Pops Roberts and Phillip Howley are the lead artists on Demo Tapes, a music-making project hosted by Archives+ and supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. We are really pleased to publish Give Yourself, the first commission by the artists in response to the North West region’s sound archives:
Pops and Phillip are leading workshops with young musicians at More Music in Morecambe, Collective Encounters in Liverpool and Brighter Sound in Manchester in May and June 2021. The groups will listen to newly-digitised sound archives relating to protest and politics and write new music in response to them.
These new songs will be added to the archive and will be performed at a free live-streamed gig from Manchester Central Library on 13 July.
Phillip describes the listening process:
“I found Listening to the archive incredibly fascinating. it’s so funny how everything seems to change but nothing actually really does. Hearing the voices of dissent striving to be understood or heard, just to voice their unhappiness was really emotional for me. It really brought home to me that we need to keep talking and raising our voices, especially when we see and hear things that we feel aren’t right. It was also really fascinating to be able to hear the voices from the past , the nuance of the accents and the language of the time, to really get a feel for the people and the time that they lived in.That being said it was also really interesting how far we’ve come, specially with the use of language and how we talk about some of the issues faced by different communities within our society.”
The two artists started listening and responding to the archive sounds independently but then swapped notes. Phill explains how they worked together:
“We went about creating this composition by both independently listening and accessing the archives, spending some time with it and becoming familiar with it. We then both started to write a piece of music completely separately and shared them with each other. Once we did that we decided on which piece of music we preferred and then we just started to add to it. I’d already put together a few instrumental parts and had some vocal ideas and then Pops came in and added all of the all of the shine as well as adding this really beautiful bridge which acts as a reminder that fundamentally we need to go back to a place of love rather than just out-and-out dissent and aggression.”
So what does the finished piece mean to the artists?
Phillip: This piece means a lot to me, firstly because it’s the first piece that I’ve composed in this way (over Zoom), I’ve collaborated before but this one just seemed to happen really naturally and organically. It also means a lot because it’s going to be part of the archive and it’s reacting to this brilliant resource that we’ve got! Listening to the archive and spending time with it has really energised me to think about the importance of gathering voices and sharing voices, making sure that with this technology that we’ve got we ensure that we’re creating an opportunity for those voices that aren’t usually heard to be heard as well as getting to hear stories that otherwise would be lost.
Pops: I loved the power of the main section and wanted to counteract it with a more loving reminder…the core of protest for me is power and compassion going hand in hand really… making kinder changes for people in the present and the future …with the past being these voices we hear in the excerpts from the the archives … and how important it is that we improve conditions from what they had to endure. There is so much in the archives to choose from so the work continues!
Give Yourself samples two clips from interviews recently digitised by the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage team at Archives+. The first you hear is Mrs Millie Bobker for the Manchester Studies Oral History Collection in 1978 (1103/763(1)_s1) held by Tameside Local Studies and Archives. Mrs Bobker talks about getting involved with the Youth Front Against World Fascism when she was 15 and global politics during her youth.
The second sample is Respondent 50 of the Bolton Oral History Project, 1981 (BOLTONOH/50_s2), held by the Bolton History Centre. Respondent 50 reads a poem from memory about the importance of giving.
Respondent 50’s poem:
Give your love to others, don’t spend it on yourself.
Give your love to others. Don’t hold it on the shelf.
Give a word of kindness
Give a helping hand.
Give where it is needed.
Try to understand.
Give the best that’s in you, in the job you do.
Give the world your blessing, and it blesses you.
Give the world to something that is well worthwhile.
Give, but never ever forget, to give a smile – it’ll cost you nowt!