optimism, cities and songs

View from Tom Hadaway RoomWell underway with the third draft now. Nanna’s role has grown a little, though perhaps not as much as might be possible in a larger scale production. It’s good to think of this presentation as work in progress, though hopefully well on its way. It definitely has become a different entity though very very close to the story, if that makes any sense. Tess, the director, and I are really looking forward to getting it read out loud and on its feet next week. I keep imagining the particular actors in my head as I’m writing now. What a lovely job to be doing.

Jim Kitson who will play Mac (The Taxi Driver) is in the building this week rehearsing the Tom Hadaway scripts which will be performed from tomorrow night until Sunday. I was reminded reading Julia’s blog how much she appreciated Jim’s musical work on Manifesto for a New City which she wrote for Northern Stage. It’s great that he’s available for Mac as I think he’ll be great. He’s even found a taxi driver’s leather coat which he seems to be wearing in.

He was also in a short film I saw last night at the Baltic. It’s by Matt Stokes, the Gateshead based artist who won the Becks Futures Prize for his film of Northern Soul dancers. This new film, The Gainsborough Packet, is very direct but in a surprising kind of way. It’s basically like a pop video but using the text of an 180 year old letter set to music and sung straight into camera by a singer called Sam Lee. It’s about a real man called John Burdikin who wrote a 12 page letter describing his life in the early 1800’s. The song has a repeated refrain ‘Now what think you of this, my friend Pybus?’ which haunted me all night. The effect of it in the film is like a philosophical question: are we victims of fortune, is there a God looking after us or is it inherent optimism that keeps us going?

I’ve worked with Matt once, on a project he did in a tower block in Newcastle city centre where he asked every occupant their favourite song and for one night only, we broadcast a radio programme from the block, playing the dedicated songs and interviewing the people. It was great. That piece, his Northern Soul film and this new one all seem to be about the indomitable power of people’s connections with popular music. Great stuff, and though I think some contemporary art purists might find the film incongruous, I think the context of the Baltic actually makes you look harder for what the piece’s intention is. What I’d call the white wall effect.

Been working in the Tom Hadaway room again all day. It has a great view out the back, looking over little alms house roofs to the bigger Quayside buildings and the mighty Tyne Bridge in all its green girdered glory. The day has been a whirwind of weather. Bright warmish sunshine at lunchtime then swirly snow later on. Julia’s take on Newcastle is very resonant working down near the river. She says this in her blog:

“When I first got to Newcastle I went down by the quayside, with the bridges towering over your head, and the river full of rubbish, and it felt dangerous and brilliant at the same time.Like a dreamt up city. I knew I would never live anywhere else. I think alot of people feel like me at the moment…a kind of nostalgia for something that’s disappearing so fast we can hardly remember what it was, mixed with pride at the indisputable beautiful bridge and the sheer ambition of the city. ”

That was in October 2002. She also says later how she felt like the city was a person that she had a relationship with.

I think cities have atmospheres, even spirits. Not just one but several. I don’t mean ghosts, more energies that have gathered somehow and still make themselves very felt. Much of the Quayside still feels ancient (in a good way) despite the glitzarama. The wooden joists (?) that line the riverbank and edge of the swing bridge were all exposed today in the sunshine with the river at low tide and there was this tangible sense of the long past still very present. Maybe cities are like actors, they can wear changing guises but are the same being at core.

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About Carol McGuigan

writer, performer, wonderer As a writer I am represented by Euan Thorneycroft at A.M. Heath http://www.amheath.com/pages/authors/view.asp?id=406 As a performer by Janet Plater http://www.janetplatermanagement.co.uk/ there's also a brief but currently out of date biog about my writing on the Literature North East site http://www.literaturenortheast.co.uk/writers/Carol_McGuigan_A-Z
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