Alex Glen Wilson

Moving Image. Archives. Yorkshire. History.

White Rose Counterculture

 

HIPPIES!?

IN

YORKSHIRE!?

The following brief post speaks of these seemingly disparate elements, and is the germ for a wider research project that is sadly beyond the scope of my current work/time/life/balance.

It stems from a long-held fatigue of a ‘London Swinging Sixties’ / ‘Underground London’ duopoly which runs the rule over much historical writing and documentary making (populist, academic or otherwise) about this period. It is inspired by my own PhD research which tries to suggest that independent film-making in Yorkshire has long roots,  an excellent 2018 journal article by John Griffiths entitled ‘Rivalling the Metropolis cultural conflict and the regions c.1967-73‘, and the overriding sense that many years on, we still haven’t shaken off the cliches of Carnaby Street – 1968.

What was happening outside the bubble, and was anything going off in Yorkshire, man? It is a necessarily brief dip into the subject, and while general cultural histories of the North in the sixties concentrating on the mainstream explosion of Kitchen Sink actors, writers, films and musics are abundant, this post steps into a relatively uncharted ‘underground’ Yorkshire and starts with a look at a great educationalist.

Alternatives in Education and Theatre – Albert Hunt

It was in the nascent Polytechnic colleges were evidence of a Yorkshire counterculture is most evident. While I have written about the formation of the Sheffield Polytechnic HERE, in Bradford a different picture emerged.  In 1965 the Bradford College of Art appointed Burnley-born, Oxford-educated lecturer Albert Hunt to run this department. His important, and subversive, contribution to the arts in Yorkshire deserves discussion.

Despite attempts at integrating the Dip. AD. program into Bradford, the college was not successful and so changed its ethos, becoming a dedicated college of art and technology based on on vocational training for students. Hunt was charged with teaching film within this context and revising the timetable structure along these new lines. His 1976 autobiographical tome, Hopes For Great Happenings, examines this period, proposing new possibilities for an alternative education approach. Freed of the constraints of the Dip. A.D., Hunt devised a teaching methodology that was radically different to many in the country, and one that was indicative of a late 60s spirit:

Faced with the unreal learning situation, a group of us decided to create alternative situations in which learning became part of a concrete, physical experience. So, we played children’s games… [1]

In his second year of teaching, Hunt first used collaborative theatre based on experience and improvisation to lead a series of student-led happenings that blurred the boundaries of education, and transcend the limited notion that the London schools were the sole place of ‘where it was at’ during 1960s. In Autumn 1967, he staged a huge theatrical event among students and a wave of visiting artists, with people from all the over the country coming together in memoriam of the Russian Revolution of 1917. The idea was to turn Bradford into St. Petersburg and try to recreate , ‘in the form of a dramatic game, some of the events in Russia’. [2] The happening went on for a period of eighteen hours, with processions, discotheques, poetry recitals, play workshops, exhibition boxing, and dancehall music located at various venues around the city. It called to attention that something unusual was happening at the Bradford College of Art. The city was now ‘crawling’ with visiting artists who integrated into the College and taught lessons. Future arts luminaries to arrive at Hunts’ behest included poet, Adrian Mitchell, Bomb Culture author Jeff Nuttall, surrealist writer Tony Earnshaw and avant-garde musician, Cornelius Cardew.

Russian Revolution, Bradford, 1967 – c/o Unfinished Histories

In the moving image, abstract film-maker John Lathan brought a piece to be projected and the College group made an associated soundtrack, while student Chris Vine developed a large film piece involving a pencil and ‘huge ruler’. [3] These descriptions speak to a multi-disciplinary group operating at the bleeding edge of arts and performance, located some 200 miles from London. There followed an intense period were Bradford College of Art can rightfully claim to have kept pace with the counter-cultural activities of the capital’s art schools. Writing in 1980, Catherine Itzin further reinforces this idea by describing the Revolution work as ‘the largest piece of street theatre produced in Britain in the sixties or seventies – an event which encapsulated the imaginative possibilities of political theatre and which set a precedent for the following decade’. [4]

Passport to Theatre and Screen

By 1968, the Complementary Studies led Theatre Project group which birthed these happenings was now formalised as the Bradford Art College Theatre Group, with members including Chris Vine, Jacqui Crone, Roger Simcox, and John Booth. The group gravitated away from performance art events and moved in the direction of using popular entertainment to make political statements via the traditional theatre space. The first piece created by this new group was a work entitled Destruction Of Dresden and was performed at the ICA in November 1969. For the next six years they evolved into a professional troupe, attached to the college, and received backing from the YAA, Gulbenkian and the ACGB leading a series of experiments and innovations in the form, touring across Britain and Europe. [5] In his historical analysis of Theatres of The Left, Ewan Macoll writes that ‘the development of theatre as an open space – provided an imaginative paradigm for the campus revolt of 1968 and the anti-authoritarian movements associated with it.’ [6] Hunt’s new Bradford Theatre Group sits in alliance with that broad up swell in shifting cultural attitudes. The Bradford group, in particular, demonstrated the Brechtian philosophy of ‘cheerful and militant’ learning through education, and proved that ‘theatre can be popular without dispensing of wit, irony, intelligence and mind.’ [7] These philosophies were extended by Hunt’s attempt to reverse the theatre’s customary deference to high culture, instead to be replaced by agit-prop ‘… an attempt to escape from art to anti-art, and theatre to anti-theatre’. [8]

The Bradford Art College Theatre Group (c/o Bradford Counter Culture – Facebook Page)

The Bradford group sits in a 60s Yorkshire landscape populated with repertory and agit-prop theatre organisations formed in a similar mould. In Sheffield, the Repertory theatre promoted experimental productions, while in Halifax the I.O.U group established new modes of street performance with Yorkshire Arts Association backing, and in the Leeds suburb of Armley, Interplay produced immersive plays with children, hospitals, and community centres.

These places of theatre often had a direct connection to the moving image. On a basic level, the groups utilised newly accessible open-reel video equipment to film performances, and to document working process. However, Hunt’s group advanced the use of screen technologies further still and began producing film and television programs to challenge the very concept of theatre and broadcast media.

In 1970, the Bradford College of Art enacted a new Film/Theatre/Television diploma course and tasked Hunt to run it. He remembers thinking that ‘there was no reason why we shouldn’t create an alternative television in the way an alternative theatre had been created…’  [9] According to Hunt, initial experiments with newly-acquired video equipment (two Sony PortaPak cameras, two small monitors) attempted to ape mainstream television codes and followed conventional aesthetic ideas of how that should look. As a result, the newly christened ‘Media In Education Unit’ at Bradford College of Art began a project called Open Night / The Unteachables which Hunt described as a ‘counter-programme’ that would transform the Bradford practice from these norms. It remains a significant step-change in community media practice. Working with a group of school leavers, Hunt and his collaborators invented techniques and games of working with the video medium:

The Unteachables / Open Night

 

 

The school leavers would not make problem documentaries about their own situation, but entertainments, mock advertisements, collective cartoons, irreverent versions of This Is Your Life… [10]

This radical approach allowed pupils and communities a greater sense of freedom and confidence in the technology itself. It served as a way of, in Hunt’s words, skewing the typical methods of ‘imitating the dead forms thrown up by an authoritarian television industry’, instead creating a video entertainment to make political statements, therefore inverting the popular language of television remodelling moving image as an ‘educational weapon’. [10] The finished piece was taken to parents, teachers, school governors, members of education committees, and students in colleges or education, and was the catalyst to a host of video experiments at the Media In Education Unit. These included editing games with the broadcast news in which school leavers made their own news by cutting up interviews of Arthur Scargill, or recreating war-time Berlin in Bradford using newly filmed sequences and props. [11] The Leeds group Pavilion located a copy of The Unteachables in 2016 and toured it as part of their Problems of Perspective program, read more about it HERE.

One can trace the importance of Hunt’s radical experiments with screen media and agit-prop theatre long after the Media Education Unit faded from view in the mid 70s. The most explicit connection to the Unit is represented by Jim O’Brien’s YAA sponsored, NFS co-funded piece from 1977, Black Future. Discussed in more detail elsewhere on this site, the film serves as the logical – and most accomplished- extension of the work first started back when the Theatre Group was founded in the late 60s.

Black Future (Dir. Jim O’Brien, 1977) from Alex Glen Wilson on Vimeo.

For seven prolific years, Albert Hunt and the Theatre Project/Media In Education Unit transcended funding constraints and educational shackles, and carved out a unique and radical space for alternatives in theatre, screen, and education. His contribution to the regions cultural history commands a more comprehensive account than this current project can afford. Further reading at the links below.

While the colleges in Bradford and Sheffield paved the way for a dynamic new culture of production and experimentation in the region, students attending the traditional red-brick Universities of Leeds and Sheffield were also beginning to investigate film practice. In South Yorkshire, The Film Unit at Sheffield University Union of Students produced many works during the post-war years. Little is known about the Unit itself, but the YFA collection points to a film culture which ranged from social documentary (Broomhall and Castle Market, 1965 is verite snapshot of life in the city), to strange science-fiction experiments such as Unknown (1972).

Leeds University also had its own production culture, steered by the experienced John F Murray who joined the Film Unit in 1970 to run the Audio-Visual Service supporting both graduates and the University promotional department to make films attracting students to Leeds. The service also supplemented ongoing YAA activity, filling the need for professional level editing equipment which was lacking at the YCC. Murray himself served on the YAA Panel in the 1970s and had an important role to play in a pivotal Indian language production, Khoon Aur Paisa (1977)It is evident from this broad history that the ferment of late 1960s and early 70s that Yorkshire was driven in the moment by the further education network and a new wave of ‘switched-on’ students, teachers, and graduates, facilitated by a liberated and flexible complementary studies courses and radical alternatives in education. While the coverage of the arts school network outside of London remains sparse, academic analysis of underground culture across the regions during the 1960s is almost entirely absent.

Swinging South Yorkshire?

John Griffiths’ 2018 piece challenges the excessive historical focus on London’s ‘swinging 60s’ scene, suggesting that contemporary accounts as written by travelling London-based authors enforced the declinist ‘portrayal of the regions as ‘black and white,’ in comparison with the ‘technicolour’ capital’. This position has been the dominant narrative to date, with only the populist local history market studying the period at a simplistic and nostalgic level. His brief survey attempts to redress the narrow emphasis by reinventing the perceptions of regional music and nightlife during the 60s. [12]

Comparing the cultural differences between the capital and the rest of the country, Griffiths reaches for Hoggart via Fowler who states that in the early part of the 60s the gap in cultural tastes and activity between London and the regions was so wide, ‘precisely because civic culture and working class culture were so entrenched’ [13] in the North – the brass band over the bohemian. Moreover, the so-called psychedelic scene with its associations of LSD, love-ins and the hippy lifestyle simply didn’t connect on the same level in the industrial geographies of Yorkshire. Against this profile, therefore, Jonathan Green suggests that the psychedelic scene in the Northern cities was viewed with suspicion and apathy by working class communities, who saw it as ‘an educated movement [. . .] drawing on the children of the comfortable bourgeoisie.’ [14] Furthermore, if we identify that drugs were one of the catalysts to a new counter-culture, the working classes of the North were not privy to the same substances as their counterparts in London. Many accounts of the nightlife scene in urban centres such as Leeds, Manchester, and Sheffield speak of a youth culture driven by pints of bitter, amphetamines and black American Soul music, not marijuana and Pink Floyd; a broad Northern picture emerges of working-class escapism from the weekday drudgery.

Hippies, Yorkshire 1967 (apparently), https://60s.blogberth.com/2017/07/14/adandyinaspichippies-in-yorkshire-england1967courtesy-of/

This further manifests itself in the consumption of moving image. While extended analysis of the cinema-going habits of 60s Yorkshire requires further research, it is understood that urban venues typically traded in the dominant, escapist Hollywood product, and it wasn’t until the 1970s when independent cinemas/films began to emerge in the region and a more aesthetic film-going was offered appeared. The Yorkshire underground culture, then, was instead propagated via the safe bourgeois spaces of the art school network. Anecdotal examples serve to reinforce this notion. Alf Bower (Sheffield City Polytechnic) remembers a ferment of alternative art and performance. He invited beat poet Dick Barker from London to perform, ‘cross-legged surrounded by candles and so on:A HAPPENING.’ [15] While inspired by events at the Hornsey School of Art in 1968, he suggests that ‘one of the third year, John Phillips, occupied a staff office. Declared a UDI. We took it over.’ Meanwhile, YAA film-maker Peter Samson was engaged in his first job at Doncaster Art School in 1968 and recalls the bohemian scene somewhat less romantically: ‘there was one bloke from Essex, smoked dope, and wore velvet, and that’s all there was really’. [16]  This tells us that although certain art schools were experimenting with the new culture, the psychedelic underground had only just taken root. This climate of late 60s change further manifest itself in the growth of radical avant-garde theatre practice (as with Albert Hunt’s Bradford), alternative press (see the Leeds Other Paper) and also the Arts Labs movement.

Arts Lab, Drury Lane Logo

This climate of late 60s change further manifest itself in the growth of radical avant-garde theatre practice (as we have seen with Albert Hunt’s Bradford), alternative press (see Leeds Other Paper – LAW Case Study) and also the Arts Labs movement. Established by Jim Haynes in 1967, the London Arts Lab was a concept derived as an ‘energy centre where anything can happen… in a loose fluid multi-purpose way’. [17] Between 1967 and 1970, 150 Arts Labs sprung up around the country, and while they were often informal, unstructured spaces, Leeds, Bradford, and Halifax are known to have housed Labs in permanent buildings. The latter occupied two floors in a town centre warehouse, and presented a diverse program of happenings:

including electronic music film making and showing mixed media (light, sound, film etc.), drama, dance, poetry, literature mime, two and three dimensional visual expressions, folk, folk-rock, jazz and blues.’ [18]

Halifax, Dean Clough 1967 – Arts Lab nearby? – Alan Burnett – https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/312296555382780897/

The Arts Lab journal, International Times, documents a number of happenings and underground activities taking place across the region located at the intersection of different experimental media. This is further evidence of a -loosely- organised countercultural network of artists working with moving image  in the late 60s. An active scene emerges, one with ties to London but one with its own unique regional character. The Arts Lab manifesto can tell us much about the broad political make up of this new-wave. Its founder, Jim Haynes, elucidated his position in the opening lines:

People ask me If the Arts Lab Is political. Anyone who is interested in changing anyone’s attitude to anything is committing a political act. We at the Covent Garden Lab have certain philosophic attitudes to the world, and we hope to show others by deeds that these political/philosophical attitudes can be transmitted via non-traditional political media. [19]

End

Following this cursory wander around the unwritten corners of the late 60s Yorkshire scene, it becomes evident that those most active were caught in a constant dialectic over political ideals, the state sponsored mechanics of funding, professionalism versus amateurism, and the desire for independence / opposition to the mainstream (London) art/film/music industries. A core demographic emerges, one inextricably bound by these inherent questions. Further, we now understand that the protagonists at the creative heart of this period were broadly from the middle-class university demographic, with Left political leanings, and shaped by the aesthetic, social, and cultural movements of the late 1960s.

