Children Make the Rules, Inspired by the Singing Strikers of Mare Street.

“I’m a stereotype and that’s not what I want to be!”
“Children should make the rules, When I get in trouble, Telling my mum is not so fun.”

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What happens when you mix a dozen nine-to-twelve year olds with an avant-garde sound artist, the composer of Bagpuss, and a few dashes of historical inspiration? After eight one-hour sessions the children of Hackney Quest, assisted by musicians Roshi Nasehi and Sandra Kerr, have produced a polyphonic protest album with minor chords reminiscent of Stevie Wonder’s Living for the City.

The project, organised by A Hackney Autobiography project, asked what would happen if children made the rules, and what would they protest about? The young people’s answers ranged from cyber-bullying, the closure of libraries, older children scaring younger ones, how stereotyping affects older people and young black people (who “both get stink eye” in Tesco’s), right across to ongoing concerns about police brutality in the States.

The seed for this mini-project was planted by Maggie Hewitt, a former worker at Centerprise (co-operative and publisher), who chanced upon protest songs written by rag trade workers from the East End in 1928-9. Her find contradicted the popular portrayal of women in the clothing trade as weak, badly organised, victimised “girls.” She discovered that 600 “singing strikers”, some as young as 14, had stopped work for 12 weeks after the old Rego and Poliakoff factories moved out to Edmonton in 1928. The bosses expected the workers to commute without complaint. Their bus fares increased and their work became harder as new conveyor belts forced a delirious machine-driven pace. Instead of more pay the youngest workers had to survive on around 4 shillings a week (certainly not enough to buy most of the clothes they were making). To raise awareness of their plight the women parodied popular songs of the day.

Folk musician Sandra Kerr, who researched the original melodies by getting her mother to sing inter-war hits, travelled almost 300 miles to teach them to the children. The lyrics were fitted around tunes such as Ramona and Tipperary, lampooning the bosses and exclaiming ‘we are no dirty shirkers!’ Songs written by male trade unionists were full of “solidarity” and dead acronyms, Sandra explained, while the women’s lyrics were witty and irreverent: “we’ll not be an old man’s toy.” The singing strikers marched to the West End, where richer people bought the fashionable clothes they were making, to collect donations, as the Union did not support their strike

Maggie Hewitt said: “For many of these young women, this was their political awakening. It reminds me of the second Iraq war when my daughter Sophie said, ‘if Britain joins the war, I’m going to walk out of school in protest. I’m not asking, mum, I’m just letting you know.’ I agreed with her but it was very much her own independent decision.”

The image of young women singing their hearts out and carrying banners emblazoned with lipstick slogans fired imaginations at Hackney Quest. Many of the young people live in the streets where rag trade workers toiled in factories (before the Second World War) and as home-workers (until much later). “Did men support them?” “Did they get hit round the face with sweet corn like Charlie Chaplin?” asked the young people, who had explored sources on factory life such as Chaplin’s Modern Times and poetry by Sally Flood.

The title song on their album is a Hip-hop R&B cross-over number called Stereotypes featuring lush strings, “a detention rap”, futuristic synths, subtle beat-boxing and a demented fairground organ. The album features a performance poem with a grasp of anaphora worthy of an epic poet and the young people’s renditions of the original strike songs.

All of the young people play an instrument or sing even though most had no musical training. Youth worker Jean Guy  Sylvestre said ‘the project was wildly ambitious in scope.’ Psychedelic cover art and the final mix down were completed over half a day in half term.

This project brought three eras into a constellation; the 1920s when the singing strikers declared “we’ll always stick together;” the 1980s when Centerprise, courtesy of Maggie’s and Sandra’s research, republished the strike songs; and 2015, when young people re-imagined them. This is the first of several creative mini-projects, conceived in the spirit of Centerprise, which A Hackney Autobiography will organise.

 

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Gathering to remember Centerprise

Exterior of  bookshop
Exterior of bookshop

Come to Bishopsgate Institute on Saturday 24 January to launch A Hackney Autobiography, a new project remembering Centerprise, a unique cultural institution that operated in Hackney from 1971 – 2012.. This event will bring people who remember Centerprise’s work together to share memories and writing from the time and discuss its work and impact.

When: 24 January 2014, 2 – 5 pm.

Where: Bishopsgate Institute, 230 Bishopsgate, London EC2M 4QH. Venue is wheelchair accessible.

What: Free public event for all those who remember Centerprise. Bring photographs, publications, documents from the time and your memories. Refreshments provided. All are welcome, please RSVP.

Leaflet showing different projects at Centerprise

Leaflet showing different projects at Centerprise in the 1970s by Doffy Weir

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Volunteers needed for Centerprise project

Courtesy of Maggie Hewitt
Courtesy of Maggie Hewitt

On the Record is looking for dedicated volunteers to record and research memories and publications associated with Centerprise, a unique cultural institution that operated in Hackney from 1971 – 2012. We want to recruit a diverse group of volunteers of different ages, backgrounds and levels of experience. Download a full role description and details of how to apply by the 7th of January at 5 pm here.

Project

Centerprise was a groundbreaking community centre in Hackney (established in 1971.) It hosted a bookshop, publishing project, reading centre, café, youth club, crèche and more all under one roof in Dalston. It not only sold books, it made it possible for local people to write and publish their own works of poetry, autobiography and history.

A Hackney Autobiography will record and remember the history of Centerprise focusing on the period from its inception in 1971 to the early 1990s through oral history, gathering a permanent archive, conducting free workshops and events and producing a book, learning resources and digital experiences. The project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and will run until July 2016.

Roles

Volunteers can get involved in any or all of the following areas: oral history, archiving and research.

