This live session with Tara, Dixie, Emily and Imogen was filmed and recorded in the Exbury Egg on December 7th as previously described in an earlier post, in an exciting new collaboration with Artstrain – the amazing organisation dedicated to making music happen for young people.
“This beautifully stripped back acoustic piece ‘Listen and Learn’was written and recorded entirely by young artists on the theme of #climatechange, #youthactivism and is a response to the media’s negative portrayal of Greta Thunberg” *
It was a most appropriate and beautiful piece for the Exbury Egg; a studio, observatory, home and artwork dedicated to the exploration of our relationship with nature.
The essence of the moment was captured by musician and videographer Jack Pierce of Spectash ( https://www.spectash.com)
Both Venice and Thamesmead share the distinction of being towns on stilts, though the materials used up to 1000 years apart are different.The 16th century stone Rialto Bridge in Venice for example was built on Alder Wood footings that are still in excellent condition. Some of the timber sampled in a recent survey dated to 900-960ad.
The 20th century construction of Thamesmead’s tower blocks however, demanded a different solution in similarly marshy ground and was provided by West’s Shell Piling system.
This photo was published in the Daily Telegraph on 16th March 1967, when the then Minister for Housing Mr Greenwood turned up to drive the very first pile for one of the original 13 storey towers – though I am not sure which one was built first in TM Stage 1. According to the New Civil Engineer magazine for March 1999, they drove over 260,000 pilings in Thamesmead, using 30 rigs.
The mid-winter gathering around ‘Stephen Turner’s Exbury Egg’ at the Lakeside Centre drew a steady stream of curious folk from the neighbourhood on a chilly Sunday afternoon.
The Eggman created a stylised landscape of floodlit feathers and leaves as a ’stage’ in the Egg for Rich Sylvester and JD Swann to perform in. Outside we put up bunting and a colourful parachute awning for shelter. A small fire pit was lit to keep people warm and for toasting large marshmallows (the original source, of which being stems of marsh mallow plant which can still be found around here). Hot mulled ‘wine’ as well as a huge Southmere swan shaped mince pie designed and baked by the Eggman added to the festive spirit and sense of occasion.
We stood round the fire and swapped stories of Thamesmead. Rich had spent time researching the distinctive character of the place; looking at local history books provoked recognition of the characters and neighbours featured and then triggered stories which had become urban legends. From there, chat led back to the wider landscape well beyond living memory when the Thames lapped the walls of Lesnes Abbey and Thamesmead was just part of a marsh that spread from Southwark to the Isle of Sheppey in Kent.
We climbed into the Egg and a cosy storytelling session continued. Archeology and local finds of sharks teeth faded into folklore as Rich shared tales of John Taylor, a Thames Waterman known as the Water Poet, who built a boat of paper with the aim of rowing to the isle of Sheppey. His poem recording the event said that he kept it afloat with sheep bladders. Local ornithological investigator JD Swann made a guest appearance reading poetry selections from Chaucer, John Clare and Coleridge – along with his own bird-friendly poems. He signed free copies of the “Best beaks” poster – his extraordinary image of a bird made up of the “best parts” of the birds around Southmere Lake (as voted for by local people).
The story of “Killing the Goose that laid Golden Eggs” followed, with some debate around the meaning and moral of that tale, before the Egg emptied as people headed out to see a clouded sun sinking and setting over Plumstead at 3.54pm on this shortest day. In the growing darkness of the longest night, it filled up again for more stories and for the Eggman to relate the story the Eggs’ conception, construction and cultural context, before a final spontaneous chorus to the tune of “When the Saints go marching in” (“When the sun begins to set. I want to be in the Egg “ etc. )
People lingered and chatted as it grew dark. The Egg had given everyone a safe haven, a hosted space to share food and thoughts and laughter in the heart of the community. As our guests left they were given the gift of a small feather ‘donated’ by the birds around Southmere Lake as well as bags of swan food, so they could return the favour to the birds. A small A5 flyer produced by the Eggman was also available, explaining the context and history of the Solstice, its importance worldwide and the value of tuning in to nature.
About 28 people of all ages attended. Including four of the artists who live and work in the locality. Gary Drostle a mosaic designer / maker with a studio at the Lakeside Centre had a Winter Solstice open day himself, with the idea of mutual support and sharing of visitors.
Given the time of year, with so many people already away for Christmas or in the throes of last minute preparation, we were pleased both with the numbers attending (about 28) and their great enjoyment of the event.
