National Dance Company Wales (NDCWales) and English National Ballet’s Dance for Parkinson’s programme has been transported from the Dance House (Cardiff Bay) and Blackwood Miners Institute (Caerphilly) to a new Zoom online class to help support those most vulnerable and still shielding.
NDCWales has been running the high quality dance classes for people living with Parkinson’s, their family, friends and carers since 2015 at the Dance House and 2017 at Blackwood Miners Institute, both part of a UK wide programme with English National Ballet.
Dance for Parkinson’s has been proven to support people with Parkinson’s to develop confidence and strength, whilst temporarily relieving some participants of symptoms in everyday life. Classes are expressive, creative and promote feelings of freedom from the physical and social constraints of having Parkinson’s.
Since the start of lockdown NDCWales and English National Ballet have been piloting a version online to support existing attenders to take part from the comfort of their own home, many of whom are vulnerable and have been shielding since March. It’s also allowed existing attenders to the classes to stay connected to people through lockdown sociably.
Dance for Parkinson’s Participant said, “The lockdown has been very hard, as I was no longer able to see people and my family. I felt isolated and my speech was suffering. I found the Zoom sessions helped me reconnect and it was lovely to see the teachers and all the participants of our group. The sessions were very uplifting for me and I always looked forward to them.”
As well as setting up the sessions online, NDCWales has partnered with Digital Communities Wales who work with digitally excluded people. Helping them deliver digital inclusion activities so they can do it well and make a bigger impact. They helped NDCWales to provide free training and support for those who have never used Zoom before.
NDCWales’ Learning and Participation, Guy O’Donnell said, “The feedback we’ve had from our loyal Dance for Parkinson’s participants is that they wanted to still feel connected and still continue to feel the benefit of the programme on their health. They were keen and wanted to be adventurous and learn about technology, and fortunately with the continued support from Digital Communities Wales we have been able to do this.”
Following the pilot over lockdown, Dance for Parkinson’s will now be available online for new members to join in from Thursday 17September, 1.15pm-2.45pm. The programme runs across 12 weeks and participants can join in at any time. The first class on the 17 September is free and the first class is free for new attenders, classes are £3.50 per week thereafter. Each term the programme focuses on one English National Ballet or National Dance Company Wales production and explores the themes and ideas around the movements of that dance piece. This term, Dance for Parkinson’s will be focused on NDCWales’ production of Ed Myhill’s Clapping?! which was adapted for online during lockdown.
As well as encouraging new members to take part in Dance for Parkinson’s, NDCWales and English National Ballet are continuing to look for volunteers to help support participants in the programme. If you would like further information and to sign up to the programme as participant or a volunteer please contact – Guy O’Donnell, Learning and Participation Producer, NDCWales email firstname.lastname@example.org or ring 07305 534 981.
Dance for Parkinson’s is supported by Caerphilly Council, Hodge Foundation, The Moondance Foundation and The Goldsmiths Charity Company.
Mae rhaglen Dawnsio ar gyfer Parkinson’s Cwmni Dawns Cenedlaethol Cymru ac English National Ballet wedi cael ei symud o’r Tŷ Dawns (Bae Caerdydd) a Sefydliad Glowyr Coed-duon (Caerffili) i ddosbarth ar-lein Zoom newydd i helpu i gefnogi’r rheiny sydd fwyaf bregus ac yn parhau i warchod eu hunain.
Mae CDCCymru wedi bod yn cynnal y dosbarthiadau dawns o safon uchel i bobl sy’n byw â Parkinson’s a’u teuluoedd, ffrindiau a gofalwyr ers 2015 yn y Tŷ Dawns a 2017 yn Sefydliad Glowyr Coed-duon, pob un yn rhan o raglen ledled y DU ag English National Ballet.
Profwyd bod Dawnsio ar gyfer Parkinson’s yn cefnogi pobl â Parkinson’s i fagu hyder a chryfder, gan leddfu dros dro symptomau ym mywyd bob dydd rhai o’r cyfranogwyr. Mae’r dosbarthiadau’n fynegiadol, yn greadigol ac yn hyrwyddo teimladau o ryddid rhag cyfyngiadau corfforol a chymdeithasol Parkinson’s.
Ers dechrau’r cyfnod clo mae CDCCymru ac English National Ballet wedi bod yn treialu rhaglen ar-lein i gefnogi mynychwyr presennol i gymryd rhan o gysur eu cartrefi eu hunain, y mae llawer ohonynt yn fregus ac wedi bod gwarchod ers mis Mawrth. Mae wedi caniatáu i fynychwyr presennol gadw mewn cysylltiad â phobl drwy’r cyfnod clo yn gymdeithasol.
Dywedodd Cyfranogwr Dawnsio ar gyfer Parkinson’s, “Mae’r cyfnod clo wedi bod yn anodd iawn, nid oeddwn yn gallu gweld pobl na fy nheulu rhagor. Roeddwn yn teimlo’n unig ac roedd fy lleferydd yn gwaethygu. Helpodd y sesiynau Zoom i mi ailgysylltu ac roedd yn wych gweld yr athrawon a holl gyfranogwyr ein grŵp. Roedd y sesiynau yn codi calon ac roeddwn bob amser yn edrych ymlaen atynt.”
