Joanna Bond is currently seeking funding and more venues to tour a multi-disciplinary solo project which will create performance walk and train journey, site specific performances, song, music, films, audio art and visual art. Following the performance walk there will be a period of development which will create a live solo performance to be toured to venues along the line from Aberystwyth, Cardigan, Swansea, Cardiff and Newbridge Gwent. Read more here
Working with Ceri Rhys Matthews was a wonderful experience. We met through Peter Stevenson, a mutual friend and fellow artist on the Singing The Line project. I had been to a Fernhill gig where my heart melted at the sound they created. I would also regularly loved seeing him play at tupaths in the Small World Theatre and in New Quay Memorial hall. I am a huge fan now of traditional Welsh music and dance. It was actually at a tupath at New Quay Memorial that I approached Ceri about the project, he was enthusiastic and interested in being part of it. The idea was to learn a song in Welsh relating to the train line. There was a choice between two songs; one about a journey to Aberystwyth called Trip i Aberystwyth and a song and story specifically about Pencader and the tunnel. In the application I had decided that the Pencader tunnel story and song was what I wanted, however after hearing Ceri’s version of Trip i Aberystwyth and the knowledge of it being a very old tune worked better for the project. He says “some of old tunes you hear have been kidnapped and turned into children’s songs”
A musician when playing a piece has the ability to play it differently each time, as each moment is different depending on the people you play to, the strings, the quality of voice or the state of emotions the musician is experiencing can take a song and change it for that moment, It’s like taking a photograph, once the moment has been captured it is then transformed into something else”
Ceri taught the song to me over that day. As Ceri has taught many non-Welsh speakers how to sing in Welsh he was able to have the patience to go through each word and I wrote down how it sounded phonetically, it made me giggle as it looked like a made-up language. Ceri then went through the melody. I recently bought myself a zoom recorder so that I could record my songs and practices to a very high quality. We spent the whole day going over the song. Ceri then recorded it. I spent then 3 weeks learning the song. It was probably one of the most challenging and nerve racking parts of the project. The self-achievement it gave me after the actual performance was enormously rewarding and self-assuring.
The performance opened with Ceri sat with his guitar and myself facing him, with the added surrealist quality of looking and singing through a train window that was resting on my lap.
The duet went really well, with comments such as “you sounded like you spoke Welsh” and “your performance sounded as if it was recorded”. However with a few more practices and tweaks it could have been even better.
Ceri also accompanied me with my performance dance piece with the milk churn. I had choreographed a sequence using the milk churn and when I had placed it on my head Ceri played his flute, repeating the Dion fechan and on different instruments including flute, guitar and the drone.
Ceri’s music was the also the score for the performance dance piece Ruth Hogg and myself performed. It fitted beautifully with the imagery we wanted to create with our bodies and the accompanying film visuals.
Ceri played the flute to accompany Peter while he told his stories. Peter and Ceri were familiar with this way of working. Their performance worked really well considering the tight budget restraints, and testament to their talent and experience in the way they complemented each other by listening and responding intuitively to each other.
The quality and repertoire of Ceri’s playing and singing is accomplished, beautiful and full of the richness of Welsh traditional music. I feel a deep sense that working with Ceri learning the Welsh song, dancing and performing to his music felt like a reawakening for myself and for the audience in the 21st century.
Working with Ceri Rhys Matthews was a wonderful experience that gave a richness to my life and to the performance. Music suggested the title of this project and Ceri was able to weave his music magically throughout.
As part of the arts council funding I solicited the help of Movement artist Simon Whitehead , Simon works from both his base in rural west Wales and internationally.
On the 16 September I arrived for a one-to-one workshop at Simon Whiteheads Studio near Cardigan with a car full of objects that I have found during the research of Singing the Line into Existence, this included a steam train carriage window, a milk churn, a railway lantern and a original daggerboard from the Aberystwyth station. We placed the objects in a line against the studio wall and admired how by simply placing these objects this way we did created a story and installation.
