Can you recall your first artistic experience?
The two things that really stick in my memory are singing in bed with my Mum with I was really young, just nursery rhymes and the odd hymn from about the age of 2 or 3, and never having a big, chunky thick Black Beauty pencil and a bit of drawing paper far away from my similarly chubby hands. I was amazed the first time I discovered that smudging was so fun.
What motivates you to continue with your artistic activities now?
Music and songwriting are how I communicate. It’s not something I have a choice in; I need to sometimes almost exorcise pieces of work and I get a real sense of achievement in creating songs and compositions. I partnered with composer and songwriter, Bernard Jackson – whom I meet through the Over The Hill Music Collective – and together with Finn Kennedy from Kabosh Theatre Company we recently wrote and produced ‘Let’s Rip it Up!’ a 1940’s inspired musical. Working as part of a collaborative team like this keeps you very motivated and creative. I also try and push my own boundaries whenever I can and after receiving a SIAP Award from the Arts Council this year, I’m experimenting with spoken word narrative and writing original music as part of the accompaniment. A lot of my recent work has been based on family history but a holy grail for me is to discover a kernel of truth in my own work, which can offer something recognized universally. Music is a bit like alchemy really, trying to make some gold out of a bit of lead. I love that little tingle you get in the back of your brain as an idea for new work breathes into life and may just be a gold rush of opportunities and creativity.
How would you describe the work that you are doing now?
After founding the Over the Hill Music Collective 2 years ago, a group which is aimed at older musicians, but open to all, I’m co-producing an album for them with American producer Barrett Lahey from Start Together Studio. It will feature a selection of artists from the collective, with 12 new songs in total. Release of the album will be digital with the provision of a short run of vinyl copies. We plan to make a short film of the process as well. The project has been made possible by the ACNI, but an extraordinary amount of work has went in the administration and creative process – so big shout out to those involved in the back room shenanigans!
I am also collaborating with the photographer Carrie Davenport to produce an installation piece for PS2 Gallery in late spring called ‘Talking Tatt’s’ based on tattoos of local musicians. In addition to this I’m also working on a new EP of my own songs and hope to gather a selection of Over The Hill people to tour later in the year. Playing live is a great way to hone new material; there is nowhere to hide with it – people either like it or don’t. I’ve stopped caring as much when people don’t like my stuff – I’m too long in the tooth for all that Prima Donna behavior!
Are there any barriers which stifle your ability to pursue your career in the arts?
At a basic level we all need an income to survive and at times it feels like you are too busy making a living to concentrate on your own artistic work. Having said that I’m luckier than most in that I work within the Outreach and Projects Department with the Oh Yeah Music Centre, so am still within the music arena. This year I have also been selected as a creative emerging leader by a consortia of foundations working under the name XChange and was awarded funding to continue my practice as well as enable me further develop Over the Hill. Having said that, it is still difficult to get people interested in your work when you are over 50, its harder to get gigs and almost impossible to get radio play. This was one of the reasons for setting up Over the Hill as a collective and we are in a much stronger position and have a louder collective voice.
You are a community artist – how did your activities in local communities come about?
4 years ago I made a conscious decision to change careers. In my previous work I was engaged in NGO development education and fundraising within schools, so working within the outreach/community sector for Oh Yeah seemed a good way to go – plus it was music – my first love. My partner Lesley Cherry was just embarking on her Masters in Fine Arts and after a long talk it seemed the right time for us to commit to what we really wanted creatively. Having worked in the voluntary sector for over 15 years and having a strong social justice ethos, working within communities felt like a natural way to work. I have carried this with me in working both at Oh Yeah and in my personal practice, from producing ‘In The Mood’ a 1940’s showcase aimed at older people, mentoring Volume Control a group run by and for young people alongside Charlotte Dryden, as well as facilitating workshops for Love Music Hate Racism, you could say things at work are never dull.
Have you any experiences with Community Arts Partnership – if so could you say a little bit about them
I have been signed up to CAP’s Community Arts Weekly for a long time; I’ve used it to both gather information on funding and events and publicise my own community events too. The funding section in particular has been invaluable. I am interested in multicultural events and activities and was pleased to be part of CAP’s PICAS conference in late 2013 and to become involved in follow up meetings in CAP’s office. I’ve made some great contacts and hope to develop a multicultural gig in the coming months. I have also worked with Gordon Hewitt on several projects before he joined the CAP team so I’ll be pestering him for lots of information in the coming months! Finally, I’ve also joined the Captabase as an artist. I think what CAP offers is a fantastic resource for community organizations and individuals alike.
Have you any thoughts on the arts in the working class communities where you have worked?
I’m not entirely sure about the term ‘working class communities’ but I get the essence of it. In the communities I’ve worked with there has been a strong sense of working together in both engagement and participation and access to the arts. It takes a lot of hard work to build relationships and trust with a community setting and sometimes creating the initial link can be difficult. Agencies like NICVA and CAP do a brilliant job of offering a platform for discovering and researching an organisation or how to put your own organisation out there. In previous completed work when challenges arise (and they always do) solutions and new ways of working come from strong collaborations. Difficulties only arise when one party feels it’s being kept in the dark or taken for granted. I have been privileged to have worked with communities in Central America, Africa and Asia and methodologies learned there have served me well in working on the ground here at home.
In fact the idea for the Over the Hill Music Collective came from a meeting I had with a group of female workers in El Triunfo in Honduras, where they clubbed their resources together for the benefit of their whole village – buying, selling, growing crops, exchanging skills and offering advice and comfort. I have a lot of respect for people working at the coal face with limited resources and dwindling budgets but their passion shines through and it’s these working relationships with community organisations and participants that makes it all worthwhile.