The17
TOURS / COAST-TO-COAST / MITTERSILL Austria & SHEFFIELD England / Sheffield

RAGWORTS

Part One:

SHOPKEEPERS OF THE WORLD UNITE

May 2011

I attempted to walk into the hall with a touch of the swagger of Morrissey in his Smiths prime. But instead of clutching a bunch of gladioli I was clutching a bunch of Ragworts in full flower. I had just ripped these weeds up from a cracked pavement less than sixty seconds earlier.

The place that I was doing this swaggering into was Pod C of the Hub in Sheffield. That is Sheffield, Yorkshire, incase there are any other Sheffields in the world.  In a former life, the Hub was the ill fêted National Centre for Popular Music.

Sensoria is a festival in Sheffield. It has been going a few years. It describes itself as theUK music, film and digital festival.  It is for this festival that I had been hired as composer-in-residence for one whole working week. At the end of the week, as in last Friday, I was to be giving a lecture and leading a performance by The17. The performance element was to be me leading one or more of the compositions that I had written in the previous few days. As for what The17 is – it is a choir. But it is a choir that uses different singers every time they perform. And when they do perform there is no audience but the choir themselves. And The17 are never recorded for posterity, so you will never be able to hear them on the radio, or down load them off the internet or even by a record of them. The17 make music that is about time, place and occasion. They also do not use words, rhythm or melody (much). Thus The17 is not for consumer culture. The17 can be vast or extremely small. It can be very frightening, it can also be exquisitely beautiful. The17 have been performing publicly since 2006, all over the world. The following NOTICE is something I wrote a couple of years earlier when The17 was still just a concept in my head. Somewhat pretentious but I still stand by the sentiment.

ALL RECORDED MUSIC – PB Poster 59

http://www.the17.org/notice_scores.html

The audience were expecting me to be talking for - or at least the contract I had signed expected me to be talking for - about an hour.  The one thing I knew, before I started the talk, was I wanted it to be free form. I wanted to have no idea what I was going to talk about before I started. I have given hundreds of talks about The17 over the past few years. What were once fresh theories and challenging ideas back in 2006, when I first went public about The17, had now just become well-worn anecdotes. It was like I had become a not very funny stand up, doing the circuit. What I did know was I wanted the talk in Sheffield, to be based as much as possible, on what had been going on in my head over the week.  These things being Ragworts, Tesco’s, Forgemaster’s and of course, Sparrows. 

A couple of lines about Tesco’s seemed like the best way to kick things off, grab the audience’s attention.  They went something like this:

‘This week started with me planning to fire bomb the new Tesco’s supermarket. The one being built down near the Spital Hill area of the city and ends with me giving a smug and cozy chat here…’

 

*     *     *     *

 

Me being composer-in-residence in Sheffield came about after I had spent a week being composer-in-residence at the Mittersill Composers' Forumin a rural village in Austria.  This Composer’s Forum was something that has been going for some years. Each year a few composers from around the world are invited to take part. My fellow composers and I spent the week in a chalet style farmhouse halfway up an Alp.  The other seven or eight composers were all new music composers from a classical background.  I was out of my depth.  But that is often where I like to be. At the end of the week, spent halfway up an Alp, I decided I liked being a composer-in-residence. The food had been good, the views spectacular and I got a lot of work done.

On my return home I got e-mail from some bloke in Sheffield asking me to take part in something called Sensoria in Sheffield.  My reply was yes, on the understanding that I could be a composer-in-residence in Sheffield and if there was a chance it could involve me spending part of the week in a steel mill. 

The answer to both of the requests was yes, an agreement was sorted out, and I got half my fee paid up front. That said they could not guarantee spectacular views or good food. The ‘some bloke’ was called Nigel Humberstone; he also turned out to be a good bloke.

So I arrived last Sunday night in Sheffield.  I had been booked into the very comfortable Novotel up the road from the Hub. (sounds like an endorsement-omit)

 

*     *     *     *

 

By the time I woke up on Monday morning I was beginning to seeth. Everything I saw around me was beginning to fill me with a rage of some sort.  So after breakfast I went for a walk to try and shake it off.  And maybe get some focus, as to what me being composer-in-residence in Sheffield for a week, might mean.  I mean they had already paid me half up front.  I had to deliver. 

It was May Day Bank Holiday, thus the city centre was almost empty. I skulked around the streets trying to shake off my negativity. Then I saw a signpost directing me to the Cultural Quarter.  It was then that all my seething and rage had a focus, other than my own shortcomings. 

How dare someone tell me where the cultural quarteris?  How dare anybody decide where culture can be found, or what it is and how it can be safely packaged in a sanctioned part of a city?  Then I noticed one of these wild flowers breaking up through the pavement.  They were the Ragworts that I referred to at the beginning of this piece, the ones that I was doing my Morrissey impression with. But the truth of the matter is I had no idea what these weeds were called, that was until a member of the audience told me. On checking with my copy of Floral Britannica I learned that it was not just a Ragwort but an Oxford Ragwort. I also learned the Oxford Ragwort was originally to be found growing in the volcanic ash on the slopes of Mount Etna. From there, it was brought to England in the 1770s, by a botanical collector in Oxford, thus its English name. Some time later, it made its escape from his garden and began its feral journey along the railway embankments of Victorian Britain. It can now be found growing in the verges of every motorway across the land. And any other bit of semi industrial wasteland. It is in the daisy family, but the petals are yellow as well as the middle. I also learned it had a reputation for poisoning horses. 

But back to cultural quarters, Sheffield and my seething - no sooner had I noticed one of these Ragworts growing up through cracks in the pavement, than I noticed they were all over the place.  They were making me feel better.  The seething was beginning to retreat. 

I loathe the word ‘regeneration’.  Anytime I hear an area is up for regeneration my heart begins to sink.  I like the opposite.  I like things falling to bits, crumbling and corroding. I want more degeneration not regeneration. 