Yn ogystal â sefydlu’r sesiynau ar-lein, mae CDCCymru wedi uno â Chymunedau Digidol Cymru sy’n gweithio gyda phobl wedi’u cau allan yn ddigidol. Gan eu helpu i ddarparu gweithgareddau cynhwysiant digidol fel eu bod yn gallu ei wneud yn dda a chael mwy o effaith. Gwnaethant helpu CDCCymru i ddarparu hyfforddiant a chymorth am ddim i’r rheiny nad oedd erioed wedi defnyddio Zoom o’r blaen.
Dywedodd Cynhyrchydd Dysgu a Chyfranogi CDCCymru, Guy O’Donnell, “Yr adborth a gawsom gan ein cyfranogwyr Dawnsio ar gyfer Parkinson’s ffyddlon, oedd eu bod eisiau teimlo mewn cysylltiad o hyd a pharhau i deimlo buddion y rhaglen ar eu hiechyd. Roeddent yn awyddus ac eisiau bod yn fentrus a dysgu am dechnoleg, ac yn ffodus gyda chefnogaeth barhaus gan Gymunedau Digidol Cymru rydym wedi gallu gwneud hyn.”
Yn dilyn y cynllun peilot dros y cyfnod clo, bydd Dawnsio ar gyfer Parkinson’s bellach ar gael ar-lein i aelodau newydd ymuno â’r rhaglen o ddydd Iau 17 Medi, 1.15pm-2.45pm. Cynhelir y rhaglen dros 12 wythnos a gall cyfranogwyr ymuno unrhyw bryd. Mae’r dosbarth cyntaf ar 17 Medi am ddim ac mae’r dosbarth cyntaf am ddim i fynychwyr newydd, ar ôl hynny codir tâl o £3.50 yr wythnos am ddosbarthiadau. Bob tymor mae’r rhaglen yn canolbwyntio ar un cynhyrchiad gan English National Ballet neu Gwmni Dawns Cenedlaethol Cymru ac yn archwilio’r themâu a syniadau y tu ôl i symudiadau’r darn dawns hwnnw. Y tymor hwn, bydd Dawnsio ar gyfer Parkinson’s yn canolbwyntio ar gynhyrchiad CDCCymru o Clapping?! Ed Myhill a gafodd ei addasu i’w arddangos ar-lein yn ystod y cyfnod clo.
Yn ogystal ag annog aelodau newydd i ymuno â Dawnsio ar gyfer Parkinson’s, mae CDCCymru ac English National Ballet yn parhau i chwilio am wirfoddolwyr i helpu i gefnogi cyfranogwyr y rhaglen. Os hoffech ragor o wybodaeth a chofrestru i’r rhaglen fel cyfranogwr neu wirfoddolwr, cysylltwch â – Guy O’Donnell, Cynhyrchydd Dysgu a Chyfranogi, CDCCymru e-bostiwch email@example.com neu ffoniwch 07305 534 981.
Cefnogir Dawnsio ar gyfer Parkinson’s gan Gyngor Caerffili, Hodge Foundation, The Moondance Foundation a The Goldsmiths Charity Company.
As the lockdown confined us into our homes, choreographers and performance artists began exploring how to do dance digitally. Choreographer Matteo Marfoglia decided instead to bring socially-distanced dance to people who were especially vulnerable: people in care homes and in hospitals.
The project, funded by the Arts Council Stabilisation Fund, is an adaptation of Matteo’s 2016 show Crossword, which was a co-production between National Dance Company Wales and Festival of Voice, uses dialogues as music. During lockdown Matteo kept trying to think of what he could still do without necessarily using video, as soon as it would be legal to do so. He says,
“A lot of arts was going towards the digitalised form. I couldn’t find myself in that world yet. I asked myself ‘What can I still do that makes me feel I can contribute something and which doesn’t necessarily need to go digital’?”
“I woke up at three in the morning and said ‘we can do that!’. There is no contact between dancers in Crossword. I began to think of what places might be in most need of art. I initially thought of hospitals and health settings.”
Crossword became an opportunity to bring dance to people who might be at a particularly vulnerable time in their lives, but also people who might have never seen contemporary dance. That included one of the residents in a care home, who was a 94-year-old ballerina in the Royal Ballet.
“She was a dancer in the Royal Ballet and her daughter was also a dancer in the Royal Ballet. She said, ‘I have never seen contemporary dance. I’m so glad I got to see contemporary dance.’.”
Matteo tells me that the music gathered people like an invisible smoke insinuating itself inside the hospital. He says,
“In hospitals, chefs from the kitchen and nurses were clasping a cup of tea on their break came to watch the show. They were watching it through the windows so there was no interaction. For residents in care homes, the show was also an opportunity to be outside and talk to someone they didn’t know, and watch something new to them. Some people had never seen contemporary dance.”
Matteo wondered how best to enter that world with dance and movement. He felt it was a little ‘naughty’ intrusion because people would normally expect the beautiful music and graceful movement of ballet. They got something very different: an emotional journey that goes beyond a story and uses words as music.
In Crossword, the music is made of dialogues in the Italian language. The show was first designed around the theme of voice, to be part of the Festival of Voice. Matteo wanted to explore how to turn dialogues into music.
“At that point I was interested in dialogues and how voices in dialogues can be music, not just as a song or needing an instrument. I worked a lot with Italian dialogues, taking fragments from different conversations. From that we created a soundtrack.”
“The dancers were all British so they didn’t understand what was going on and I didn’t tell them.
We really used it as music. We devised the show for them to respond physically and emotionally.”
