Last month Amanda took part in the ‘Song Lines to Impact and Legacy’ conference at the Manchester People’s History Museum as a celebration of our Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded project.

The Project...

As you may know from previous blogs, the College has been a partner in an AHRC-funded project: 'Songlines to Impact and Legacy: Creating Living Knowledge through Working with Social Haunting.’ The basis of this project was to develop 'song lines' of stories and feelings that connect people and place, and the past to the present and future. The context for the research was communities in northern England whose industries have gone, leaving many social problems and fractured traditional identities. The College worked with the project with groups from Young Mind and a group from the WEA in Rochdale, as well as a group of asylum-seekers in Stoke, using the ‘ghost lab’ technique of utilising community tarot cards to explore issues of identity and relationships. These sessions were facilitated by poet Andrew McMillan and generated discussion that would be adapted by folk songwriters Brenda and Geoff Heslop from Ribbon Road. They would then create original music and songs that captured the spirit of the groups’ ideas.

The Conference...

The conference was a celebration of the project, a chance to network and to try out some interesting ways of engaging communities in heritage as a way to and reimagine perceptions of the past, the present and the future. After an introduction from project lead Geoff Bright, we were treated to a viewing of the video ballad series ‘Giving up the Ghosts’ that coupled Ribbon Road’s hauntingly beautiful songs with images captured by Carl Joyce during the project. The songs that really stood out for me, mostly because I had taken part in the ghost labs that led to their creation, were ‘Waving like the Palm Trees’, ‘She walks through the rain in Rochdale’ and ‘My Heart’s Eyes’.  

Each of these songs tell personal stories of the sense of place, home and belonging, whether that be from a newcomer perspective reminiscing about their distant country and the story of coming to live somewhere away from your friends and family, or one of trying to find a place and identity for yourself in a place you’ve always lived. As an ensemble, the video ballads and images were incredibly moving and left the conference audience deeply affected. After the showing, there was a discussion with Ribbon Road about the process of building the songs from the ghost lab materials, and how they had felt that there was hope in each of the communities, even whilst people’s experiences were sometimes quite emotionally charged.

The next section of the day was a choice of workshops, the first was a New Vic Ghost Lab, where Pippa Church and Brendan Davies from the New Vic shared some of the methods they use to listen to ghosts from our communities’ pasts. The second was with photographer Les Monaghan, who discussed his ongoing project, Relative Poverty, working with those in destitution, demonstrating how photography can point to the unseen and the unheard. The workshop I chose was Comic Responses which involved going round the museum with comic artist Jim Medway to explore the Museum collection artefacts from a new perspective. It was great to look at museum pieces in a new way and reinterpret their meaning from a personal viewpoint – each person in the group bringing their own ideas and creativity to their drawings or writing. A second round of workshops also included one with Andrew McMillan, where he encouraged people to explore ways in which we can discover new languages to describe the past in order to move forward in new ways through creative writing, and also Plotting our stories, encouraging people to explore how we can represent and understand the different patterns of our shared narratives. The day ended with a selection of radical songs performed by Pippa and Brendan from the New Vic.

AHRC Songlines Conference

The best bits...

What I particularly loved about this event, and indeed about the whole project, is that I rarely get to take part – in my professional life at least – in an arts-based project that encourages such a range of expression and interpretation, and uses such a creative and thought-provoking way to engage communities in what can sometimes be painful issues for participants. What came out clearly for me through my involvement in this project is that even whilst this may be a sometimes difficult process, there is also great strength, hope and resilience that comes to the surface as a result.