This weekend at Leeds Waterfront Festival!

The Multi-Story Water project moves downstream along the Aire a few miles this weekend — to present two special promenade performances for visitors to Leeds Waterfront Festival. Both are completely free of charge for spectators, so do come along!

After the Flood jpeg

There’s another chance to see Seven Bridges – a hit at last year’s Waterfront Festival. This playful walking tour of the Leeds waterfront between Clarence Dock and Granary Wharf features Steve Bottoms and David Calder as “Don and Ron” (two rather questionable executives, planning for future redevelopment) and guest stars Eddie Lawler, on guitar and lead vocals.

SevenBridges jpeg

We also feature a brand new, family-oriented piece, After the Floodcreated in collaboration with Leeds’ Common Chorus Theatre Company. During this unique, self-guided tour of the area around Granary Wharf and the Dark Arches, spectators meet a series of characters seeking to come to terms with the flooding that hit the Aire Valley on Boxing Day. Some have been directly affected, others are planning for future defences. It sounds serious, but there’s a theatrical, visual, and sometimes comic emphasis that should make it accessible and entertaining to all.

Director Simon Brewis has written this great blog post about the process of working on this new piece. Check it out.

We hope to see you there!

“Working with nature” on Higher Coach Road

This was the scene in Roberts Park, yesterday, as members of the Higher Coach Road Residents’ Group contributed to Saltaire’s World Heritage Weekend with a demonstration of the traditional skill of wood turning…


That’s Craig at the pole lathe, which is powered entirely by manpower (he’s working a pedal that pulls down a carefully sprung wood branch — in shot here — to turn the pole back and forth rapidly. Behind Craig is Stewart (HCRRG’s Chairman) who spent the afternoon at the “bodger’s bench” (see below), rough-cutting sections of wood for Craig to work on the lathe. That rather refined looking chair leg had started out earlier as a rough lump of wood retrieved from leftover timbers. (Also in shot above is Rob Martin, of Saltaire Stories — one of the organisers of World Heritage Weekend.)

IMG_0815Here Stewart and Craig are observed by Paul (Kirkgate Centre) and Steve (also from the residents group). Located alongside the Canal and River Trust’s display of dummy mooring posts (for practising roping off), the wood-turning demo attracted a steady stream of interested passers-by during the afternoon.

Untitled from Steve Bottoms on Vimeo.

IMG_0833The idea here was to showcase an older piece of local “heritage” than is normally on display at the Heritage Weekend (which is, quite rightly, dominated by Saltaire’s Victorian-era legacy). As Stewart says, skills of this sort would have been used in the Aire valley for many centuries, as people worked with the available resources — wood, water, and so forth. Complementing the craft display, local storyteller Irene Lofthouse (on the left below) presented some traditional myths and legends for an audience of intrigued children – and some of their parents – while musician Eddie Lawler and I worked up verses to a song that only had a chorus (“Welcome to Our Airedale Home”) by asking passers-by for ideas.

Irene Lofthouse, Pat Gledhill, Lyze Dudley

Irene Lofthouse, Pat Gledhill, Lyze Dudley

As you can see from Irene’s face, we also had face painters on hand for the kids – specialising in designs on the theme of woodland and water… Steph and Lu, friends of HCRRG’s Facebook page convenor Ruth, have just started up in the face-painting business, and they certainly had plenty of custom yesterday!


Meanwhile, some of the children from the Higher Coach Road estate were also represented by a display of anti-litter posters they had designed for a competition arranged by Ruth. Since the posters featured both artwork and words, they were judged by Irene (a published poet) and Saltaire artist David Starley, who was also on hand. Amelia’s entry, below, was my personal favourite…


Later in the afternoon, when we had packed up in the park, I took a stroll west along the flood plain area next to the park — and adjacent to the Higher Coach Road estate — where some intriguing changes have been taking place lately.

At the behest of the HCR Residents Group, horticulture students from Shipley College (course leader, John Baker) came in to work on an overgrown mass of riverside willow – near the footbridge – that had been left to its own devices for years. Under the supervision of Samantha Yates, the students neatly coppiced sections of the undergrowth, and cut and cleared others.


There’s quite a lot of wood debris to be cleared away, but John Dembecki (Bradford Council parks service) has apparently promised that it will be gone by next week. In the meantime, it sits on the grass as evidence of just how much work needed to be done here!


