Magic Island

On Saturday night in a burned out space in Salford the eclectic band struck up and played the night away. We closed with a stirring bagpipe duet and a gentle last waltz surrounded by dancing couples.

The evening celebrated 40 years of musicmaking from shows with Welfare State International and was part of the Futures Venture Provocation Weekender at Cobden Works – the home of Walk the Plank. So many stories to tell to unpack those sentences!

My life changed when I walked onto a beach in Sunderland in the autumn of 1980 to play my trumpet to beckon a coelacanth from the sea. It was the start of 10 great learning years as a technician, musician, musical director and project manager for WSI – the celebratory theatre company based in Ulverston. I toured the UK and the world and developed my aesthetic, values, craft and beliefs through working with brilliant inspiring people – too many to mention here but many of whom I am still in contact with 30 years later!

In 2006 John Fox (founder and AD) archived the name and moved on to do his own work. 7 years later the Lanterhouse charity that inherited the funding folded and in 2013 the legacy (a good amount of cash) was taken up by a new trust who have been funding radical art projects ever since. Futures Venture has great manifesto and strap line …..

The trustees planned this weekend to review the 3 years of work so far, connect back to the history of WSI it’s values and work and think to the next years and consider how to fund new radical life changing work. Friday night was a meal and presentation with songs by John and myself, Saturday was talks, discussions and presentations with the party night to finish and Sunday included more of the same with a walk and relaxed reflections.

The legacy of WSI work is huge – from the lantern processions that happen all over the world (and started from the Ulverston event and concept) to the countless inspired artists who either worked for the company or attended the many summer and winter schools and then to the companies that were either formed by people who worked for WSI or were hugely influenced by the work.

More Music (the charity I founded) was one of these, as was Walk The Plank. Founded by John Wassell and Liz Pugh, WTP has developed a brilliant international programme of celebratory arts events and pyrotechnic and fire shows. In 2017 they opened a newly built brilliant new workshop and events space in Salford, and then suffered an arson attack on one of the spaces last summer. Insurance hassles have meant that it hasn’t yet been refurbished but it was an ideal space for our stage to be set for our party night tunes and songs.

And what a band we had on stage. Musicians who worked with WSI over the years, writing new music, creating bands and shows and performing across continents.

Magical Andy Burton on fiddle and guitar, showman Gary Bridgens from Barrow-in-Furness on drum and vocals, folk maestros Greg Stephens and Kate Barford from the infamous Boat Band, singer Sasha Mitchell with whom I have toured over 30 years, the saxophonic brilliance of Peadar Long, a horn section of Amanda Quigley and Gill Bond, Mick and Wendy on percussion and Jamie as singer and clown. My role was to sing, play piano and trumpet and hold it together – a place where I am very happy!

We played 2 sets of songs and tunes with an eclectic line up of sounds and people danced and listened and connected.

It was a magical island of musicmaking and inspired us all to consider repeating this simple show …. Lets see… in the meantime the words and music of Boris Howarth, Adrian Mitchell, John Fox, Luk Mishalle and all those present had an opportunity to shine and see the light once more.