Over a cup of tea I talked to Simon about the project, my thoughts and ideas and what the objects symbolised. We discussed trains, transport, the objects and how ” I had brought together a interesting group of experienced artists to explore how a creative, socially engaged process of making performance might raise awareness and have implications on the reinstatement of public services” ( Simon Whitehead 2015)
and progress in “developing physical performance material in relation to the sculptural form, movement and historical resonance of these object” (Simon Whitehead 2015)
We both did our own individual 5 minute warm up, the warm up I used was a combination of a releasing technique, yoga and capoeira.
The first exercise Simon facilitated was a movement with eyes closed for 5 minutes and then writing or drawing what we experienced, moving from stillness, paying attention to internal impulses to move, to return to stillness. After I had moved Simon wrote his thoughts and feelings about the imagery I created. Then we swapped and Simon moved and I wrote. I felt total at ease with my surroundings and moving in front of Simon, I was pleased to hear that Simon enjoyed having someone to perform in front of.
While improvising I was drawn to the texture of the floor, the sound my knuckles made while running them along the floor. It reminded me of the sound a train makes when traveling along the track. I get and got a deep sense of inner healing when I move my body, as I continued to move my body the forms I created were bridges and tunnels reminding me of of the obstacles and challenges I have had to face during my life and the present challenge I am facing.
The second exercise was a visualisation technique, I was asked to visualize the of interior of the body: heart, movement of blood, movement of cells intra cellular space…the fluid space between the cells. I found this fascinating as I have been researching over the last year and a half how our gut brain can play an important part in our general well being and have been exploring how to translate this into movement.
The first object I wanted to work with was the milk churn, I had been exploring how it moved and playing with the sound it created. I wanted to convey and develop how we think about milk, and the milk industry back in the day when it relied on the railway line to transport the milk to all parts of Wales, London and Liverpool. During my research I discovered a derelict milk factory that stood next to a station called Pont Lanio .
During the workshop I developed a further relationship with the object, working on the movement it will create in my body by picking it up, dropping it, rolling, standing on it, spinning, moving the object without my hands, giving it momentum and letting it go…
I developed observing the object from different points of view (with my head inside the churn) composing the body and object in the space, using stillness, movement and the placing of the churn in relation to the body. I developed different ways of carrying and arranging the churn.
During the workshop we developed a sequence of rolling the churn in a linear way, pushing with feet and hands, walking alongside, overtaking, repeatedly creating the sound of the churn rolling, travelling with it and alongside it, speaking into the churn and slowly standing upright, putting the churn on head in a standing position and doing a Breton folk dance to Ceri’s flute.
The second object that was explored was the train window. I wanted to convey – “framing the importance of the issue” being a passenger to sometimes the best show on earth, the landscape outside and the narrative within the carriage.
I am interested in how the body fits into the frame of the window, moving behind the window. during the workshop I explored with Simon how the body travels across the space, keeping the body within the frame, looking out, pausing, squatting, lying with window on the body, holding the window in front of body and looking through whilst travelling, twisting the body, keeping window still.
The overall pieces were performed separately, The milk churn was accompanied by the visuals of the abandoned milk factory Pont Llanio and the window was accompanied by a section of the track that had been reclaimed by nature.
The workshop was a very valuable and fruitful experience both theoretical and practical, I feel I have developed my practice and experience during this whole project and I am continuing to develop with other performances planned for further on down the line.
Day 1 – Gilfachreda – Cardigan – Aberystwyth – Strata Florida – Tregaron – Cardigan – Gilfachreda
The project begins with picking Jacob up and his recording equipment and traveling to the home of storyteller Peter Stevenson in Aberystwyth.
I want to say a little bit about why I chose peter and why Peter has been captivated so much by the idea. I met Peter through a mutual friend Ruth Hogg, I remember he was carrying an accordion and wore a large coat. His soft intelligent voice was so captivating and his friendly smile seemed to put you at ease, as if you had known him all your life. Peter was one of the first artists I talked to about collaborating with me on Singing the line into existence, he was enthusiastic and wanted to know more. Peter said “I have walked most the line , there are many stories from all along there” and that, was as much as he has told me. during the years Peter has told me “Jo! I have found another one” I would say “can I hear it?” he would reply “ when the time is right” Finally, the time is right!