The city of Sheffield has famously produced three or four generations of great makers of popular music.  The first record born out of this city I bought was Marjorineby Joe Cocker, back in 1968. In the late 60s, Joe Cocker was a wondrous thing; please ignore his later career as a middle-of-the-road balladeer. I only got to see him live once (Isle of White Festival – 1969), he was brilliant. Then there was a bit of a gap before 1978, when The Human League’s first 45 was released, it was Being Boiledand it was a revolution. There are probably tens of thousands of words across the internet exploring the cultural importance of this one non-charting, seven-inch record. From 1978, it was a mere hop, skip and a jump to the early eighties and The Human League’s Dareand ABC’s The Lexicon of Lovealbums. These two albums were the most played bit of vinyl on my record player circa ‘81/’82.  They were the crowning glory of 80s pop, the fulfillment of so many dreams. The Zeitgeist. There were other contenders around the same era, they know who they were.  But those contenders did not impact on me as much as the above. I will snobbishly ignore the suspect aspirations and global success of Def Leppard and fast-forward to the glorious Pulp and their late flowering, in the heady days of Brit Pop circa ’96.

After that I seemed to lose interest in planet pop.  There must be loads of others I should know about. Numerous folk have tried to steer me in the direction of Richard Hawley, but as yet, I don’t think I’ve ever heard him.  (what about the Arctic Monkeys- major breakthrough for sheffield?)

Great bands, music and art in general, is never sanctioned from above, it is never born out of Arts Council funding, or they’re equivalent. And they definitely never, ever blossom in the safety of designated cultural quarters.  This is a sweeping statement on my part, a simple over generalisation, but nonetheless true. The only art ever worth having is art that has not been state subsidised. As soon as it is state subsidised it becomes state propaganda. However subtle that propaganda is, it is still doing the states bidding. I am also aware that this kind of reductionist talk, is bordering on the rhetoric of the American right. This is something I have yet to square.

Those various practitioners of Sheffield pop, all came up through the cracks in the pavements of their city.  At the time they were ignored and unloved by the then great and good of the city. It is hard for many of us to appreciate or even notice things, until they have been validated by history.

What we all do know is, the flowering of a great pop practioner is all too brief. It is usually only months between their first public stirrings and their greatest work. But that is the way it should be. Their later careers, spent trying to squeeze a living out of people’s hunger for anything that triggers nostalgia for their lost youth, should be ignored. 

It is here that my analogy between the pop music of Sheffield and the Ragworts of the same city breaks down. The Ragworts know when their job is done - as soon as their seeds have taken to the wind, it is time for the plant to shrivel and die.  Those seeds will find new homes and come the following spring will be sprouting and reaching for the sun. But that flaw in my analogy is not going to stop me from running with it.

These Ragworts are making their leap for life from anywhere they can crack the pavement of the designated cultural quarters.  With their bright yellow faces they say:

Fuck all those Council flowerbeds and carefully tended and sponsored roundabouts, with their pretentious flowers and shrubs.  Us Raggedyworts are packing more sunshine in each petal than a whole advertising campaign for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes could ever dream of.  And after we have had our few weeks in the sun and rain we will scatter our seeds far and wide. And anyway, a couple of weeks after us will be our cousins the Dog Daisies and then the Buddleia bushes with all their attendant butterflies. And on and on, all the way until late September when the mysterious Michaelmas Daisy will be welcoming in the Autumn. A tank of weed killer could only ever keep us at bay for a year or two, before we would all be back. Just you have a go.

 

*        *        *

 

The plan had been that I would come up with a new score for each day of me being in Sheffield. Each of these scores would then be designed in the usual manner that scores for The17 are designed.  Over each night I would then have the previous day’s score printed. In the morning, I would be out there with the paperboys and milkmen fly posting the brand new daily score to sites around the Sheffield city centre. Some folk would read the score and maybe inspired by it or at least be passingly amused.  Others, maybe the majority, would see them as litter bordering on vandalism.  Something the city council should be doing something to suppress. After a few days these fly posted scores would begin to look tired, scruffy and dog-eared. And that is exactly the way I want them to be and to exist. I want my scores to be like the Ragworts, but with sadly a little less sunshine.

Back to my Monday morning walk around the empty streets of the city centre. I was sort of on the look out for a likely bridge. One where I could do my imagine waking tomorrow & all music has disappeared graffiti. This is a graffiti that I am in the process of doing on forty bridges around the world. They always make the same statement but are translated into the local language. The text is the opening line of the first score written for The17 to perform.

Score 1: IMAGINE

http://www.the17.org/scores/1

 I had already dismissed the bridge that takes the tram over the roundabout at the bottom Commercial Street. Then I headed out of the city centre in a North Easterly direction, over the Lady’s Bridge and along The Wicker. In front of me was a majestic looking sandstone bridge, which I later learnt was called the Wicker Arches, built in 1848.  Its noble form screamed out at me, this was the perfect place for the graffiti. But the Jiminy Cricket on my shoulder whispered even louder, that I would be hated forever more by the citizen of Sheffield, if I was to vandalise this regal arch. I didn’t want their hatred.

I headed on, under the Wicker’s central arch, and into the former heartlands of the city’s heavy industrial past.  This was more like it.  Falling to bits, crumbling, degenerating mills and factories, along the banks of the Don. And everywhere Buddleia plants growing out of walls.  Last year’s seed heads still waiting to be taken by the wind, while their roots growing deeper into the walls of the dark satanic mills that they have been sent to bring down.  I love it.  I love it all.

Then I see Tesco’s.  Well a building site, but it will be a brand spanking new Tesco’s supermarket in very few months.  And all my love again turns to a seething rage.  The building site is surrounded by the usual boarding that major building sites are protected by. These are painted in the livery colours of Tesco’s.  And on them, every ten yards or so, is another statement from Tesco’s re-enforcing our love - or hate - for the brand.

A couple of weeks before being up in Sheffield, a bunch of ne’er-do-wells were making the front pages of the National dailies by firebombing a newly opened Tesco Metro in Bristol.  I was all for their hooliganism. Heartily cheering them on from the comfort of my sofa, as I consumed the ten o’ clock news. 