It is clear to me that there is a need for a wide-ranging study of an Alternative 60s, one which encompasses a broad regional outlook, and one which investigates the students, the arts labs, the speed-addled working class lads and lasses, and the squares. A history far removed from the current, tired, narrative of Quant and Carnaby Street,  but no less vibrant and dynamic.

notes

[A] While this film was shot at the commune in Dorinish island off Co Mayo, it was filmed by the prolific Leeds businessman and accomplished amaueter filmmaker, Alan Sidi. More info HERE

[1] Hunt, A. Hopes For Great Happenings (Alternatives In Education and Theatre),  Eyre Methuen, 1976. p.139

[2] Ibid. p.72

[3] Ibid. p.19

[4] http://www.unfinishedhistories.com/history/companies/bradford-art-college-theatre-group/

[5] Hunt, A. Hopes For Great Happenings (Alternatives In Education and Theatre),  Eyre Methuen, 1976. p.98

[6] MacColl, E (ed.) Theatres of the Left 1880-1935 (1985): Workers’ Theatre Movements in Britain and America (Routledge Revivals: History Workshop Series, 2016), p.Xix

[7] Hunt, A. Hopes For Great Happenings (Alternatives In Education and Theatre),  Eyre Methuen, 1976. p.131

[8] MacColl, E (ed.) Theatres of the Left 1880-1935 (1985): Workers’ Theatre Movements in Britain and America (Routledge Revivals: History Workshop Series, 2016), p.Xix

[9] Hunt, A. Hopes For Great Happenings (Alternatives In Education and Theatre),  Eyre Methuen, 1976. p.132

[10] Hunt, A. Language of Television: Uses and Abuses,  p.4

[11] Ibid. p.104

[12] John Griffiths (2018): ‘Rivalling the Metropolis’: cultural conflict between London and the regions c.1967–1973, Contemporary British History, DOI: 10.1080/13619462.2018.1519434, p.2

[13] Fowler, D. “From the Juke Box Boys to Revolting Students: Richard Hoggart and the Study of British Youth Culture.” In Richard Hoggart and Cultural Studies, edited by S. Owen, 105–122. New York: Palgrave, 2008.

[14] Green, J. All Dressed Up: The Sixties and the Counterculture. London: Pimlico, 1999.

[15] Alf Bower. Conversation with author, 2018. Personal communication.

[16] Peter Samson. Conversation with author, 2018. Personal communication.

[17] http://www.internationaltimes.it/archive/page.php?i=IT_1969-10-10_B-IT-Volume-1_Iss-66_016&view=text, Accessed May 2018

[18] http://www.internationaltimes.it/archive/page.php?i=IT_1968-08-23_B-IT-Volume-1_Iss-38_002&view=text, , Accessed May 2018

[19] ibid.

////

Little Mesters

Die Sinker (Trades and Crafts No.2), 1980.

A post about three sets of documentary films on industrial Sheffield follows. First from the late 1970s (Trades and Crafts), the next 1993 (Masters of Metalworking) and finally a series of shorts from the recently departed Shaun Bloodworth in 2013-15. All work united under their appreciation and documentation of the Little Mesters…

In the 70s and 80s, South Yorkshire County City Council (SYCC) sponsored a wave of films to be made about council services to help reposition Sheffield’s image and attract business to the region in the post-industrial economy. Broadly speaking, the first archetype of the council film in this period are the promotional corporate made with the aim of showing Sheffield in a positive light with the hope of building internal confidence; improving Sheffield’s outward image; attracting inward investment; and developing a long-term plan for the economic diversification of the city in a Blunkett-led administration attempting to transform and raise civic pride. [1] Typical early examples of these films include the infamous Sheffield: City on The Move (made global by its use on the Full Monty) imagining the city as a ‘smokeless city haven’, or the later Your Move Next (1981), by Sheffield Polytechnic graduates Martin John Harris and David Rea, which is a work of wonderfully awkward acting now available on the BFI Player.

Your Move Next (Martin Harris and Dave Rea, 1981)

The same two film-makers also made a beautiful short about the abundant range of Sheffield parklands and leisure spaces the city has to offer. No more do the factories clog up your breathing apparatus; swimming, cycling, outdoor brass-bands, the Botanical Gardens, Endcliffe and Hillsborough Park are where it’s at in the feel-good world of 70s South Yorkshire. Free For All glides along without narration amidst a gorgeous 16mm palette of greens and yellows, and a newly commissioned folk song in the 70s Pentangle-mould. It is a lovely film. Found here on my Vimeo:

TRADES AND CRAFTS

Another aspect of the SYCC sponsored films, arose from a realisation that traditional industries were crumbling, so the council commissioned the Sheffield Independent Film (SIF) membership and the City Polytechnic to document the aging proponents of steel crafts, or ‘little mester’ trades. The phrase Little Mester is a regional term used to describe Sheffield’s self-employed cutlers who rented space in factories and had their finished goods sold by the factory owner, [2] and in late 1970s the demand was beginning to erode as East Asian imports were allowed to flood the market thereby killing the small traditional industries. SYCC approached Paul Haywood and Barry Callaghan at Sheffield City Polytechnic to document these dying businesses and they made a series of films called Trades and Crafts of South Yorkshire. The council paid material costs for 16mm, and in an age when film was expensive and difficult to fund, here was a chance for students and SIF members to work on 16mm productions at little cost.[3]

Sheffield City Polytechnic Logo 1980

Until recently only a handful of titles had surfaced, but I was fortunate enough (thanks to Paul Haywood’s widow, Aileen) to have found a VHS tape with all the original Mesters film transfers and a series of follow up films from 1993 (‘Masters Of Metalworking’) sponsored by the Ruskin Gallery which make a fascinating counterpoint to the early works.

In the first Trades and Crafts batch of titles, put together by Haywood and Callaghan (with assistance from Sheffield City Polytechnic students), we meet characters in their workshops with names like Albert, Roland, Eric, Bill, Steve, Stan and Thomas as they show us the dark arts involved in Blade Forging, Die Sinking, Grinding, Dressing , Silver Casting and Silver Spinning.

Highlights include the perma-smoking Mr. Hukin – Fork Polisher (Trades and Crafts No.1), whose family name has been in the fork polishing industry for over 200 years, telling us that ‘at this moment in time that me and and my workmate, Bill Holmes, are the last two men working on their own account in this country’.

Albert Craven – Blade Forger (Trades and Crafts No.7) meanwhile is the last maker of hand-forged knives in the city who, after 72 years in the industry, has decided to retire and escape to the coastal town of Bridlington to see out his days away by the sea. This is one of the standout Trades… intercutting scenes of Albert by the Bridlington docks ruminating on his life and work, with the Blade Forger himself in situ hitting orange-hot-metal-on-metal as he carves blades. The film closes on the quietly heart-breaking epitaph from Albert, which serves as a motif for all these films: ‘It’s rather a pity it’s dying out, because it was a really good craft that had been going on for nearly 600 years, and we’ve got to the stage now where I don’t think the trade can do all that much for us anymore… there’s not going to be the same craftsmen at all…because everything now is done by machinery’.

To show that it’s not all Sheffield steel, Trades and Crafts ventures up the M1 to meet Thomas Devey – Millstone Dresser (Trades and Crafts No.4) at Worsbrough Mill near Barnsley to investigate the 900-year-old water powered mill and the engineer who works at the newly restored working museum that now sits onsite. Mr. Devey has spent all his employed life at Worsbrough (‘like his father before him’) and is now retired but the film shows him demonstrating the craft of millstone dressing which is ‘the act of cutting, then maintaining the pattern of furrows and flat lands between them which sit on the grinding faces on the millstones’. This process is integral to the end-quality of the ground-flour product. Mr. Devey expertly goes about his business, and it’s gently absorbing stuff.

Back in Sheffield, Barry Callaghan directs the wonderfully titled Last Teapot Handle Maker (Trades and Crafts No.8) and goes in search of Mr. Watts at the 19th Century Sellers Wheel Yard on Arundel Street (now the site of a hip coffee shop). In one of the workshops we find the eponymous Mr. Watts setting up on his last day of work before retiring from the teapot handle trade. Mr. Watts finishes the process by attaching the cast handle to a famous Sheffield plate teapot, and just like that his workshop and the family company of five generations, draws to a close. Like many of the Trades films there’s an innate sadness which permeates. These titles paradoxically celebrate Sheffield’s industrial heritage yet are made in socio-political circumstances set to derail that history. However, as snapshots of the fascinating network of skilled artisans which endorsed the ‘Made In Sheffield’ banner for centuries, the Trades and Crafts films by Callaghan and Haywood remain vital studies of regional and industrial heritage. The full series is collated here.

 

MASTERS OF METALWORKING

In 1993, the Ruskin Gallery set out to document those hardy souls who had somehow survived the post-industrial collapse foretold in the 70s Trades and Crafts films with a new body of documentaries entitled Masters of Metalworking. Guided by British tool specialist and industrial historian Ken Hawley, the series begins at the cutlers Joseph Elliot & Sons Ltd. (founded 1795) on Sylvester Street which was one of the last outliers in the city to continue in the the traditional methods of making cutlery. Now shot on videotape, producers Mark Parkin and Jo Spreckley interview Frank Carr of the firm as he and Hawley guide the viewer through various stages of making table knives, kitchen knives and handle preparation. Elliot & Sons closed down five years later in 1998.

Elsewhere, the Masters series explores the work of Pen Knife Cutler, Stan Shaw, there’s a film about Billy Hukin in 1966 making a razor blade, and then shows him using that same blade in 1993, finally the so-called ‘Jobbing Grinders’ Brian & Tom Alcock. The latter are a father and son team, who – rather poetically- sit astride their grinders in symmetrical unison, working the steels and stones: sparks’ fly, the noise is relentless, a lime-green coolant sparkles, and you can almost smell the smoke.

Perhaps the saddest tale belongs to the only women interviewed in both the Trades and Masters series’. Mirror Polishers – Ethel Grayson and Edna Stone sees production shift to Milton Works for a recording of ‘Sheffield’s two buffer girls’ (both are 80 years of age) in action at the polishing wheel. As Hawley narrates, this very production had a charmed existence as within a fortnight of filming, both ladies retired as ‘they had had so little work that they couldn’t afford to pay the rent or buy food’. On the day of the shoot they were hard at work, however. Some cook’s knives were sent in for buffing and, as described, the finer finish on cutlery was often required in the pharmaceuticals or catering industry. Getting to the final polish was dangerous, dirty, noisy work, as evidenced by the heavyweight uniform which Edna and Ethel are wearing (especially around their hands) surrounded by the constant whine and rumble which grates the soundtrack. The pair dance around the workshop in a perfect, practiced rhythm, and as the sunlight blasts through the cracked workshop window onto the shop floor, Hawley suggests, ‘I don’t think we’ll ever see their like again…’

SHAUN BLOODWORTH

The spirit of these Sheffield films -and the crafts they represent- did live on in a much later context, however, as captured by the much-missed photographer and artist, Shaun Bloodworth and sponsored by the Storying Sheffield project. In Stave we meet up with the same ‘Jobbing Grinder’, Brian Alcock, from 1993 to find he is still in motion, in that same hunched pose, scraping away metal on stone. Visceral sound design bring the Grinder right up to the 2000s. Incredible.

Elsewhere, Bloodworth takes his digital camera from the vast spaces of the Forgemasters floor at Firth Rixon, to the historic knife manufacturers Eggington who have been making blades since the 17th Century. His most famous film from this series is The Putter. This handsome, heart-warming, documentary about Ernest Wright & Sons of Sheffield, one of the last remaining hand manufacturers of scissors. Bloodworth’s close gaze watches ‘The Putter’ Cliff Denton at work in the steel: his hard-worn fingers, blackened and coarsened by decades of turning and tightening and tapping. It’s a beautiful piece, haunted by the original Trades and Crafts and while those characters may be long-gone, the Putter at Ernest Wright & Sons had a stirring afterlife. After being taken up as ‘Vimeo Staff Pick’ the film went viral (846k plays and counting) and helped generate significant new business for the company so that it survives to this day in 2018. As Bloodworth recounted, ‘previously, on a good day, they would receive three online orders; the day after the film went online, he received 300.’[4]

In fact, while some traditional light industry remains, many of the old disused spaces around the city have now been taken up by a new wave of artisans, artists and craftspeople making things with their hands for the next series of Little Mesters films to emerge in decades to come. More power to their digits.

This post is dedicated to Shaun Bloodworth who died in 2016, and who saw the light in great creative artists from the Little Mesters to the thriving UK underground music scene.

Peace.

NOTES

[1] P. Seyd, ‘The Political Management of Decline: 1973 -1993’ in L. Binford et. Al., A History of the City of Sheffield, Vol. 1. (Sheffield Academic Press Ltd., 1993), p. 151.

[2] ‘from https://web.archive.org/web/20080516070957/http://www.made-in-sheffield.com/people/littlemesters-pt1.htm (Accessed 12 October 2016)

[3] P. Haywood. Fine Art Lecturer, Sheffield Hallam University, Retired. Conversation with author, April 16 2016.

[4] http://www.storyingsheffield.com/2015/07/art-science-craft-how-a-video-saved-a-scissors-factory/

Godin’s Anvil – A Municipal Cinema in Sheffield (1983-90)

Anvil Civic Cinema – 1986 (c/o Ian Grundy)

The following post is a revised version of a paper I gave in April 2018 at the Researching Past Cinema Audiences conference in Aberystwyth University. A stimulating and engaging few days and nights were had down at the deepest end of the train-line in that most beautiful seaside town. Shout out to Aber colleagues, Jamie and Kate, for having me along.

