Changing Cycles

An ongoing project exploring the use of the arts as a form of action to ensure the sustainability of the planet. and stuff.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Biospherical pt 3

Still can't make the video upload, but here's the text for my North Devon Biosphere piece, working title, Bioculturaldiversity...(!)

primrose, campion, cranesbill, vetch, dog-rose, foxglove, holly

hawthorn, blackthorn, cross-leaved heath, bracken, bristle bent, beech

purple moorgrass, yorkshire fog, sheep fescue, tormentil

birdsfoot trefoil, pedunculate oak, bell heather, western gorse

lundy cabbage, rowan, hazel, irish lady’s tresses

wood anemone, buckler fern, orchid, ash, thrift

orange fruited elm lichen, purple ramping fumitory

sea rush, common reed, marram grass, thyme, eyebright, portland spurge

Aspi-what? What like breathing? I dunno what you mean by aspiration

Oh, oh right! No, I don’t need no further education

My situation’s sorted, all mapped out, I’ve got it set so

I don’t need to worry, Mum’s gonna get me on the checkouts at Tesco,

Not gonna let go of that am I? It’s a great job. Ironic?

What like that shit song? It’s like Mum says, when the gravy train comes, get on it,

Simple as that. Might be unfair but with so little jobs we have to look after ourselves.

Leave? Why would I wanna leave? We’ve always lived here. I don’t need to go nowhere else.

tortoiseshell, red admiral, peacock, orange tip, green hairstreak, speckled wood

pearl bordered fritillary, high brown fritillary, plume moth, marbled white

dingy skipper, grizzled skipper, goat moth, dragonfly

great green bush cricket, bloody nose beetle, brown argus, large carder bee

Look, even if I wasn’t black, I’d always be an outsider,

You’re not Devonian unless you’ve been here three generations and when you’re cut you bleed cider!

Well, I decided to buy my second home here cos I fell in love with it when I was a kid,

Our school brought us here to work on a farm for a week, best thing they ever did.

A few months every year, but when I retire I’ll move here full time

No, you get the odd look or comment, but everyone else is fine.

It’s mostly those who moved here from cities cos the multicultural project was failing ‘em,

Irony is, they move down here, and they also get treated as aliens!

yellow hammer, whitethroat, chaffinch, song thrush, dunnock, bullfinch, teal

bar-tailed godwit, cormorant, curlew, shelduck, dunlin, knot,

lapwing , wigeon, wheater, woodpecker, wood warbler, stonechat, chough

pied flycatcher, cormorant, gannet, nightjar, fulmar, gull

oystercatcher, cirl bunting, skylark, corncrake, cuckoo

golden plover, redstart, redshank, grey partridge, barn owl

common sandpiper, coal tit, blue tit, great tit, roseate tern

peregrine falcon, sparrow hawk, kestrel, buzzard, snipe

Well, I still do the milk round, course it’s not my milk any more,

After the cull we couldn’t go back to the way it was before.

Still do a bit of arable, beef, sheep, farming’s in my blood.

Try not to ruminate too much, we’re not made for chewing cud.

But dairy was dying before foot and mouth, we were tied up and buried in paper

The iron lady cast a long shadow, we always knew we wouldn’t escape her.

There’s no money in milk no more, ‘less you’re prepared to go big

And these hands weren’t made for pens, but tools, for my challenges, I’ll dig.

badger, rabbit, seal, otter, greater horseshoe bat

hedgehog, fox, red deer, dormouse, soprano pipistrelle,

brown hare, slow worm, grass snake, adder, greater mouse eared bat

natterjack toad, common frog, sand lizard, great crested newt

I tell him, ‘Dad, read the sticker, if it’s off shore, I’m off work!’

He says I’m lazy but it’s his fault, he taught me to surf, the berk!

He wanted me to follow the family trade, work in the big shipyard,

But I knew I’d fail to show when the sea called me to rip hard.

And I’m not some hippy peacenik, but I did sort of question why

I’d want to build a boat that sent young men off to die

So I make my paper cutting limbs off trees in my chain-saw surgery,

And when my mistress the sea throws those sets at the beach, that’s life’s only urgency

flat fish, flounder, mullet, salmon, sea trout, shore crab, shad,

common lobster, limpet, bass, painted topshell mussel

leopard spotted goby wrasse, pollack, undulate ray

acorn barnacle, spider crab, peppery furrow shell

beadlet anemone, snakelocks anemone, hydrobia, honeycomb worm

oarweed, bladderwrack, irish moss, amber sand bowl snail

devonshire cup coral, Pink sea fan, scurvy grass, breadcrumb sponge

early gentian, lady’s bedstraw, round headed club-rush.

