetry too and has written a poem about the Rink. I ask if I can use it and he says “yes of course, she sent if for you”. She also lived next door to the singer Marion Keene, who I have written about previously here. It’s as if everyone was part of some pre-ordained Queen’s ballroom cast. She says she can remember the day local band leader Benny Nelson died. She was outside of the Lex cinema . For her it sounded like a ‘where were you when they shot Kennedy?’ moment.

2. I have been swapping emails with a lady in Canada. Her parents, also in Canada, met at the Rink. Her father was stationed at Catterick army camp and he was one of quite a few army lads who made the weekly round trip when they could. His perspective will be unique as I haven’t found anyone from the camp who went there up until now. At first I am under the false impression that she lives in Hartlepool, so ask if I can interview her. Once we clear up the confusion we decide to use Skype. I’m quite liking that idea actually as they represent a significant number of ex-pats who still, for whatever reason, keep tabs on local Hartlepool events even though they left so many years ago.

3.There is a reunion of local guitar heroes ‘the Kavemen’ planned this year. Their most famous member is a massively respected blues guitarist called Ray Minhinnett who was also nominated for a Grammy for his seminal programme on the fender stratocaster. I will talk to him and also film the band when that happens.

4. I am currently planning a strategy for interviewing a well known singer from the sixties, whose name I shouldn’t mention yet. I have his image as a far depth of field phantom in a BW photo taken inside the Rink. Chasing down this photographic phantom in a similar fashion to David Hemmings in the 1966 Antonioni film ‘Blow-Up’ seems like an entirely appropriate thing to do.

5. I’m getting no joy from my errant musical arranger, so need to find another worthy soul who is willing to write the BigBand arrangement for my original song. Once recorded I would love it to become a charity download, something that might leave a tiny legacy from the project.

more of the list next post…