The first reaction in most audiences was the search for meaning and some found it frustrating. He tells me,
“We always look for meaning in language for us to connect to it. How can we find a way to emotionally connect through a language that we don’t understand, through something that is not the meaning, so is it the tone? The speed in which people talk, which triggers an emotion?
“For me it was trying to connect both the performers and the audience to an emotional state which goes beyond the literal understanding of words, but more about how the words are being said.
“One of the residents said ‘once the journey started I forgot that that was language.’ Once they let go of meaning, it started to be sound. It became an emotional journey.”
Contemporary dance is still largely ‘different’ for most of us. It has no straight narrative, or no narrative at all. For many, it is like a foreign language. Crossword has been an opportunity to embrace that ‘foreignness’, a ‘foreignness’ that has multiple dimensions. Crossword made use of the ‘foreignness’ of Italian language to create music and movement; it drew on the ‘foreignness’ of contemporary dance and music made of dialogues to bring the audience through an emotional journey; and it took contemporary dance to a foreign land, that of hospitals and care homes, who have been at the centre of the pandemic and where, perhaps more than anywhere else, body and mind need healing.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Or so it seems. The arts sector is not out of the woods yet by any means. But there is a glimmer of hope. Like the neon bulbs dangling across the stage at my first live gig since March, there are rays of optimism breaking through the darkness. As the sun set on the magnificent red brick building towering over us, aglow with rainbow-coloured light, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of joy and relief that I am back. That I have been able to come back. That my theatre, unlike others, still stands.
It never stopped, of course. It innovated; collaborated; diverted its resources; sought creative solutions. And now, it is slowly returning to a sense of the old normal. Not indoors, mind, but out. On a grassy field marked with white boxes and filled with makeshift chairs of all shapes and sizes. A tapestry of camping and outdoor furniture laid out before a plain black stage, simply lit and acoustically sound. Onto it step three lads with three instruments ready to entertain the throngs that have ventured out on this Friday evening. And entertain us they most certainly do, with a barnstorming hour of country, blues, and alternative folk.
Their blistering set was much needed to get the toes tapping; to counter the cold wind blowing across the site. The audience applauded in enthusiastic appreciation throughout, determined to enjoy an hour of music after the dearth of live performance over the past few months. The Goat Roper Rodeo Band certainly offered plenty of enjoyment and more besides, an eclectic sound keeping things fresh and lively, with no let-up in their high-octane delivery. Even in the slow, ballad-like songs such as Toss and Turnand Old Joanna, there was intensity in their presentation, perhaps caused by the welcome release that this post-lockdown opportunity presented for them. Whatever the case, it only added to the brilliance of the evening. With a carefully-crafted back-catalogue of wonderfully-catchy songs – reminiscent of Mumford & Sons one minute, sounding like a 1950s WSM Radio broadcast the next – The Goat Roper Rodeo Band certainly left their mark on proceedings in an hour that went by way too fast.
It was a very different experience of Theatr Clwyd to the one that I am used to. But it is moments like these that weave themselves into our memories. They are the unexpected surprises that make our relationship to a place so rich with meaning. They crystallise into a particular instance on our timeline that helps us tell the story of our lives to those that come after, when we recall how this theatre and its work has impacted us down the years. It may appear to the one looking in and gazing upon the photographs that this was just another outdoor gig. But to those who were there, or to me at least, this show marked the occasion when the arts began to breathe again, as the tightly-bound corset of Covid-19 restrictions was loosened enough to allow for such a socially-distanced gathering to take place.
There will be many bumps in the road to come. We are not out of the woods yet. But beyond the many trees still to wind past to get to the edge of what can seem an overwhelmingly-bleak scene, there is a light that shines. It will not be the same one we left behind. And neither should it be. Lockdown has been an opportunity to view and do things differently. Live performance as we knew it will return I’m sure. But the arts sector must also move forward. Change must be embraced.
Click here to find out more about The Goat Roper Rodeo Band.
Click here to find out what’s coming up at Theatr Clwyd.
2020: the year when hair was long and tempers were short. With everyone squirrelled away in their homes for months on end due to a pandemic unparalleled in our lifetime, we turned to the arts for comfort and distraction – and yet, as a medium in which social distancing is almost impracticable for artists and audiences alike, they are now in a battle for survival. COVID-19 has compelled writers and performers to innovate as never before, and BBC’s Staged is proof of what can be achieved with a little Wi-Fi and a whole lot of heart.
Easily the best entry in the rapidly-emerging lockdown genre, Staged is a note-perfect ode to the quarantine blues. Here’s the pitch: Simon Evans (who plays a fictionalised version of himself, and also directs and co-writes the series with Phin Glynn) was due to stage a starry West End production of Luigi Pirandello’s absurdist classic Six Characters in Search of an Author – until COVID-19 closed the theatres. Determined to get a head start on the new season, he decides to conduct rehearsals with the cast over Zoom – but corralling the duelling egos of co-stars Michael Sheen and David Tennant (also playing exaggerated versions of themselves) proves the most difficult task of all.