It had been widely advertised in the Thamesmead Newsletter produced by Peabody and distributed to every household hereabouts. The Bexley Council website listed the event and Bow Arts included it in their own e-mailed newsletter. The Eggman produced a poster that was widely distributed electronically and physically in the local library and on the fencing around Southmere Lake. Three different local Facebook groups also posted the event information.
The Eggman was grateful to local photographer Paul Elliot for permission to use his atmospheric photographs around Southmere Lake in his digital film of the event, and to Bee Kavanagh, Steve Mace and Julie Turner for giving up their afternoon to mind the fire, give out Solstice gifts and tend to the food and wine.
When ArtsTrain’s Programme Producer Alice Hale, got in touch via Bow Arts to enquire about using the Egg as a recording studio and performance space, I was really enthusiastic about working with an organisation ‘Making Music Happen for Young People’ *
Imogen, Tara, Emily, Dixie, Yip and Joseph came with Alice and Jack Pierce from Spectash productions* on Saturday December 7th to record a mini concert in the intimate environment of the Egg. Alice explained that ‘These young people have been working with ArtsTrain for the last 6 months as part of our London Jazz Festival Project. The group first met in May to share ideas and create songs based on the theme of Climate Change and the Environment. Inspired by Greta Thunberg this group have been championing youth activism through their passionate, cross-genre original music. The project culminated in a show at the Southbank Centre on 24th November, where they closed the festival with their invigorating five song set. The song Listen and Learn was written by Imogen, one of the youngest members of the group. This tender and poignant song is a response to the media’s negative portrayal of Greta Thunberg.’
Listen and Learn was performed in the Egg with Imogen on Ukulele and Tara, Emily and Dixie providing backing vocals. This was always going to be a really appropriate connection, since the Egg is such a potent symbol for nurture, sustainability and our damaged relationship with nature. I also like the idea of one art form supporting another, with new and original music inside a sculptural Egg created as visual art and architecture.
‘The Concert in the Egg’ a painting by an early follower of the artist Hieronymus Bosch from 1561 was an interesting connection that came to mind when we were planning the event. The specific looking musical notation it depicts was given by Alice to Yip and Joseph, who researched its origins with a view to playing a contemporary version for our own Concert in the Exbury Egg.
They found out it was a piece called ‘Toutes Les Nuits tu Presente’ from 1549 by Thomas Crecquillon, a composer from the Netherlands. Joseph explained that it was originally scored for four part voice and that though music was written differently in the 16th Century a modern score was available which he could show me on his phone. Joseph and Yip kept the melody, ‘jazzed it up’ for the 21st Century and played it on flute and Keyboard. I will show the video when it becomes available after editing in January. It was great to have such a unique and historic visual arts reference for our music day, in addition to the pressing environmental one.
Bhajan Hunjan’s Winter Wreath making event at Thamesmead Library (as part of the Exbury Egg activities) was well received last Thursday, with some wonderful weavings of locally collected twigs, pine cones, grasses, honesty, berries and different dried flowers and leaves. As we approach the shortest day of the year on the Winter Solstice (this year on Sunday December 22nd), their traditional circular shape is a reminder of the unending cycle of the seasons and the eventual return of Spring.
Please do come to the Egg itself for our Winter Solstice event on Sunday December 22nd, 2-5pm. Details on the EVENTS FOR LOCAL PEOPLE page at http://www.eggman.site
Artist Joseph A. Griffiths is at the Egg tonight for the second of his open discussions around different themes suggested by the Exbury Egg project and its relationship to contemporary creative practice and sustainable living. Tonight’s discussion from 18.30 -21.30 is on Productivity/Output. Questioning the role of production in art practice in the context of consumerism and the environment. The meeting is held in the Egg and Joseph will be providing warming soup to those attending.
Two new calendars are full of perfect 2020 visions by Thamesmead photographer Paul Elliott and Ornithological Investigator JD Swann. Both are great value at £12 each. Paul’s calendar even records a certain large Egg floating on Southmere Lake in February’s picture. JD Swann focuses exclusively on our fabulous birds.
Paul and JD Swann will both be at the Winter Solstice Celebration at the Exbury Egg, Lakeside Centre, Bazalgette Way, SE2 9AN on Sunday December 22nd 2-5pm where, like me, you may want to buy one or both calendars as seasonal gifts.
If you can’t join us on the 22nd December, you can message Paul for a calendar on Instagram at respectedphotographylondon, while JD Swann can be contacted via Calum F Kerr on Facebook.
Calling people of Thamesmead. Hello! If you want a break from all the frenzy of Christmas come and chill out with us at our Winter Celebration with family storytelling at the Egg on Sunday afternoon Dec 22nd 2-5pm. All the details are on the attached invitation.