We arrive at Peter’s mid morning and soon it becomes apparent that none of us can work without a cup of tea or on empty stomachs, so we made tea then made lunch before any work is done. Lunch was a medley of salads, dips and pitta bread. lovely!! I eat really fast eager to hear the stories I have been waiting for 3 years.
Peter reads out snippets of stories, these bite size stories tantalise our imagination and it starts to become clear that these will inform the structure of the work.
As it was a beautiful day we decided to bundle into my very small car and do some investigating. We drove first to Caradog Falls Halt and the story of The War of the Little English Man and then to Tregaron to locate the old station and hear about George Batty’s Elephant. We stopped at the Strata Florida station in Ystrad Meurig and visited the church and the Abbey to hear and film more stories from Peter.
These long car journeys, have been a sort of “office” we have found them to be great way to talk about ideas and plan what were are going to do next.
Day 2 – Gilfachreda – Carmarthen – Bronwydd Arms – Pencader – Bryn Teifi – Lampeter – Derry Ormond – Olmarch Halt – Allt Ddu Halt – Cardigan – Gilfachreda
The plan for today was to go to the Gwili heritage railway and film Peter telling stories from the book ‘ Railway Humours or Stories of Railway Travel’ by Thomas Phillips, stationmaster in Carmarthen, published in 1926. It was extremely rich to hear the stories as we traveled on a steam train. A very important part of this journey was arriving at the goods shed at Llwyfan Cerrig to pick up a train window.
As we travel to the various locations I am thinking all the time on how to use the visual and spoken word from them, developing movement work with the train window at them and learning to communicate how we embody space.
A window is a man himself The porte Fentre provides the man with a frame, it accords his outlines the vertical is the line of the upright human being it is the line of life itself”
Le corbusier, from ALMANACH D’ARCHITECTURE MODERN, PARIS 1925
In Pencader and Bryn Teifi we heard about the flirtatious goings on in the long dark tunnel, about Sarah Jacobs the fasting girl of Llanfihangl ar Arth and about the old man of Pencader and his encounter with Henry II. On to Lampeter we found the site of the largest stations on the line and followed the line to the bridge still standing alongside the road bridger on the Teifi (near Co-op). Over lunch at Conti’s Peter told us the history of the Conti family, of George Gibbs the last of the gentlemen tramps and of the Black Ox Bank and how before the railways, the drovers herded their cattle and sheep to Smithfield in London, in fear of robbery and their lives. In 1799 they set up their own bank and issued their own banknotes with a Welsh black bull on it.
Heading North we arrived at ‘a miserable little corrugated iron hut stood on a wind and rainswept platform on the downside, seemingly miles from any human habitation.’ as described by J.S Holden in ‘The Manchester & Milford Railway’, or Derry Ormond in the village of Bettws Bledrws. Here in the last standing station that remains on the line we filmed and listened to Peter telling us stories about the witches of Bettws.
Further still to the site of Olmarch Halt where we learnt about Operation Julie and how half the world’s LSD was produced in nearby Llanddewi Brefi in the late 1960s, the subsequent drugs busts, the comical tales of the locals, stories of the visits of legendary rock stars including Bob Dylan, and how Joe Strummer wrote, “Julie’s Been Working for the Drugs Squad,” after Sergeant Julie Taylor who participated in the whole Operation.
Near Tregaron we stopped near the lake called Maeslyn, site of the drowned ‘Old Tregaron’ and filmed on the old line, now cycle path, near Allt Ddu Halt. This particularly stunning part of the line’s journey was awe inspiring as the sun shone, buzzard’s cries filled the sky and the stories of the bog and the tylwyth teg fed our imagination. I used this opportunity to experiment with moving in the landscape and on the line with the train window, reflecting the emotional experiences shared by anyone travelling through the landscape.
It’s been a bit quiet on the ‘Singing the Line into Existence’ project as the parallel project ‘Walk the line’ as been so busy and fruitful; I also need to find time to make my ceramics and look after my daughter, house etc.