Nah I’m not scared, can’t wait, it’s exactly what I’d planned.

But it’s weird to think these dunes’ll soon be Afghanistani sand.

I’ll miss ‘em. And my family of course, even this shitty town

Why did I join? Well there’s nothing else going for me, take a look around.

You get good pay, qualifications, I’ll have a serious career

As long as… look it’s nearly last orders, do you want another beer?

You know my granddad trained for D-day here, taught him how to fight…

No. I don’t mate. We’re not trained to question wrong or right.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Biospherical pt 2

Apparently Blogger hates my work. It won't publish a copied and pasted version of my Devon poem as it doesn't like something in the code, and I'm too lazy to re-type the whole thing, or learn html to sort out the problem. Neither am I able to upload the video of me performing the piece as it's too big a file. I'm exporting it as a smaller one which I'll try and upload in a separate post, but meanwhile here's a couple of clips from the rest of the evening:

First a bit of Byron:

Then a bit of Maxwell:

Wednesday, April 07, 2010


As mentioned in my last post, a couple of weeks ago I had a gig in Bideford, North Devon and spent a few days prior to it roaming around the area, meeting people and witnessing landscapes with a view to researching and developing a new piece in response to the Biosphere Reserve.
I was driven about all week by Beaford's programme manager, the very wonderful Hannah Ashwell, who not only arranged meetings and transported me to them but tirelessly filled my head with information and my belly with food en route and at the end of each day, usually along with a glass of wine or two as she generously put me up at her house. I 'd brought my bike down with me, but my schedule was so packed, and the weather so miserable that the bike stayed in the boot most of the week.
The idea was that I would blog about it whilst I was down there, posting video diaries and bits of writing that tracked my progress. Hannah lent me a pocket sized digital video camera and I duly stuck it in people's faces to record sound bites, including my own, and attempted arty landscape shots through the drizzle-streaked car window. Unfortunately I realised early on that my video editing skills were not what I thought they were and as my laptop didn't want to be friends with Hannah's wifi there was little opportunity to even write posts, let alone the slick media-savvy videoblogs I had envisaged.
So what follows is edited diary-lights of my time in North Devon, along with largely unedited clips of a few of the people, animals and places I visited. Once I've brushed up my digital media skills I might post a longer shinier compilation of the whole week, but don't hold your breath...

Day 1 (Mon): Spent the whole day on the train. Hannah met me at Exeter and drove me to her village where we drank beer and discussed the week ahead. Had a nice dinner back at Hannah's house in the company of her housemate Steven, and cats Max and Charlie.

Day 2 (Tues): Met Mark, the director of Beaford Arts in the morning and chatted about possible lines of enquiry. Went for lunch in Bideford and checked out the venue for Saturday's gig, the Burton Museum and Art Gallery. Afterwards we drove out to Westward Ho! and visited Northam Burrows and the pebble ridge, a long line of stones that protects the burrows behind. Created by the sea, maintained by locals over many years (in the annual pot-walloping festival) but now being threatened by the sea, the ridge is an interesting site of conflicts; environmental change, human need and traditional customs; and as such epitomises some of the tensions at the heart of the Biosphere concept (which I will write a poem about in due course)
In the evening we went to visit a village called West Buckland, whose inhabitants are considering programming arts events through Beaford for the first time. Chilly village hall warmed by friendly locals, tea and kit-kats.

