Walter Malcolm Neil McEachern (1 April 1883 – 17 January 1945)
was a noted Australian bass singer who enjoyed a successful career in the United Kingdom, both as a concert soloist and as one half of the comic musical duo Flotsam and Jetsam.
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.
Sounds of old trains greeted an audience in Oriel Myrddin on Saturday 22nd August as they arrived and received their tickets to embark…The room filled and the audience were welcomed with a song from Joanna Bond with percussion from Ceri Rhys Matthews (this version below is accompanied by the train sounds).
All aboard they listened to how Joanna became inspired by a train journey –
‘So to start I want to paint a picture … It’s July 2012, in a sleeper carriage two newlyweds are returning from 10 days honeymoon in Prague gazing out of the train window into the blur of the world and lost in train dreaming time of each others presence. Passing Germany the female an artist who up until now mainly worked in ceramics the male an aspiring politician with a poet’s heart. The artist gazes out of the window and is fascinated by futuristic train she quickly grabs her sketchbook and starts to draw. As she draws and writes recording the atoms as they fall into her mind, railway time, train dreaming, songlines, roots, social value, Wales and a question appears…
How can you go all the way to Prague on the train and not go from Bangor to Cardiff without going through Shrewsbury?’
With a cup of tea visitors were invited to look at the exhibition layed out around the room – a selection of documents, maps, drawings, photographs and objects from the last three years research work including ceramic tiles made on a railway platform at Aberdyfi, a carriage window and a milk churn used in a performance by Joanna inspired by the Pont Llanio creamery.
Storyteller Peter Stevenson told a few colourful stories from the line’s past and Ceri Rhys Matthews performed some wonderful songs and music from the area including ‘Trip i Aberystwyth’ a song specifically written about a journey along the line.
‘Our plan over the next 6 weeks is to explore the line, its cultural and physical landscape, to discover it’s stories and sing it’s songs, to engage and enthuse people along the line by placing art at the heart of a community and political campaign. The work we develop on sites of the old line and in the studio will be blogged about as we go and will become the core of a multidisciplinary exhibition and performance event starting at 7pm in Ceredigion Museum, Aberystwyth on October 3rd, we hope you can join us.’
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