As the blossoms on the trees are melting my heart, I again feel the seeds of my imagination are starting to bud. I have found clarity regarding the root ideas of this project; they are music and sound. A meeting with artists who are on board are on the cards to discuss how to move this project forward.
I would like to share my quarterly newsletter. I have included a review of a railway related exhibition by Rob Davies and more about walk the line and our next move. Check it out here
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Thanks for reading
We did it! 56 miles over two days from Carmarthen to Aberystwyth! we walked and drove (yes felt a bit cheating to us too, but a lot of the land was privately owned) we braved the bad weather, and overgrown terrain, we pushed through sore ankles, wet feet, wet clothes and cold hands.
The experience was absolutely awesome and well worth it, I have never walked that far before and or in the name of art. We walked with focus and purpose to move the body, embrace the present and reflect on the past, and to basically stay on the right track.
The rest of the story will be written on the walk the line blog HERE
In October, 2014, I had the good fortune to meet Dr Louise Ritchie, a researcher and lecturer in Drama, Performance and Television at Aberystwyth University. We were both attending a Welsh learners’ weekend called Campiaith–I was facilitating a bilingual capoeira class and Louise was a student attending the full workshop. We exchanged numbers, initially with an idea for me to run a capoeira workshop with the students. In the course of a phone conversation, we discovered we were both working on ‘train projects’: my project “Singing the Line into Existence,” and Louise’s “Day Return.” Both projects have an interest in, and involve performance place and travel. As a result of this chance meeting, a reverse Strategic Insight Programme placement or SIP was awarded to me, to work with Louise within the University, to build upon this shared interest, and find similarities and crossovers. Since then, our work has roller-coastered into a busy and fruitful new collaboration that runs parallel to Singing the Line into Existence and Day Return called Walk the Line.
Louise and I have had regular meetings full of enthusiastic creative ideas involving research and performance.
In this blog, over the next few days and weeks, I will up date you on the research that we are conducting together such as papers and books I have discovered in the course of my research. I will also reflect on research already conducted for Singing the Line into Existence since July 2012, and my involvement with the Traws Link Cymru campaign, since February 2013.
Our first SIP meeting on the 4th December 2014 was a good indicator that collaboration with Louise was going to generate an abundant in ideas. At this meeting, we made plans and organised an open field trip Walking through History on the 14th December, to mark the 50th anniversary of the flood at Llanilar near Aberystwyth. This flood event was the catalyst for passenger rail services to be truncated.
On the morning of 14th December, 9:45 am, Louise Ritchie, artist Naomi Heath, and Dylan Lewis, committee member of TLC and former mayor of Aberystwyth met me in a car park–formally Llanilar station, We set off for a morning walk to the spot where the flood happened very close to what was Felindyffryn Halt towards Trawscoed. (Our departure was documented by a journalist for the Cambrian News and published in the Decembe issue 2014. My hope that a wide selection of the community could join us bringing with them enthusiasm to walk, respond, tell stories, share interesting and relevant facts along the line. However this was not the case as we due to time constraints we ran out of time to orgainse it. However, on reflection, the group of artists who did join us – a train enthusiast and 1 artist was very powerful. Simply doing the act in an intimate group, sharing stories and historical facts, recording and documenting and creating art brought a wealth of insight into the project.
The walk was very powerful reminder that involving yourself in a project, brings thought and action: It can (literally) move you to think differently through your body.
Let me quickly share with you the actions and outcomes of that day and some of the art work produced. I also want to share some of my reflections on my own practice and an idea for a future performance:
The morning was damp and overcast but mild as the group walked towards where the flood happened. Dylan had been sent an email containing a scanned photograph taken on the 14th December, 1965, showing the exact spot where the banks had been breached. We used this photograph (on his phone) to locate the spot. As we walked, we talked and shared ideas and stories, Dylan pointed out significant structures such as the platform, original fences and bridges, while Louise Ritchie documented by filming parts of the walk.