This seemed such a more worthy cause, than students bleating about not having to pay for an education. An education that is going to make them so much wealthier, than the vast majority of those who are funding these students’ privileged opportunities, via their taxes.  But anyway, back to Tesco’s, before I piss off too many readers with a possible antagonistic view.  In my notebook I was now jotting down all that Tesco’s was wanting to communicate to us.  And in my head, the first of my composer-in-residence scores for Sheffield started to take form. 

It was going to be something to do with lobbing 17 Molotov cocktails over this wall just to listen to the sound of them smash at the other side.  A knowingly futile gesture against the monolith that is Tesco’s.  A kind of extended remix of the song Ten Green Bottles.  But no sooner were the words of this score taking shape in my head, than a whole other raft of thoughts tried to block them. 

Over the decades, while I’ve been involved in consuming and producing art, be that music, writing and other stuff, I learnt a sad truth. It is also an obvious truth.  I like to hold onto my naiveté like a comfort blanket.  I’ve never wanted to become a jaded cynic.  But I’ve been let down too many times.  And maybe I’ve been guilty of perpetrating it myself on a number of occasions.

This sad truth is:

The vast majority of art (music, writing, visual etc) that is self-consciously presenting itself as political art is far from it.  Often as not, the artist is indulging themselves in the pose of making political art.  The motives for pulling this pose are possibly born from an inner rage about some terrible injustice, but these motives can also sit comfortably alongside the artist’s hunger for fame and maybe even old-fashioned fortune. 

We like to pull the rebel pose, especially in our youth.  It makes us feel dangerous and sexy.  We like the way we can be admired for it.  But far more suspect than our own motives for making political art, is the way it is used and exploited by the free market economy.  Take a few steps back from the protest singer’s ballad, the punk rockers’ tirade, or the political comedian’s gag.  And once those few steps back have been taken and you have the overview, it is not difficult to see all of the foot stamping and political gags are allowed to exist for one reason only.  To sell product.  Be they records, gig tickets, books or another TV series commissioned and fronted by our favourite political comedian.  Without product being sold, none of that art would have been made.

I would also argue, the survival instincts of any society only permit that, which will not bring it down. We in the free market loving, democratically governed west, allow for political art, because it not only bolsters but strengthens the system that controls our culture.  By allowing for it, the system we live under, can demonstrate to the rest of the world how inclusive and attractive a system we have. 

And looking back at what I’ve been involved with over the years, I’m probably as guilty as anyone.  This has meant that I now go out of my way to make art that in no way can be seen to be political art.  I see pulling the rebel pose as fraudulent as it goes.  But of course, in the secret of my own bed, I like to think my art is both as challenging and political as it can get, without you ever realising it.  What do you think The17 is all about? It is not just all self myth making on my part.

Thus, my alarm bells are starting to go off, when I begin to put words together in my head for an anti-Tesco’s score.  I mean I use the ATM at my local Tesco Metro at least twice a week. 

But at a deeper level, something else is going on here, something that has been ingrained in me for as long as I can remember.  In my writing I’ve often resorted to celebrating my Scottish Presbyterian roots and how that has had a big part in forming the person I am.  That is all well and good, but all of that is just on my father’s side.  On my mother’s side, they were grocer’s and had been for well over 250 years.  These were religiously nonconformist (Congregational & Quaker) and politically liberal grocers.  And for 250 years and counting they were based in Norwich, Norfolk. 

The family grocer’s shop was on the market square in Norwich.  But at some time in the first quarter of the 20th century, my great grandfather started buying produce in bulk from the suppliers and selling it on at a profit to other grocers scattered around Norfolk. By the late 40s, my grandfather got wind of what was happening in the USA.  Hundreds, then thousands of hardworking independent family grocery shops, across the country were being pushed into bankruptcy by these Wall Street backed major chain shops called supermarkets.  These supermarket companies could buy in mega bulk, lean on their suppliers to squeeze prices, advertise on coast-to-coast TV and ultimately build their brands into household names.  My grandfather knew it was only a matter of time before it started happening across Great Britain.  He made his first trip to the USA in 1948 and then again in the late ‘50s. He went over to the States because he learned that there were some grocery folk out there who were trying to combat Wal-Mart and the likes by setting up voluntary group systems.

After his second trip, my grandfather came back to Britain and got together with some of the other independent grocery wholesalers, across the country and set up a loose cartel.  They branded it Mace.  Throughout the ‘60s they attempted to hold the burgeoning Sainsbury’s, Tesco’s and Asda at bay and to stop the family run independent grocers going to the wall.  These independent family run grocers, could throw their lot in with Mace, and get the better deals and national branding that came from TV advertising. 

Across the country more and more of these family shops were using the Mace branding to help hold their own.  By 1964 there was over 5,000 Mace grocery shops in the country. Spar was a similar set-up that had originated from Netherlands in the 1930s.

My Grandfather would explain, when he took me fishing on the Broads, or on our walks along the cliffs between Sherringham and Cromer, how if the family run independent shops in the high streets, towns and cities were allowed to die, so would a big part of the souls of our communities. The big supermarket chains Hoovered the money up from a community and deposited it with the already wealthy in London.  I learned lessons from him, in the way that Margaret Thatcher learned from her grocer father in Grantham. But I guess somehow the lessons had a different outcome. 

I learned to respect the independent shopkeeper.  However stuffy or conservative (with a small or large C) he or she appeared to be, they were something to be admired.  It was from this shopkeeper class, along with the union officials, that we got a lot of our better local politicians.  Politicians who had the soul of the community at heart. 

This, I guess is why; there is a big part of me, that has always identified with the shopkeeper, having been self-employed since the age of 23. 

My Grandfather died in the early 1970s and the family company, that had gone strong for over 200 years, went quickly down hill. It was sold off to Bookers, who were then later bought by Palmer & Harvey, who are now the largest wholesalers in the UK.  The idealism I perceived in my grandfather’s approach to business was lost. As the local grocer transformed into the corner shop convenience store, there has been several other similar set-ups.  But none of these had the clout that both Mace and Spar had in the 1960s, to keep the ever-growing Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s and Asda at bay.