Anyone who has sampled the (un)earthly delights of Good Omens, Amazon and the Beeb’s glorious adaptation of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Python-esque apocalypse yarn, will be keenly aware of the heavenly rapport between Michael Sheen and David Tennant. There, Sheen was the angelic Aziraphale to Tennant’s demonic Crowley, but in Staged the roles are reversed, with Sheen playing wicked, wolfish devil to Tennant’s sweet, beleaguered pacifist. (They’d said in the past that were they to take Good Omens to the stage, they’d swap roles every night – Staged works both an audition for the role-swapping shtick and a testament to its success). Their chemistry transcends miles, screens and technical difficulties – released on June 10th in six fifteen-minute episodes (20-minutes if you check out Netflix UK’s extended editions), Sheen and Tennant charmingly bicker over increasingly petty minutiae, like the contentious issue of whose name comes first on the poster, which ends up being one of the series’ best running gags – and that’s really saying something for a show so cleverly scripted as this). It’s an utter delight to see them reunite again so soon, and I hope this proves just the second in a slew of future Sheen-Tennant (ad)ventures.
Featuring delightful cameos by Hollywood royalty from both sides of the pond (I won’t spoil them here), and turns by Adrian Lester as a superficially zen version of himself and Nina Sosanya as the only outright fictional character (Jo, an acidic theatrical agent), Staged is a fantastically produced show, more professional than most other Lockdown TV, from Dan Gage’s superb editing to Alex Baranowski’s whimsically jazzy score, and the writing by Evans and Phin Glyn, which is so clever and performed so naturalistically you often wonder whether its scripted at all, giving it the feel of a postmodern play. Evans and Glyn marvellously drop themes and dialogue early on that pay off by the end of each episode and/or the whole series, and even seemingly throwaway gags like a David Tennant mug and a daft theatre warm-up song are resolved in hilarious and often meaningful ways. Co-starring Sheen and Tennant’s real-life partners (Anna Lundberg and Georgia Tennant respectively, the latter of whom also produces) as well as Evans’ real-life sister Lucy Eaton, Staged is a family affair in the truest sense – complete with the quarantine-specific cocktail of passive aggression, pettiness and the pangs of affection true of loved ones living together in lockdown.
You feel in a decade’s time you could look back on Staged as a time capsule of this bizarre year –it captures the essence of what lockdown was really like, not just because the cast are plagued by the mundane scourges of lockdown life – home-schooling, monotony, general malaise of the soul – but also by intercutting with footage of deserted London thoroughfares, vacant supermarket shelves, teddies in windows and tributes to the NHS. Even production lines of loo rolls and the goats who took over the empty Llandudno! Sheen, Tennant and co often start their Zoom calls by staring melancholically off-camera, and Staged captures the awkward silences, the uncanny valley, the timing that’s just a bit off, about the medium of video conferencing. ‘We just need a focus for it,’ Tennant says at one point; he’s referring to their chaotic Zoom rehearsals but that’s a 2020 sentiment if I ever heard one. Focus is one of the many things in dwindling supply during this singular year, especially in the infamously fluid temporality of lockdown living, which renders the experience of time inconsistent and patchy (days feel like years, months fly by) which the show also captures.
For all it’s comedic brilliance, Staged doesn’t shy away from sorrow. There’s a subplot between Sheen and his next-door neighbour which goes from hilariously petty to genuinely moving, and encompasses the cloud of uncertainty that hangs over us all at this time. While Tennant claims he brings ‘charm’ and Sheen claims he brings ‘gravitas’, they each excel at both – as well as capturing that sense of defenceless inertia that is common to us all right now. And Tennant gets to sum up the collective malaise of the era in a wonderfully poignant monologue: “You just stop feeling useful, don’t you? The theatres close, audiences go away, roles dry up, you’ve got nothing to offer. You’re just hoping it’ll all be alright”. The series – and the year – has walked the surprisingly fine line between rage and hope. Sheen quotes Dylan Thomas’ famous lines, ‘Do not go gentle into that good night… Rage, rage against the dying of the light’, and David worries whether things will ever go back to normal.
One of the more subtle ideas in the show arises when Sheen comments in passing that, of all the things in the real world, he misses elephants most of all. A minute or so before this, Georgia explains that elephants in David’s play symbolise memory – so, for me, this was their way of suggesting that making memories is the thing we all miss most of all. “You’ve survived this long without elephants. You’ll manage,” Georgia tells him, and the audience. We’ll manage. We’ll get through. We’ll endure. The response of certain governments could indeed be described as a ‘cachu hwch’ (I’ll leave you to look that one up), but there are more good people in this world than bad, and in a time where fighting for our rights has become more essential (and more visible) than ever before, Staged is there to remind us that we will get through this – and that we can only do so together.
Staged is currently streaming on BBC iPlayer and Netflix UK.
Get the Chance member Helen Joy, interviews Poet Marvin Thompson. In this interview Marvin discusses his background. How issues such as Black Lives Matter have impacted on his current practice and Plethu a collaboration with Literature Wales/National Dance Company Wales and Dancer Ed Myhill.
Plethu / Weave: Triptych Part 1 by/gan Marvin Thompson and Ed Myhill
Please note: This video contains deliberate use of a highly offensive racial slur and images that some viewers might find distressing. These elements are relevant to the context of the artistic work which explores Wales’ relationship with the transatlantic slave trade.
Gemma Connell is a dance artist based in Wales, whose latest work, footSTEPS, is a series of dance films in starkly different locations. Born in south Manchester and with Welsh ancestry, Gemma started dancing in her local youth club. She explains,
‘I come from a working class family and a very big family, certainly couldn’t afford dance lessons. So it was the youth club, it was things that were free that were there for me.’