More on the conference here

INTRO

The Anvil Civic cinema was established in 1983 by Sheffield City Council and is claimed to be the UK’s first municipally owned cinema.[1] As a cultural emblem of the David Blunkett-led City Council, the so-called ‘Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire’, The Anvil survived for seven years amidst a growing regional film audience with a desire for adventurous programming and support of local production.  This paper will assess the Anvil’s impact as an alternative cinema space for the city, and briefly discuss the future of independent cinema-going in Sheffield post-1990.

ROOTS OF INDEPENDENT CINEMA-GOING

In mid-1970s Sheffield, the opportunity to see cinema from outside the Anglo-American orthodoxy was difficult. One of the few places for alternative film, however, was at the Sheffield City Polytechnic, Psalter Lane. It became a home for students and non-students to drop in and watch art-house films and repertory cinema rented via the 16mm print circuit of which the Polytechnic was a member. The college also acquired a redundant 35mm projector from a local Catholic school, and a supply chain of enthusiastic current students and graduates willing to facilitate screenings emerged.[2]

Independent film making in Sheffield was beginning to flower at this point, driven by a progressive art school, Yorkshire Arts Association funding and the emergent facilities provider Sheffield Independent Film group, or SIF. However, while the means of production were becoming more open, exhibition and distribution remained a barrier.

Steel Bank Film Co-op’s Simon Reynell remembers an environment that ‘if you wanted to see anything you had made, you had  to work to create a situation to make it shown, there was no art cinema in Sheffield, so all we had were various informal places.’[3] The frequency of these showings was sporadic: once a month at the library theatre or in the back room of pubs such as The Beehive, heavy 16mm projection equipment was carried across the city and a ‘healthy, active scene’ began to develop showing locally produced independent film and video.[4]  As interest and output increased to meet the demands of an incipient professionalism however, so the need grew for more formal, sustainable spaces in which to screen it.

CINEPLEX

Cineplex Program (© Sheffield City Archives)

The Cineplex on Charter Square opened in 1972 as a commercial enterprise.  This is a clip from British Movie Tone on Opening night which tells you all you need to know…

Cineplex manager (and former Rank Organization official) David Williams, steered the cinema for the next decade, and was one of few cinemas in the city to serve mainstream Hollywood cinema alongside foreign language film.[5 ] In his opening notes, Williams declared the project in bold terms:

‘Many people have been complaining, with good cause, at the lack of choice today with cinemas either closing or converting to Bingo.

Here is Mr. and Mrs. Sheffield’s chance to get the cinema habit once more and live the incomparable thrill and delight of the silver screen’

In 1979, Williams and SIF instigated the first Sheffield Independent Film week, which would run for over a decade. I’ll talk more about that shortly.

Cineplex, Charter Square

Early in 1983, Cineplex faced closure. However, in a bold measure of increasing municipal integration with the cultural sector of Sheffield, it was taken over by the Council to become the Anvil Civic Cinema, boldly declared as the first of its kind in the UK.[6]

SHEFFIELD CITY COUNCIL IN THE 1980s

So how did a cinema become owned by the local council?

In Sheffield’s fragile industrial economy of the mid-late 1970s, marked by steel and heavy engineering decline, structural reforms to local government introduced through the Local Government Act of 1974, slowly began to undermine an historically safe group of council personnel and politics in the city. A new tier of local government slowly emerged: the abolition of the aging aldermanic group encouraged novices to become candidates, some with different educational and occupational backgrounds from what had gone before.[7] This young group of university educated politicians were often natives of the city and fiercely socialist in political principle. They would eventually form the insurgent ‘New Left’ group which took over the City Council in 1980.

D.Blunkett, Building From The Bottom: The Sheffield Experience (Fabian Society,1983)

David Blunkett’s election as Sheffield’s Labour leader in 1980 cemented the New Left’s emergence to power, and his Fabian Tract written with Geoff Green  – Building From The Bottom would be the guiding document . Over the next five years key symbols of this local programme of socialism included: flying the red flag from the Town Hall on May Day, establishing an annual council-sponsored Marx memorial lecture, twinning the city with communist cities in the Soviet Union and China, establishing the city as a nuclear-free zone, and contributing £100,000 to the miners’ support fund. [8]

The 1980s also witnessed a significant moment in the framework of local media policy development. The Department of Education Employment (DEED) was established in 1981 to help drive ‘non-traditional’ job creation, business opportunities, and training needs identified by those activities which were yet to be labelled the cultural industries: film, music, arts, media production. Widely regarded as the first of its kind outside of London; a regional government department which attempted to shape cultural and employment policy in a climate of central government cuts.

The Anvil was at the heart of this development…

THE ANVIL

The Cinema (re)opened on the 31st March 1983 (under the provisional name, Cineplex-Anvil). The three shop units which formed part of the original Grosvenor House Hotel / Cineplex development were combined and altered to create three auditoria (largest seating 110, screens 1 and 2 accommodated 65 and 76), with the cinema only running 16mm projection. Upon welcoming patrons to The Anvil, Julian Spalding (Director of Arts, SCC) defined the buoyant, socialist rhetoric of the David Blunkett-led City Council and its drive to supply funding for the arts.

c/o Sheffield City Archives

Julian Spalding, (Director of Arts, SCC) 31.03.83

‘A cinema for the 80s needed, we felt, to be a cinema for the public, not in a reach me down way, but in true egalitarian spirit. There is no reason why a cinema should not be both popular and experimental, entertaining and educational, accessible and stylish.’

Anvil Exterior (http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/27493/photos/201927)

Anvil Seating Plan

Anvil Interior

DAVE GODIN

The man tasked with realising these ambitions was music industry veteran and recently graduated Psalter Lane Film Studies mature student, Dave Godin.[9] Before moving to Sheffield in the late 1970s, Godin was an advocate of black soul music; a journalist, record company adviser, record shop owner, activist and most famously first coined the term, ‘Northern Soul’. Because of his industry connections, he became friends with the emerging Motown stars like Marvin Gaye and label boss Berry Gordy.  In autumn 1966 he ran the first specialist soul records shop in Europe on Deptford High Street, London. The shop attracted enthusiasts from all over the country in search of soul obscurities which led to him coining the term ‘Northern Soul’ in Blues & Soul for a particular strain of soul seven inch.[10]

Dave Godin, with Marvin Gaye, Martha Reeves, Berry Gordy and outside his Deptford record shop, Soul City

Northern Soul…

In his opening programme notes (with sleeve designed in vivid red Constructivist style by local graphic artist, Sergio Bustamante), Godin promotes a diverse bill of foreign language cinema, Hollywood classics, and a Yorkshire Arts sponsored season on Latin American Cinema for the opening three months.

Opening Programme – 31st March 1983

He  begins with a reference to Soviet film director Pudovkin who wrote that:

“Film is the greatest teacher, because it teaches not only through the brain, but through the whole body” [Godin] I share those sentiments entirely since film has enriched and broadened my own outlook on life; I hope now, the Anvil will help perform that role repeatedly for us all.”

Anvil Programs – 1984 (© Sheffield City Archives)

A month later, in December 1983 the program was designed to ‘counter the portrayal of war as glamourous and exciting’ as part of the ‘Steel City –Peace City, CND Annual Conference’ in Sheffield, showing films like The Atomic Café, No Nukes, The War Game, Children of Hiroshima, and Dr. Strangelove. This is a cinema with Left ideals surging through its messages, images and films; a tangible cultural emblem of the so-called ‘Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire’.

Steel City – Peace City (© Sheffield City Archives)

Under Godin’s stewardship the early years of the Anvil appear to be a success. The programme was richly diverse and admissions steadily grew to reach over 50,000 admissions in the first year alone, meaning consistently higher average attendances than those at commercial cinemas in the region.[11]

First Three Months…

Local reaction to the programme was also positive, as these feedback forms courtesy of the Anvil Civic Cinema collection at Sheffield City Archives suggest :

‘I think the Anvil is a splendid cinema, that through its courage in showing non-commercial films, deserves success.’ – Phil Jackson, Oxspring Bank

‘Not wanting to creep or anything, but the Anvil is superb because of the continual change of programme, the varying (and cheap) prices and, most of all, because of the chance to see films that only posh left-wingers in London can see’ – Tim Jones, Crookesmoor Road.

SHEFFIELD INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL

Cineplex owner David William, together with SIF, was instrumental in floating the idea of a ‘Sheffield Independent Film Week’ back in 1979.  The week was primarily used as a showcase for the SIF membership to be given a platform to display their most recent work. Supplementary finance for the festival came from the YAA and SCC, and as a matter of policy the schedule comprised solely of Yorkshire productions.[12] Reporting on the event for the AIP, filmmaker Tony Trafford called the week a ‘fantasy on paper – a daydream of an expanding British Cinema’, with full attendances most nights, and a programme composed of narrative, documentary and experimental work.

Sheffield Independent Film Festival Weekend, 1984

This became an growing annual event at the Anvil, and an in March 1984, featured a host of local works (including a premiere for the Steel Bank Co-op film, and Channel 4 broadcast Winnie by Pete Biddle).[13] Typical festival programmes included self-funded and Yorkshire Arts supported work nestling alongside productions from the BFI sponsored London avant-garde, regional films such as Tyne Lives (Amber Films) and international retrospectives on Jacques Tati. For Sheffield and Yorkshire film-makers to share a bill with this range of production was an important milestone; independent film made in the region being shown in the right context to full-houses. Local projects that, without the Anvil’s support, may not have screened at all.

SHEFFIELD CITY COUNCIL  AND THE CULTURAL INDUSTRIES QUARTER – (CIQ)

Interestingly, some members from the City Council who supported the Anvil’s continued survival would often turn up at the Independent Film Festivals, with mixed-results. There remained  ‘a lot of the councillors [who] were ex-steelworkers, it was kind of that attitude, “I know what I like” so they would come and see stuff that we were making and you could see the puzzlement on their faces.’[14] This intriguing dynamic between the older, traditional Labour councillors and the younger members of the council is perhaps reflected in a sentiment shared by a council report on sustaining Sheffield’s media industry. The note suggests that one of the great barriers to building a cultural industries in an industrial city like Sheffield is born from an historical feeling among its older councillors ‘to see things cultural as peripheral, not quite real, not quite solid’ therefore not important enough for investment .[15]

As the latter half of the decade approached, questions began to be asked about the long-term sustainability of the Anvil. Like much of the embryonic council subsidised projects of the early eighties, the Anvil appears to have been ‘established without a clear understanding of the implications of public cinema provision, its initial policy and direction was confused.’[16] In a strict new era of media policy and cultural industries strategy, the Anvil cinema simply wasn’t making enough money to survive. Recommendations in this 1988 report suggest that ‘the cinema needs to move to larger premises to maximise revenue, by off-setting larger attendances against a fixed wage bill; increase income generation from bar and catering.’[17]

SCC Media Policy Group Report (1988)

In its location on Charter Square even successful mainstream screenings could not make enough sales to cross-subsidise the other screens’ more art-house led content.[18] In this pressured economic climate, a bitter dialogue unfolds in the pages of its programme and local press. Admission prices were raised, some of the avant-garde programming replaced by Hollywood content, the Soviet-inspired graphic design style was phased out, and Godin himself openly railed against the ‘Anti-Anvil meanies.’[19]

The Star – September 1988

Late 80s Anvil Programmes (© Sheffield City Archives)

Meanwhile in 1988, consultants URBED were employed by the DEED to produce a feasibility report on ‘Developing The Cultural Industries Quarter’. As part of this document to redevelop the Kennings car showroom building, there is reference to relocating the Anvil by 1990 and reshaping it as a new type of arts cinema or ‘media centre’ like the Corner House in Manchester or Watershed in Bristol. The proposed new space was to be run as an independent trust with charitable status, a ‘new type of regional cinema’ with three screens and a catering provision.[20] Against a backdrop of further council cuts, and the new project being devised as ‘The Showroom’ – it began to spell the end for the Anvil.

Sheffield CIQ Strategic Vision and Development Study Sources (SIF Archive , Sheffield Hallam Special Collections)

Kennings Car Showroom, Brown Street (c.1950s)(https://www.showroomworkstation.org.uk/info/about-us)

CLOSURE

As a result, by February 1990, Godin announced the proposed end of the Anvil through the local press, ‘despite the the tremendous support it has from the community, and the mounting opposition to its closure.’ Which included the impassioned Save The Anvil Campaign.

The Star – February 22nd 1990

SAVE THE ANVIL (© Sheffield City Archives)

On November 3rd, 1990 the cinema officially closed with a triple bill of Cinema Paradiso (dir. Giuseppe Tornatore, 1988), The Smallest Show On Earth (dir. Basil Dearden, 1957) and Les Enfants Du Paradis (dir. Marcel Carné, 1945).

Final Program, November 1990 – (©Sheffield City Archives)

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

As a case study of the city’s burgeoning cultural industries project, the Anvil represents a precursor to the new 1990s language of public-private partnerships, feasibility studies and urban regeneration developments which characterise the City Council (and national) dialogue. Despite fragile funding support, it chiefly survived for seven years not by its ‘long-term strategy’ and ‘enterprise plans’, but on a current of the film passions shared by its Senior Film Officer and a growing regional film community with a desire for adventurous programming.

The Anvil programme archive sometimes reads as an apologetic litany of sound problems, projection issues, funding troubles and barely masked frustrations from Godin himself, countered by an eclectic and well-researched film programme with a social(ist) conscience. A cinema for the Sheffield community: audience and filmmaker alike. Aside from its unique status as a civic cinema, its significance is also broader, impacting on the socio-cultural landscape of the city. Unlike many other urban centres, the Anvil was launched without very much of a film culture or tradition to build from, and a contemporary article in Sight and Sound declared that Sheffield’s Anvil should be regarded as one of the top six specialist cinema locations outside of London.[22]

Perhaps its most important legacy was the foundation of a cinema for Sheffield which broke the dominant mode, enlarged the range of choice in the city and helped challenge the stranglehold of mainstream Anglo-American programming by giving an exhibition platform to the burgeoning independent regional film sector. These are the same tenets of an authentic independent cinema which the Showroom would emulate from its establishment in 1993 right through to the present day as one of the largest multi-screen independently owned cinemas in Europe, and a centre of film exhibition and distribution for the North, situated adjacent to The Workstation, a thriving cultural centre for creative business housing over 65 companies working in the industry.

https://www.showroomworkstation.org.uk/

FINAL WORD – DAVE GODIN

A few final notes on Dave Godin. After the disappointments of the Anvil, Godin settled in Rotherham and remained passionately engaged in everything he did.