 

*     *     *     *

 

Over the past five years, I have been living in London; I’ve got to know a number of the blokes who run the local corner shops. Most of them are Turkish or Asian. These are proud men and value their independence and that of their family business. And what they bring to the local culture and community is far more than just the facility to buy a tin of beans at 10pm. But in those five years, I’ve witnessed several Tesco Metros moving into North-East London and with each one that opens, several of these corner shops closes. Of course I understand that our culture is in a constant flux and the consumer is King. We would not be buying at Tesco’s if it were not what we wanted. But...

Aside from bankers, Tesco’s are now the arch baddies and easy target of choice, now we no longer have George W. Bush to blame for the world’s woes. 

The last thing I want to do was write a score aimed at Tesco’s and for people to interpret it, as that sort of obvious political art, that takes the rebel pose, but in reality is no more than me promoting the brand of Bill Drummond - political artist. 

‘But Bill, people do not want to go to dingy overpriced corner shops when we can go to bright, clean and cheaper supermarkets where the fruit and vegetables are so much fresher and there is much more choice.  It’s a no-brainer, Bill.  Especially now that you can do it all on-line.’

I don’t have an answer to the above statement.  But knowing that does not stop the urge in me to make at least one Molotov cocktail and lob it over the wall of the Tesco’s, they are building in Sheffield. 

I did a deal with myself.  I would leave it a few days before returning to the idea of this score.

The rest of the day was spent just wandering the streets of Sheffield.

Soon there was a purpose to these wanderings. Within a couple of hours I had walked every pavement and back alley within the Sheffield inner ring road.  And every time I heard a sparrow chirrup, I put a cross at the relevant point on my Sheffield A-Z.

When the wanderings were nearly complete, I found myself outside a public house called The Washington. Up on the far corner of the guttering, set against a perfect blue sky, was a cock sparrow, chirruping for all he was worth.  I would have liked to have known what he was telling me, but I couldn’t work it out.  So instead I decided to go inside and have a pint.  Sadly the place was closed, but that didn’t stop the feeling in me that a score was coming on.

 

SCORE 391: SHEFFIELD SPARROWS

http://www.the17.org/score.php?score=391

 

Part Two:

Listen To The Sound of Sheffield

On the Tuesday morning, I awoke early and spent an hour or so just lying there in the hotel room listening to the sounds far and near.

Down at breakfast, I had kippers and poached egg. I knew that it was going to be difficult to contain my excitement, so I ordered another kipper. And then another pot of tea. The excitement was brought on by the fact I was about to do my first days working in Forgemasters. Although I was only going to be there for three days, it seemed like this was going to be one of the great adventures of my life. I had done my research on Forgemasters but all you need to know is that they are the greatest and longest surviving of the Sheffield steel mills.  I couldn’t wait to get in there.

 

*     *     *     *

 

Corby, the town that I had spent my teenage years in, was a one-industry town, and that industry was steel.  The steel was the only purpose for the town’s existence. Back in the 1920s, Corby had just been another small Northamptonshire village. 

Since before the Romans got to Britain, it had been known that the local Northamptonshire stone could be used as iron ore.  But it was so low-grade it had never been considered worth anybody’s while to go into serious production.  But after the First World War, the pressure was for Britain to become self reliant on its steel production capacity.  This low-grade ore was now a vital and valuable asset.  In the 1930s, a Scottish steel company called Stewart & Lloyds opened up shop in Corby bringing their own workers with them.  They mined the ore, smelted it in blast furnaces, and turned the iron into steel.  The village grew from a few hundred locals in the 1920s to almost 50,000 in the late ‘60s.  And the vast majority of those were Scots.  In every sense it was an enclave of Scotland marooned in the English countryside.  And with us, we had brought much of the worst and best aspects of Scottish culture: Rangers and Celtic supporters’ clubs, Orange Lodges, the Daily Record and of course Oor Wullie annuals each and every Christmas. All but two boys in my class supported Scottish football teams.

Come the fifth form back in ’69, when I had just turned 16, it was time for me to have my meeting with the careers advice officer.  On the desk in front of him was a sheet with some notes about me on it.  Although the wording from where I was sitting was upside down, I could just about make some of it out. Now, after all these decades, I can’t remember the actual words, but there was something about me, not being very academically bright or driven.  There was also something else about being in turn sullen and opinionated but not a troublemaker. At the bottom I could read that it was estimated I would pass 0 to 3 of the 7 O’Levels, I was about to sit. On a positive note it did say I was good at technical drawing and metalwork.

The careers advice officer asked me, what I thought I might want to do in my life, after I left school in the summer.  I told him, I didn’t want to leave school, but stay on to the sixth form and then go to university to do geography.  I loved geography. 

‘Well William, I think we have to be realistic. You are very good at metal work.  There are plenty of interesting apprenticeship options at the steel works.  One of these I think would be the perfect career path for a bright and practical lad like yourself.’

I do not recall my response but that career path was never followed*.  That said, five years later, in the spring of 1974, I did spend a few months working in the Corby steel works as a labourer. This was to save money, before going off to join the Carnation Revolution in Portugal.  I loved those few months working in the works, even if once I got to Portugal my career, as a revolutionary was a non-starter.

Forty years later - almost a whole working life – I was going back to be working in steel works. Yeah I know, not doing a proper job, but at least being a composer-in-residence, gave me an excuse for getting back inside.

After the second kipper and the last dregs of tea, I set off walking the two miles to Forgemasters. This took me again across Lady’s Bridge, under the Wicker Arches, past the new and as yet un-fire bombed Tesco’s building site. There were plenty of Sparrows and Ragworts to cheer me on my way.

The Forgemaster buildings loomed large either side of Brightside Lane. Dark and Satanic they might be, but I was loving every last red brick of them. And that was before I got inside.