Day 3(Wed): I'd begun to get an idea of the piece I wanted to write for Saturday, a combination of the biodiversity and the cultural diversity that make up the 3000 odd sq km of the Biosphere. Hannah suggested we go to meet Rob Woolton, co-chair of the Devon hedge group who also has a small farm.
Turns out it's actually his wife Paula who is the farmer and is just as fascinating and knowledgeable about the countryside as her husband. Time didn't permit me to interview her as well, but I hope to meet them again next time... Though I did get to meet their friend Dora:
Rob and Paula both came to the gig too, which was lovely, though Dora already had plans. That evening we went to meet Andy Bell, the coordinator of the Biosphere, at Braunton Burrows, another important ecosystem in the area, a sand dune system of world importance:

It was beautiful, but windy, and as the night drew in we decamped to a nice pub where Andy bought us dinner. Cheers Andy!
Day 4(Thurs): Tired from all our visits and the mental overload entailed, as well as starting to feel nervous about writing something for the gig, I spent the morning editing lists of North Devonshire flora and fauna, before going off for lunch at Tapely Park Estate. Tapely is owned by a guy called Hector Christie, whose family also own Glyndebourne. Hector owns a lot of land in the Biosphere, including Braunton Burrows, but is not your usual large landowner. He became radicalised during the foot and mouth crisis, barricading his land against the police, army and MAFF vets to save his herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle. Since then he has become a prominent evironmental campaigner and runs the house as a sort of commune. We had lunch with Hector, his girlfriend, Andy, Hannah and a documentary maker called Sheilagh. Wished I could have stayed all afternoon to find out more about Hector and his campaigns, but had to be whisked off to meet another great character in the shape of Paul Niemiec, a community priest and youth minister. Paul once put on a rave for under-eighteens in Salisbury cathedral, and runs his church as more of a community centre, putting on film screenings and youth and community events. When we met him he was listening to a CD of early Elvis recordings on the church sound system and they were advertising a screening of Age of Stupid the following evening. Paul told me about some of the young people that he works with in the area, and some of the problems they face.
That evening I bought Hannah dinner to say thanks for being such a great host, as it was my last night at her house, and tried to do a bit more scribbling before I passed out.

Day 5 (Fri): Spent the morning/afternoon at Hannah's writing some of the characters I'd decided on for my piece before heading over to Beaford where I was staying for the next two nights. Hannah was off to help a company called Jammy Voo do their get in so I had the place to myself until the evening when Maxwell Golden arrived. Maxwell is a brilliant hip hop theatre artist, MC and producer who I met a few years ago, and bumped into again recently. We were chatting about my upcoming work at Beaford and he asked if he could come down and check it out, so we arranged it and he thankfully agreed to a spot on the night. That evening we had a few too many drinks at the local pub and had a good time meeting Jammy Voo back at the centre.
Day 6 (Sat - showtime!): Spent the morning going over material with Maxwell and Hannah, was great to have their direction and made me feel a lot more confident about the gig. Headed over to Bideford in the afternoon to set up, and after various techncial hitches had everything set up and ready to go. As well as Maxwell we were joined by the always excellent and only slightly elf-like Byron Vincent, and also showed a video by Forkbeard Fantasy called Carbon Weevils:

The gig went off brilliantly, with only a few minor gremlins. The crowd were great, really warm, friendly and responsive. Below is a transcript of the new piece I performed. I'll post some clips of the gig shortly but it's taken hours just to publish the ones I've done!

The poem itself is a combination of species particular to the North Devon biosphere, some of which are endangered or have become extinct to the region or even the country, and characters I imagined from the places I visited and the people I spoke to. I tried to imagine what they might say if I'd had a chance to stick my camera in their face and ask them questions. I hope I haven't trivialised or over-simplified any of the people or issues in the area, but it's hard to feel you know your subject deeply after only a week!

Thank you to Hannah, Beaford Arts and Burton Museum and Art Gallery for making the week and the gig go off so well, and thanks to everyone who came down and made Saturday so special. I look forward to returning and making the work bigger and better... (and maybe having a crack at those accents!)