Intriguingly, though, this is not just a story of overgrown willow being cut back. With advice from Graham, of Hirst Wood Regeneration Group, members of HCRRG have taken saplings from amongst the cleared wood, and planted them in the flood plain area itself, in a series of neatly grouped areas…



Admittedly, these newly planted trees don’t look like much just yet, but they will — because it’s clear that a good many of them have “taken” in the soft ground, and are already starting to bud.


The idea here is not only to add a new visual feature to the grassy flood plain, but to bring a little further assistance to the ground’s water retention. Until very recently, the muddy area you see in the picture above was still a giant puddle, retaining water that had built up during the exceptionally wet weather of November and December (the puddle was there before the Boxing Day flood, and long-outlasted it!). But tree roots will help to soak up some of the moisture, and hopefully to further stabilise the ground.


Yet another “new” feature along this riverside stretch is the “host of golden daffodils” that have sprung up this spring, along the banks of the Aire itself. These were not planted by HCRRG, but appear to have grown up from dormant bulbs that must have been in the ground for years. The reason they have come up now appears to be that the Boxing Day flood swept away a large amount of dead brushwood from the riverbank, leaving the ground clear for new growth.

I joked to Pam Ruppe (HCRRG’s treasurer – pictured below in the park) that nature seemed to be lending a hand with the work that the group has been doing recently. “Well,” she responded, “you could say that we’re working with nature.” And indeed you could — whether it be coppicing, willow-planting or Craig and Stewart’s “sustainable” woodworking, this does seem to be the theme to a lot in a lot of the group’s activities. Although less than a year old, Higher Coach Road Residents’ Group has already established a clear sense of purpose and identity.


Catching up with ourselves…


This was the scene in Roberts Park last month after the first performance of our Saltaire Festival walking tour commission, Pleasant Valley Saltaire. That’s me, Steve Bottoms, on the left with the ridiculous robes and water pistol (“Mad Professor”), and next to me my still-more-colourful collaborator, Irene Lofthouse (“Water Sprite”). The rest of these fine people are members of our audience, one of whom wanted a group photograph at the end of what had been an almost 2-hour performance… People still seem to be smiling so I guess it had gone well! A piece of anonymous feedback we received simply states: “Without a doubt one of the best walking tours we have been on. Informative and entertaining. Thankyou.”

I’m writing up this blog a month and a half later because we’ve been a little busy ever since. In particular, since my day job is indeed as a professor (mad or otherwise) I’ve been flat out with the start of the new teaching term in Manchester. I’m just now catching my tail. But there have been lots of other Multi-Story Water activities in the meantime — both in public and in private. So, to summarise in brief:

1. Irene and I presented two showings of Pleasant Valley Saltaire on September 12th and 13th. Full details and lots of pictures soon to be uploaded under the “Performances” tab above. Both tours were well attended, and featured local guests along the way — including this gentleman, Eddie Lawler, pictured with me in Saltaire’s Washhouse Garden…


2. On Tuesday 14th September, Eddie and I presented Salt’s Waters 2 at Half Moon Cafe in Roberts Park, again for Saltaire Festival. This was a second version of an evening we also presented last year — featuring stories and songs about the local waterways in a relaxed setting, and with Half Moon staff laying on a special tasting menu for the audience. This performance was a remix last year’s show, rather than a sequel, but it did feature new material from both of us – including the world premiere of Eddie’s new song “The Mermaid of Bradford Beck.”

3. A month later, on Tuesday 6th October, Eddie and I found ourselves presenting a third version of Salt’s Waters in Scotland! Comrie, Perthshire, to be exact. We were a little out of our way and somewhat out of our comfort zone, presenting such “site specific” material nowhere near Bradford. Hardly anybody in the audience knew the places we were talking about! But we’d been invited to the “Water Innovation Lab” being run by the Canadian organisation Waterlution (and funded by the Scottish Government) to present an alternative take on thinking about water — in terms of place, history, locality. Actually the performance seemed to go down really well. The audience connected with the water stuff more than the locality stuff, but the link was there nonetheless, and a powerpoint display of photo images gave them a sense of the places we were talking and singing about. This double act gets a little tighter every time!

4. A week after that, Wednesday 14th October, and Eddie and I met up again in Leeds… This time with my friend and colleague David Calder, to revive Seven Bridges — our walking tour of the Leeds waterfront between Clarence Dock and Granary Wharf.

