I came to create performances through participating in a workshop at Matt’s Gallery , London. During a discussion about how to install a sound-piece, the gallery owner said “Why don’t you just perform it live?” I had never thought I could do such a thing but then realized that having lectured for 35 years I could manage to stand up and deliver a live performance of a different kind. For me, a live performance needs to be in dialogue with its location, which can be an important active part of the experience. If it is not, perhaps it can be transformed to make it so.
Props and costume can add interest to the performance, and I find sourcing them and making them a very useful and enjoyable part of the research and creative process. The materials and objects can generate ideas and strategies.
Sea Change 2014
Performance with a video projection by Lynn Dennison
Performed in the Chapel at Oxford House, Weavers’ Fields, East London, the spoken and sung text uses extracts from the book of Revelations, and the Shakespearian song Full Fathom Five alongside contemporary extracts from newspapers relating to deaths at sea and changing exploitative working conditions for seafarers.
Performed as part of the Revelations:Festival of the Sacred and Profane programme.
The Ten Commandments of the Asylum Chapel 2014
Performed in the Asylum Chapel, Peckham, built in the early nineteenth century for retired wine merchants and their families, this work sung the text of the ten commandments, partly visible on the bomb-damaged tablets behind me on the former altar. The partly or wholly obliterated pieces of text were drowned out by recorded sound of waves eroding a shore in Suffolk. As I stood there, the setting sun facing me through a high window lit up the area around my head with a reddish glow. Finally I walked towards the audience and sang out “Asylum! Asylum!” . Asylum seems in rather short supply these days, and has almost become a dirty word to some people, compared to what it meant in this building in the nineteenth century. The ruinous state of the building is perhaps metaphorical as well as real.
Song Cycle for Hampstead Heath 2014
The songs in the cycle (a selection here) commented on issues such as homelessness, unemployment and precarious employment, scavenging for food in supermarket skips, and in the case of Hollow Tree, the often unwelcoming reception given by the UK government and others to refugees and migrants. Inspired by the song cycles of the wonderful Franz Schubert, especially Winterreise.
The Milk of Human Kindness, 2015
M2 Gallery one-person show and performance
The M2 gallery in Peckham was once a dairy and so I performed Milkmaid’s Song which I originally set to music as part of a sound installation at Uppark House historic dairy.
An old tin toy of a milktruck, vintage milk bottles, and extracts from letters to free newspapers thanking people for their help in everyday situations were installed in the gallery, and I performed the Milkmaid’s Song at the opening event.
The World Turned Upside Down 2016
Project for Birmingham Camera Obscura at Winterbourne House and Gardens
I invited visitors to the house and gardens to join me for an intimate performance in the mobile camera obscura (maximum two visitors at a time). The image in the camera was upside down, and I composed a song about aspects of seeing the world upside down, sung live for some visitors, and played in a recorded version at other times. Visitors were given a set of upside-down postcards as a souvenir of their visit, reminding them perhaps of the role of the camera obscura in composing “picturesque” views. Turning the world upside down to achieve social equality was the aim of Diggers and Levellers in the English Revolution.
For more information please see the blog of the Winterbourne Garden staff, Digging for Dirt
With thanks to the staff at Winterbourne, to Pete Ashton and Jenny Duffin of Birmingham Camera Obscura, and Arts Council England.
performance for the mobile sauna as part of Compass Live Arts Festival, Leeds
Wearing a dress made of tissue paper and printed with letterpress blocks, which was designed to gradually degrade in the heat of the sauna, I performed a specially written “warm” song to the tune of The Merrymen’s Feeling Hot Hot Hot, in this case it became Feeling Warm, Warm, Warm. All the people in the sauna joined in and we had great fun.
Oranges from Afar 2016
Performed in Tatchbrook Street Market, Pimlico, organised by Rufus Stone.
A song about agribusiness, exploitation and the global North/South divide. Everyone listened attentively and was rewarded with an orange.