She later went to Warwick University to study English literature, but found herself spending most of her time dancing and setting up shows. It was then when she decided that she wanted to devote her life to the arts. I ask her what dance is for her and she tells me,
‘Dance for me has always been therapeutic. It’s my way of processing the world, It’s my way of working through things that I find difficult. It’s a way of expressing myself when I can’t find the words.’
Used to moving freely, the lockdown in the spring brought a new challenge. She didn’t have enough space at home to dance, she tells me,
‘You try and dance and you’re gonna hit the coffee table. I felt trapped and I think footSTEPS was a way of trying to get that freedom back. Dance and dancing outside was a way of dealing with that.’
Once allowed to go over 5 miles from the house, Gemma and her partner Ian Abbott, who is the Director of Photography , decided to explore different locations and experiment making short dance films. footSTEPS thus became her escape.
‘I felt very free the first couple of times we tried to create these dance films. I suddenly found myself really excited about dancing again.’
The first season of footSTEPS is set in south Wales. The locations include Chepstow Castle, Wentwood Forest, a bus graveyard, an underpass in Newport, and a beach in the Vale of Glamorgan. In her dances, Gemma interacts with the features of each place and reacts to their different feel. Bringing contemporary dance into a castle felt like a meeting of two eras, while the bus graveyard had an apocalyptic feel to it. She says,
‘There’s something for me with being at a castle of one time meeting another. We film in this medieval space but I’m very much in modern clothes and doing this kind of dance that they definitely wouldn’t have done back then.’
‘The bus graveyard for me was quite eerie. It looked a little bit like the apocalypse. As if humanity had disappeared and everything had been left. It made me a little bit nervous that site. I think it comes across in the movement as well. There’s something about me trying to create a boundary, a barrier around me. I seem to be making circles around myself.’
In each film, Gemma improvises bringing together different dance styles to respond to her immediate environment; yet there is a consistency in her moves. I ask her what Covid made her realise about dance. She tells me,
‘The tactile nature of the way I work. I do a lot of contact work. Covid means you aren’t allowed to touch anybody or anything, that you’re not allowed to get close to people. As a dancer, I’m used to being in contact with people all of the time. I found that very, very difficult.’
I remark that in our everyday life we, non-dancers, tend to suppress movement. We are not at ease with our body. I ask her how dancers gain that confidence to express themselves through movement. She tells me,
‘The late Ken Robinson used to talk about this and I think he’s brilliant. He said that people are educated out of their body and into their heads. I really do believe that. I work a lot with young people. As young people, they get less and less comfortable with their body or with moving in a certain ways. I do think that that is related to an education system which is focusing on academic achievements. There are so many kinds of intelligence. I think dance is one of those kinds of intelligence. Embodied knowledge certainly is.’
For non-dancers, dance is something one might do in a club or a dance class. We do not dance on the street, in a park, or forest. Gemma takes her dance into the wild, into historic settings, and urban sites. She frees it not just from the confinement of lockdown, but from the restrictions our society imposes on dance. Movement is how Gemma, as a dancer, deals with life and expresses her emotions. We might do well to follow the example of footSTEPS and dance wherever and whenever we feel like it.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Bristol based poet, Lawrence Hoo. It was a truly enlightening conversation and we discuss all things Race, Class and Education. You can find out more about his latest projects at www.lawrencehoo.com or more about the Cargo project at @cargomovement on Instagram and social media. (Becky Johnson)
Read Part 1 below to see what he had to say:
Hi Lawrence, it’s lovely to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
Hi, my name is Lawrence. I live in Bristol, well I’ve lived in Bristol for almost my whole life, and I’m a poet.
I was born in Birmingham and grew up in mostly marginalised communities in Bristol. I spent a lot of my youth in and out of the care system. I went to 6 secondary schools and after that, I didn’t have any form of education. I was a feral kid on the street from the age of 6 and a runaway. When I was 19, I had cancer and I went through a bad stage of my life after that. I thought that the cancer was going to kill me anyway and I went back to living on the road. And then at 30, I became a father for the first time. To be honest, it scared the living daylights out of me. But that’s about it vaguely.
I wanted to see if I could make myself a better person and make more of my life. So I went back and re-educated myself and began to teach others how to use computers. I did that for four years and got burned out. So, I started to do my poetry.
My poetry came from a place of rage and from questioning why the authorities were allowing situations to occur in these certain environments rather than in the rest of Britain. All the laws that need to protect people exist but for some reason the action isn’t being taken to enforce them.
A point of that was when my partner was picking up our young son from nursery in Saint Pauls and she was approached. We then, campaigned against paedophiles being allowed to stay in the hostel which backs onto our nursery. It came out and we succeeded to make Bristol safer.
And that’s why I use poetry as a platform to try and make these changes happen.
I acknowledge that a lot of your previous work and ethos is grown around Bristol and the things that surround you there. I know that similarly to Tiger Bay in Cardiff, Bristol is going through a huge gentrification process. I was wondering on what not only your thoughts are on this but also what impact you have already seen from this?
I think is painful to see the gentrification. It goes back to those laws again., they hold all of these problems in communities.
In Saint Pauls there would be safe houses to protect those from people who have committed crimes as well as hostels for those who have committed crimes. There was drug rehabilitation centres and parole offices, but they were put next to the only place in Bristol, where you could legally sell drugs on the streets. They put the drug users next to the drug dealers, they put the people at risk from sexual crime next to those who have committed sexual crimes and they put prostitution on the streets by schools.