In 1997, his highly respected taste and knowledge of black music history was once more foregrounded as he compiled four volumes of rare soul recordings for Ace Records. The CDs, Dave Godin’s Deep Soul Treasures, are widely considered cornerstones of the genre, and it’s said Godin himself was immensely proud of the work.

Dave Godin’s Deep Soul Treasures vol. 1-4 (Ace Records)

A long-term vegan, he became a tireless campaigner against cruelty to animals in film production, demonstrated against film censorship and protested with numerous anarchist and anti-capitalist organisations. Dave Godin passed away in 2004, and his contribution to British and American culture should be recognised, and celebrated. [23]

Dave Godin, c.1980s (cwww.soulmusic.info/index.asp?)

NOTES

[1] There is some contention here, and whether this claim is symptomatic of the SCC rhetoric or not needs further investigation.

[2] Tom Ryall, Interview, 01.07.16 / Technicians to have assisted during this period include Ian Wilde (future Showroom cinema director and programmer) and Dave Godin (future Film Officer for the Anvil).

[3] Simon Reynell, Interview, 2017

[4] Colin Pons, Interview, 2017

[5 Dr. Clifford Shaw  History Sheffield cinemas.  / Local Studies library

[6] Dr. Clifford Shaw  History Sheffield cinemas.  / Local Studies library

[7] P. Seyd, The Political Management of Decline, (Sheffield Academic Press Ltd., 1993), p. 153.

[8] P. Seyd, ‘Radical Sheffield: from Socialism to Entrepreneurialism’ in Political Studies XXXVIII, pp.335-344, (1990), p. 337.

[9]Before moving to Sheffield in the late 1970s, Dave Godin was an advocate of black soul music; a journalist, record company adviser, record shop owner, activist and most famously first coined the term, ‘Northern Soul’. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/news/2004/oct/20/guardianobituaries.artsobituaries

[10] http://www.chrishunt.biz/features05.html

[11] Anvil Programme: December 1984/January 1985

[12] AIP January 14 – 1979

[13] The Anvil did not, at this stage, have a video projector. This was common in this period, as video projectors were expensive and extremely rare. See Dickinson p193.

[14] Colin Pons Interview

[15] Cultural Industries Report (no1), 1988 – p.162

[16] The Report Of Sheffield City Council’s Media Policy Group, 1988, p2

[17] Cultural Industries Report (no1), 1988

[18] Cultural Industries Report (no1), 1988

[19] Anvil Programme, March 1990

[20] URBED, p.11, 1988

[21] SAVE THE ANVIL – The Cuts Are Coming. In 1990  a group from the local community establish a ‘Anvil Defence Committee – Alf Billingham, Hillary Bronski, Scott Dullcie, Mike Elliott, Ian Giheapy, Paul Moore, Chris Newey, Lorna Share, Tim Whitten

[22] Anvil Programme, March 1984

[23] https://www.theguardian.com/news/2004/oct/20/guardianobituaries.artsobituaries

Bradford, West Yorkshire, 1977

Downtown Camera (Dir. Andrew Yeadon, 1977)

Some context to two new/old film documentaries digitised and uploaded to the Vimeo. Both shot in and around Bradford in 1977. Both, unfortunately, are multi-generation copies from tape (not original 16mm) so the image quality reflects this. However, I’m trying to source better version for preservation.

One of the most innovative proposals of the Yorkshire Arts Association’s (YAA) early foray into sponsored independent film-making was the Yorkshire Projector series. The vision behind it was to capitalise on a wave of YAA short films being produced in the region yet unable to gain little access to market. Film Officer Jim Pearse decided that a sensible way of promoting this activity was to take these shorts and package them together, topped and tailed with a title sequence. They could then be distributed to film societies and Regional Film Theatre’s. It is an idea steeped in the history of the mobile newsreel; a magazine format with items of local and regional interest first established in the 1950s. The first edition screened via the North Yorkshire mobile cinema unit in December 1976 and was twenty minutes long. It came loaded with a bespoke stop-motion animated title sequence of a puppet called ‘Albert’ made at the Yorkshire Communications Centre on 16mm Bolex, and accompanied by a specially shot advertisement marketing the services on offer at the centre.[1]  Jim Pearse originally designed the Yorkshire Projector series as a four-times a year release, but in practice (because of his other commitments as Film Officer) the series stopped at Yorkshire Projector #2. Writing in a 1977 press releases announcing the second edition, Pearse claimed that the Projector was ‘welcomed by the local and national press as an imaginative attempt to draw attention to the work of independent film-makers in the region.’[2] Its promotion of the word ‘independent’ is a notable shift in the semantics used by the YAA to describe film activity, and the three sophisticated films which make up Yorkshire Projector #2 point to a new future of a more professional independent film culture emerging in the region.

The newsreel leads with a film about a North Yorkshire festival by Peter Bell, followed by the second work from Sheffield Film Co-op about the harsh realities of domestic abuse (That’s No Lady), and is bookended by a stark documentary from Telegraph and Argus photographer, Andrew Yeadon.

Downtown Camera (Dir. Andrew Yeadon, 1977)

Downtown Camera is a 12-minute piece in vivid black and white, which follows Yeadon documenting the inner-city decay of post-industrial Bradford. The film cuts together, sometimes harrowing, footage of the city to Yeadon’s photography who also narrates: ‘I show my pictures to people and they say, “Where’s that? Not Bradford” and I say “It is… you’ve just not seen it.”’ Downtown Camera is a bleak picture, shot with composure and empathy by Yeadon, showing the city and its characters in a state of decline, poverty and unemployment. Yeadon was only 24 at the time of Downtown Camera, and after further training as a news/documentary photographer and journalist on London newspapers, he joined Haymarket Publishing as chief photographer on Autocar magazine. He has since worked freelance, specializing in automotive, travel and lifestyle photography with work published globally. [3]

The importance of a character named Albert Hunt to the development of the arts and theatre in Bradford will be explored in future posts, and in 1977 one of Hunt’s peers made a drama-documentary about youth unemployment in Bradford. Facilitated by the Hunt-led Media Education Unit (MEU) at Bradford Art College, and financed partly by the YAA, the Gulbenkian Foundation and the Commission for Racial Equality, Jim O’Brien’s film Black Future meets a group of unemployed young West Indians in Bradford who create a science-fiction drama (a film-within-a-film), about a Britain ‘as it will be in 1983, with two million unemployed and the country divided into welfare zones.’[1]

Black Future (Dir. Jim O’Brien, 1977)

Jim O’Brien trained at the Guildhall as an actor before joining the Nottingham Playhouse enjoying a succession of well-received performances as actor and director. He then became Artistic Director at a theatre for new writing in Soho, London and retrained at the National Film and Television School (NFTS). Perhaps due to his connections in community theatre in Nottingham, he found himself working with Albert Hunt at the MEU in Bradford and devised the Black Future project. Interviewing a body of local youth about poverty and unemployment in the city (while showing a series of statistics about joblessness), he then boldly takes the same group of youths to a dystopian future of 1983, as the group act out (and film) an even bleaker existence than the one they find themselves in 1977. O’Brien finishes his film with a sobering follow-up on the protagonists’ work prospects and life after production. It makes for stark viewing. This bleakly prophetic work is given extra vitality, as it is cut through with live musical performances from the UK reggae outfit, Aswad.

As a testament to the polished final production, Black Future was later shown on BBC2’s community access program, Open Door, in November and December of 1977 and screened at Newcastle, London, and Oxford film festivals. It remains an honest snapshot into the lives of inner-city ethnic youth, and the struggle for employment in the post-industrial towns of the North. O’Brien himself had a glittering career in the 1980s, working for the BBC (he is perhaps best known for the drama series, Jewel In The Crown, 1984) and the adaptation of a Beryl Bainbridge novel for feature film (The Dressmaker) in 1988.

Jewel In The Crown (Dir. Jim O’Brien, 1984)

While his direct connections to the YAA and the region itself seem limited, in many respects Black Future is one of the standout films of the period, and it is evidently the work of a film-maker heading to bigger budgets, the BBC, and London. As was often the case, this is a well-worn path in the history of YAA film-makers – especially in the 1970s. O’Brien died in 2012 and his life was celebrated across the industry.

Watch this space for more on Bradford history, especially activity at the nexus of the Playhouse Theatre, Art College, and the Yorkshire Communication Centre.

end.

[1] Jim Pearse interview, 2018.

[2] Press release YAA unpublished. 1977

[3] Andrew’s current work can be found here – http://andrewyeadon.com/ my thanks for his interest in the project.

[4] Quote from film

Johnny Yesno – Original Camera Script

Johnny Yesno Poster (Dir. Peter Care, 1981)

JOHNNY YESNO IS ABOUT A NUMBER OF THINGS: PARANOIA , INSANITY, DISCLOCATION, MORALITY, THE LIMITATIONS OF SELF EXPRESSION, REALITY AND ILLUSION…LOVE…FEAR. THE FILM IS A FABLE, A MULTI-LAYERED MICROCOSM OF EXPERIENCE CONDENSED INTO 22 MINUTES

I have recently acquired a vast archive of Yorkshire film and video artefacts (production, documents, scripts, photographs, 16mm)  from the great Alf Bower.

Alf was among the first intake of students at the National Film School in 1971 where he worked alongside globally acclaimed and recent Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins (check this beautiful picture the pair worked on, Paolo). After graduation, he returned to Yorkshire to make films, and became the technician at the Yorkshire Communications Centre (the Yorkshire Arts Association facilities house), assisting on myriad film projects for over twenty years. A full retrospective feature on Alf’s work is forthcoming, but you can see the work he directed here, collated in this Vimeo album.

One of the titles Alf worked on was the cult classic Steel City Noir, Johnny Yesno. Directed by Peter Care in 1981, and sponsored by the Yorkshire Arts Association, Johnny Yesno is twenty-two minutes like little else. It has rightly stood the passage of time, and was much written about, restored and celebrated in 2011 by Mute with a Deluxe DVD set. Here is a photograph of Alf Bower on set (far left), with Peter Care far right.

Johnny Yesno on set photograph c/o Alf Bower

Upon release of that DVD Johnny Yesno was widely discussed, so this post is not designed to tread that path (see The Quietus, WIRE Magazine, FACT,  for decent examples). Rather, amongst Alf’s archive I’ve found a full camera script of the film itself and with the kind permission of Peter Care himself, I’m presenting it here to download at the base of this post (SEE BELOW). To fans of the film this is a first. The script  itself comes replete with cast-list descriptions and a righteous glossary studded with hip ’50s beatnik references.

Johnny Yesno – First page. c/o Peter Care, 1981.

Johnny Yesno – Character Profile, from Script. c/o Peter Care, 1981.

 

Johnny Yesno – Glossary from Script. c/o Peter Care, 1981.

 

As the film sat in post-production gestation seeking Yorkshire Arts completion funding,  Care cut together a rough edit of the film to music from Cabaret Voltaire’s ‘The Voice of America’. It was this version that he screened for Richard H. Kirk, Stephen Mallinder and Chris Watson when approaching them with the idea of producing a new soundtrack for his film.[1] The trio scored a new industrial recording and the first official collaboration between Care and Cabaret Voltaire was sealed. The sound-track surfaced on the Cabs’ Doublevision label, released both as LP and VHS presentation. Read a little more about Doublevision over on the POST-COUM blogpost

Johnny Yesno VHS&LP (Doublevision)

One of Alf Bower’s great contributions to independent Yorkshire film-making was his peerless knowledge of the sound process. From his studio at Bradford’s Yorkshire Arts Association Communications Studio he worked as Dubbing Mixer on many films, alongside recording early demos for New Model Army, and The Cult (then known as Southern Death Cult). In his archive there sits the full dubbing charts for Johnny Yesno. If any super-fan wants to see these digitised let me know. For now, here’s an excerpt which should give the uninitiated a clue into the  type of soundtrack the Cabs’ were devising…

PAIN MUSIC/ SEAGULLS / NASTY NOISE / 2000 GIRLS SCREAMING…’

Johnny Yesno – Dubbing sheet. c/o Alf Bower, 1981.

—-

DOWNLOAD SCRIPT BELOW 

Johnny Yesno Script Front cover (Dir. Peter Care, 1981)

<<<<DOWNLOAD>>>>

Download Script Here

 

Notes

1] In K. Hollings, liner notes found in, Johnny Yesno Redux (2011) [DVD].

Steel Bank Film Co-op

Steel Bank Film Co-op Logo

I’m pleased to present six newly digitised titles made between 1983-5 in Sheffield, courtesy of the Steel Bank Film Co-op. These titles were transferred from multiple generation VHS copies, and the resulting image quality reflects that. We are trying to seek out original master material (or better alternative versions), as this work remains some of the strongest to have emerged from the region in the eighties and deserves to be seen. Nonetheless, the films are most certainly watchable. What follows is a condensed history of the group, the videos themselves and some context to those works. Moreover, there remains a large outstanding body of Steel Bank material still to be digitised (the Co-op were active well into the 90s), and it’s hoped that this is the first step in making their output readily available.

I’d like to thank original Steel Bank members, Simon Reynell, Jessica York, and Dinah Ward for their kind feedback and permissions on the project. The videos can be found on the Vimeo channel, in this collated album.