This had previously been performed in a historic orangery now in the middle of a housing estate near Clapham Common, the neoclassical structure being all that remains of a historic house (Thornton House) and its grounds. (see video below)
Let us now confront this Evil 2016
collaboration with Jonathan Rogerson, ALL (Art Language Location), Cambridge.
This performance is based on extracts from speeches by Hillary Clinton (in favour of escalating the “air campaign” against ISIS), and also by Hilary Benn (whose speech of December 2015 advocated the bombing of targets in Syria).
Developing these extracts, the performance uses the spoken word, singing in various styles (medieval religious, baroque, pop music, lullabies, national anthems etc) ,and objects, to explore the relationship between ideas, language, and actions; for example, how language is used to normalise ideas which could be considered inhumane. The performance explores seductive qualities of the live voice, to invite the audience to think about how words are used in the service of propaganda, to persuade listeners to favour particular ideologies or political positions.
Mermaids’ Song 2017
performed at opening event for Rising exhibition in St John’s Church, Bethnal Green , London
An elegiac and heartfelt song about how poetic myths of the sea are often confronted by grim realities.
Listen to the longer version as a soundpiece below
A Bird’s Eye View 2018
performance in the tea shed overlooking Deptford Creek for the opening event of M2 (at) 15 exhibition
Issues of gentrification, the cost of housing, effects of urbanisation on nature as observed by a bird flying over Deptford Creek, South London.
For video by Sarah Goodwin of the performance see below. I am wearing a specially created Seagull Shrug.
Only Death/The Charlady of Death , 2018
performance at the opening of Ghost Tide , near the Thames Barrier where the derelict passenger ferry Royal Iris is moored.
This was a live performance of the sound work Only Death, a poem by Pablo Neruda adapted and set to music. Death is supposedly a great leveller, but not all are equal before it, during it, or even after it comes for us “like an employee of Border Control”.
For a sound file of the work visit below
Wholly Water 2019
performed at the opening of the Material Flow exhibition, Museum in the Park, Stroud.
A live version of the Wholly Water spoken and sung text based on an extract by classical philosopher Heraclitus which was installed as a soundwork at the Roman Bath, London. All is flux, forwards is at the same time backwards, what is, at the same time is not.
For the Roman Bath version listen below
A Light in dark Times 2018
I took up residency in the lower deck of the decommissioned lightship LV21 at Gravesend , experimenting with sound and projection based on events seen in the estuary surrounding the ship. These related to nationality, migration, acceptance, and notions of citizenship, including the arrival of The Empire Windrush, carrying some 500 settlers from Jamaica, at Tilbury Dock on 22 June 1948. For Windrush Day in 2018 I performed A Light in Dark Times for the Citizen Ship project at the LV21 moored at Gravesend, opposite to where the Windrush docked on the other side of the estuary. For more information visit https://citizen-ship.uk/a-light-in-dark-times/
I did not make a List, 2019
performed at the opening of the Fold exhibition, Lewisham Art House.
Using a variety of media, spoken word, song and accordion, I re-interpreted Leporello’s “list” song from Mozart’s Don Giovanni (where the huge numbers of sexual conquests of the Don are listed) in the light of the contemporary “me too” movement. Men (and women) seen as “Great Lovers” from the past are perhaps the forerunners of the sexual predators of today, though often seen in a romanticised way….on the slippery slope (or stairway) of sex and power and even genuine attraction
For having been born Elsewhere , 2021
Performed at the Garrison Church (St. George’s) Woolwich, for Carnesky’s Radical Cabaret Showcase.
Dressed in the garb of a victim of the Inquisition, an old woman is accused of witchcraft and of “having been born elsewhere”. It gradually becomes clear that she is being scapegoated for being both a witch and a migrant . She refuses the role of the victim, and casts a spell on her accusers.
Inspired by paintings and drawings by Goya, a poem by Anne Sexton, and a song by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.
For a video of an online performance of a slightly longer version of the work with British Sign Language interpretation, see below
Video by Drunken Chorus, introduced by Sheena, male voice performed by Chris, expertly signed by Clare Edwards