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Thursday, March 04, 2010


Since I last posted here, a lot has changed. Which is to be expected, as that was about 8 months ago, but it's been a more eventful 8 months than most.
Things were going well; I'd found a solution to some of my production problems in the shape of Kate Reynolds, who'd come on board to help me book the tour and apply for Arts Council funding; in October I won the BBC Radio 4 National Poetry Slam which promised to increase my profile and make selling the show easier. And then my dad died.
I won't go into all the messy details, but needless to say for a couple of months I didn't have the time or energy to get much work done. So as I gradually began to resurface I had to make the difficult decision to cancel the Voices of Dissent tour for this year.
This was an eventuality I'd considered before when having problems finding a producer, and I found the prospect unbearably frustrating at the time, but faced with the death of a loved one you become remarkably stoical about such decisions.
It may yet all work out for the best anyway. I still have Kate on board to make the tour happen next year, and hopefully Ric Watts who produced the show previously should be available again after he finishes at Queer Up North in the summer. We have more time to do it properly now, as, at the risk of stating the obvious, it's a lot more complicated to try and organise a theatre tour by bicycle than by regular petrol-power.
I'm also continuing my relationship with Beaford Arts who've been brilliantly understanding and supportive. They'd provisionally booked me some dates in Devon and Cornwall, one of which was too late to back out of so I'm going down to the Burton Museum and Art Gallery in Bideford on the 27th March to perform some new material along a similar theme, with the support of the excellent Byron Vincent. While I'm down there I'm going to take a few days to meet people in the area as part of my research for some new work in response to the biosphere reserve there. That research, and also the concept for my new work, is actually really exciting, and I'll write a separate post about it soon, but if I don't end this one soon I'm never going to get my poems done...

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Getting the pedals turning...

Things are starting to take shape for the tour of Voices of Dissent next year, albeit slowly and in unpredictable ways. I've been given the support of a great organisation in North Devon called Beaford Arts, who are not only offering me space to rehearse the show in Spring but promotion to their rural touring networks in Devon and Cornwall and connections to other venues in the area. So the idea is to start the tour in the South West, before heading over to London, up to East Anglia and back to the North West via the Midlands, possibly ending up in Newcastle. By bicycle. And, realistically, one or two trains - though we're aiming to keep them to a minimum. Anyone who wants to join us for any of the legs would be most welcome. Particularly if you have a portable sound system...

Beaford are also interested in me developing a new piece of work there in response to the region being a UNESCO Biosphere reserve, and possibly in collaboration with other European or international partners. But more of that as it develops...

For now I'm working on getting the tour booked, re-working the script, and writing the obligatory funding applications. And with the help of my renewable technology expert Charlie Baker, and designer Dan Steele, we're trying to develop a system to power the whole show self-sufficiently, through pedal power or other renewable means. So far I think we have the lighting sorted, barring some re-design of the pedal generator Charlie has created and sourcing of the right sort of lights at the right price, but we still have a little way to go on powering our own sound renewably. Rocks in (recycled) oil barrels anyone?

Above are some pictures and below is a video clip of the pedal generator. The video made me laugh an inordinate amount. (I am easily amused).


Monday, December 01, 2008

Eloquent Protest, Effective Protest?

For the past few months I've been involved with a production called Eloquent Protest, which was first produced by Feelgood Productions three years ago and is now in its third incarnation. The piece was conceived as 'an artist's response to the human cost of conflict' and contains a lot of powerful and moving material. I was honoured to be able to perform in the West End show this year, and also to be part of the version of the production that made its way out to Nepal at the Kathmandu International Festival. I've written a bit more about both experiences here but what I want to write about pertaining to this blog, is about the effectiveness of this sort of artistic protest, and whether it is possible, in a world choking on carbon, to justify flying halfway across the world to make these sort of statements.
I think the London production was a very effective piece of action/protest, albeit a quite comfortable, middle class one. The West End venue and high ticket price (though 15 pounds is quite cheap for the West End) might lead to accusations of elitism, but war veterans were given free entry, the performers gave their time for free, and all the proceeds went to Medecines Sans Frontieres, an organisation for which I have a great deal of respect. Some may question how much sitting in a theatre and listening to songs and poetry can achieve in resisting current or future wars, but there is a certain power in gathering together and remembering and reiterating artistic statements against conflict - they are a strong and important part of the culture that leads people to protest.
As for the production in Nepal, I wondered what we really had to say to a country that is still suffering the legacy of civil war, and I know a lot of the complex literary language was lost on a predominantly non-English speaking audience. The same questions remain for me about the effectiveness of this form of protest, but coming to Nepal made me realise the power of theatre in the context of revolution. The theatre school we were performing at was a focus of action during the uprising against the monarchy here, and street theatre was an important mobilising tool. Also, the director of the Thai company at the festival said our production had inspired him to write about the economic conflict occurring in his own country, the takeover of Tesco in Thailand and other such issues. This is the sort of cultural exchange and cross fertilisation that an international festival can bring about, and I've certainly taken away a lot of ideas for my own work.
I suppose the main problem I feel with being here is the paradox of being an artist making work about humans' impact on the environment flying to another continent to perform in a festival. It's not a direct hypocrisy I suppose, as our piece was about war rather than ecology, but how many wars, past, present and future were, are or will be fought for control over earth's dwindling resources? And yet, despite my pledges to my myself not to fly any more, I feel visiting other countries is more and more important in my understanding of the world, my ability to be able to make informed statements about my own and other cultures, and my own personal development and fulfillment. But how can I say my work is so important that I deserve to fly, at the same time as campaigning against airport expansion and increasing carbon emissions? How can I possibly be so self-important?
Part of the answer is that you don't have to fly in order to travel, and my next bike-based theatre project (once I've finished my long over due tour of Voices of Dissent) is to join the peace ride from London to Jerusalem and perform a piece of theatre in refugee camps in Palestine.
But meanwhile, I now have contacts and invitations from companies in Thailand, Bangladesh and others. I can't cycle everywhere, so do I take it on myself to sacrifice my wander-lust in order to practice what I perform, or do I just hope that rising oil prices and financial depression make flying prohibitively expensive for everyone (except the super rich), to public detriment and planetary benefit?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Reasons I don't write this blog