DSC06070 Here’s the three of us, looking shifty (David and I play executives – Don and Ron). This picture was actually taken in June, before one of the Seven Bridges performances for Leeds Waterfront Festival. We revived it for this one night only in October at the behest of a friend at the Environment Agency, who felt it would make a useful discussion point among staff there. The EA are currently among the partners working on a massive Flood Alleviation Scheme (FAS) in central Leeds, and most of our audience was made up of flood risk specialists. Seven Bridges points out some of the FAS works along the route, but the performance is mostly about other things (the history, development and re-development of the waterfront). Apparently this did prove valuable for our spectators, in helping them think about their work from another angle. As one of them remarked, we all need to be encouraged to get out of “silo thinking” whenever we can — and look at how what we’re expert in links up with other concerns. I guess this was the appeal for Waterlution too…?

So that’s what we’ve been up to in terms of performances lately. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, my colleague Lyze has been very busy continuing to develop our community engagaement work in various Shipley area neighbourhoods — in collaboration with Kirkgate Centre. Just today, in fact, she helped lay on a boat ride on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal for some of the residents in the Dockfields area who have recently formed into a local action group. Hopefully we’ll have more on that, and other local matters, in future blog posts… and with a bit of luck the next one won’t be such a long time coming!

Join us at the Saltaire Festival this coming week…

So the annual Saltaire Festival is almost upon us, and this year the Multi–Story Water project has two contributions to the festivities — we hope you’ll be able to join us.


First up is Pleasant Valley Saltaire, on the opening weekend of the festival — Saturday 12th and Sunday 13th September. Billed as a “magical mystery tour”, this is a collaboration between MSW’s Steve Bottoms and local poet and storyteller Irene Lofthouse (Fresh Aire Productions). It also features various surprise guests along the way. Led by a mad professor and a water sprite, the performance maps out a gentle, circular walk through Saltaire village and out into some of the surrounding Aire valley neighbourhoods (Hirst Wood, Higher Coach Road). There’ll be some non-threatening audience participation, and some interventions both natural and supernatural! The journey starts at 2pm from outside Saltaire Visitor Information Centre. And it’s free! All welcome.

Then, on the evening of Tuesday 15th September, at Half Moon Cafe…

salts watersThis is a follow-up to a successful event with the same title that Eddie Lawler and I did for last year’s festival. We were asked to do it again, as an opportunity for Half Moon Cafe to again show off their tasting menu… We’ll be presenting some of our stories and songs from last year, and also some new material in a new “mix”. Please do join us for an intimate, atmospheric evening…


Meadows and Bridges (…Looking back on a very busy few weeks…)

The Multi-Story Water team have had an extremely busy few weeks, so this blog has got a little behind with updates… We’ve had two big weekends — this last one, July 11th-12th (of which more shortly), and a fortnight before that, June 26th-28th, we were involved with two simultaneous water-themed festivals — in Shipley and downstream in Leeds.

The Shipley Street Arts Festival, co-ordinated by our friends at Q20 Theatre on Dockfield Road, was an ambitious attempt to combine traditional street entertainments in Shipley’s town square (jugglers, stiltwalkers, and the like) with a thematic emphasis on the town’s rivers and canal… So a second ‘hub site’ for the festival was down on the canal towpath beside the Ibis Hotel. Here’s what it looked like with the big letters SHIPLEY on display…


Multi-Story Water was involved in various aspects of the festival — for example, there was a successful screening of our short film Wading to Shipley at the Ibis on the Sunday, and we’d also arranged with JBA Trust (based at Salts Mill) to display their water flume in the town square… It demonstrates different forms of water flow, when you place different kinds of constructions or obstacles in a channel. On one level quite technical, it’s actually really interesting to watch, and there was a lot of curiuos interest from passers-by…


Our main contribution to the festival, though, was an interactive performance piece called Seven Bridgeswhich used the Ibis as its starting point. Spectators (participants, is probably a better word) toured themselves east along the canal towpath towards Dockfields in groups of 4 or 5, and along the way they were given some game-like challenges to complete. They also would encounter various performers. Here’s David Smith, for example, as a heritage tour guide from three hundred years in the future (2315), dressed as an ordinary canal buff from 2015 (geddit?), and pontificating about the significance of the “art” (aka graffiti) on Otley Road Bridge:

Shipley Arts Festival. 28.06.15

And here’s Lynsey Jones, as a Victorian lock-keeper’s wife (who did all the work opening the locks…), talking to spectators on Junction Bridge…