In the reception area, I was welcomed by a friendly man with a Geordie accent. I assumed he was their public relations person or something. He introduced himself as Graham Honeyman. Which I thought was a good name to have. He led the way up to the company boardroom. It was only after he had shown me a short film about the company, I realised he was the boss. And not only the boss, he had managed the buy out from some unwanted American owners. And now over 50% of the shares in the company were owned by the work force.

Honeyman wanted to ask questions. The ones you might expect: What kind of music will you be composing? How might Forgemasters inspire you? Had I done this sort of thing before?

I dodged answering any of them, by instead asking him questions. It seemed he enjoyed playing the saxophone, had got himself a PhD, and that he loved the industry he was in. He also let it slip that they had been listening to The White Roomover the weekend.  It is when people bring up things like this from my past, that I get all sullen and difficult. All I wanted to talk about was the steel works and what they did and how it had evolved since he did the buy out.

Unlike the steel works in Corby, which primarily made steel pipes, Forgemasters did large-scale bespoke jobs. These were big specialist jobs for nuclear power stations, oilrigs, rolling mills and hydroelectric dams the world over. I was impressed.

We were joined by Rim Popat, the young health and safety officer. She took me through all the health and safety stuff that I needed to know. And then handed me a hard hat and overalls. Back in the steelworks of my youth, there was no health and safety and no one wore a hard hat. Also the only female face amongst the 12,000 workers, I can remember seeing, worked in the canteen. 

Rim was also to be my guide for the first day. And the first day was to be spent in the South Machine Shop. This was on the other side of the Brightside Lane. It was where what had already been molded in the Foundry then hammered in the Forge, was finished off.

Rim and I walked slowly the quarter mile from one end of the South Machine Shop to the other end.  The walk took almost two hours.  In that time, I immersed myself in all of the sounds.  They were overwhelming and I will not do these sounds the disservice of trying to describe them with mere words.  What I will tell you is, steel works are dark places.  Not dark in the Satanic way, but just in a straightforward lack of light sort of way. I love this darkness. Now, I don’t know if there are any practical reasons for having them so dark. Maybe it is just because for generations, the men working in them knew, these steel mills were far more attractive in a mysterious sort of way, if they were shrouded in darkness.

And that darkness frames the sounds perfectly.  Most of the men working in the mill seemed to be at least my age.  Their retirements must be looming large on their internal horizons.  I couldn’t help identify with these men; I could have so easily been one of them, if only that careers advice officer had been a bit more persuasive.  And then I started imagining my last day here, after spending forty odd years working in this machine shop, surrounded by these sounds. Sounds and noises I would never get to hear again. 

After the two hours in the glorious gloom of the place, drenched in all of its various sounds, we moved out into the sunlight.  The River Don flowed parallel to the quarter of a mile length of the mill.  Rim told me that the Don is being cleaned up and the fish are returning as well as the Kingfishers.  Kingfishers here on this river coursing its way through one of the most heavily industrialised bits of the land? That electric blue streak of the Kingfisher is something that has been coursing through my life since I saw my first one flash past me up the Penkiln Burn when I was about eight years old. Only the dive of the Gannet can come close for avian provided exhilaration. It was decades before I was exposed to the place held by the Kingfisher in Greek mythology, this added a whole new layer of appreciation of the bird.

I was offered a mug of tea or coffee.

I took my mug and sat on the wall by the Don and watched and waited for a Kingfisher to flash by.  One didn’t, but instead the second of my fully-fledged scores for Sheffield found its way down my pen onto the pages of my notebook.

SCORE 394: LAST DAY

http://www.the17.org/score.php?score=394

Afterwards I started to walk the two or so miles back from the Forgemasters into the centre of Sheffield.  As much as possible this walk took me along the banks of the Don.  Every turn, Ragworts were breaking up through the cracks and in full bloom.(delete)  There was a strange newly built walkway under one of the Victorian bridges. I later learnt that this type of walkway is called a spider. While under the bridge I was filled with an almost uncontrollable urge. And anyway, what was the harm?  I mean, nobody seemed to be about.  Standing on this spider walkway under the Victorian brick arch, I let out a full-bodied cry and what I expected happened – I was drowned by the reverberation of my own voice.  I love doing this, so I did it again.  And then a third and a fourth time.  Each time the reverberation felt better. 

Across the road from the bridge was a greasy spoon cafe called the Norfolk Bridge Cafe.  I went in and ordered an all-day breakfast to celebrate the experience I had just had.  While sitting there, I could not help but listen in on the conversation of the diners at the table next to me. There was much discussion about terms of bail and was he going to go down or not. As for the staff, they were extra friendly and I would thoroughly recommend the place, to anybody wanting your standard greasy spoon fare, served with a smile. That said I picked up it was under new management and who knows what changes that might bring. While mopping up the plate with my slice of toast, I could feel the next score start to take shape in my head.

SCORE 387: MORNING

http://www.the17.org/score.php?score=387

After making some notes about what this next score might be, I got back on the walk.  Still no Kingfisher, but I was surprised to see a dozen or so Sand Martins working up and down a stretch of the Don. What were Sand Martins doing in the middle of an industrial city? Where would they be nesting? Should anybody be informed? And then I noticed a Heron creep through the shallows on the opposite bank.

There was another bridge with a spider walkway underneath it.  And it too delivered the desired reverberating affect.  This bridge deserved its own late night score, one to be performed after a couple of drinks maybe.

SCORE 393: EVENING

http://www.the17.org/score.php?score=393

 

*     *     *     *

 

The next morning I again woke early and did the lying in bed listening to all the sounds that I could hear in turn.

The sounds of Sheffield may not be markedly different from any other British city, but it is always a rewarding exercise to do before throwing yourself into the onslaught of the day. Maybe this too might evolve into a score.

SCORE 389: LISTEN HARD

http://www.the17.org/score.php?score=389

Back at Forgemaster, and this morning Gareth Henthorn, the Quality Improvement Manager, was going to be showing me around the Foundry and making sure I did not step over any lines.