Steel Bank Film Co-op

Beginnings

Following university, Cambridge graduates Simon Reynell and Dinah Ward moved to Sheffield (‘because of the socialist politics in the city – and it was cheap’) and Reynell secured a part-time job with Sheffield Independent Film (SIF) on a very low wage, part-time basis promoting screenings.[1]

Alan Fountain, commissioning editor of the newly launched Channel 4, had a remit to represent the current political and social situation in under-represented parts of the country like Sheffield and South Yorkshire (Fountain was also influential in providing a platform to another Sheffield film-maker, Richard Hines). The group received a commission from Fountain to make a documentary about steel redundancies in South Yorkshire, hence the name, Steel Bank. Reynell left his part-time job at SIF and the collective became an ACTT franchised Workshop under the new Declaration. This aimed to instigate a model of “integrative practice” – that is, workshops were required to include distribution, educational activities and the provision of film and video equipment, alongside producing work’ The ACTT groups, like Steel Bank, had a direct advantage in tapping into the mechanisms of Broadcast which Channel 4 offered. This, as Reynell recalls, was ‘extraordinary’ that C4 gave money to people with ‘terribly little experience’. The fundamental importance of the C4 influx to Steel Bank (and the Sheffield Film Co-op) was that ‘something which had previously been very marginal, Arts Council backed, suddenly became a thing where you could at least sometime think about earning some money, an income.’[2] In the years 1984 / 85, Steel Bank were given a three year workshop contract from C4 which gave full employment to four members and created two new full time jobs.[3]

Steel Industry

The group made documentaries about all facets of the post-industrial trauma unravelling in Sheffield and surrounding regions during this period. Their first C4 production, Cold Steel: Four Redundancies was shot on U-Matic and features four ex-steel workers talking about the reasons behind them taking redundancy in the wake of the 1980-81 steel strike.  Following broadcast, the video had an afterlife as a trigger-point for discussions about redundancy in a trade union context, and was distributed on VHS along those lines.

In the same year, Steel Bank zoomed-in on a hyperlocal issue. Successful Struggle: The Firth Derihon is about a factory faced with closure in Tinsley, North East Sheffield. The film details the story of a group of workers occupying the factory in a protest against proposed redundancies in Spring 1983. Led by shop steward Paul Mackey, the occupation ran for 10-weeks and ultimately proved successful on overturning the closures. Workers also interviewed by David Childs are Gary Lillford, Ken Jackson, Ken Dyson (shop steward), and Derek Simpson (AUEW district secretary). Successful Struggle…. was made primarily for use at the Trade Union Studies course, Granville College (Now Sheffield College). Steel Bank followed the two steel projects with a fiction film.

 

Winnie

Winnie (Rosamund Greenwood)

The well-received 16mm TV feature, Winnie (dir. Peter Biddle, 1984), is a prime example of the regional drama which Alan Fountain commissioned for his Eleventh Hour slot (it was often scheduled alongside Hines’ After The Ball). Winnie tells the bittersweet story an old woman coping with life after her husband dies. Shot-through with a black-edged Northern humour, Biddle’s film is one of the most profound and accomplished fiction works to come out of Yorkshire in the period. Following the death of their father, Winnie’s two son’s worry about her – but they need not.  We soon see Winnie (beautifully played by Rosamund Greenwood) liberated; she drinks sherry and eats apple pie, switches the radio from opera to jive, and brings money from the savings bank to enjoy a drink in the pub (‘first time in years’) where she befriends the landlady, Joan (played with grace by later established actor,  Pam Ferris).

Winnie and Joan (Pam Ferris)

The pair strike up a wonderful relationship based on bingo and booze and Mills &Boon; their bond serving as cure for a mutual loneliness. Winnie closes in heart-breaking fashion, and in just forty-three minutes it disappears. It is the kind of powerful, warm, and funny one-off drama which rarely gets made in 2018. Simply, if this was made by Alan Clarke it would be more well known. Nonetheless, Winnie was a successful film outside its brief Channel 4 run, as it was sold via London agent Jane Balfour Films and sold to ‘at least 5 European countries’,[4] and it will hopefully get some deserved further visibility from being online.

Coal Not Steel

As well as supporting the lesser-publicised Steel strikes, Steel Bank embarked on a series of political documentaries and activist videos which chimed with the current Miners’ dispute in South Yorkshire and the wider regions.

The first Miners’ film bought by C4 was Notts Women Strike Back (dir. Dinah Ward, 1985) in which a women’s action committee at a Nottinghamshire pit talk about their experiences of the strike. The coal-fields in Nottinghamshire were hotly disputed lands and faced the brunt of much debate, antagonism and violence. The local NUM officially supported the strike, but most of its members continued to work and many considered the strike unconstitutional given their majority vote against a strike and absence of a ballot for a national strike.[5] Often the miners’ videos of this era were dominated by male voices, but by crossing the South Yorkshire border to interview the strong and committed women of Nottinghamshire, Steel Bank help us reframe the interpretation of the strike along gender (and regional) lines. The women interviewed from the Welbeck colliery Action Group speak eloquently about the local picture of food and money worries, interpersonal relationships, and solidarity; and they also talk dynamically about the larger national landscape of the strike and specifically Nottinghamshire’s contested place within it.

Another title, which is not yet digitised, is Darfield Main Must Stay (dir. Dinah Ward, 1985) which was ‘made at cost to support the (successful!) campaign against the closure of the Darfield Main Colliery near Barnsley.’[1] Interestingly, many of these titles were made for Trade Union use and although only a handful secured broadcast, they achieved some traction through VHS circulation and local screenings. As the dispute ended in disappointment and rupture in Spring 1985, Steel Bank invited a group of activists and NUM members to sit around a table and debate the strike. The film is called Learning Lessons… 

Representatives from S.Yorks, Wales, Notts. NUM branches including ‘Inky Thomson’ and Janet Hudson (Sheffield Women’s Against The Strike) engage in a forceful and passionate discussion -chaired by John Lowe- which is interspersed with archive footage of Orgreave, Scargill and the picket-line. The tape is edited together along four themes: A Debate on Mass Picketing, The Ending of The Strike, Campaigning For The Case Of Coal, Positive Effects Of The Strike, and Looking To The Future. It remains a solid document of the period captured by those voices who were active in the struggle and, unlike similar debate programmes of the time, not mediated by an established mainstream media presence.

SYCC

In the early 80s, David Blunkett’s Sheffield City Council/SYCC (the so-called Socialist Republic Of South Yorkshire) economic policy was centred on halting unemployment by lobbying against industrial closures; promoting public sector employment; and supporting ‘socially useful’ local cultural production. In this they actively supported politically suggestive documentaries, and Steel Bank were one of the groups to benefit from this alternative funding stream. The organisation at the heart of cultural innovation and funding policy in the council was called The Department of Education Employment (DEED). Established in 1981  the DEED vision was to help drive ‘non-traditional’ job creation, business opportunities, and training needs identified by those activities which were yet to be labelled the cultural industries: film, music, arts, media production.[6]

Blunkett – Road To Ruin! Sheffield Bus Campaign (Steel Bank, 1984)

Steel Bank were given DEED funds for series of videotapes. The first Electrify for Jobs, was used in campaigning for network electrification of British Rail and shown at various conferences in the region.[1]  The twenty-minute video begins with an impassioned anti-government speech by NUR General Secretary Jimmy Knapp, and rattles along on a similar tone. As privatisation promises to destabilise the whole network, a series of union bodies and politicians are interviewed about the risks involved to the industry if a thorough electrification roll-out of lines is not followed. While the national issue is raised, the problems for Sheffield are manifest ten-fold as the manufacture of core elements for British Rail technologies were located in the region. The film argues for the importance of electrification to save and sustain local industrial and economic prosperity.

In 2018, much of the Northern network rail is yet to run on electric lines, which makes this title starkly depressing.

The next, Road To Ruin! Sheffield Bus Campaign celebrates/commiserates one of the Socialist Republic’s most abiding symbols of civic support: subsided bus transport. Sheffield’s cheap and accessible Bus system was the pride of the City (fondly remembered by film-makers and musicians like Jarvis Cocker who, while on the dole, could travel to about the city easily). But in 1984, it was under threat. In the face of the looming abolition of metropolitan county councils, widespread rate-capping and proposals for privatisation by the Thatcher administration, this video makes the case for properly funded local transport systems by contrasting South Yorkshire with the government’s deregulated scheme in Hereford. While the film loses some momentum as it travels to Hereford, the vox-pops on the streets of Sheffield (including a young David Blunkett) are gold; they act as microcosm to the indomitable spirit and stubbornness of South Yorkshire people deeply proud of retaining their local services (‘Hands off!’, ‘Keep Your Nose out!’ say passers-by). Attempting to navigate the myriad combinations of private firms which run the current smoke-clogged Sheffield bus network makes one’s heart ache that bit harder while watching this.

This type of council subsidised work is an extension of the films which were made in the early years of the SIF membership. However, while those titles (Free for All in 1976, and Your Move Next, 1981) are light-corporate films concerned with improving Sheffield’s outward image and attracting investment, a few years later, the dogma was evidently angrier as Thatcherite policies began to have a dramatic impact on the region’s industry – and its political film culture. But that is a story for another blog post.

End

Steel Bank were one of two select Workshop groups operating in the City after the Declaration of 1982. The other was the women’s’ group, Sheffield Film Co-op. I hope to be presenting their work soon. Both collectives created strong work throughout the 1980s, loaded with the unique voices of the misrepresented. Steel Bank started the 1990s with the well-received Crimestrike and continued to be active until 1997. By this point, their core membership of Dinah Ward, Jessica York, Simon Reynell had drifted into freelance Film&TV work, academia and other interests. More Steel Bank titles will hopefully be acquired and added in the coming months.

Notes

[1] SIF Archive, Sheffield Hallam Special Collection, ‘Sheffield Independent Film Catalogue, 1986’ (Anon. 1986).

[1] S. Reynell. Sound engineer and record label owner, freelance. Conversation with author, 24 May 2016. Personal communication.

[2] Ibid.

[3] SIF Archive, Sheffield Hallam Special Collection. Sheffield Independent Film, ‘Draft Report from Sheffield Independent Film’, (Anon. May 1985). Unpublished.

[4 Winnie in ed. E. Greenhalgh, S. Harvey, Cultural industries: A report to Sheffield city council / interim report number 1, (Sheffield City Polytechnic. Centre for Popular Culture, Sheffield City Polytechnic, 1988).

[5] Adeney, Martin; Lloyd, John (1988). The Miners’ Strike 1984–5: Loss Without Limit. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

[6] N. Oatley et, al. ‘Sheffield’s cultural industries quarter’, in Local Economy, 11:2, pp. 172-179, (1997) p.172.

[7] The Triple Alliance Conference, Phoenix 2 Steel Conference, Sheffield Electrification Campaign conference, and a Labour Party Conference Fringe Meeting’, from Ibid.

 

Sheffield City Polytechnic, Psalter Lane

Every small town has its art school and every art school has its weekly dance… In provincial towns, in particular, the local art school has been the local scene, the social centre of drugs and blues and hipness…[a]  (Simon Frith)

Sheffield City Polytechnic, Psalter Lane (c.1960s)

The following post is a revised extract from my Masters research thesis into the early history of film and video production at the Sheffield City Polytechnic, Psalter Lane Art School until the late 70s . It will also provide brief contextual background to a new batch of digitised U-matic tapes, and some film work made by students from the period in the mid-late 80s, which have been transferred at various points from various different platforms. Some of this material is now available to stream through my Vimeo channel.

I am indebted to Paul Haywood who made available his personal archive of Psalter Lane student film and video to the good of this, and future, projects. It is to Paul who the work is dedicated, as he sadly passed away in Spring 2017. His (and Barry Callaghan’s) teaching legacy lives on in the careers of many film, art and music professionals working around the world…

Psalter Lane

In 1950, the long-established Sheffield College of Arts and Crafts was renamed the Sheffield College of Art, and a year later it moved to the former Bluecoat School on Psalter Lane. It would remain there until its closure on 31st August, 2008. During this period, it witnessed profound reform. In the 1960s, a series of central government legislative recommendations aimed to change the nature of Arts Education in Britain, culminating in 1968 with the provisional approval of sixteen colleges becoming amalgamated Polytechnics – with Sheffield among those selected. On the 1st of January 1969, Sheffield Polytechnic was formed by the merger of Sheffield College of Technology and Sheffield College of Art. It was designated to create the idea of the Polytechnic as a new kind of higher education institute.[1] It is necessary therefore to position the Psalter Lane art school as an integral mechanism in creating a thriving moving image culture in Sheffield. Its importance in the establishment of SIF and other film groups should not be underestimated, and the institution should also be recognised as a leader in the national history of film education. What follows is an overview of Psalter Lane during the formative years of institutional film education (1964-1976).

Following World War II, two different models of arts education emerged – ‘the professional school in the form of a national academy, often linked with theatre and music, and the art school which found its home inside a larger university or college of arts.’[2] Under the chairmanship of Sir William Coldstream a report in 1961 outlined new requirements for an award, Diploma in Art and Design, which would shape the future of education for the next decade. The Secretary of State for Education and Science (1964-67), Anthony Crosland, soon integrated the Diploma into a new network of Polytechnic colleges (by 1969, forty colleges of art had been assimilated, including Sheffield). Meanwhile, Jennie Lee (Minister for Arts), pushed the agenda toward the establishment of a national film school, which culminated in the Lloyd Report (1966) and the opening of the National Film School in 1970. Arts Education was changing.[3] On the fringes of the 60s counterculture the ‘art school was also the base of much English experimental filmmaking… its emphasis on co-operative film production, the use of shared facilities and pooled resources and expertise was echoed in the culture of the London Film Maker’s Co-op(LFMC).’[4] The LFMC membership sat in close alliance with the Slade School of Fine Art and the Royal College of Art; reliant on staff, equipment, exhibition space. This model of interdependency between art colleges and local artistic communities would be an important agent in the evolution of experimental practice in the coming decades – an archetype that soon spread.

As the 1970s gave rise to developing areas of study the nascent area of film education underwent an important evolution. Initially, it appeared to be struggling to survive, but by the end of the decade it was flourishing both in schools and higher education.[5]  Outside of the London schools, Psalter Lane was one of the earliest adopters, and its film equipment list became an attractive proposition for budding students from around the country: ‘I moved to Sheffield [from the respected Maidstone College of Art] because I had been told the facilities were excellent and there was a positive ethos about independent production.’[6] Students of the Film Studies / Film History Diploma also benefited from large library collections of film slides, film theory books, a screening theatre and established film lecturers spreading the New Cinema doctrine of psychoanalysis, semiotics, Barthes, and Lacan as advocated by journals like Screen and Cahiers du Cinema.