They took all of these issues and put them into an area which was where the African Caribbean communities are, so they often associate these problems with the African Caribbean communities. But, if we take things back to sherlock Holmes times, there were people smoking opium and he would investigate the murders of prostitutes. All these problems came along a long time before we came to Britain.
The children who are growing up in Saint Paul’s, because of the violence, lose their innocence way too young. That’s what I find heart-breaking. The way Saint Paul’s was policed (well actually I say policed but it was more so ‘contained the issues so they didn’t affect the other communities’) means the influence and protection of those other communities, is so different to what happens in Saint Paul’s.
Building prices are going up which is forcing working class people to move out of the areas which they grew up in. With Saint Paul’s it’s the council assets. The things that the working class need the most will be the first things to go. There’s no chance for people to come back into the communities they’re from. And with the services are removed, the communities become very affluent causing the communities to shift and there is nowhere for those that grew up there to live in the area.
So adding onto that, what do you think of the increase of students and the spreading of students away from Gloucester road and into Saint Paul’s? Is this bringing a positive impact, or is it doing the opposite and removing opportunities for those that are from the area?
It was always going to be a natural progression that Saint Paul’s was going to be reclaimed because of where it is located. It’s just an expansion of an affluent area but, at the same time, all it has done is push out the communities that was there before. It just benefits one community and marginalises another. It’s heart-breaking.
I’ve grown up there and lived there. It’s always been my safe spot. Regardless of all of the chaos of the city, if you’re from African Caribbean descent, it’s a safe place. It’s just devastating. Gentrification is devastating. I don’t see any positives from gentrification.
As a homeowner, gentrification has increased the value of my property. But there’s not much of my community left. I feel like a stranger. Some people say yeah but you can make money from it, but I’ve lost my home. I’ve got my house, but the community is my family. That whole family aspect of life is gone. My home is gone.
I don’t think people actually understand what it’s like to lose that familiarity, that security and that family. What it’s like when its gone.
The university of Bristol is such a huge entity in the city, and it needs to do more. I’m working with the university now, but I want to work with it to help collect the wider communities of the city and to support them. Everybody says black lives matter. But working-class people’s lives matter.
The whole city is classist.
Its problem the main issue of the city. There’s the golden circle for a mile around the city which makes a very affluent area. But one thing that’s very rare to hear in this area is a Bristolian accent. A lot of Bristolians are cast out of opportunities here. I believe it’s time for those big institutions to connect and to gather communities to raise their platforms with them. A part of Bristol is accelerating so quickly but it is leaving a huge part of Bristol behind.
So your latest project, the Cargo project, has recently received National lottery funding (congratulations). Why was the Cargo project initiated and how was it developed into the current version in which it sits?
In 2007 I did a collection called HOO stories. Which was a response to the abolition to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It was an opinionated set of poems that held a non-Eurocentric view. It was holding up a light to the actions of Europeans and gave a positive light to people of African descent, allowing it to be seen from an African-centric view. It pointed out people that had contributed greatly to society but who had pretty much been emitted from history.
Cargo was an extension of this. Looking at what people have been told has been done and then showing what has actually been done as well as looking at what you have actually done yourself. Cargo showed African resilience and African’s generating opportunities.
The beginning of the collection probably looks at the first 400-500 years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, when people were just classed as cargo. Covering that journey and how they were put in the conditions that made them in slaves as well as the achievements of those of African descent. It starts in Bristol and then goes into the slave trade, the Hacienda revolution, H Samuel Sharp, and the uprisings and then continues with those that fought against and contributed to civilisation. An empowering narrative for what is usually, a very disempowered history.
It was done because I live in Bristol and you cannot get away from Bristol’s history. Every building you look at is made from Bath stone which came from that industry. I live in a city that’s very painful to live in.
As a young black man, I couldn’t get my head around the fact that men didn’t fight to defend their wives and children. I always thought, my people didn’t fight then but I can fight now. When I realised that they did fight and rebel, that changed for me. I thought that people were so dehumanised that they stopped seeing themselves as human and it breaks my heart. But then, you realise that they did fight and what happened to them, was crimes.
But they saw that evil, and they fought and fought and fought. I wanted my children to not grow up with the same anger that I had and that’s where the collection came from. I want to give the children of Britain the opportunity to not be me.
It started off as an installation as four different shipping containers on College Green (Bristol). The idea of using shipping containers removed the permissions needed to display this information e.g. the approval of museums and galleries. We didn’t want to have to prove that our work had value to other institutions. So that although there were permissions needed, it was a lot more flexible than the others. But because of Covid-19, the idea of putting people in a confined space walking around stopped being possible.
Covid-19 took the installation and we thought, how do we keep this moving forward? How can we make it more digital? We wanted to give people accessibility to information. So we went forwards with the Classroom project. The installation although on hold, is still in process.
The Cargo Classroom project is so important and it’s brilliant that you’ve been able to kick off something as monumental as this. What do you believe is the next step to get this information into mainstream education?
We produce a product that they feel they can’t not use, that’s the first step. Making something that people want to use and then work towards getting that into the curriculum.
This is the crazy thing, for years, we’ve been pushing and pushing but because of what’s happened in the last 6 months, people have actually come looking for us. That has been a huge change. The most important thing for us to do, is to keep focussed on what we have already been doing and to not get involved in loads of things. This is what we were doing before we got national attention. We need to make sure we deliver what we set out to deliver before we then look at what the other opportunities are.
The funny thing is, I’m so excited for what were doing. The possibilities are insane. This is the right time, we have the right product and we have the willpower to push it.