-       Oral history volunteers should like meeting new people and be excellent listeners. They should be willing to travel to people’s homes and be fairly flexible about when they interview people.

-       Archive volunteers should be willing to do routine tasks like scanning publications, as well as more creative work. They will help decide which publications to preserve and share things that inspire them through writing and posting on social media.

-       Research volunteers should like reading, listening to archive recordings, be methodical about recording and sharing their research, be willing to work independently and act on their own initiative.

Download full role description and details of how to apply here.

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Youth music specialist required for a mini-project inspired by the Rego Singing Strikers of the 1920s

 

Musical skills required: Vocals and beats/drumming.

Role Description: We need someone with serious skills in contemporary/urban music genres to help a group of 9-12 year olds reimagine the singing strikers’ songs for the 21st century. The young people may want to adapt the original tunes, rewrite the lyrics or compose their own songs from scratch.  At least some of the children love singing, others are more interested in spoken word/rap so they can work on lyrics and beats.

Background: The singing strikers worked for Rego, one of East London’s biggest rag trade employers in the 1920s.  The trade union refused to recognize their action and they had no strike pay. So the women and girls – some as young as 14 – took to the streets, singing strike anthems they had written to popular tunes of the day.  They carried their banners written with lipstick through the streets of London. They won popular support including funds to keep them going and countered the sneering press.

Sandra Kerr, acclaimed folk musician, researched and recorded the strikers songs with historian Maggie Hewitt. On the Record will investigate the history and the original songs with the young people, many of whom live in the same streets as the singing strikers and help them find themes for their songs.

Whole Project Time: Wednesdays 6pm-7pm: 7th January until 11th February 2015. These short sessions will be followed by recording the songs over 1 day in half term (16th-20th February 2015).

Time Commitment: We expect the youth music practitioner to commit to 2 or 3 (60 minute) Wednesday evening sessions and 1 recording day in half term (16th-20th February 2015). Ideally the music practitioner will ‘tidy up’ and master the recordings, though this is not an essential requirement.

Fee: £500

Venue: Hackney, E9

Please send:

1. a CV

2. links to/files of 3 examples of songs you have worked with young people on

3. a brief covering letter of up to 600 words explaining how you worked with the young people to produce these three examples

to laura@on-the-record.org.uk.

Deadline: 19th December 2014, 5pm

a cartoon expressing the feelings of the Rego strikers

a cartoon expressing the feelings of the Rego strikers

 

 

On the Record featured on BBC

BBC Radio’s Robert Elms featured On the Record in his  21.10.14 program about Speakers’ Corner, along with people who took part in Sounds from the Park. (Bravo Tony Allen and Philip Wolmuth!)  Check it out: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0287506 (On the Record features approximately 1 hour 33 minutes into the recording).

doris evening news

 

First Digital Storytelling workshop

 

Thanks to everyone who came to the first of a six part digital storytelling course at Redmond Community Centre. What a fun and fascinating group of people! We’re looking forward to supporting you in the development of your audio-visual projects over the coming weeks. Below is a map of Hackney from the workshop – each dot is connected to a story or inspirational person that will be developed into digital stories over the coming weeks.

Digital Storytelling workshop 1

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FREE Digital Storytelling Course

 

This course combines history and media production. On the Record will teach you how to research and produce exciting digital media pieces exploring oral, local and community history.

Any Hackney resident aged 20 and over can attend. It is ideal for people who lack confidence with computers and/or  want to learn a new way to present oral history, autobiography and local history.

Book your place now by emailing your name and contact details to
info@on-the-record.org.uk or calling 07583 656 338

Dig where you stand leaflet

Selling to Both Sides Blog launched!

© Imperial War Museum
© Imperial War Museum

From Glasgow to Brighton volunteer researchers are digging up the dirt on the arms industry during the First World War for the project Selling to Both Sides which we are managing for Campaign Against Arms Trade. Read their work in progress here on the project’s blog: the first entry covers the controversial “This House Shall Not Fight For King and Country” Debate in the Oxford Union in 1933.

Celebration Event for Sounds from the Park

 

Norman, Speakers’ Corner, Hyde Park, London.
copyright Philip Wolmuth

 

7th December, 1pm – 5pm (Arrive promptly for lunch)

The Great Hall, Bishopsgate Institute, 230 Bishopsgate, London, EC2M 4QH

Bishopsgate Institute and On the Record celebrate the launch of a unique archive and exhibition exploring Speaker’ Corner in Hyde Park. This event marks the end of Sounds from the Park: a year long project collecting oral history interviews, recordings and photos from orators, hecklers and observers.

Speakers’ Corner has been an emblem of open-air oratory, free speech and street theatre for nearly 150 years. 19th Century protest movements fought to hold public meetings in Hyde Park, next to the bloodstained ground of Tyburn Gallows where thousands were executed in earlier centuries.

Book your place on the 7th December to:

- Enjoy research presentations and live performances exploring Speakers’ Corner’s exotic and rambunctious history.

- Preview the exhibition and archive.

- Practice heckling and take part in workshops.

- Meet the passionate volunteers and Speakers’ Corner regulars who made this project a resounding success.

 

This is a free event with free refreshments, but booking via Bishopsgate Institute box office is essential.  Call 020 7392 9200 to book your place.

 

 

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Speak up! Free Public Speaking and History Workshops

 

Copyright Philip Wolmuth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

18th & 25th June 2013, 12 midday – 2pm

 Wish Head Office, 77 East Road, London, N1 6AH

 Training provided by a leading public speaking expert

 WOMEN ONLY space

 RSVP: 07583656338 info@on-the-record.org.uk

 

Sounds from the Park is a project exploring Speakers’ Corner. You will learn about orators & hecklers and practice making great speeches.