Barry Callaghan and Paul Haywood

The earliest official reference to Psalter Lane embracing the new currents in film and art education is in 1967 when ‘the liberal studies department at Sheffield obtained a clockwork Bolex and Barry Callaghan encouraged the first tentative student productions.’[7] This period of pedagogy was marked – as in the national picture – by an uncertainty of definition. In the 1960s and early 1970s, there remained an institutional discomfort about the cumbersome requirements of filmmaking: expensive equipment, expert technical knowledge, the necessity for collective labour, and need for collaboration with film technicians collided with the nineteenth century art school and its romantic ideology of ‘individualism’, ‘genius’, ‘freedom of self-expression’ and educational assessment more generally.[8] Film-making and film studies sat uneasily on the curriculum at Psalter Lane – but it was not without support. The main enablers charged with realising this complicated dialectic between theory and practice were Barry Callaghan (filmmaking), Paul Haywood (documentary practice), Tom Ryall and Gerry Coubro (film studies). Callaghan’s name, in particular, often appears in this narrative as a key player in the development of student practice and the wider film and video community. He was variously a senior board member on the YAA film and TV unit, associate editor of the Screen journal and avid folk music ethnographer.

The Head of the Faculty of Art and Design at this time was William S. Taylor.[9] He was Dean of Psalter Lane during 1972-75 and gave Paul Haywood his first job in the profession, ‘he made the whole thing happen really, he facilitated the filmmaking thing to be established within the institution.’[10] Crucially, Taylor also had links to the London publishing industry. He floated the idea of a manual on filmmaking to Thames & Hudson and commissioned Barry Callaghan to write it. The 164-page tome was an early outlier in this period, ‘designed to be used by students and staff in art colleges, teacher training colleges, polytechnics.’[11] Acclaimed British documentary director Basil Wright[12] described the book in his introduction to the Thames & Hudson edition as ‘the best book of its kind I have ever seen, both in term of thoroughness and imaginativeness.’[13] Here was a manual on film-making production endorsed by a documentary pioneer, with the nationwide distribution, commissioned by a respected artist and written by a Sheffield Polytechnic  lecturer. The manual helped legitimise film-making education in the UK and located Barry Callaghan in the School of Art and Design at the heart of this development.

The Thames And Hudson Manual To Film-making (Barry Callaghan, 1973)

To be awarded this level of recognition was a significant moment in the Sheffield history. Later, when future SIF director Colin Pons arrived in Sheffield (having read the manual during studies in Canada), he described ‘being in awe’ upon meeting Callaghan – purely because of the book’s influence on him.[14] We can take Meigh-Andrews’  general assessment of the role national art colleges played in the history of British video as a template for studying the organisational structure in Sheffield: ‘facilities [were] used not only by students but also by the practising artists who taught them, both as part-time and permanent staff … which gave artists access to facilities, and provided students with an increased awareness of video.’[15] Barry Callaghan’s experience is characterised by this work: part of the formal institution, but with external ties outside it, he forged close personal connections with students and the burgeoning independent film and video culture in the region to influential effect.

Film and Video Developments

By the mid-70s the Faculty of Art and Design began to restructure modules along clearer lines; the Department of Audio Visual Communication was established and ‘Film Making’ was offered as a supporting study in the BA (Hons) Fine Art.[16] Elsewhere, the SEFT[17] drove a revamp of the Screen journal and the Polytechnic of Central London integrated new intellectual developments in film criticism, film theory, semiotics, and contextual studies into its prospectus.[18] Now situated in the Department of History of Art at Psalter Lane, Film Studies mirrored these changes, proposing to ‘look in detail at films utilising a range of critical strategies, such as notions of narrative structure as developed by Christian Metz’.[19] Additionally, there were now part-time and evening courses entitled ‘The Political Film: Form and Ideology’. David Rea (a SIF co-founder), was one of the beneficiaries of this new part-time course. Rea was working in the oil business in Saudi Arabia before moving to Sheffield to pursue film-making when he landed on the ‘unofficial one year course for mature students… it was not so much a structured course as an opportunity to make a film of my choosing using the facilities at the college.’[20] This flexibility enabled mature students and budding filmmakers with different backgrounds to come to Psalter Lane and watch films at the campus theatre, experience equipment and learn among a diverse melting-pot of students of all ages. This idea of a shared community of practice[21] is borne out by filmmaker Nick Cope’s own recollection of the time: ‘everyone was just really interested in doing what everyone else was doing, a really vibrant sort of scene.’[22]

Welcome…

The development of film education at Psalter Lane art school therefore, is a story of local and national currents. The government reform of the art school, post-Coldstream, had a significant effect on regional film education. Post-1968, the tremors of the London counterculture slowly spread across the country and a radical thought and philosophy entered into the new Polytechnic network. At Sheffield, there was an evident enthusiasm to develop the art school into a centre of excellence for moving image production. Important individuals such as Barry Callaghan and Paul Haywood were advocates of this new doctrine, and helped build connections with the burgeoning independent film groups and institutional structures in the region (and beyond).

The roots of an independent sector which flourished from the mid-late 1970s onwards were first sown in the Psalter Lane Art School during the late 60s. A dynamic flow and exchange of equipment, skills, resources and ideas exploded into the 80s as the Sheffield underground music scene evolved through and within the institution carried along by the new medium of video at its root (see Cabaret Voltaire, Human League, Vice Versa, Clock DVA et.al). The people behind Sheffield Independent Film (SIF) also emerged from its halls, and you can read about the importance of SIF here. It is no understatement to say that the cultural history of Sheffield (and beyond) would be poorer without the arts school at Psalter Lane. A short list of alumni to have studied there  include  David Slade, Peter Care, Dawn Shadforth, Rod Main, Bharat Nalluri, Nick Park, Zach Nicholson,Joakim Sundström, Phillip Wright, Richard H Kirk (this, of course, doesn’t take into account the significant graduates who became world famous music idols of the popular/subculture).

Psalter Lane Vimeo

The growing body of work digitised and uploaded on to the Vimeo platform represents a small slice of what was produced at the college specifically in the 1980s and early 90s. While some of it may not have dated particularly well, it represents -to me- a fascinating snapshot of regional process and production. The building blocks to greatness which art schools can sometimes nurture.

Below are just a handful of selected personal highlights made at the Polytechnic from the period. More are available on the Vimeo site, in this album. More to be added soon. If any one out there was a filmmaker and studied at Psalter Lane during this period, and would like to get in touch about digitisation, please see the contact page.

By The Open Sea

This haunting 1993 short is directed by Zac Nicholson and Joakim Sundström, which follows a shipping boat knifing through an unnamed sea soundtracked by the rumble of waves, taut string music and a poem narrated by Peter Barker MBE. Nicholson is an acclaimed cinematographer (with recent work on Death of Stalin, 2017), while Sundström is a sound editor, sound designer and musician with recent credits including The Constant Gardener (2005), Starred Up (2013) and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017).

The Human Satellite

The Human Satellite (Jon Brooks and Simon Holland, 1980) is a clever and entertaining animation humming with dystopian Cold War paranoia. Alongside the snappy illustration, it is notable for the analogue pulse of a Human League soundtrack, a group forged in Sheffield with strong links to the Polytechnic. Simon Holland went on to become a film editor with credits for the BBC, Nat Geo, Discovery, Smithsonian TV, C4 and C5.

Looking Back

A scorched and strange 16mm film from paddy Eason flits between the inner workings of a Steenbeck, the snow-blanketed streets of terraced streets in (Meersbrook ?) Sheffield, and the eerie slowed-down footage of a little girl holding a dolly. All the while a droning electronic score grumbles. Paddy Eason is now VFX supervisor with 20+ yrs experience in the industry.

Gentle Ihor Learns To Speak

This funny short by Ivor Tymchak from 1979 is a sharp dissection of the film-making process. A smart and accomplished piece of work, that, despite the clever structuralist trickery, is shot-through from a quintessentially Yorkshire perspective.

The Energy Locked Up In Matter

Fun and freewheeling video work from Rod Edge. Showcasing all the toolbox technology of a brave new video world, and what looks like a primitive demonstration of some kind of ‘Paintbox’ visual effects software / hardware solution that suffuses much mid-late 80s video art. Don’t know much about Rod Edge, the filmmaker. Hopefully this post will help shed some light! Great electronic score on this, also. Apologies for the distortion.

Custard

Produced in association with the Yorkshire Arts Association, Phillip Austin and Derek Hayes first major work is an animated 16mm cartoon about a worker in a custard factory who is considered a pervert by his neighbours and work mates because he loves his job. Their victimisation of him eventually goads him into taking revenge and he threatens to flood the city with custard. Following graduation, Hayes and Austin would become one of the first animation students at the National Film and Television School, where they founded the production company Animation City making making commercials for companies like Lego and Carlsberg, BAFTA winning shorts, pop videos for Madonna, Elton John, Rod Stewart and title sequences for major television.

Notes

[a]S. Frith and H. Horne, Welcome To Bohemia! (Coventry, University of Warwick, Department of Sociology, 1984), pp 14-15

[1] Sheffield City Polytechnic. School of Art Prospectus, 1970-71, Sheffield, p. 8.

[2] C. Young, R. Dyer et al. ‘Film/Television’, in Ken Robinson, ed., The Arts and Higher Education, (Gulbenkian and the Leverhulme Trust, 1984), p.184.

[3] S. McDonald, The History and Philosphy of Art Education (James Clarke and Co Ltd, 2004), p.355

[4] C. Meigh-Andrews, A History of Video Art (London, Bloomsbury, 2007), p.95.

[5] V. Porter, ‘Film Education in the 1970s’, in Justin Smith and Sue Harper, ed., British Film Culture in the 1970s: The Boundaries of Pleasure (Edinburgh, University Press, 2011), p. 62.

[6] R. Murray, Senior Lecturer in Media Practice, Nottingham Trent University. Email to the author, 4 June 2016. Personal communication.

[7] Sheffield Media Show – Flickering Projection In The Future, http://www.rewind.ac.uk/documents/Pictorial%20Heroes/PH091.pdf, accessed 17 Feb 2016.

[8] S. Frith, and H. Horne, Art Into Pop (Methuen and Co, 1987), p. 33

[9] Having studied at the Sheffield School of Art (1936-39) and at the Royal College of Art, he then taught at the Schools of Art in Sheffield, Rotherham and Chesterfield and exhibited widely including at the Royal Academy, the Society of British Artists and The Sheffield Society of Artists.

[10] P. Haywood, Fine Art Lecturer, Sheffield Hallam University, Retired. Conversation with author, April 16 2016.

[11] B. Callaghan, The Thames and Hudson Manual of Film-making, (Thames and Hudson, 1973), p.7

[12] Director of Song of Ceylon, (1934), Night Mail, (1936).

[13] B. Callaghan, Film-making (1973), back sleeve.

[14] C. Pons, Course Leader, MA Filmmaking, Sheffield Hallam University. Conversation with author, 29 July 2016. Personal communication.

[15] Meigh-Andrews, A History of Video Art, p. 66.

[16] Sheffield City Polytechnic. Faculty Of Art and Design Prospectus, 1975-76, Sheffield, p. 8.

[17] Society of Education in Film and Television (SEFT).

[18] P. Whannel, ‘Film Education and Film Culture’, Screen, Vol.10, (May/June, 1969), p. 49.

[19] Sheffield City Polytechnic. Faculty of Art and Design Prospectus, 1975-76Part Time and Evening Courses, Sheffield.

[20] D. Rea, Film-maker, freelance. Conversation with the author. Conversation with author, 23 May 2016. Personal communication.

[21] A concept first discussed by anthropologist Jean Lave and educational theorist Etienne Wenger in 1991 – a community of practice is a group of people who share a common interest in the sharing of knowledge, experience and equipment.

[22] N. Cope, Lecturer in digital media production at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University. Conversation with author, April 17 2016.

Yorkshire Film and Video – Vimeo Channel

This post is to recognise a new Vimeo platform to showcase and give access to the films and videos I have been collecting and digitising over the last eighteen months as part of ongoing PhD research. The work covers a broad variety of formats and styles and is loosely from the time period, 1965-1997. In most cases I have had the blessing of the original creator to share on this platform under Creative Commons for research and non-commercial purposes only. If anyone has any issues with any of the content on there and wishes me to take it down, do please get in touch. See contact page for details.

More material will be added over the coming weeks and months, with the aim of building some recognition for this overlooked film and video from the region. While the best possible archival transfer has been sought, in many cases I only have available second/third generation copies – not the original masters. The image quality is therefore representative of this and the original formats used. In time, I hope to locate as many masters as possible. Moreover, the project is only sustained by a limited amount of PhD funds for digitisation, and uses non-professional transfer equipment. Therefore it is hoped the platform will act as the first stage in a catalyst to a new phase of properly funded archival preservation with partners from across the region and beyond.

Enjoy!

Thee Fabulous Mutations: film and video along the post-COUM axis

Post-Coum, Post-TG

The following is a paper I delivered in March 2017 at the University of Hull as part of the City of Cinema conference. It starts with a brief discussion of the Hull founded art collective, COUM Transmissions and the industrial band, Throbbing Gristle. Following a split in 1981, artists such as Psychic TV, Chris&Cosey and Coil emerged from the ashes of the COUM/ TG network and while their recorded music is reasonably well documented, the moving image output is not.

This paper present an historical study of the rarely seen film and video which travelled along the post-COUM axis in the 1980s. The art collective COUM Transmissions were founded, and active, in Hull between 1968-76. The group then moved to London and mutated into Throbbing Gristle (TG), stepping into the darkest reaches of noise and extreme performance. The band are widely regarded as the pioneers of industrial music, with a global influence. Following a split in 1981, artists such as Chris&Cosey, Psychic TV, and Coil emerged from the ashes of the COUM/ TG network and while their recorded music is well documented, associated moving image is not. This paper, then, will present an historical overview of the rarely seen film and video which travelled along the post-COUM axis in the 1970s and 1980s. This work is defined by a stream of important VHS releases which confronted the mainstream pop promo through psychedelic imagery and innovative use of newly affordable technologies and distribution platforms. It will suggest that these works broke into original territory by destabilising the conventional means of film production and explored the cross-pollinations that occur at the intersection of sound, moving image and performance – a praxis that receives little academic or popular attention.

Given the nefarious, complex and multi-layered history of these individuals and groups, time is limited here to present a full narrative of the post-COUM lineage, but this presentation (which concludes in the early 1990s) will hopefully be the catalyst for future investigation. As a coda, we will look at the nature of video as medium and its vulnerable relationship to the archive. The common production formats used by practitioners during this period are under serious threat to decay and playback obsolescence. The paper will discuss issues of sustainability faced by archives and researchers that are concerned with the collection, preservation and access to underground music and video subcultures.