The attention will soon fall off if people aren’t prepared to put the work in. What is happening currently isn’t new, we had a global black lives matter campaign 4 years ago. And literally, outside of America, in a few weeks, it had gone.
We don’t need huge numbers as long as we keep pushing the right buttons. The group who did the protest a few months ago are still going and are making sure its not going anywhere. This young group, I believe they’re going to keep it going and make some change, for real.
Here in Wales, where Get the Chance is based, there is a campaign calling for Black history to be taught to Welsh pupils in school which has received more than 30,000 signatures within days of it being set up, educating pupils on subjects like British colonialism and slavery.
Whilst many ministers in government (both in Wales and England) acknowledge the need to shine a light on how colonisation has been glorified, why do you think the latest bill passed through parliament was rejected?
I think a lot of this information has been oppressed for so long that if too much of the information came out too quick, it would undermine the whole of the UK government. The whole industrial revolution was built off the back of Africans.
What is actually owed? People ask are there reparations for the past? The gains are still received today. Companies are still using Africa as a resource. They gave the countries back their independence and to the people they gave back their freedom, but it was only on the surface level that they gave it back. They didn’t give back the land or the wealth that was generated from the land. Africa is not just filled with Africans. There are huge debts to be paid.
How would the English pay off the compensation that is needed? They could give them their natural resources, and then the interest of anything earned off those resources, and then, maybe, Europe would need the aid and Africa doesn’t. The economic balance would collapse.
We need to teach people their worth, their value and what was truly stolen from them. Not only their names, identities and homes were taken but so was the ability to nourish themselves from their ancestral background.
They’re afraid to teach the history because what happened was absolutely appalling and everyone would see that. England played its part right through the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the South African apartheid in the 1990s… The 1990s.
There’s just a lot of fear. With the crimes that were committed, there’s a lot of responsibility. People think Africa contributed a lot less to society than it has because a lot of African history has been emitted. But over time the internet will allow people to get this information, which before would have been through privilege. This will add some truth to history. And European governments will have to be accountable for their actions.
In part two (coming soon) Lawrence discusses Change and what changes we need to see (and make) to make a fairer and more equal future for us all.
Get the Chance was extremely saddened to learn that journalist David Owens is being made redundant from his role at Media Wales. Dave’s championing of the arts, especially Welsh music has been hugely important for the sector. His unique voice has raised awareness of new music, discussions around class and culture, he has supported music festivals, fought against the destruction of music venues in Cardiff and has created heartfelt articles about Cardiff characters like Toy Mic Trevor!
In the article below fans and colleagues pay tribute to him and his work.
Bethan Elfyn, BBC Radio Wales, Horizons Music Project
Dave Owen’s respect amongst the South Wales music family is well earned and his genuine passion for the music, and the individuals making the music, breathes through all his writing.
I believe I first met him around the time he published the Catatonia story – he might correct me on this – but I have a vague recollection of meeting and possibly interviewing him about the book, released in the year 2000.
Our paths would cross from there at a number of music gigs, events, panels, and anything music related in South Wales.
Dave is more than a journalist to me, more than a talented writer and music fan, he’s also a friend, and I look forward to seeing what the next chapter will hold for him.
John Rostron, Making Music Wales Manager
The people I really connect with in music are those who just cannot turn it off. They devour music – new and old – in all its forms – recorded, written, live – and it’s between bands and bar at a gig that you usually become friends with the people that are particularly special. Dave is one of those people.
Possibly in Dempseys, probably in Clwb Ifor Bach, certainly late in an evening, with ears ringing from whoever we’d both been to see and hear, Dave became, for me, a solid, reliable, passionate part of the fabric of music in Wales. I got used to seeing him bouncing between bands, and I loved to see him. I always do. He’s a good guy. A funny soul. A trustworthy man who wears his heart on his sleeve. He’d give before he got, and he’d never take anything without permission and grace. For a long time his words were my only route into the Echo and The Western Mail where he’d write so enthusiastically about music. He became someone whose opinion I trusted. Through his words I’d go listen to some bands I’d never heard of. But more importantly I’d return to acts I’d skipped or dismissed for some reason that had felt right to me at the time. But If Dave was enthusiastic, then I would doubt my first instinct and give the band a second shot. He would often prove to be right.
When once just music and culture and art were all I cared for I began to get more interested in the politics and policy behind it. I’d share that with Dave, who increasingly became interested in it himself. I love those conversations and those debates we have. He wasn’t just writing about music, he was – and is – part of the push and pull that makes things happen in Wales. He wants there to be more; for it to be better; for it to be fair. He’ll shout about it and write about it between the bands, over the bar, late into the evenings as only he can.
Minty’ s Gig Guide
It’s sad to hear David Owens – Wales Online has been relieved of his duties from Media Wales.
⚡️ There is NO QUESTION that Dave has been a TITAN in Welsh Music Journalism since I can ever remember – his passion for this industry is something I’ve always been enormously enamoured with & he has supported me no end since I started. ❤️
So…whilst some may say…this is a huge loss for Welsh Music Media…
I say it’s a HUGEEEEE gain for independent media…there are much greener pastures ahead for Ser’ David – and I can’t wait to see what comes next.
