Stay Free

Great session this week down in Leicester with sax player Dave Jackson at the Stayfree studios on Frog Island.


underpasses i have known and loved

33105018753_c46ae855b3_cI’m walking repeatedly around a square of four underpasses, making an air recording with my trusty zoom while pushing my son in his buggy. Overhead you can hear the traffic at the junction of Chester Road and Edge Lane. These tunnels will be filled in soon when the junction is redesigned. The underpasses must date to the widening of Chester Road into a 3 lane highway and the building of Stretford Mall. Currently the underpasses are the only safe way across the road at this junction; after there will be a roadcrossing. They need a little love, some bulbs need replacing in the lights, murals made by local schools and Gorsehill Studios are not in bad shape, some of the paintwork elsewhere could be redone. When we first moved here I realised that the underpasses made me feel at home. This is to do with a specific memory of the underpass between Leicester train station and Granby Street. This is now filled in and replaced by a roadcrossing. This one was pure old school, stank of piss, often had buskers in it, always had a couple of homeless guys seeking shelter. It was  the link between the city centre proper and the train station on London Road. As schoolboys  we used to walk up from the clocktower where the 61a dropped us, down Gallowtree Gate, up Granby Street through this underpass, past the station then left down Conduit Street. There on the corner was Sheehan’s Music, a few doors down was Ultima Thule (a record shop specialising in prog and krautrock). Inbetween the two and about 5 floors up was our destination; Stayfree Music, where we would rent by the hour rehearsal rooms with huge crackling amps and flabby drums (we didn’t know you could tune drums til much later) to jam out the two chord structures and melodies  we used as songs. At very quiet moments just before sleep and when I’m very tired I can hear a D in my left ear and one an octave lower in the other. In fact its quiet at home now in the daytime and as I’m thinking; writing about my tinnitus it comes into focus and I can hear the notes come into focus. Those jams at Stayfree were the beginning of about a decade of exposing myself to very loud music all the time. I’ve worn earplugs the last decade which has helped. I’m back at home now listening to the recording I made in the Stretford underpasses. What I thought I would hear which was the slight ebb and flow in volume of traffic on entering and exiting just isn’t there. What marks the tunnels is Alex doing baby shouts to hear the short reverb. He does it on entering each tunnel and then stops when we are in the brief bit of open air between.

Stretford February-April 2017

Psykick Dancehall 5

A drawing of birdsong and piece of writing about it were published by Psykick Dancehall up in Glasgow at the end of last year. It’s a bit of a meditative memory exercise in response to one of long list of questions posed by Dancehall.

See below or here in published context; the text layout and way it interacts with other contributes is worth seeing.

  1. Recount a family anecdote that the sounds you are hearing now put you in mind of.


Not so much an anecdote but a sense of place and sounds where family is. I am listening to and drawing bird sounds in my parents garden. The idea of drawing sounds is inspired by work I’ve done in the last year or so with Naomi Kendrick and Dan Bridgwood-Hill. Dan and myself improvise and Naomi draws what she hears on huge sheets of paper; it works as a really exciting process for us all, working collectively across implied boundaries presented by form. It’s made me think differently about the possibilites of sound, drawing and mark making and led to situations like the one now: I’m actively listening to my surroundings and drawing as automatically as possible what I hear.


Being in the garden of the house I grew up in presents an overwhelming sense of childhood memory, warmth and belonging but also subtle changes and dislocation since it has been a long time since I lived here and was part of the daily rhythms of the house and garden; I am a visitor now. It lies squarely in fairly nondescript surburbia, the multiple possibilities of the city of Leicester just to the south: music, gigs, records shops, rehearsal studios, pubs, smoking, drinking, curry, walking home after missing the last bus…. To the north the gentle rolls of the midlands countryside: woods, fields, fields bisected by roads, birdsong, mechanised farming, small knots of council estate added to villages, looming power stations, distant motorway drone, pylon hum…


Considering the birdsounds from childhood: blackbirds song and their nests, blackbird trapped in the old chimney, its distressed flapping amplified through the walls, it’s really injured we discover once my dad has coaxed it out; later he has to finished it off, my sister and I don’t realise at the time. Finding the tiny wrens nest much later on in winter once the leaves had fallen, wood pidgeons demented with a tiny black pupil in the middle of a huge white eye, huge swooping flocks of chattering starlings waiting to fly south gathering in the swaying poplars, geese honking overhead in a V on their way to raid a cornfield for supper, thrush listening with its head sideways for worm sounds just below the surface, kestrels sometimes…


Hearing some of these birds and sounds again and pencil scrabble as I try to keep up with the pace and rhythms flying in from all sides; the mixture of turn taking and intuitive entry and re-entry into the overall soundscape fascinates me, with so many individual voices present, there is much more listening going on than actual vocalising; a vital part of collective music making. I stop drawing once enough layers of memory are present in the density of the pencil marks.