Shipley Arts Festival. 28.06.15Participants would make their way as far as the old Bradford Canal pumphouse, on Dock Lane, where they would share what they had gathered en route, before returning the way they had come, accompanied by the performers…

Shipley Arts Festival. 28.06.15

There’s more pictures and documentation of Seven Bridges (Shipley) if you look under the “Performances” tab on our menu bar… But for now, let’s turn our attention to its partner piece, Seven Bridges (Leeds)which we presented on the same dates at the Leeds Waterfront Festival. The idea was to “bridge” the two festival locations, upstream and downstream, if only conceptually… Obviously the Leeds version was on a bigger scale, with bigger bridges, and this one took the form of a guided tour rather than a self-led journey… Here’s musician Eddie Lawler (on a day out from his home in Saltaire) kicking the piece off at Clarence Dock (with Crown Point Bridge in the background) with an old canal song about the founding of the Aire and Calder Navigation, which turned Leeds into a “seaport town” in 1700…


But Eddie was just the “local colour” wheeled in to warm the crowd up by Don Freshwater (played by Steve Bottoms, below in the suit)… Don is a both little sinister and a little nuts… he claims to be the CEO of something called the “Leeds Re-Development Corporation”… As Don explains below (in front of Knights Way Bridge and Clarence Dock on the far side) the audience has been gathered as “consultants” to help decide how to redevelop the waterfront… The “ordinary people of Leeds” were never consulted in the past about these matters, so Don wants to consult them now… except that he doesn’t really, because he likes the sound of his own voice too much.


Again, there’s more photos and more detail on this slightly barmy performance (with a serious edge to it) if you look under the “Performances” tab above. Both versions of Seven Bridges were very well received, and pointed us in some interesting directions for future work.

But in the interests of catching up with ourselves, let’s turn our attention now to this last weekend, spent in the flood plain meadow between the River Aire and the Higher Coach Road estate, west of Roberts Park (is it Saltaire, Shipley, Baildon..? you decide – there’s a case for all three). Preparations for the weekend began, in fact, a week earlier, when we sledgehammered a series of fence posts into the field in a rectangular pattern…


Three fenceposts in a row… that’s Steve’s hand in the foreground, Pat Gledhill with the second one, and Matt Blakeley with the third, obscured by Pat because our line was so straight! (well…)

Notice how much longer the grass is than even last month (see previous post, “Meadow Madness”, where it’s much shorter and greener, with more buttercups visible). Basically Bradford Council have said that – with austerity cuts and the resulting loss of manpower and mowers – they will not cut the grass in this field as often as they used to. They did, however, oblige us by at least sparing the time to cut a swathe around our staked-out rectangle, so that by this last weekend, it looked like this:

DSC_0043On Saturday afternoon (July 11th), in the cleared area on the outside of the staked-out rectangle, we held a community barbecue for residents on the estate – with conversation, games for the kids, etc…



This was part of our ongoing engagement with residents here, as we (and our colleagues at Kirkgate Centre) work with them on developing some plans for this riverside field… People would like to see a proper footpath, for instance, and other improvements, but the main focus today was the grass… Some residents, understandably, think it’s a disgrace that the grass has been left to grow this long — they feel it looks scruffy, and embarrasses the neighbourhood, and want us to pass on their anger about this to the Council. Others, though (perhaps a majority of those we spoke to this weekend?) seem to think that, if this is to be a meadow in future, then perhaps something more could be made of it — by planting colourful wildflowers, for example, and cutting at least some areas so that it all looks a bit more intentional and a bit less scruffy…

In an attempt to help focus this discussion, by drawing attention to what long grass is actually composed of up close, we created “A Meadow Meander” within the fenced off area. This is a mazy walk created by treading the grass down into a carefully planned set of looping pathways… So for example, in the picture below, you can make out a “Y” junction, where the “lie” of the grass could take you in one of two directions.