Naomi Heath created sound piece called Abandoned Line-Wordless on Sound cloud She tells us about her own experience:
“ I was concentrating on the ambience of the place, recording the sound, when I began to lag behind. I was re-feeling an isolation I had felt most of my life.. It all creeped over me, headphones still on and sound recorder on I ran for the others. As I ran along the train line to catch up with them I began to listen to the rhythm of my body and very soon the pace and flow of my body was becoming more rhythmic. You can hear my heart beating, grit below and breath, which make the components of a train. I wished for trains and I found one in my pocket”.
On a few occasions during the walk, I focused on my intentions on re-opening the line. Every foot step symbolised moving closer to the vision of re-enstating the Aberystwyth-to-Carmarthen line. I consciously focused my intention into the earth, imagining the the line reopening and asking the univere to manifest it. ( my new agy bit coming out now hey!!) Imagining the rippling the message through the earth up into everyone’s consciousness. Dance artist, Anna Halplin is a dance artit who uses this techique and I have been very interested in this lately, and I will developing this technique and other dance training further in work.
Water was reseached further, and I am intersted in reflecting on the power of nature, in Chinese Taoist thought, water is representative of intelligence and wisdom, flexibility, softness and pliancy; however, an over-abundance of the element is said to cause difficulty in choosing something and sticking to it. In the same way, Water can be fluid and weak, but can also wield great power when it floods and overwhelms the land..
I would like to explore these idea’s further in future performances: I plan to revisit this site again and connect once again with the place, with movement and feeling.
January and February has been a busy and exciting month both for the ‘walk the line’ project. Louise and I have focused a lot on the Aberystwth-to-Carmarthen Line, as this year, 2015, marks an important anniversary of the closer
At the beginning of the month, TLC held the first Aberystwyh public meeting: At this meeting, Mike Walker (TLC committee member) was first up, giving a very powerful and visually arresting powerpoint presentation of the origin, aims and nature of the campaign to date. Geraint Blayney (TLC) followed. He took us on a detailed journey along the line as it is today, with the help of satellite images of the terrain. Elin Jones, Plaid AM for Mid and West Wales, and Elizabeth Evans, Ceredigion Lib Dem Councillor for Aberaeron, spoke strongly in favour of the campaign, and the benefits – economic, social and environmental–that would flow from re-opening of the line. The floor was then thrown open for questions and comments, almost all of which were [in favour of…or something more specific as everyone who spoke probably felt that they had a positive contribution to make] and TLC members were able to respond and take note of useful suggestions. At this stage of the meeting, student representatives from both Lampeter and Aberystwyth Universities stood up in the audience to show their support. After the student had spoken, Louise stood up and announced that we (Louise, film maker, Russell Ritchie and I) will be walking the line from Carmarthen to Aberystwyth on the 21- 22 of February to mark the 50th anniversary of the closure of the line. Since then, we have started our research into the route. I have bought a pair of walking boots, (as I have been advised that the terrain is quite overgrown). Many tunnels are closed and parts of the track are now privately owned. Camera’s hired, badges made and bought , organising who will meet us etc.
INVITATION –Walk the line
On Saturday 21/22nd February 2015 Joanna Bond and Louise Ritchie will leave Carmarthen train station on foot to walk the approximate 55-mile length of the disused train line that ends at the final station stop in Aberystwyth. The journey marks 50 years since the lines official closure on February 22nd 1965 in response to the Beeching report and a flood that damaged the tracks. The project invites people from the surrounding area and further afield to join them along the way; walk for a while, share a story, a photograph, an object or a cuppa. The project aims to use the journey to examine and explore connections between places and people specifically the connections that exist now in the present. Updates of the journey will be shared on a blog site that we have yet to build…we’ll share the link soon. Do come and walk with us if you can.
Thank you for reading. I will leave you this from Johnny Cash
Back in August at a Traws link Cymru meeting, committee member John announced he had an idea, “ how about we clear the old station at Pont Llanio?I know the guy who owns it. It’s not been developed, he uses it for storage” all the members, were enthusiastic about this, so we arranged a site visit.