1. I'm too lazy.
This isn't entirely true. Sometimes it is, but I'm generally a pretty active person. I even get up and go swimming some mornings. When I think about it, most of the time what I feel is laziness is actually apathy , lethargy or despondency caused by some of the other reasons given below.

2. I'm too busy.
Again, this is only partly true. I am involved in a lot of other things than this project, and have to be in order to stay afloat as an artist living in a market dominated society. But I'm also getting a lot better organised, and could write more regular blog posts if I gave myself the opportunity.

3. Other people are writing much better blogs about the environment.
Now we're getting to the roots of things. It's so easy to look at the reams of writing out there that deal with these issues from a much more informed and active point of view, and just think 'what's the point?' I can't add anything to the 'debate' apart from opinions I've received from other writers, most of whom know more than me, or are doing much more about it than writing poems and making theatre pieces noone comes to see. But if there's anything interesting about this blog, I think it will be just that - a pretty ordinary sort of artist trying to make sense of a lot of overwhelming scientific evidence and political opinion, trying to make entertaining performance work about it, whilst dealing with the apparent contradictions of the urgency of the situation we face, and the sort of reflective work I think is necessary in order to consider where we are, how we got here, and where we need to go...

4. No one will read it anyway.
Well, that's as maybe. But you won't know until you start doing it more reguarly than every three months. And I learned recently, from my girlfriend (whose excellent blog you can read here) that the way to increase your readership is to read other people's and comment on them. Which concerns me slightly as I find it hard enough writing my two blogs, and all the creative stuff that they're supposed to be about, but I think if I stop letting my insecurities and self-doubt get in my way, I should free up some time to be interested in what other people are writing.

5. I should be going out and taking action, rather than sitting at home writing about it.
This is partly true, and being at Climate Camp for a few days this summer (which I haven't yet written about, because as soon as I started looking around for what other people had written so I didn't duplicate too much information, I immediately felt innadequate and got put off. See above.) has reignited my taste for being involved in direct action and protest. But it's important to reflect on the nature of that action, what the motivations are, how effective it is etc. So whilst I am going to be involved in more actions in future, and continue to make theatrical/literary work about it, this will also be the space where I will write about being involved in both of those processes. It's all about balance...

6. We're all f**cked anyway, what's the point writing a blog about it?
Yeah, it's easy to look at the evidence laid before us and give up all hope, but the truth is that's just not as much fun as trying to do something about it! My experiences over the last few months - at Climate Camp, at the Permaculture Convergence, at various theatre events - have reminded me that being engaged in creative grassroots movements - be they trying to shut down power stations, or getting involved in community urban gardening projects, or performing to people in fields on bike powered sound systems - is loads of fun! Much more enjoyable than sitting around all defeated, or going out and hedonistically burning as many fossil fuels as possible while we still can (which sounds fun, but had you the least conscience or understanding of the likely impacts, would be impossible without releasing simultaneous plumes of guilt).
I'll end this little public session of self-therapy with a quote I found in my notebook as I was desperately scouring around for some inspiration. It's by Howard Zinn, from the documentary You Can't Be Neutral On A Moving Train (which is quite apt in itself...):
'The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now, as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvellous victory.'