As this picture also starts to suggest, left to their own devices, there are a LOT of different kinds of grasses and other plants growing in the field, and they merit some close up attention… “A Meadow Meander” is the creation of artist Baz Kershaw, and his Earthrise Repair Shop. Baz has created similar installations in various other UK locations, and for this one he had placed a series of jars on small plinths, to be discovered as you move around the maze…Picture3

Each of the jars contains a secret to be puzzled out — just as the winding paths in the grass also follow a particular pattern that visitors are invited to guess at… Baz calls it an “open secret”, because if you’ve done the meander, he’ll happily tell you what the pattern represents… but sorry, if you’re just reading this blog, we’re not going to tell you! The only clue we’ll share is that it might have something to do with the way that long grass looks a little like waves when it is played with by the wind. The River Aire, alongside this meadow, is not the only reason why the meander was appropriate for “Multi-Story Water”…

DSC_0044A Meadow Meander was presented both on the Saturday, along with the barbecue, and on the Sunday, when we put the entrance on the other side of the rectangle, right next to the riverside path. This meant that, where on Saturday it was mainly residents in the meander, on Sunday it was mainly passers-by — walking between Roberts Park and Hirst Wood. We wanted to get their ideas too, on the great meadow debate…


A big thankyou to everyone who made the events described happen… and especially — on the Higher Coach Road estate — a huge thanks to Sarah Muller and to Stewart and Pat Gledhill for so enthusiastically helping to create (and indeed dismantle) the meadow meander… The fence posts are at Stewart and Pat’s as I write, and we have some future plans in store for them…

Pat Gledhill, with her Troutbeck Avenue neighbour Eric -- who kindly donated alcohol to the cause!

Pat Gledhill, with her Troutbeck Avenue neighbour Eric — who kindly donated alcohol to the cause!




Don’t miss Shipley Street Arts Festival!

The weekend of June 26-28th is the Shipley Street Arts Festival, co-ordinated by our good friends over at Q20 Theatre. There’s lots of activities and performances for all tastes and ages, many of them taking the river and canal as a watery theme…  We’ve got a hand in various events including the water flume demonstration near Shipley Library (from noon on Saturday 27th), and the duck race from Baildon Woodbottom Working Men’s Club (1pm, same day), and on Sunday 28th there’s a special screening of our short film Wading to Shipley at the Ibis Hotel. Multi-Story Water‘s main contribution to proceedings, though, will be this:

SevenBridges-leaflet-HiResThis new, interactive promenade performance will be directed by Simon Brewis, and performed by David Smith and Lynsey Jones. All three were part of our original, 2012 Multi-Story Water performances, and we’re delighted to have them back for this project. The Seven Bridges include some obvious ones and some less obvious ones, so do come along and discover the trail… (it’ll end up not very far from where it starts, you’ll be reassured to know!)

Meanwhile, on the very same weekend, just a few miles downstream, the Leeds Waterfront Festival is taking place. So to create a bit of a conceptual “bridge” between the two festivals — and between Shipley and Leeds — we are also presenting this:

SevenBridges-leaflets2Now that’s actually a photograph from Shipley (Amber Wharf flats viewed from under Junction Bridge, at Dockfield) but the designer liked the picture, and it sort of works for Leeds too… where there’s a whole lot of new build flats by the water!

Anyway, the Leeds piece will be performed by Steve Bottoms, who will be supported musically by the very wonderful Eddie Lawler (the Steve and Eddie partnership is now a recurring one, and also dates back to our 2012 MSW performances). In theory, it’s possible to see both Seven Bridges pieces in the same day, if you do Shipley at 11.30am and Leeds at 3.30pm. Or you can do them different days. You don’t have to do both, of course, but they will, we hope, complement each other in interesting ways… And it is all free, so you can’t go wrong!



Seven Bridges, Two Cities

The Shipley Street Arts Festival is coming up at the end of June (26th-28th), and this year is taking the river and canal as a linking theme. We’re delighted to announce that the Multi-Story Water project is working actively with Q20 Theatre to make this happen. In case you’re wondering whether there is any “street art” in Shipley, well lookee here…

DSC_0320A genuine (as far as I can tell) piece of Banksy graffiti, tucked away on the footpath that goes up to Gallows Bridge – across the canal – just up the hill from where Aldi and McDonalds sit by Bradford Beck. In case you don’t know his work, Banksy is a famously anonymous, Bristol-based artist whose graffiti has become internationally renowned. People sometimes rip down entire walls so as to be able to flog things he’s painted on them… This particular metal panel looks like its secure enough where it is, though. I’m not sure how long the painting has been there, but it’s tucked away in this wonderfully unassuming location… Here’s the image in close-up:

DSC_0318OK, that’s all I have to say about Banksy. But Gallows Bridge will be featuring as one of Seven Bridges in the Shipley area that will be linked by a looping promenade performance that we are making for the Street Arts Festival. I’m pleased to confirm that this will be performed by David Smith and Lynsey Jones (both of whom co-created and performed in our original Multi-Story Water tours back in 2012), and will be directed by Simon Brewis (who directed them). Always nice to keep things in the family…

Meanwhile, though, we are getting delusions of grandeur. Because simultaneously with the water-themed Street Arts Festival in Shipley, the Leeds Waterfront Festival will be running the same weekend. So to provide a kind of conceptual “bridge” between the two festivals, we will also be presenting another performance — with the same title, Seven Bridges — in Leeds. If you’re really keen, you might want to see both… (!)