On the 23rd October 2014 we got permission to do an inventory of the site. We arrived in the village of Pont Llanio, not far from Tregaron. It was a early in the morning and nobody was about.
We pulled up to the entrance to be met by an enormous abandoned milk factory that dominated the yard as we entered.
As soon I saw the building I felt exhilarated. I began to have idea’s for a site specific dance and performance. A multidisciplinary performance incorporating sound, projected visuals, lighting, spoken word, songs and dancers. was very excited!
During my research I will be focusing on Pont Llanio I wanted to know, how the factory operated? what had the working conditions been like? Had such milk plants been common? Who had worked in it? When did it close? Was it a directly related to the closer of the line? what were the feelings of the factory workers when was the last freight train was loaded with the milk? When was it’s last run? What was the village like when the factory was going strong? what sounds/noise came from the site?
An interesting fact that Ceredigion was known as “very milky Ceredigion” but at one time the people could not afford their own milk to drink or to make into cheese, instead theyhad t sell it to Liverpool or London.This fact made me wonder who remembers drinking the milk that came from Pont Llanio and about the London dairies?
I spent such a long time observing and walking in and around the milk factory building that I almost forgot about the platform. The TLC group had already located the platform and it was my turn to discover it. The platform was completely barricaded off with brambles and we had to bash our way through with sticks.
Once through the brambles I entered onto a fully intact platform, with it’s stone top and walls.
I felt a huge energy surge, and again ideas for a performance flooded my imagination. Evoking more questions like, what did it look like when it was up and running? what buildings and shelters stood there? who caught the train? Where did it go? was it passenger or mainly freight?
I was told that a water tank still survived, and I was eager to see it. We had to walk a little further, bashing more brambles that had overgrown the platform. As I approached, it was the sound of rushing water I first sensed; it sounded strangely like the you were traveling on a train. Then WOW! There was this beautiful stone bridge, and then, across the track was the water tank, still holding water.
The sound I heard was the water running around the tank due to blocked pipes. This very elegant water tank used to fill locomotive boilers, and is still standing firm at Pont Llanio.
Walking back, a little further up the platform I explored part of the railway track that had been totally reclaimed by nature. Seeds had been blown onto the track, had taken root and were now 40-50 years old high.
I was struck by the symbolism of this relating to my project. Like seeds blown in the wind, ideas can take root in peoples minds and imaginations. And how seeds of change and or future growth waiting to emerge from within each and every person.
I was happy to see the trees and the thoughts and feelings that sprang from them; however, I was saddened at the prospect of them being cleared, feeling guilty and sorry for what many humans have done to this planet from the overfishing of the sea to the poisoning of the land to climate change. I needed to transform these sad thoughts, into positive thoughts out into my world. What comforted me was the belief that this railway line if reinstated will connect busy towns in Wales with a reliable rail link, reduce the strain on the roads, link north and south Wales, railways are more socially inclusive means of transport. I feel my project research will also look into the symbolism this line has regarding the economy and the necessity for new approach to doing business– a new economy, one that is driven by caring, sharing sustainability rooted in the soil, ideas of ethics and spirituality, not greed and ecocide.
A week or so later I met a lecture Dr Louise Ritchie a lecturer in theatre and performance at Aberystwyth University. After our conversation, we both felt that it was a synergistic meeting, as we are both involved in a train project. Louise applied for funding from Strategic insight programme, and we got it! I will be engaging I talks with louise and running workshops with the BA students. More information as and when it develops.
Thanks for reading
Over the summer I have had a busy time making and selling my ceramics at a Llanrannog farmers market held every Wednesday morning, situated so close to the beach that I could collect stones to way- down my business cards. Awesome! While all the time singing the line into existences by collecting signatures for the petition and talking about our project.
love trains love fairs!
The craft fair at Borth station and museum was a great event and a perfect location for me. met lots of lovely people, and towards the end of the day I plucked up the courage to ask a gypsy jazz band who where playing on the station for a jam, I sang a train song while beats were drummed plucked and clapped out, to sound like a train. Best railway jam so far!!