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.



We cleaned our small temporary home early,
Saying goodbye to the view of clouds
Unlike the ones we see from our windows at home

At the warehouse Karen talked about a new task.
To go to the bridge at the edge of the camp
And talk to the many people leaving the site
Trying to find our where they were heading.
Information is key in order to help.

At midday we drove away from our volunteers friends
Having prepared food for 50
Pumpkin curry, couscous, salad and the rest.
Mind and body scrambled.

Now we are driving up a dark M6
Heading to our house by the northern seaside.
We can travel freely
We have a home
We can imagine our future
We know where are family are
We are safe
We have food
We have clothes and bikes
We have pets and jobs
We have a home.
We have



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We walk along the beach at the end of the day
Huge cross channel ferries so close we could touch them
Tiny grey birds play in the shallow surf
In this strange worn out but charming seaside resort.
I ask Kathryn for her images and thoughts of the day.

She describes the sadness sorting
Boots and shoes, sweatshirts and jeans.
How many times will these have been handled
Since they were made.
Who will get them next – she wants to give
Quality gifts to these travelling people.
She shares her satisfaction in cooking for todays 50 volunteers.
Everyone here finds their role – every task is equal.

She asks me, and I share a moment at midday
At the youth area on the camp
Playing the accordion with young people.
One spent 20 minutes finding tunes on the keyboard
As I move round chords – it was beautiful.
Two together on one instrument.
Next to us in the portacabin
A French art therapist made this image
With 4 young men – she allowed them to play and dream a little.


At 4 o’clock the 2 of us drove the yellow van
Full of big plastic food boxes we packed this morning
To take to communal kitchens.
As we get close there are so many people arriving
Bags on their heads – they will hope that this is a good place.
We drive onto the site – it is so huge.
Such a strange community of souls.
Growing every day. The weeks ahead will be very tough.

We sit in a café and drink a cup of tea
A man from Pakistan comes to talk –
We played music together in April.
We smile and exchange warmth.

How I would like to spend more than these few days
To build friendships and try to support
These thousands of young and old
Refugee travellers.



There are so many levels of injustice
That we witness directly
And through the media.

(Our) MP, David Morris,
Was one of those who voted to keep
3,000 innocent young people
Out of the country.

The threats of destruction
Hang over the heads of the refugees who
LIVE in the Calais Jungle.
They have homes, friendships, networks
A level of Hope.

As we drove this morning to buy
50 shampoos and 100 deodorants to put into
Bags to be given to specific ticketed people
We passed a group of refugee travellers with children
Walking beside the road heading for the camp.

Every day more arrive.

And today as we sorted food at the warehouse
More and more stuff arrived
In a full up car from Ashford.
Filled by a church group – there were 100 spice bags
Amongst tins, rice, clothes and tents.
A green transit packed to the brim from Swansea.
A hire van from London and 3 more cars.

Tears spontaneously come.
Generosity CAN combat injustice.
We just have to believe and act
Every Day.


Oil, Tins, Rice and Beans

Sun setting now along a rippled sandy beach
Lined with white beach huts.
We saw it rise as we drove
Through the green fields of Kent
On our way to the shuttle to France.

A day spent sorting food in the warehouse.
Making tin towers of
Kidney beans
Rice pudding and more.

Sharing food at lunchtime with 40 volunteers.
They are of all ages, from across the UK.
Some here like us for 3 or 4 days,
Others for10 days
A few who have been here for many months.
We are all here to try and make a difference
In this crisis on our doorstep.

It is also a time to reflect.
All day long and now –
Sitting here waiting to eat a simple supper
Watching the sun turn the sky.

At 4 o’clock we went into the camp.
Accordion on my back.
It is a sad sad place yet
The people we saw smiled with us.

Dusty wooden shacks line the main street
And the grey stones make the walking hard.
There are new areas including a youth area
Which looks as it could be a place of sanctuary.
We have been told that the community leaders have asked
That volunteers are off site by 6.
As we walk away we agree that
It will be a very different place at night.
And very cold.
Very cold.

On our way again

Our car is full again
We thought we were just taking ourselves
And money we have raised.

Then, of course, people have offered
And we have accepted.
Blankets, boots and bags
Winter coats and trays of beans and tomatoes.

An email just arrived from Care4Calais.
The crisis deepens as the threat of eviction
Is reiterated by the French leaders.
10,000 people cannot be moved simply.
It will be horrible when they try.

What will we find when we arrive tomorrow.
I know we can be useful and we will again witness
On behalf of all those friends who cannot make this journey.

Last week 32 people came to listen to stories
About our last trip to Calais
Louise’s time in Lesvos and
Sylvia’s journeys in Turkey and Lebanon.

I will write each day.

You can donate here…



Today tired tears flow
I must not forget, I must
Hold the images

A day with my grandchild
With this view.
Innocent learning of 16 months
Unfettered joy and humour
She sits on the beach and the sand
Falls from her hand
She laughs and we share
Sea shells and seaweed smells.

I remember the 2 Iraqi children
Playing in the litter ridden sand
Outside the caravan whose roof I had fixed.
They had the same innocence,
The same hopes and joy in simplicity.

I would love for them to meet




Telling the Story

“A cold coming we had of it
Such a strange time
For this journey, such a journey
The thoughts deep and the weather hot
The start of summer.
The people tired, traumatised, accepting
Sitting round in a jungle camp.
Every day we questioned ourselves
Our secure homes, joyful families
The ease with which we live our lives.”

Heading home
After a final day
When we donated a generator and shelving to Jungle Books,
Underpants, socks and cash to the charity we worked for –
Care 4 Calais
Thank you for so many generous donations from friends in the UK.
Thank you for making it possible.
This was a final day when
We painted signs to aid distribution,
Talked with more refugees from

Why are they not allowed into our rich and affluent island.
What are people afraid of?
Why doe s our government see what it is doing?
How do we think we have the right to wage war in distant lands
And then refuse to accept the fallout.

“I will do it again, and set down
This, set down
This; who has the right to determine
Another’s birth or death,
Freedom of movement and direction.
I return to my home, politicised again.
Will I be at ease.
How will I change.
What is the new story I tell.