DSC_0285This is me being anonymously artsy (if not banksy) while researching the Leeds end the other week. That’s Leeds Bridge you can see reflected in the plate glass — the crossing where the city began. Leeds’s whole history was built around the river, which is why it’s so strange that the city has sort of turned its back on the waterfront: you can live there for years and barely even be aware of its existence…

DSC_0304Here’s another of the Seven Bridges — Victoria Bridge, which was built (unsurprisingly) in the 19th Century to replace a longstanding ferry service. It’s one of the major road links to Leeds station … right beside Bridgewater Place — the unnecessarily tall building better known as “the Dalek”! But even though there’s a clue in the name — Bridge — water — place — you can drive across Victoria Bridge a thousand times and barely even notice that you’re crossing a river…

Now… notice the white, ‘canal style’ railings to the right of the shot above. That’s because this image was taken at the junction where the River Aire (aka the Aire-Calder Navigation) connects with the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. And here it is…

DSC_0303… the footbridge that crosses the end of Lock 1 on the Leeds-Liverpool… the very, very beginning of the 109 miles of canal, that goes through Shipley and all the way to the Mersey… Meanwhile, if you turn through 180 degrees and move upstream on the Aire a little (also in the direction of Shipley, of course…) you come to this…

DSC_0298This is the brand new entrance to Leeds Station, currently being built by Carillion. I like the sign on it: “this is civil engineering“! (as opposed to uncivil engineering…?) Notice that because space is so tight around the station, the building materials are having to be floated upstream on pontoons (in the foreground of the shot) in order to get to the site. Notice also the angle this shot is taken from… I was standing on – you guessed it – a bridge. Granary Wharf Bridge, to be precise — quite a new, modern one… That’s the western end of our Seven Bridges route… and here’s (almost) the eastern end…

DSC_0256This is the entrance to the weir and lock at Crown Point (Clarence Dock), with the Crown Point Bridge arcing overhead… another road bridge that you can merrily drive across without ever noticing the river… And in the shot below is the weir itself, viewed a little further downstream from Knights Bridge (footbridge)…

DSC_0261Notice the black holes in the middle of the shot here. Not technically a “bridge” perhaps, but this is where Meanwood Beck enters the Aire… a rather lovely beck that flows down through Meanwood Park and its attractive, surrounding valley, but then disappears into underground culverts before it gets close to the city centre (shades of Bradford…).


This is Knights Bridge itself, viewed from the Clarence Dock side, and looking across to the building that operates as the headquarters for the Canal and River Trust in Leeds (hub of the CRT Northeastern partnership, if that means anything to you). Some very nice people work there… This bridge, as you can tell, is pretty modern, but I need to do some more research about it…

What strikes me here is the proliferation of white-painted metal, which even extends to these cage-like railings in front of the CRT building itself…

DSC_0262I like the little bit of signage here, pointing you to the next bridge (“hey, you’ve just crossed the river, fancy doing it again in the opposite direction?”). But there’s no shortage of signage in the vicinity of the river in Leeds… Check these out, for instance…

DSC_0239DSC_0242DSC_0251DSC_0272 DSC_0243Everywhere you go, it seems, you’re being warned that you’re on private property… that you are walking at the permission and indulgence of property owners… that you are on CCTV… There’s no sense in Leeds at all that the banks of a river might be public space, for anyone to walk along. The riverside paths are constantly broken up, interrupted by buildings or private spaces that you can’t enter. There is no “ancient right of way” here, in the way that there is in Shipley… And then the city wonders why people don’t engage more with the waterfront…

O Banksy, where art thou…?


