Sea Breeze: an archive

And so the show was done.

Alarmingly it is almost six weeks ago now but in the interim we have been gathering together our objects and memories for the exhibition at the Peter Scott Gallery at Lancaster University. This is now installed and only waiting for one last piece of work before the preview at 6.30pm on Thursday 17th October.

It is an altogether quieter and more reflective thing, assembling the exhibition (the archive), following the high drama of the show; the last minutes of making it and the tension and release of its presentation. We haven’t written about it, perhaps out of tiredness, or not quite knowing what to say, or maybe because so many other people have written such lovely things about it and we’re a little overwhelmed.

In time we shall. It feels as though there might be a book and perhaps there will be a reprise of the show itself… Watch this space! (Or perhaps some other forum that is slightly more regularly updated! LiveatLICA would be a good bet…) For now, thank you to everyone who came, and for all the extraordinary responses we have received. And do come and see the exhibition.

Beside the seaside

Beside the sea. The salty, sonorous sea that comes in faster than a horse can gallop across the treacherous bay.

Up early and late to bed. Conjuring with words and music and beautiful mysteries made of light.

We sit in the dark; we spin and sigh and sneeze with the dust.

Strong coffee. A birthday cake with candles. Chips and a fish, and a sugary donut. Chips and a fish and a show.

Tonight we shall eat an octopus.

 

A list

of some things found amidst the dust:

white feathers and a dyed red feather

a safety pin

a hair pin

dead moths

sparkles

nails

matchsticks

bottle tops

sweet wrappers

flakes of paint – pink and yellow and green and blue

Stories (5)

old-postcard

The Winter Gardens opened in 1897. There had been previous ‘pleasure gardens’ on the site but this is the official beginning.

1897 – 2013. It is almost a human life span. Admitedly, a long life, but still… And, thinking of ‘history’, it is also a ‘long’ 20th Century. The end of Victorian England extending into the early days of the new millenium.

We are thinking about these time frames; the human span and the ages. Story and history.

Our gathered stories take us back to the 1930’s. The heyday of the Winter Gardens by all accounts. Packed to the rafters and a fresh lick of paint. Basking in the brightest electric light of the era (for all that we think of those days in perpetual black and white). This is the edge of living memory.

For the early days there are historical sources, faded playbills, contemporary accounts. We discover a piece of early documentary film from the Mitchell and Kenyon archive- a beautiful tracking shot along the promenade (real black and white), all parasols and perambulators, and laughing boys tossing caps in the air – a gesture we know from such archive films but that has now disappeared. We learn that this is 1901. A brand new century and the Winter Gardens a brand new palace of entertainment. And that this film was shown in there, in here, the very day that it had been filmed.

And we also learn that in those rosy Edwardian days, Morecambe hosted the largest and most significant choral music festival in the country. Two years later, a song written by Edward Elgar, commissioned by the festival, is performed for the first time in the Winter Gardens; ‘Weary Wind of the West’. We have been listening to it.

Cut to 1977. (1897 – 1977, roughly the lifespan of a grandfather.) The RAF Band enact the last rites of the building. A final performance that concludes with a (doubtlessly) rousing rendition of ‘God Save the Queen’… And the crowds go home and Barbara Mann locks the doors…  And that is nearly 40 years ago.

Since then, in the parlance of the stage, the theatre has been dark…

So. A long life that we begin to think of as three lives.

Prehistory. 1897 – c. 1933.

A life of living memories. c. 1933 – 1977.

An afterlife. 1977 – ‘the present day’…

And it is a long time now, this afterlife. A long time for a building to sit, waiting for it’s future; living in the past. Repository of memory. Symbol of decay. Sustained by past glories and the love of ‘friends’…

We wonder about the entwined themes- heritage and restoration.

What do we think about ‘heritage’?

We have the impression of a world lived in sepia when we know that in fact it was bright and as vivid as now. Maybe brighter. And the film camera and the film show, even though it is hand cranked, and flickers, is in fact a marvel of new technology, worthy of a gasp, of genuine astonishment…

What happens when the living memory disappears? Does it then become the story of parents and grandparents? Ancestral memory?

What should happen to a building like this? Do we believe in monuments?

What is it that draws us to such dereliction? Is this about celebrating survival, or decay?

Stories (4)

Morecambe Library. An open afternoon (with tea and biscuits).

We sit in the meeting room wondering who might turn up. If anyone will turn up. A few notices around the town these last few weeks, a feature in the ‘Looking Back’ column in the Morecambe Visitor, and a live interview for the local radio- standing on the promenade with a real sea breeze blowing in and the chatter of seagulls riding the wind over the Winter Gardens… ‘Come and tell us a story’.

And they did.

A steady stream of memories flowing in from people who had worked in the building, from heydays ’til the last days, the final curtain call.

A woman who remembers her grandfather shovelling coal into the theatre’s boiler room, eighty years ago; his wife bringing him his dinner in a basket… A man who began working there, up in the ‘limes’ [the lighting box], in 1937 – stories of footlights and floodlights and early cinema projection, the ghost of a violinist haunting the circle, and being cradled to the ceiling, painting it bit by bit; a Morecambe Michelangelo… A man who still remembers firewatch duty- 1942 in the glass-ceilinged ballroom, and tells us how the stage is one of the few in the world built to take an elephant… A rush of ushers and usherettes, cleaners and ticket sellers through the post war years – 50’s, 60′ 70’s… Mrs B. who sold ice creams in her maroon uniform – just all the ordinary flavours… A flyman in the 60’s, holding down a day job at the docks and making it to the theatre for the two shows an evening; 6.30, 8.30, then out on the dancefloor half the night… A man who briefly owned the place… And the woman who locked the theatre doors for the last time, after the final show in ’77, and then spent 4 years as the sole occupier of the building, a lonely round of checking windows and collecting rents from the fairground tenants round the back….

And then they were gone.

And now we are left with their stories.