The Foundry is where the molten steel is poured into moulds, made from sand, hardened with heat resistant resin.  In turn the moulds to shape the hardened sand were made from wood.  The workshop where these wooden moulds were being made is where I realised my life had taken a completely wrong direction at the age of 16.  This is exactly where I should have started my apprenticeship in 1969.  It would have fulfilled all my needs. “And what exactly do you mean by that?” asks a voice at the back of my head. Well to make large objects out of wood. Objects that required precision and care in the making but were not just what a cabinet maker might make, destined for the drawing rooms of the landed classes. These were objects that were part of heavy industry. Their beauty did not rely on whatever the Sunday supplement style of the day decreed was the look of up-market furniture. The beauty of these objects came from the fact that they were built to do a job – a proper manly job. And the fact that once that job was done, as in the mould had been cast, they were redundant and could be scrapped, added to their beauty. There is also the fact that I could have just got on with the building of these objects and not spend so much time thinking about what they might mean - it would all be so much more simple. You could take a pride in your work without all the other stuff that seems to follow me around demanding my attention. “And Bill do you think you would have been happy with that?” says that voice. Yeah but the pursuit of happiness has never been my goal. “I rest my case.” (delete)

After the workshop Gareth took me on a tour of the Foundry.  Sound wise this was not as inspiring as the South Machine Shop had been.  But visually it more than made up for it.  There was plenty of molten steel being poured. During the few hours spent around the Foundry, I sunk easily into a fantasy of being the 16-year-old me on the first day of my apprenticeship.  The next score was soon beginning to form.

SCORE 386: FIRST DAY

http://www.the17.org/score.php?score=386

The walk back that afternoon, into the centre of Sheffield was a glorious one. I kicked a stone along the pavement as I wallowed in memories of how at the age of 16; I was totally in the thrall of the voice of Sandy Denny’s. She was then the singer in Fairport Convention, in my teenage bedroom I would play their Unhalfbrickingand Liege & Liefalbums, over and over again just to be close to her voice. I only need to listen in my head, to the opening line of Who Knows Where The Time Goes?from Unhalfbrickingwritten and sung by Sandy Denny to reduce me to tears. And if you do not know that line it is – ‘Across the evening sky, all the birds are leaving.’ I don’t expect it to have the same impact on you but to quote something I wrote sometime ago - ‘Other generations may have had Ian Curtis or Kurt Cobain, but for me the voice of Sandy Denny is enough for my lifetime.’

The Sand Martins were still flitting back and forth on the same stretch of the river. There was someone just about to start fishing. I needed to know what he was after. It turned out to be Grayling. It seems they, like the Kingfisher, had only recently returned to the Sheffield stretch of the Don. Back at the hotel, I filled the bath and sunk into it. A well-earned soak after a day of honest hard work at the mill. (omit- it sounds cliched)

 

*     *     *     *

The next morning at Forgemaster, I was taken around the Forge.  This is where they spend 16 hours heating huge chunks of steel that have been brought over from the Foundry. And when I say huge chunks, I mean two meters by two meters by five meters.  Massive. And after they have been heated for 16 hours it is taken from the furnace to the heavy press. Once the steel is locked in place, the press (weighing 100-tons) is hydraulically winched up and then dropped on the red-hot steel. This is done over and over again, for three hours. Between each dropping of the heavy press, the position of the steel is shifted slightly. After the three hours, the steel needs to spend another 16 hours in the furnace, being re-heated. This process is done to beat the huge lump of metal into a desired shape. (you are going to lose people here)

There is a team of men who operate and oversee this procedure. I got to join them as it was being done. I could have spent the rest of the week watching and listening to this one process. Who needs Black Sabbath, when you have got the real thing? No amount of Tony Iommi down-tuning his bottom E to C# and by so doing inventing the genre of Heavy Metal, could ever make anything sound has heavy as this. 

Once the desired shape has been arrived at, and this may take several days to achieve, the lump of steel is then taken over to the South Machine Shop, where it is milled into the end product. (d0 we need to know about the process as a reader- it sounds like a pamphlet for the steel industry)

If I came up with a score for the Foundry and the South Machine Shop, I felt it was only right to compose one for the Forge. There were gantries high above what was going on shop floor. I asked if I could climb up on to one, so I could have an overview of what was going on. After double-checking with Health & Safety, I was given the go ahead to clamber up the ladders to the gantry.

From up there I could feel this constant hum. I think the source of the hum was the furnace, but could not be sure. What I did know was, it did not shift from its pitch. Musically this meant, it worked perfect as a constant drone. In your imagination you could build up the other sounds of the Forge around the backing of the drone. These were the other very real sounds of the Forge. These included the dull but very, very heavy thud of the 100-ton press as it dropped. Between each drop there was the rattle of pipes on both sides of the gantry as water was being pumped through them. This was water for the hydraulic system, lifting the press up again in readiness for its next drop. To listen to something like this requires you to use your creatively. It is not just down to you consuming it like you can when you passively listening to recorded music. That is easy to do. We want more from life than what is just easy. Or come to that, merely comfortable.

Maybe all it needed was for a bunch of the steel workers to get up there and to perform as The17. All they would need to do was add a rough harmony on top of the constant hum. The harmony could be shifted. Maybe start off with a fifth and then take it further out. But was all this getting too ambitious? It was then I compromised that idea, for another one. I was allowing the pretence of me being a composer get the better of me. As you may know, there was a tradition in previous times for composers to compromise their craft by creating works that would include the musical aspirations of their patrons. Maybe I should knowingly do this, by putting together a score, which would require Graham Honeyman, to come up onto the gantry in the Forge with his saxophone. Up here he could blow long notes in harmony with the constant hum and all the other noises would be the rhythm section. In my head I could hear it and it sounded pretty good.