Coming up at next month’s Saltaire Festival…

sALTS wATERS JPEGThis informal performance event will feature a combination of music and storytelling… Eddie Lawler, “the bard of Saltaire”, will perform a selection of his own original songs, focusing particularly on watery ones such as “Bradford Beck” and “Bradford Canal”, and showcasing a brand new song, “Little Beck”. In case you’re wondering, Little Beck is a very short tributary river that flows into the River Aire up at Hirst Wood, after flowing down through the overgrown grounds of Milner Field — the ruined mansion near Gilstead built by Titus Salt Jr. (who had the beck dammed to create boating lake for his guests). Meanwhile, I (Steve Bottoms) will be interspersing Eddie’s songs with a selection of stories and ‘spoken word’ material, all relating to places along the way between Saltaire mill village and Milner Field (via the Aire, the canal, Little Beck and Loadpit Beck). Salt’s Waters is a one-off, ‘work in progress’ presentation of material currently being developed for a downloadable audio guide of the same title, which will take listeners on a looped tour from Saltaire to Milner Field and back.

We hope you can join us!

Into the Groove… (Collated Feedback)

Collected below is the written feedback that has been sent to us (mostly via email) from some of the people who attended our recent, July performances of Multi-Story Water’s three, interlocking tour routes. Also, do check out the lovely, illustrated blog piece by another audience member Paul Marfell, which he tweeted us the link to. Plus there’s our twitter feed itself, which includes a number of other comments and photo snapshots from audience members.

None of the people quoted below were previously known to us (or at least, not to me), so this is all genuine public feedback. To compare with the feedback we received after our previous, September performances, click here.

* * *

“I just want to say how much I and my friends enjoyed last Saturday’s Multi-Story Water event.
I really didn’t know what to expect, but was delighted with the experience. The whole thing was so interesting, informative, and well thought out, taking us to places we had no idea about, even though we are frequent visitors to Saltaire. The actors were utterly convincing, with humour and pathos. The barge trip would have been a lovely event all on its own. Impressively well-organised too, and all of it free of charge !!!!   Thanks again.”  — Penny Heaton

“Just a quick note to say how much we enjoyed the performance last Friday and that it was a great way to spend a summers evening. Please pass on my sincerest thanks to all the actors and supporting staff in providing a great piece of informative entertainment.”   — Terry Shroder

“Hi. Just to feedback from the ‘Green Route’ last week. A brilliant show. I really enjoyed every minute. Great actors. Great content. So interesting and moving. Great script and such a brilliant concept. I went on last year’s walk through the mill and to the brewery [i.e. September’s Red Route]. That was good, but this was even better. Well done. I hope you can do some more next year.”   — Rachel Goulcher

“Just wanted to say thanks for a wonderful weekend of tours around the Saltaire / Shipley area. The actors were very talented. I didn’t know what would happen next! It taught me things I didn’t know about the area I’ve lived in 30+ years! The boat ride was a special treat. Loved the singing, stories, and tea and biscuits made us feel welcomed! Amazing that it was all free! Thanks again.” — Helen Scott

“Thankyou to everyone involved for the Red Route walk on Friday evening in Shipley. It was an interesting mix of voices and points of view. I have lived in Shipley since 1971, but it showed me things and told me things I didn’t know. I haven’t even got memories of the flood of 2000, which was clearly a dramatic event. . . The actors were engaging, and the stewards unobtrusively kept us in line — it was a good experience, enhanced by taking place on a lovely evening. . .  There is often a heron standing on the weir along the river, and I’m glad to say that there it was, on cue, as we stood on the footbridge. . . What a great idea – and finished off with a generous present of Saltaire beer! I shall look out for that now. Thanks again and best wishes for your future work.” — Anne Wooff

“Hello, I came on the multi-story event last week, on all three stages. I just want to say how much I enjoyed it, I thought the quality of the acting was absolutely outstanding, and I have to say unexpected. Very often these things can be a bit “am dram”. The piece about the Burma Railway [a reference to Billy Glover’s POW experiences] had me in tears. One of Lynsey Jones’ characters said “I don’t vote”, and someone next to me said “Doesn’t vote??????”, because the character was so real to her. The barge trip was very nice too and I enjoyed the singing. I learned quite a bit about the area that I hadn’t known before. I suppose I ought to try for a bit of criticism as well. The video of Bradford Beck would have been very interesting in its own right but was ignored in the barge. The beer at the end was a lovely idea, but maybe should have had some plastic glasses for those who didn’t want a pint – and people who don’t want to drink out of bottles, and I felt it would have been better if it could have been merged into a final scene somehow, so we could watch while drinking. Oh, and it would have been nice for the all-day audience to have been warned to bring a snack. These things are really so trivial as to be hardly worth remarking, but well, you did ask. Thank you for a truly excellent day. Congratulations to everyone who made it possible.” — Jim Lawton


Responding to the letter above… Thanks Jim for those thoughtful pieces of constructive criticism. We did indeed ask for feedback, and you make some good points, especially about the distribution of the beer (but hey, it was free!). And while I like the idea of integrating the beer into the final scene, I think it’s probably best to save the festive spirit for the end, given that what “Lynda” has to say about the recent experiences of Lower Holme residents is not exactly celebratory. Your point about the video on the boat ride is a very interesting one… We left that to speak for itself, so that people could pay attention to it or not, according to taste (and position in the boat). But you might be interested to know that I have just completed an edit of a stand-alone, 12 minute film using that very footage, which will shortly be available to view on this website.