I Loves The ‘Diff
Many of us have watched with dismay at the decline of decent local journalism in South East Wales at the hands of a non-Welsh plc, yet amid the slide toward online lowest common denominator, catch-all, hit rate, click bate driven drivel was a rare stalwart – Dave. A man whose passion for the place in which we live, its people, and music (Music! Music! Music!) is tangible in his writing, his choice of stories, and the people and bands he celebrated. So thank you for the (words about) music, Dave. Looking forward to hearing about what comes next for you.
Patrick Jones, Poet
I got to know of David’s work through his love of music. His writing was always passionate interesting educational and real. You could tell it was so important to him and this was reflected in his pieces.
He is an important voice in Welsh journalism. You could always hear his authentic voice in his words. Rare in journalism these days. I liked his societal take on bands and music. He knows where it originates. A decent good guy that you could sit down and openly talk with. I shall miss his writings x
Spike Griffiths, Project Leader – Forté Project
I call Dave a ‘mouthpiece’. He has spent endless column inches tirelessly devoted to covering welsh music; be it through reviews, previews, features, or simply highlighting recent concerns to our troubled sector. All of which has helped spread the importance of music. And never has that been more valuable than right now.
His kind words about our youth music development work have always been much appreciated. Whether inked through a feature in his “New Wave” segment or accompanied by a raised glass at one of our gigs, they have all been warmly received.
Illuminating the emerging music talent in Wales is something that we both strongly believe in. The young acts we work with, in particular, treat his music reviews with reverence.
At times like these, Dave’s honesty and passion for music are much needed. I have no doubt he’ll establish a new ‘mouthpiece’ soon and continue the important work he’s well known for.
Mae Dafydd James wedi llwyddo i ysgrifennu sioe gyda haenau amrywiol sy’n debygol o wneud i’r gynulleidfa all crio a chwerthin gyda’i cynhyrchiad newydd ‘Fe Ddaw’r Byd i Ben’ Trwy deulu’r sioe, mae James yn ceisio tynnu sylw at y pethau pwysig yn fywyd.
Mae’r sioe yn canolbwyntio ar deulu fferm y noswyl diwedd y byd pan mae Sara (Annes Elwy), y chwaer estron, yn cyrraedd adref ar ôl pum mlynedd o ddistawrwydd. Tra bod Sara yn
disgwyl i’r byd i orffen, mae efaill Sara, Catrin (Elliw Dafydd), yn disgwyl babi. Yna mae Mabli (Melangell Dolma) ei chwaer bach yn credu fod Sion Corn ar y ffordd, y fam (Siw Huws) off ei phen ar“meow meow”gyda Tom (Jay Worley), tad y babi a mae’r tad mewn bocs hufen ia yn y lloft. Wrth i’r amser agosai, mae’r teulu yn dysgyn i ddarnau. Mae pethau yn cael ei ddweud ac mae rhaid iddynt wynebu ei gilydd i weithio drwy beth chwalodd y perthynas.
Trwy ysgrifennu am deulu cymhleth llawn ddifrod mae’n hawdd gallu fod yn ddiog ag amlwg
gyda’r cymeriadau, ond mae rhaid canmol Dafydd James sydd wedi llwyddo i ysgrifennu cymeriadau
cryf iawn; mae gan bob cymeriad stori ddiddorol sydd yn gwneud i’r gynulleidfa poeni amdanynt.
Mae’r ganmoliaeth fwyaf yn mynd Siw Huws sydd yn chwarae Fam y teulu. Mae’r cariad, poen a’r angerdd ynddi hi drwy’r sioe yn anhygoel ac yn dorcalonnus ag mi roedd ei newid rhwng adegau dwys a digri yn llwyddianus iawn. Ynghyd ag yr actorion proffesiynol Siw Hughes ag John Norton, mae’r cast yn cynnwys myfyrwyr Coleg Brenhinol Celf a Drama Cymru ag mi roedd hi’n braf iawn gweld wynebau newydd mor dalentog yn dod i’r blaen. Mae portread Elliw Dafydd o Catrin, yn ferch hoyw sydd hefo digon o lais yn enwedig angen digon o sylw a canmnoliaeth, mae’r themau mae’r areithiau mae ei chymeriad yn adrodd yn bwysig iawn ag mi lwyddodd Elliw Dafydd i cyfleu cymeriad angerddol gryf.
Cafodd y set ei osod fel ty fferm syml trwy y defnydd o olau a sain. Roedd y lwyfan yn aml-haenog gyda ddigon o stafelloedd wahanol, er fod y dull yma yn dechneg wych i greu’r ty a’r gwahanol olygfeydd o fewn y ty teimlaf fod hyn ddim wedi gweithio’n ogystal am golygfeydd oedd yn digwydd tu allan i’r ty fferm.
Mae’r sioe ar ei rediad gyntaf ag am cael ei ddatblygu’n bellach gan Dafydd James yn y dyfodol ar ol cael ei perfformio ag ei technegu gan myfyrwyr Coleg Brenhinol Celf a Drama. Mae’r themau a’r pynciau cafodd ei godi a’i cynrhychioli yn y sioe yma’n bwysig iawn ag mi oedd hi’n bleserus gweld llais newydd yn dod i’r blaen yn theatr Gymraeg. Mi fydda’i yn edrych ymlaen i weld y sioe wedi datblygu ag dod yn nol ag mi fydda’i yn annog unrhyw un arall i’w fynd i’w weld.
Creating opportunities for a diverse range of people to experience and respond to sport, arts, culture and live events. / Lleisiau amrywiol o Gymru yn ymateb i'r celfyddydau a digwyddiadau byw