SCORE 390: SEVENTEEN DEEP BREATHS

http://www.the17.org/score.php?score=390

 If it was not for Graham Honeyman, the boss of the Forgemasters, giving the nod, I would have never been able to have one of the most three creatively rewarding days of my life. But would this mean I was just a lackey licking the boots of the mill boss? Was this worse than tailoring work, to fit the criteria of those at the Arts Council? What would the Ragworts have to say?

 

*     *     *     *

 

On the walk back to the city centre, I didn’t shout out under either of the bridges to listen to the reverberations of my voice. Did not go for a celebratory all-day breakfast. Didn’t notice if there were any Sand Martins. A Kingfisher could have darted by and it would have gone unseen. Did not peer into the waters of the Don hoping to spot a shoal of Grayling. And I made sure none of the Ragworts caught my attention.

Was all this negativity down to me being pissed off that my three days at Forgemasters were over? Or was it because I had already compromised my artistic purity, by conceiving of a score that was to be performed by the boss?

This sullen walk back to my hotel, took a different route than the usual one. If by some un-known force I found myself in the bus station. I often find myself drawn to bus stations. It is usually the dreariness and depressing nature of bus stations that I like. Strangely enough this bus station was neither dreary nor depressing, but I still liked it, especially the blue and white paintwork.

On entering a bus station, it is often difficult for me to restrain the urge to get on a random bus, just to see where it will take me. Many of the major decisions, I have made in life, have been made while sitting on the top deck of a bus.

This afternoon’s urge was not restrained and for almost two hours I was on the top deck of a bus as it meandered around the outlying estates of Sheffield.  And all I did for those two hours was listen to all the sounds that I could only imagine hearing. I felt so much better after that.

SCORE 388: GET ON A BUS

http://www.the17.org/score.php?score=388

It was while on this bus I came to the conclusion that it did not matter that the scores I had been spending the past few days producing, were far more about listening to the city of Sheffield, than coming up with scores that were about, bombarding Sheffield with the noise, produced by the throats of members of The17.  Through the week I was doing very little talking or even engaging with other people in any sort of meaningful way.  I was just listening, but listening hard to the city around me. 

The folk at Forgemaster had understandably thought I was going to use sounds heard there, as inspiration to make an orchestral piece.  Some of the younger ones thought maybe I would be sampling the noise to make some sort of industrial techno tracks. But for me this would have been such a dull course of action compared to what I had been doing. Of course what I was doing was just listening and that is something that every non-deaf person does all of the time. The type of listening I’m talking about does not just require the sounds to wash over you. You need to allow your imagination to engage with all of these sounds and explore them. To twist and turn them. To draw them out and turn them around.

Listening within the context of it being your first day as an apprentice, or your last day before the onslaught of retirement, will completely change your perspective and emotional relationship to what you are hearing. And that is not on just those two days. If those two scores were to be hung in the relevant workshops in Forgemasters, it would affect those that work there’s relationship to the sounds around them, long after their first or long before their final day. Many of the sounds would stay the same through decades of the their life at Forgemasters, others would come and go. (omit? Not sure what this is trying to say?

What had also changed was my state of mind.  The rage and seething had definitely subdued.  I was loving being in Sheffield.  Just wallowing in the sounds of the city. Mind you, one evening I went to a Pizza Express, the noise there grated painfully on my ears, it was the clatter of cutlery on plates reverberating against the tiled floors and plate glass windows. I can never understand how people can put up with such noise. But that may be down to mild autism on my part.

I guess my favourite sound in Sheffield was the tiny sound of the pavements cracking as Ragworts pushed their way up. The fact that I could only imagine these (delete**) these sounds were imagined, took nothing away from them.

Then there were the scores.  The original plan of having a fresh one done each day and fly posted early the next morning had definitely gone by the wayside.  Instead my plan had evolved to have one of each of the scores, printed and framed and hung site-specifically around the city.  One in each of the respective mills at Forgemaster, one in the bus station, one in the Norfolk Bridge Café, one in my room at the hotel, one in The Washington.  As for a Tesco’s score, the words that were finally used are somewhat compromised, compared to the original draft.  But I would still love to get this one printed up as a multiple and fly posted on the perimeter fence of the new Tesco superstore building site. Omit. Your point here is over done- don’t talk abiut what you didn’t do- rather – what you did)

By the Thursday afternoon I had nine brand new scores.

 

*     *     *     *

 

By Friday morning they were all designed and an A0 size of each of them printed in time for my talk. They were now my Sheffield Scores. And I felt proud of them.

So as well as the Ragworts I was clutching in my left hand, when I entered the C Pod, I had a role of these nine Sheffield Scores under my right arm.

The talk didn’t go quite as I may have hoped.  My planned improvised lecture meant some bits were ommited and I rambled on about some stuff that should have been cut. Influence by an audience member wearing an AC/DC t-shirt, which sidetracked me into a whole eulogy about the band.  And I finished the talk off by reading Score 392: LOB, which is the name that the (firebombing of-delete) Tesco’s score has ended up getting. It seemed to go down well. But in reality is that I suspect the majority of us in the room will be using a Tesco or similar within the next few days.

SCORE 392: LOB

http://www.the17.org/score.php?score=392

At the end of my talk there was a 15-minute fag, bog and tea break, before us all getting down to performing one of the scores. I had told them prior to the break, that there was to be no sloping off. I expected them all to take part, thus become lifetime members of The17.

In the original plan, they were going to do the world premier of one or more of the scores that I had written through the week. But seeing as only the horn blowing one involved any sort of physical music making and that definitely could not be done in the C Pod, I had to rethink things.

I guess some of them might have felt cheated. All of these words about spending last week in Sheffield are being written on a four hour and fifty minute flight to Beirut, Lebanon.  The primary reason I’m to be in Beirut is to lead a performance of Score 327: Divide & Combine, which will be twinned with a performance of the same score in Belfast, Ireland in spring 2012. This score has nothing particularly to do with a city like Sheffield; it can be done in any city. But I needed to try it out before heading for Beirut in four days time. Those attending my talk at Sensoria were used as my dummies. They did a good job. Delete- too tangential.

