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In Yorkshirama: A Tale with Pictures by Mister Salmon


 

The album Mister Salmon ...in Yorkshirama (2010) is a suite of narrations, songs and instrumentals, organised like the scenes of an imaginary life-story compressed for a biographical movie [Click the thumbnails above for a photo-montaged interpretation of each track/scene].

One of the starting points for the album was a back-catalogue of unfinished musical recordings. Another was an anthropological fantasy about a clan of people discovered in northern England, with their own peculiar way of seeing things; their own customs and musical forms. With this idea I thought I could develop my interest in music made in and of particular places, expressive of cultural positions (some say folk music is like this).

The album recalls a 1970s boyhood in northern England, but obeys an emotional logic to do with the way that landscapes, people and events can change as they are remembered. More than an excercise in nostalgia, aspects of the album are for me about resisting certain ideas of what a person from 'my' place could or should be; definitions that can be parochial and limiting as well as a valued source of identity.

 

In a big comprehensive school in the 1970s I got to know different aspects of the mythical English north, but I grew up caring more about music and art than regional identity.

Author Barry Hines had attended my school, and one or two of the teachers caricatured in his 1968 book A Kestrel for a Knave were still there when I was a pupil. In Ken Loach’s 1969 film of the book, Kes, Billy Casper finds his kestrel in hinterlands like those where I escaped from suburbia. Those places are remembered in the instrumental “Kes” of the Motorways, and in Stay Out, with ‘the beer and the rat and the chocolate on the path away from home’.

Sheffield Philharmonic is an instrumental homage to an old-fashioned grandfather. He was an oboist in the Sheffield Philharmonic Orchestra, and an organist in a Methodist chapel. He had a music room in his suburban bungalow, with an upright piano and a record player. He tried to get his grandson to learn classical guitar with the instrument brought back from a first holiday abroad (Ibiza, where only a few Euro-hippies presaged the clubbing onslaught to come).

The guitar lessons were abandoned, and a few years later I customised the guitar with steel strings, a fishtail, and a pickup made from the insides of transistor radio earphones stuck onto a metal bar with Blu-tack. Wired up to the family radiogram it became a crude electric guitar (and the instrument of gradual, certain destruction for the radiogram).

As an accompaniment to school art projects, the radiogram played stacks of vinyl LPs: Velvet Underground, T-Rex, the first two Roxy Music albums, Beatles, Lennon and Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and then more experimental music like early Kraftwerk, Can, and Faust. For a school English assignment I wrote a review of the album Godbluff by Van der Graaf Generator. A teacher commented that it was OK to write about the music, but this didn’t mean I should copy the ‘bad writing’ of a New Musical Express journalist.

I once sat, awestruck, in the memorabilia-stuffed bedroom of a slightly older teenager who claimed to run the High Green branch of the T-Rex fan club (that’s High Green a generation or two before Arctic Monkeys). I can still pinpoint in memory the road I was about to cross on the way to school, when my Led-Zep-fan-friend told me that Marc Bolan was dead. The musical times were changing.

Progressive rock had barely got its teeth into me before every town in Britain had punk and new wave bands. I made my first trip to London in 1978 to see the Clash, Steel Pulse, X-Ray Spex and Patrik Fitzgerald at the huge outdoor Rock Against Racism gig. From the safety of the crowd, marching from Hyde Park to Victoria Park, I mocked the jeering National Front supporters.

The Boy with the Big Dad, ‘about a boy and a fairground, in a 1970s English town’, tells of the briefly heroic childhood of a school show-off drawn into right-wing violence as he grows up.

The photo-montages with this text are made from black and white photogrqaphs taken around the south side of Sheffield during the time I attended art school there. This was in the post-punk era of Sheffield electro-pop, just before the miners' strike of 1984/5. Cabaret Voltaire played a packed gig in the college refectory. Psychic TV staged an event. The recording studio was regularly block-booked by a student supposedly enrolled on the fine art course but evidently working on backing tracks for the soon-to-be-very-famous Human League. Like many others, I'd seen them before they were a pop group, on the bare stage of a student union venue in the late 1970s.

I recorded some of my own band’s songs in the art college sound studio. Two found their way onto an EP and were played a couple of times on John Peel’s BBC Radio 1 show. A handwritten note came with one demo cassette returned by the Peel show, encouraging the group to keep playing. It did not.

Much more recently, in 2001, the ‘Battle of Orgreave’ (one of the flashpoints of the miners' strike) was re-enacted under the direction of artist Jeremy Deller. I captured some anti-Thatcher chants at the re-enactment. They can be heard in Wheel in the Tower, a song about a time before the strike.

In the Black Fields and My Frozen Town are about what came after, when industrial neighbourhoods were bulldozed, and retail sheds with imperial names like World of Leather, or Carpetland, proclaimed a new consumer empire. When the Meadowhall shopping centre was built between Sheffield and Rotherham, it briefly seemed special, but urban landscapes everywhere were being homogenised in the same way. What was universal, national, regional, local, familial, was up for grabs.

Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, in addition to making audio for my art installations, I sketched musical ideas on a four-track cassette Portastudio. In the Black Fields is formed around some of these fragments, rescued from the original tapes. Gardeners’ Questiontime is a re-recording of another song left unfinished as the 1990s came and went. Clouds Rise, Open Skies starts with the counterpoint of a double-tracked mandolin recorded in 1987, but a few bars after the first electric instruments kick in, the tune is taken up on a new mandolin recorded in 2008: a jump-cut in the music of over twenty years.

As I travel around today, a five-decade playlist is shuffled back to me via ear-bud headphones. I'm part of a giant social experiment overseen by everyone and controlled by no-one. The subjects of the experiment are out in public, apparently self-possessed, but some are reeling within, from memory to memory, in and out of various emotional states, as they try to live in the present and get to future.

Sometimes, in my head, the latest mix of one of my own tracks crops up among those which have influenced me... this can be a good moment, or an uncomfortable one...

 

For the ...in Yorkshirama CD cover (here) I used photographs of llamas and alpacas on a farm to the south of Sheffield. I was looking for a visual equivalent of a tendency, in Britain, to classify anything non-metropolitan as exotic. The animals in the photos are both familiar (to anyone from the area) and very out of place. They might even suggest that the city in the background is like a city in South America ...so the cover photos are a little nest of signs about locality and belonging.

Can there be anything like folk music for someone attached to a place, but without much sense of tribal identity? Mister Salmon is undecided.

'I can only see in Yorkshirama...' says the Yorkshirama! chorus.

'Where I live is where I know, where no dirty birches grow...' says the boy in Wheel in the Tower.

Clouds Rise, Open Skies ends with the refrain 'I salute you as you go, I will stay, as you know.'