COUM TRANSMISSIONS

Coum Transmissions in Hull

Formation  Although COUM did not work explicitly with the moving image, it is necessary to reference the formative years of the group to help steer the discussion. Moreover, the COUM Hull City of Culture exhibition at Humber Street gallery (which recently ended) did far more in illustrating the COUM narrative than I can here.

Cosey Fanni Tutti The two founder members, of COUM were is Hull native Christine Newby. The daughter of a fireman and a wages clerk from Hull’s Bilton Grange council estate. In the late 1960s she found herself invited to a so-called ‘Acid Test’ happening at the University union (at that time the vanguard of Hull’s own hippy counterculture). It was here that she first met Genesis P-Orridge, who soon rechristened her Cosmosis. Genesis P-Orridge was born Neil Andrew Megson in Longsight  Manchester, 1950. He studied at Hull University and edited the ‘free-form’ student magazine, Worm. In ‘69 he dropped out of Hull and had a period in London at David Medalla’s Transmedia commune. He returned to Hull, newly inspired… Cosey, speaking recently on her newly published biography, said of the first meeting with Genesis that he had a ‘concept for his new project, COUM Transmissions, came from Transmedia Explorations and its predecessor, the Exploding Galaxy: “life as art, communal creativity, everyone is an artist, costumes, rituals, play, artworks, scavenging for art materials, street theatre, rejection of conventions, and the advocation of sexual liberation.” The collective established themselves at the ‘Ho Ho Funhouse’ which was part of Wellington House, a Victorian building close to the fruit market on Queen Street, then they moved to Prince Street nearby. Here, they engaged in the countercultural lifestyle alongside a coterie of new recruits from university students, to the criminal underground, from the biker fraternity, to local dropouts and practicing artists. Names such as The Reverend Cheese Wire Maull, Foxtrot Echo, Spydee Gasmantell, Biggles and Fizzy Peat are now finally being acknowledged as protagonists in the revisionist COUM history of 2017. Initially, COUM’s practice was a product of the post-68 hippy counter-culture; impromptu musical gigs, communal theatre, Dadaist play on the streets, funded by (perhaps unwitting) benevolent Yorkshire Arts Association and Arts Council grants.

Peter Martin Christopherson

Peter Christopherson (b.1955, Leeds)

He was born on February 27 1955, Leeds. He is an important character to introduce at this point in the narrative – especially from the visual perspective. Following school in Leeds, Christopherson relocated to the U.S.A to study computer programming, theatre design and video at the State University of New York, Buffalo. Upon returning to the UK, Christopherson joined a sleeve design company founded by Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell, Hipgnosis. At the company he contributed to sleeve art for Fumble, UFO, Wishbone Ash, 10cc, Pink Floyd and many others. The sleeve below, incidentally, features Cosey and P-Orridge in the bath.  As a photographer his work began to attract the attention of the nascent punk movement and Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren who used Christopherson as a promotional photographer, only to later reject his images for being too extreme.

Actions As the 1970s developed, the performative tone of the COUM actions changed. Gone was the playful Dadaist happenings of the sixties, replaced instead by a more extreme, transgressive vision defined by sexual display, nudity, violence, self-mutilation and bodily fluids.  In 1974, Christopherson had attended a particularly ‘fab and kinky’ (as they were called) COUM in London, and asked Cosey whether he could take photographs. Because of this, he was christened ‘Sleazy’ and soon became a core part of the collective. Previous COUM actions were rarely visually documented, but Sleazy’s access to professional photo equipment (and his gifted eye for style and composition) gave them a platform to capture.

Coum Happening, c.1970s

Around this time, it is necessary to introduce another two important protagonists into the COUM /TG history. Chris Carter is a sound engineer, and electronic musician. He began his professional career in the 70s working on light shows and visual effects for numerous festivals, events and gigs, including for bands as diverse as Yes and Hawkwind By the early 1970s Carter was touring universities and colleges with a solo multimedia show, called Waveforms playing self-built synthesizers and keyboards and incorporating lighting effects learned from his previous work. During this period he also worked extensively with visual artist John Lacey on many 8 mm & 16 mm experimental films and multimedia presentations.

John Lacey is the son of 60s counterculture inventor, artist, musician, filmmaker and robot maker, Bruce Lacey. He studied fine art and painting at Goldsmiths in (1971-4). Lacey helped Carter with lighting for special effects multi-media presentations and experimental films, while Carter played self-built synths and keyboard. Lacey began work on light and sound with COUM in 1974 and in 1975, he introduced COUM to Chris Carter.

Prostitution at the ICA COUM’s most infamous happening, Prostitution, was held at the ICA in 1976. The show featured a stripper, used Tampax in glass, and transvestite guards. Prostitutes, punks and people in costumes were among those hired to perform with the gallery audience. The show was positioned on the agenda in Parliament and one Conservative MP Nicholas Fairburn declared the group ‘wreckers of civilisation.’ The show was the peak of the COUM notoriety, and marked a final phase in the development of the group’s practice, and geographical location.

After Cease To Exist (1977)

After Cease To Exist (dir. COUM/ TG, 1977)

The first documented moving image work which falls in this transitional period was After Cease To Exist. Premiered at Arnhem, Holland in July 1976 with a soundtrack by TG  [Speaking in 1982, P-Orridge] said of the soundtrack ‘Thee voices are of a pathologist discussing a murdered teenager’s body found at a roadside. Thee murder victim had been killed by a homosexual ring by Bishop Gleaves that specialised in hostels for young runaway boys’ The film itself takes these shock-tactic themes and flirts with them in a disturbing fashion; a work which blurs fetish, crime, horror, and castration into an uneasy sex film pastiche. Shot in black and white 16mm, the short lasts for fifteen minutes, with the first and last five minutes completely blank. TG Biographer Ford, suggests that COUM ‘intended these blank periods to allow the audience to concentrate, without any visual distractions.’ After Cease To Exist, is a (rarely seen) naïve work, but one which points the way to future experimentation with the form.

THROBBING GRISTLE

Formation – Hackney, London Following persistent police harassment in Hull, the COUM collective moved to London between 73-5 and set up base in Hackney, East London. First, they took residence at 50 Beck Road, and soon moved nearby to the Martello Street warehouse- which became known as The Death Factory. The Prostitution show at the ICA represented the official launch of the Throbbing Gristle brand and with a new studio space, Carter as the electronics expert engineering recording practice, the group shifted from performance art to music and sound production. Becoming tired of the the elitist art world (of which they were having successful commissions across Europe), they would instead assimilate popular culture and subvert its archetypes from their own position of control. At the cusp of the Punk movement, their practice was an anti-rock statement; electronics not guitars, sound not music. The embodiment of this new entrepreneurial independent spirit in music was to start their own organisation.

Industrial Records / Identity The name Industrial Records was coined by American photographer and artist Monte Cazazza, with the slogan ‘Industrial Music For Industrial People’ It allowed the group to critique the music and art industries not only through sonics, performance, and song lyrics, but also through the framework underlying the entire project, demystifying the means of production and distribution. Cosey in 2017 Guardian“We wore uniforms because we were playing with ideas all the time, investigating that concept of how uniformity sells a product, that was fascinating to us.” This further manifest itself in merchandise, clothing, stickers, posters cassettes …. Another mode of mass media communication to be subverted was the moving image, and the affordable access to VHS production and distribution gave TG the means.  

Industrial Records Merchandise, Artefacts

Recording Heathen Earth (1980)  

TG recorded its fourth album Heathen Earth on Saturday 16th February 1980 at Martello Street Studios. An improvised performance in front of a handful of invited associates, the action was filmed by Cazazza and later released by Industrial Records as their first official video production.  Releasing an unhinged, improvisatory live performance in this form was an explicit ‘gesture against the machinations of the music industry’.  

Live At Oundle School (1980

In March of 1980, TG took a tour to the public school of Oundle, Peterborough. According to Cosey, ‘a boarder at the school had convinced his music teacher to book them on the premise that they sounded like John Cage’… “The audience, apart from one or two members of staff was composed completely of school boys between about 8 and 18. In addition to the single camera recording of the gig, certain visual information from the files of Industrial Records Ltd. has been included.” Filmed by TG ally ‘Stan Bingo’ (with effects and editing by Sleazy) what starts as a hushed walk through school corridors, slowly erupts into a frenetic wall of industrial noise and violence; the pupils on the verge of an If… (Lindsay Andersons classic boarding school drama) riot. More than simple Live recording, Sleazy’s post-production lends the ‘Live’ performance tape a daring new video aesthetic; a palette of saturated overlays, and primitive video effects like timebased correction, solarisation, strobing.  

Derek Jarman and TG  After a period at Kings College London, Jarman studied for four years at Slade School of Fine Art, UCL (1963-67). He was never far from the alternative music scene in London. Whilst shooting his Punk film, Jubilee, in 1977 he composed the promotional film ‘Sex Pistols Number 1’ for the Sex Pistols. He followed that up with a triptych of short films for Marianne Faithfull and her Broken English LP c.1979.   TG Psychic Rally In Heaven (1981) On Tuesday 23rd, December 1980, TG played a Christmas gig at Heaven nightclub, London. The musical set further established the sonic direction in which P-Orridge wanted to take: shamanistic vocals, heavy drones, and phonetic sound poetry. The performance was filmed by Derek Jarman and made into the 8-minute film, TG Psychic Rally In Heaven. It was created by transferring the original super 8 footage to 16mm and uses layering and phasing techniques.  

In The Shadow of The Sun (1981)  TG’s next collaboration with Jarman would be In The Shadow Of The Sun, “using a simple Nizo Super 8 camera, the film comprises sections from Jarman shorts, ‘A Journey To Avebury’, ‘Tarot (aka The Magician’, and ‘Fire Island’) shot between 1972-75, it was not seen publicly until the Berlin Film Festival of 1980. In the Shadow of The Sun represented a fundamental shift in practice. The film here was a ‘score’ around which TG improvised a soundtrack of ambient drones, formless atmospheres, distortion and electronic unease. It was a new phase in post-COUM productions, where vision came before audio. “the film express a mythology and dabbles with ideas relating to magick, alchemy and ritual, allowing dream images to drift and collide at random”   (VHS Press Release)   Following screenings at London’s ICA and in Europe, the film and soundtrack were released through Sheffield/Nottingham VHS label – Doublevision. More of which on Doublevision soon. The tape was reissued in 1991 by John Bentham’s Jettisoundz VHS label, itself an important agent in the new VHS distribution mode.  

Jarman and Music   Away from making British feature films Jarman extended the dimensions and abstract aesthetics of these TG 8mm/16mm experiments into the music-video format during the 1980s He would apply similar processes to The Smith’s album Queen is Dead and work on a trilogy of shorts with leading art-school lights of the time, such as John Maybury, Richard Heslop and Cerith Wyn Jones (all three would go have successful careers in music video).  Jarman also established a strong connection with UK synth-pop band Pet Shop Boys that culminated in three promos and a series of projections for live performance.   These videos are important in crossing over the unique filmic aesthetic of Derek Jarman to mainstream MTV for the first time. He remained a formative creative influence on the artists and individuals who travelled along the post-COUM axis.    

TERMINATION  In 1981, under a heavy strain of collapsing personal and creative distress, Throbbing Gristle ‘terminated the mission’ and disbanded. The complex dynamics of why and how are too detailed for here, but broadly the four central members divided into two discrete musical acts.    

CHRIS & COSEY / CTI  

Chris and Cosey

After the split, Chris Carter and Cosey became one: musically, professionally, personally.  They built a sound with overt pop signifiers (Carter was a self-declared ABBA fanatic), made from electronics and cutting-edge machines.  One of the primary agents to realise the new sound of Chris & Cosey was  Doublevision.  

In 1982, Sheffield industrial band Cabaret Voltaire and a music manager from Nottingham called Paul Smith issued a VHS called Doublevision Presents: Cabaret Voltaire (DV1). It became the first independent music video release in the country.  The VHS label (birthed at the genesis of MTV) is almost anathema to the polished major label music video. Steven Mallinder, ‘the idea of the music business promo video we find annoying … we want Doublevision to be a total alternative video label which will bring out films and performances which might not be mass-marketable.’[1] Cabaret Voltaire saw the video label as a means to circumvent traditional media and broadcasting – a counter MTV. Its unique lo-fidelity assemblage of music video, surreal performance art, and mock-television news presentation defied classification by the BFI, and the music press had little comprehension of where to place a review. An early example is Johnny Yesno; a surreal underground short belonging to the avant-garde tradition of Kenneth Anger and the Kuchar Brothers, transposing the West Coast film noir of Chandler and Siodomak to post-industrial South Yorkshire.[2] It was entirely filmed in and around Sheffield and the Pennines, and its production crew featured local college graduates. The Doublevision template therefore pointed to a new direction in democratic regional video production not constrained by the metropolitan conventions of the London film and broadcast media. in 1983 Doublevision, in fact, compiled the hard to access TG Oundle / Heathen Earth films on VHS for wider distribution.  

Elemental 7 Given these close personal links between TG/Cabaret Voltaire the latest Chris&Cosey music (futuristic, electronic, pitched in the nightclub) signed to Doublevision. As CTI, Carter and Cosey made the Elemental VHS alongside previous TG collaborator, John Lacey. The new video paradigm was characterised by the liner notes for Elemental which suggested, importantly, Each piece from this video is a story in itself, each saying something different. The music was recorded specifically with each piece in mind, the visuals came first. It is not a ‘pop promo’ video.   The visuals were shot entirely on domestic VHS equipment, including 90% of the special effects. It was then transferred to Umatic for editing and post production.   The video did not cost a fortune to make, just £500. Video production is within anyone’s reach, the only limit being your imagination.   This is a radical audio-visual process, rooted in the improvisatory Jarman/TG experiments of In The Shadow Of The Sun but framed by the new video form, not film. An important break. Film as format was expensive, video affordable. Film represented the elitist art school tradition of Jarman et al., while video was much more attuned to the democratic form of cassette culture which TG/Industrial Records helped birth.

   

CTI – European Rendezvous Doublevision 08 was a second CTI video release, this time driven by a Chris & Cosey  European tour in 1983. Lacey again was director of visuals for these shows, and as the documentation suggests:   These projections were an integral part of the performance. A bank of visual possibilities which merged with the music to lift emotions and interpretations of life from those who witnessed them.

