Guest Blog: Artist-in-Residence Joe Snape
Tractors, fireworks and flowers that grow...
Joe Snape reflects on 10 months as a Sage Gateshead Artist-In-Residence ahead of his gig here on Sunday 20 June
On a chilly, grey evening about four weeks ago, I went to see a friend of the family about a tractor with the producer for Northumberland Radical Fun Group’s new piece and performance at Sage on the 20th, my sister Louise. ‘Keith,’ we said, ‘we need your help.’ Specifically, we needed a tractor and a trailer large enough to haul a living room set through a Northumberland village to film a lip-synced, one-shot accompaniment to the final tune of the new collection of songs we’ll be presenting on the 20th as the culmination of my year as one of the artists in residence at Sage Gateshead.
A week and a half later, from an upstairs window, I spotted Keith reversing up the very narrow driveway towards the barn where we’d stored our bits for the set. After lugging various bits of old furniture found on Craigslist onto the (impeccably clean) trailer, we struggled to find a way to secure a floor lamp. The solution? A bag of gravel and an oversized plant pot borrowed from a neighbour. We were soon doing laps of the village in the rain with our cameraman hanging out of the sunroof of a follow-car, much to the amusement of the local retirees and the ramblers passing by. The final section of the film begins with a slice of birthday cake impaled on an indoor firework being lit with a normal lighter, but in the windy, drizzly conditions it refused to set fire in time to complete the take smoothly. The improvised solution? A blowtorch borrowed from a nearby workshop: potentially dangerous overkill, perhaps, but worth it for the shot. By the end of the day–wet, freezing, shivering and possibly a bit sniffly–we posed for a group photo. Not normally my kind of thing, but given the context (we were surrounded by birthday cake, spent fireworks, confetti canons, fake champagne flutes and a prepared vacuum cleaner), it seemed like the right thing to do. The picture is posted on this page.
This is basically what the piece we’re going to play–it’s called Action Vibration–is about: music in the broadest sense as a thing done to join people together in absurd and arbitrary efforts to create cool or beautiful things that, while entertaining in their own right, have other actually more important outcomes too, often in the form of more durable things than concerts, like longer-lasting relationships between folks to do positive stuff together; or a repository of skills and motivation for future positive group action from which unexpected new things might grow that may be primarily musical, but may also (or even hopefully?) have nothing to do with music at all. By this I mean things like community, maybe, or even makeshift family. The really valuable stuff that gives shape and meaning to everyday life, if that’s not too highfalutin a way to put it. In other words, then, Action Vibration is really a reflection on music as a way of living a rich and worthwhile life with others. To be honest, having spent a year now slaving over the piece, I’m not sure if I believe all of the claims it makes in this regard, but I’d still like to. It seems like a good time to be optimistic. Let’s put it simpler: the piece we’re going to play is both the product of and about doing difficult stuff with lots of other people for the sake of a good time.
In any case, a month after our evening discussing the pros and cons of different tractor manufacturers on Keith’s doorstep, packing up after our second full-day rehearsal at Sage on a sweltering afternoon, exhausted but pleased after our first full technical run of the piece, a contingent of the band–strangers only days before–decided to head off for a drink in the sunshine before catching trains back to their respective homes at opposite ends of the country. (Yes, I know, you’ve busted us: because of some complications with school exams and the pandemic, we lost a few of your youngest players to their revision schedules and had to bus in a few older deps from beyond the North East to fill out our ranks).
In one of the songs we dis- and reassemble over the course of Action Vibration in tribute to somebody we’ve never met, but know all sorts about from a trail of their candid, emotional YouTube comments, there’s a line that goes ‘…no time for tears / wasted water’s all that is / and it don’t make no flowers grow.’ Here, then, is to the flowers that might grow from the beer our woodwind and percussion sections shared the other night, and to a generally celebratory end to this intense year working towards this show for Sage Gateshead. We’ve posted a demo of our reconstruction of some of Grover Washington’s themes for your audile enjoyment along with this post. However, to see the fiery mess we made with Keith’s tractor, you’ll have to come to the gig. (At which you very well might just meet said tractor driver).
Listen to a preview of No Flowers Grow by clicking the play icon below:
– Joe Snape is an artist and musician based in the North East. His gig on Sunday 20 June will be the culmination of 10 months as Sage Gateshead Artist in Residence 2020-21.