As for getting the imagine waking tomorrow & all music has disappearedgraffiti done – it hasn’t.  All week, I had spent on the look out for the right bridge. I still was not 100% certain as to which of the many more than worthy bridges Sheffield had to offer, should be graced with my graffiti.(delete) Tracey Moberly came up on the train on the Friday after the talk. The plan was that I would get the graffiti done that night and she would delete) to take the photograph the next morning of the grafitti and the bridge it adorned. We walked the walk I had taken to and from Forgemasters under the numerous worthy bridges. There was one obvious one. It was the one near the cafe. We worked out exactly how the graffiti should be done and the angle the photo should be taken. But we realised from a light point of view, the photo should be taken at the end of the day. As I had promised my youngest son, I would be back home by the following afternoon, Tracey and I had to postpone getting the graffiti made and photographed. For now.

On the walk back from the bridge, we came across a poster that had been freshly put up. The only text on it read IMAGINE WAKING TOMORROW & BILL DRUMMOND HAS DISAPPEARED. But there was not just one of these posters, as I walked on following the path by the Don back to the city centre, there was a whole trail of them. The design of the poster was landscape and mimicked the lay out of my text paintings. But why would some one go to the lengths of having these poster made and actually get out there and fly post them? What am I supposed to think? Will people see them and think that I did them? Does whoever put them up want people to think that I had done it? And if so, why had they not used the Trade Gothic Bold Condensed typeface that I use on all my posters and paintings? What do they get out of it? Is it some sort of a threat? Should I be concerned? Are they taking the piss? Something was turning in me. This was scary – is scary. Or maybe it is a sign. Maybe I should just disappear, never to be heard of again and these are the last words that I will ever write. If they find my body please make sure they play Who Knows Where The Time Goes?at my funeral.

 

 

* A year after the meeting with the careers officer in 1969, I had a meeting with another. At this second meeting I was given advice that ended up with me going to art school and that definitely shaped the direction things took.

 

If and when this text goes up on line I will be using the following words that appear in it as links to the following pages.

Sheffield - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheffield

National Centre for Popular Music - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Centre_for_Popular_Music

Sensoria - http://2011.sensoria.org.uk/

Joe Cocker – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Cocker

Being Boiled – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Being_Boiled

Dare – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dare_%28album%29

Lexicon of Love – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lexicon_of_Love

Pulp - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulp_%28band%29

Ragwort - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxford_Ragwort

Dog Daisy – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dog_daisy

Buddleia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddleia

Michaelmas Daisy – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michaelmas_Daisy

The Lady’s Bridge - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady%27s_Bridge

The Don - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/River_Don,_South_Yorkshire

The Wicker - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wicker_%28Sheffield%29

Wicker Arches - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wicker_Arches

Cobweb or Spider Bridges - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cobweb_Bridge

Jiminy Cricket - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jiminy_Cricket

Nonconformist - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonconformist

Congregational - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congregational_church

Quaker - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quaker

Mace - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mace_%28store%29

Spar - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spar_%28retailer%29

Booker - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Booker_plc

Palmer & Harvey - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palmer_and_Harvey

Forgemasters - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheffield_Forgemasters

Stewart & Lloyds - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stewarts_%26_Lloyds

Corby - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corby

Portuguese Revolution - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnation_Revolution

The White Room - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_White_Room

Kingfisher - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingfisher

Sand Martins - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sand_Martin

Heron - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heron

Sandy Denny - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandy_Denny

Unhalfbricking - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unhalfbricking

Liege & Lief - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liege_%26_Lief

Grayling - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grayling_%28species%29

Black Sabbath – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Sabbath

Tony Iommi - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Iommi

Score 327: Divide & Combine - http://www.the17.org/tours/coast-to-coast/belfast/score_327

Tracey Moberly - http://www.sanderswood.com/

 

 

 

I will be writing a shorter text after I have done the graffiti. It may start something like this:

 

Ok I forgot about the Arctic Monkeys and Warp Records in my Ragworts story. Also on the day after I got back from Beirut I got to watch a DVD of Exit Through The Gift Shop. I loved the song that was used over the opening credits. The closing credits informed me it was called ‘Tonight the Streets Are Ours’ and by Richard Hawley.

 

But that was last Friday. Right now I am on a flight to Beirut and instead of fretting about what I am supposed to be doing when I get there, I am making these notes, trying to work out what I was doing last week in Sheffield. The Sensoria festival program had stated, I was there as the composer-in-residence. What I didn’t do while I was there, was compose any music that can be listened to in any normal sense of the word.

 

APPENDIX

The17

The17 is a choir

The17 make music using no words, rhythm or melody

The17 make music that celebrates time, place and occasion

The17 have different singers every time they perform

The17 can be anyone, of any age from anywhere and you

The17 has never been recorded for posterity

The17 will never be heard on TV, radio or the Internet

The17 has no audience, other than those taking part

The17 have performed around the world more than 250 timessince 2006

The17 welcome the future.

If you need to know more visit www.the17.org

 

Coast-to-Coast

This is the title of an ongoing but sporadic world tour by The17. The tour began in Derby, England in 2008 and will end in Liverpool on the 28 April 2013. There are 40 dates on the tour. 20 of these dates take place within the British Isles (The UK and the Republic of Ireland). The other 20 dates are scattered around the world. Each of the 20 dates within the British Isles consists of a performance of a different score specifically written to be performed by The17. Each of these 20 dates is twinned with a performance of the same score at one of the other 20 dates around the world.

If you need to no more visit www.the17.org and click on TOURS.

 

Graffiti

Close to each of the 40 performances that make up the Coast-to-Coast tour. Bill Drummond makes a graffiti on the side of or underneath a bridge. These graffiti are not street art but vandalism. Each of them consists of the same crudely painted statement – IMAGINE WAKING TOMORROW & ALL MUSIC HAS DISAPPEARED. If the local language is not English he will have the statement translated into it first, before making the graffiti.

Photographs of all these can be found at www.the17.org and clicking on GRAFFITI