Chris&Cosey Live Vo.1 / Conspiracy International   A few years later, as the Acid House movement became reconnected to a ‘visual music’ in the nightclubs (aided by computer technologies), so C&C engaged with this Live tape, and “visuals specifically remixed from the original tour video” Audio-visual work like this represents a fascinating example of cross-pollinations that occur at the intersection of sound, moving image and performance. The history of this so called ‘expanded cinema’ began in the 1960s at countercultural venues like the UFO club in London, and through the seventies in Warhol’s New York, but pioneers like C&C disrupted the filmic roots of this multisensory experience and placed them Front Centre stage on video, in the nightclub not in the gallery, or cinema.

PSYCHIC TV  

Another group to have emerged after the TG split were Psychic TV   whose origins date back to 1979 when P-Orridge, Cosey and Monte Cazazza conceived of ‘giving a public the media illusion of a large, well organized, disciplined, and meticulously accessorized anti-cult.” Initially, P-orridge recruited Alex Fergusson, Scottish guitarist with Alternative TV and a few months later Sleazy joined. These lush, well produced records (Force The Hand of Chance, and Dreams Less Sweet ) were paid for by WEA/Warner Brothers / Stevo Pearce and Some Bizarre.   PTV was conceived of as fully multimedia project, integrating music (most of the early composition and production was Fergusson’s work), video (handled by Sleazy), and a philosophical propaganda wing, Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth (TOPY). TOPY eventually took on its own life as its own visible religious movement, with over ten thousand members at its peak. Conducting rituals concerned with mysticism of number 23… and using Charles Manson-inspired imagery The study of such a movement is worth a thesis in itself.  

 

First Transmission  The First Transmission double VHS was issued by TOPY and features an introductory sermon delivered by Derek Jarman, and is four hours of shocking imagery inspired by Gysin and Burroughs, transplanted to the early eighties, which according to P-Orridge was ‘Something originally conceived to air on New York’s notorious cable access station Channel J. The idea was for the footage just to appear on TV sets, randomly, late at night, with no explanation whatsoever! A churn around images, concepts of initiation, the banal with the strange, the obvious with the obscure, to find out what happens and to short-circuit the training the brain has already had to be accepting without thought.’ NSFW!

 

8 Transmissions 8  This audio-visual process matured throughout the 80s with Christopherson predominantly in charge of directing music video. The highlights of this activity were compiled in the 8 Transmissions 8 tape released through the Jettisoundz imprint.  This is the track ‘Unclean’, and was recently restored by the British Film Institute. It’s a riot of pagan images and elegant edits and cutting edge effects (for the time).

Joy and Maple Syrup In many respects, Psychic TV is Genesis P-Orridge, and according to prominent historian of this period, Alexander Reed, his raison d’etre in the late 80s/90s evolved from the Temple of Pschyic Youth maxim to reveal itself as an esoteric study in culture jamming (this included popularizing body piercing, acid house music, and embracing with his second wife Lady Jaye on the gender erasing surgical art project, Pandrogyne). These two VHS titles, Joy, and Maple Syrup are evidence of the audio-visual direction in which PTV were situated at the turn of the decade, the Acid House age: hypercoloured visual textures, rhythmic machine music, an embrace of early computer graphics, aimed squarely at the club space.    

COIL 

As Coil, John Balance and Peter Christopherson, did not engage with VHS distribution and audio-visual practice to the same extent as Psychic TV and Chris & Cosey – but the group still deserve note. Sleazy first met Geoff Rushton aka Jhonn Balance during the recording of second Psychic TV record, Dreams Less Sweet, the pair entered into a personal relationship. He was at this time a teenage fanzine journalist (writing under the name Scabmental), and became a member of Psychic TV. For reasons too complicated to discuss here, Sleazy and Balance became disillusioned with the solitary vision of P-Orridge’s Psychic TV and so both left sometime in 1983. Coil proudly politicized their identity as self-declared gay, pagan men “ MUSIC FOR THE ACCUMULATION of MALE SEXUAL ENERGY.

Scatology This debut record was an important breakaway from TG/Psychic TV, and was part funded by a major label. Scatology uses a big budget Fairlight sampler (an early example of such pioneering technology), large scale studio mixing desks, primitive drum machines FM synthesis on the 1983 Yamaha DX7 synthesizer (again an important new technology). It was during this period when Sleazy also began filming promotional videos in the mainstream pop industry, working with Electric Light Orchestra, Marc Almond, Robert Plant, and Erasure. He formed his own production company in Soho, Christopherson and Co., with long-time producer Fiz Oliver,  and he went on to collaborate on over fifty music videos.

Tainted Love   In 1985, Christopherson and Balance worked on a version of ‘Tainted Love’. It was among the first music videos to be purchased by MOMA, New York.  As with PTV, not all Coil’s listeners related immediately to their religious leanings, but amid the outbreak of AIDS, it had obvious ramifications that affected their music’s creation and reception. ‘Tainted Love’ framed by a mournful video of a man on his deathbed, confronted by a leather clad biker – a former lover? Death?- played by Marc Almond, who’s Soft cell popularized the song. Intercutting these scenes are closeups of Crowley’s maxim, ‘Love is the law, Love under will’ chiselled in stone. Full profits for the sale of the 12” single went to the Terrence Higgins Trust who provide counselling and information on AIDS. It was the first time a record would give proceeds to an AIDS related charity.  When Coil sing of death, they do so with a real and fearful, first-person closeness – it makes for a powerful piece of short cinema.  

Horse Rotorvator / Windowpane / Love’s Secret Domain Following the -relative- commercial and critical success of second album Horse Rotorvator, it would be another four years before Coil released a full-length record. On Love’s Secret Domain (1990) they would explore the lysergic rush of acid house music in both sound and vision, through videos such as this, ‘Windowpane.’

 

Pop Musick Futures   Further into the 1990s, Christopherson established strong creative connections with two of America’s most politically charged rock bands – Rage Against The Machine and Nine Inch Nails – relationships that would yield some of his most critically revered, and formally daring, promos of the decade, and shot commercials for brands such as Max Factor and Nike during this time.

Death Coil continued to produce an impressive body of sonics up until 2004 when in 2005, following John Balance’s death, Christopherson moved to Bangkok, Thailand. He made films in Thailand associated with a new project, Threshold HouseBoys Choir, and continued his photography. Peter Christopherson died in his sleep in Bangkok on the 25 November 2010. His contribution to the visual aesthetic of the post-COUM collective of bands and groups must not be underestimated. Moreover, from his roots as a photographer and designer within the heart of the mainstream rock industry, to music video director of major label bands, Sleazy (more than anyone here) embodies the assimilation of radical, extreme aesthetics into popular culture. Aside from the influence of his music work, his importance to the development of British video art and music video is only just beginning to be revaluated.

 

THE FINAL REPORT

There is just time for some closing reflections.

Industrial Geography  It may be a stretch to say that this City of Hull, the city I was born and grew up in, was of direct influence to the body of film and video which I have just presented. Nonetheless, the evolution of such game-changing genres like industrial music in the 70s and 80s is definitely a smaller city phenomena (see also, Detroit, Manchester, Chicago, Sheffield). Speaking of Sheffield, Clock DVA’s (another key industrial band who used video) Adi Newton once said of the city in the 70s and 80s   “There was a kind of independence of operation, a kind of outsiderness, in that we would do things ourselves. We would try and do everything ourselves. We’d try to organise concerts, we’d do the posters, we’d do the films….’   Northern England was able to foster a post-industrial outsider sensibility on account of its not being London. To quote Reed ‘it’s not just that industrial music responded to certain cities; it responded to a particular way of being in (and thus perceiving) these cities and scenes.’ And while Hull may not have explicitly influenced the post-COUM video axis, the particular circumstances of living in near poverty in the 60s and 70s must have contributed to a hard-working philosophy that informed the nascent Throbbing Gristle. Broadly speaking, once the the northern scenes and sounds caught the attention of the city’s record labels and music journalists, London quickly became home to a large number of industrial acts in the early to mid-1980s. It is interesting that Hackney, (at that time a depressed, violent and frequently dangerous place, not the gentrified zone it now is) was the locale where TG formed, created and destroyed. But living in Hackney had a fundamental difference to being in Hull – close proximity to the London music industry.

Industrial Music I argue that the inter-connectedness of the embryonic ‘indie’ record industry at this time (as defined by labels like Rough Trade, Mute) was a forgiving space for a regional/industrial music/video/film sector to evolve. Although TG set up autonomously of this cartel with Industrial Records, the mechanics of industry were established by these independents. Moreover, key protagonists like Stevo Pearce (links to Virgin records), or Paul Smith of Doublevision were simultaneously interlopers in the mainstream music industry (with all the financial benefits that entails) and close allies to artists along the post-COUM axis. This facilitated necessary funds for video technology being made available for deeply uncommercial moving image projects

Industrial Video Message In terms of the importance of moving image to bands in this history, Cabaret Voltaire’s Stephen Mallinder suggest a reason why: ‘to understand the thinking behind the sounds, there needs to be some recognition also of the images that were processed. It can be argued that the expanding media meant the post-1960s were primarily visually driven. Bombarded with television and film images, much of the music produced under the industrial banner sought to align sounds with other media. Music was in effect a translating banner’ The mid-80s material of Psychic TV and Chris & Cosey certainly appeals to this sensibility.

Industrial Video Medium Finally, format. The importance in VHS must not be undervalued.  As we have seen, this technology enabled the access to all means of creation, production, distribution like never before – and this was exploited by the innovators who travelled along the post-COUM path. Understanding this dramatic shift to the democratisation of film culture can perhaps be best explained by Reed’s words on industrial music’s’ use of audio cassettes.  “The cassette [or VHS] allows curious intimacies and budding ambitions to cross boundaries, playing a role… to transport environments Though the cassette tape is not deterministic of the content it holds, it was nevertheless understood as a strong wind through the periods’ political, sub-cultural, and artistic climates, contributing to industrial music’s perfect storm… it had the power to steal entertainment and information through copying, as well as its ability to watch the watchmen, empowering users…; helping to break down barriers between production, distribution and consumption. It encouraged users to be fans, distributors, musicians, and pluralists, all at once. TAPE as a medium impels its users to create and cut-up. SEE the influence of Burroughs through the post-COUM axis…. a rich possibility for subversion emerges.” (Reed)

It is from this platform, away from the mainstream, that TG, Chris and Cosey, Psychic TV, Coil and Christopherson created vital moving image work that transformed the potential of what music and video could be. For a short time, ( in Sleazy’s case) these transgressive rituals, philosophies and images were assimilated and co-opted into MTV culture and broadcast into millions of homes. And while all this may not have been made in Hull, Hull is where it all started – and that’s something to cherish. 

END

[1] V. Vale, Industrial Culture Handbook (Re/Search) (V/Search Publications, 1985), p. 46. [2]Influential but rarely seen, David Lynch is said to be amongst its admirers. In K. Hollings, liner notes found in, Johnny Yesno Redux (2013) [DVD]. Directed by Peter Care. UK, Mute.

Thanks to Reed, S. Alexander (2013). Assimilate : a critical history of industrial music. New York : Oxford University Press, and S.Mallinder’s Introduction to this most valuable history of Industrial Music.

London Community Video Archive

Still from ‘Starting To Happen’

As should be apparent from the post title, this entry is not about Yorkshire. It is, however, a significant archival project that I have been working on for eighteen months. It has now launched in Beta.

The London Community Video Archive (LCVA) is an HLF funded project established to help rescue, nurture and disseminate a unique and threatened part of  the capital’s video culture, through archiving, oral history, outreach work and a web site. The focus here is broadly on the London boroughs and the community video work made there, alongside associated contemporaneous documents (leaflets, photographs, catalogues, manuals, correspondence) from the period, 1970-1985. I have been acting as archival consultant on the project collating and coordinating video artefacts  (U-matic, 1 and 1/2″ video tape) ready for digitisation. One of the major challenges was bringing the digital assets into something tangible online. Working with data management specialists Metable, we constructed a bespoke content management system to help make sense of the ever-growing digital catalogue. This manifests itself into a fluid website built with the LCVA team and graphic designer Rosie Eveleigh. A website which enables users to study documents and images, while watching historical videos, or contemporary oral testimony interviews.

You can watch a trailer here which serves as a neat introduction to the historical context of community video. I’m very proud of what this project stands for, and the videos which Tony Downmunt and Andy Porter have curated and collected are a fascinating, necessary insight into this period and place. The LCVA represents Tony and Andy’s career-long commitment to this cause and without them behind the project, this important and vulnerable work would have been lost to the passage of time and decay.

LCVA Logo

In the late 1970s-1980s the new notion of ‘Community Arts’ was embedded in the local and national discourse. In the moving image, community arts was defined by its relationship to a new portable format – video. Local groups in the London region (and elsewhere) recognised this shift in practice and a swathe of funded community video practitioners emerged; it was now possible for individuals and communities to make their own television about local issues like housing, play, gender, sexual identity, ethnicity, age, and education.  As part of my ongoing PhD research, this largely ignored area of independent moving image practice will be explored from the Yorkshire Perspective within the context of a paradigm changing new technology;  groups such as Leeds’ Video Vera, Sheffield’s Video Workshop, Sheffield Media Unit, and York Video Workshop will be studied.

In the grain, hiss and slip of analogue tape, the LCVA project reawakens our recent history from moving image formats close to breaking point. This is no mere nostalgia trip, however. The social issues and problems highlighted by these videos are, sadly, still as prevalent as they were on the council estates and playing fields of 70s and 80s London. The LCVA, as platform, has inspired my own research practice and it is hoped that at some point in the not-too-distant-future that we will build a similar space for the community stories of Yorkshire to be told, screened, and shared once again to a new set of audiences. Watch closely, for that one.

LCVA Front Page

For further reading on this area, check out film-maker and LCVA Outreach and Engagement person Ed Webb-Ingall’s chapter in a recently published book on independent cinema in the UK, edited by two respected scholar practitioners.  Here – Mulvey, L. & Clayton, S. eds., Other Cinemas… Politics, Culture and Experimental Film in the 1970s (IB Tauris, 2017). 

Despite many pages of prudent analysis, and fresh terrain explored, the mention of filmmaking practice in the Yorkshire region is almost entirely absent. Again, the collective critical voice is that of London. This website and PhD hopes to redress that problem.

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