And finally… If we were awarding a “Star Prize” for the most thoughtful and detailed response we received, Jim’s would probably be runner-up, but the award would have to go to this letter from William Hird:

Dear Multi Story Water team,

Thank you so much for a wonderful Friday evening on your tour.  It was really unexpectedly special and magical, with a (good) increasing sense of unreality towards the end, particularly when the free beers appeared. The whole event was superbly well organised and not only the actors and the hosts on the barge but all the stewards did a great job too. Many thanks to all. The recreation of local residents stories was very powerful and you have clearly done an amazing work in reducing people’s accounts and reminiscences to short extracts that make a connected sequence.

I asked about whether there was a danger of people’s stories being ‘gentrified’ or made slightly unreal by being reproduced for ‘tourists’.  This was because it was different from drama based on imaginary characters even if set in a real period world as for example one might find at a heritage property.  On reflection of course people like their stories to be told, and some of it (especially the old man whose brother did not recognize him after his wartime suffering) was very powerful.

I was also impressed by the simple but effective costume changes you managed to squeak in.  Its surprising how even when there’s no other sets – apart from the real places of course! – this is very effective in helping believe-ability.  The use of hats for council staff when we were in Roberts Park was neat but at this stage for me Paul’s red T-shirt was a bit ‘distracting’ – too out of kilter.  That’s a very small point overall. There is so much history in that area I dare say a similar sort of walk related to the buildings might also be possible…. Also, in the last few years I’ve got to know the abandoned bits of canal round Nottingham and am so glad we have one that still works.

William Hird


In response to William’s point about “gentrification” (which he countered for himself, anyway), I responded to point out that the performances were primarily aimed at local people rather than “tourists”… He said that perhaps this had been the wrong word – and that he himself was only coming from as far away as Leeds (although it did occur to me to wonder, after the fact, if doing this in July did mean that some summer holiday-makers from further afield, visiting Saltaire, might have seen the flyers at Salts Mill and come along…?). For myself, I think maybe the key point is that the stories are always told in the proximity of where the actual people who told them to us live and work… It’s not that the story is being taken off and turned into “art” in some high cultural context — it’s being witnessed in situ, with all that entails. But there is of course an interesting debate to be had about this, more broadly…

William’s points about costuming are also very well made… and it’s interesting to note that Paul seems to have decided the same thing about that red T-shirt, because it didn’t make another appearance all weekend (the cast were wearing their own clothes, as narrators for Green Route).

Anyway, to close… (and to finally explain the heading of this post) … Here is a poem that William appended to his email, in response to our Blue Route canal tour. I think it’s particularly apposite becuase the metaphor of “grooves” is appropriate to many aspects of these performances — e.g. the grooves in the grass where people have made “desire lines” where there’s no path; the tracks we made as a group moving through the locality; or, less happily, the grooves in that oppressive metal fencing at Lower Holme… Anyway, blah blah blah… Over to William.


P.S. As I mentioned on the barge, I especially like the grooves you see on the old canal bridges, and wrote about these years ago.  Perhaps a bit depressing – but your work helps record the memories and keep it all alive.

The Groove 

stone cut by wire
rock cut by steel
scored line by line
grooved, groined and ribbed
deep chasms chased
by hawsers wear
slicing the abutment
old bridge, ribbed rock
a testament, a witness
to ghostly wires, ghostly barges
to lines stretched taut
pulling boats on the old canal
as the horses turned the corner
from the confines of the archway
back onto wider the towpath
the groove is made.

the canal is a groove
the water courses

my street is a groove
the terraced houses

the city is made of grooves
cars course the ribbing

our lives run in the grooves
pulled along, so slowly
we make our grove in the world
and under the gloomy archway
and into the wider meadows
we leave our groove in the earth.

William Hird 07.05.2001