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Musicians are not normally found on building sites. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever been on a proper building site before. But in May 2007 I found myself spending three days at the Cabot Circus development trying to persuade complete strangers to sing to me. When Neville Gabie approached me a couple of months before about some kind of collaboration we decided fairly early on that any musical piece we created should capitalise on the vast number of nationalities of site staff. Gradually we formed a plan to record workers singing a song, transcribe and arrange them for a trained choir to sing and then fuse the individual songs together to form one piece, the Cabot Circus Cantata. Dressed in yellow high-visibility jacket and hard hat armed with a recorder, we set our trap in the site canteen on the basis that it is harder to say no when your mouth is full. Despite many rejections some polite, some less so, we gradually persuaded and cajoled individuals to sing for us. I likened the experience to wildlife photography, sometimes waiting for a whole morning to catch a concreter in his all too brief break time. Some of the songs were recorded actually on the building site itself – going up and down in the tower lift and cranes. Every worker was a potential targetdid they have a song they were dying to sing us? Having collected 25 songs from builders, secretaries, foremen, concreters, security guards, and canteen staff representing 20 different nationalities I set about the task of writing them down. The internet was invaluable, particularly You-Tube where many of the songs had been recorded with varying degrees of success and quality: everything from a young Russian man sitting on his unmade bed in his tiny flat picking at his guitar to a Queen concert and a professionally made promotional tourist video.


Every week for a month, from the start of September, The City of Bristol Choir were handed my arrangements of these songs. The choir embraced the challenge of coping with new languages with enthusiasm. Not many British choirs get the chance to sing in Polish, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Czech and Nepalese. One of the highlights was the visit of Anna Smetana, the office manager for Norwest Holst who coached the choir in Polish. As the choir learnt the song and then sung it back to her, she was visibly moved. A song from her heart that reminded her of her homeland, family and all that meant to her. The day of the recording and performance on the building site and in St James’ Priory had been carefully planned and its slightly surreal feel gave it a unique quality. The choir of 100 were accompanied by percussion and the Ambling Band and the video inserts of the songs being sung to me on the building site months before gave the audience an understanding of how each song came out of an individual’s personal story. The performance was a chance for both performers and audience to look outside of their usual environment and discover the varied cultures and emotions of people living in their city but with an outlook very different to their own. Many of the songs were a symbol of a wider Europe, and also in some cases the re-emergence of a cultural identity that had been suppressed for so long. As the project nears its completion and the workers move on elsewhere, I am pleased that the Cabot Circus Cantata is to receive more performances in different guises. I hope that the piece stands as testament to the fact that for a fleeting moment in 2007 there was in Bristol a global community which was able to share a flavour of its make-up with the people of the city for whose benefit and enjoyment it was working. David Ogden


Last spring, wandering around the building site, a sound caught my attention. Lost in the noise of diggers and concrete mixers, forklift exhausts, kanga hammers, drills and shouting, I heard someone singing. One of the women in the site canteen was singing to herself whilst preparing for the day. Hearing a tiny single voice in the midst of this chaos made me stop. There are two thousand people from fifty-nine different countries working here, so it is easy to lose sense of the individuals that make up the horde in high viz jackets and hard hats. When, in a moment a single voice reminds you of that in a strange and compelling language, it understandably holds your attention. Bristol city centre is host to a vast international temporary community. The idea that to build Cabot Circus required the contribution of such a multinational workforce was something that intrigued and excited me. I wanted to make work that celebrated this hidden itinerant community and to explore ways it might influence and add to the richness of the city as a whole. Standing outside the canteen listening to Eva sing was the moment an idea began to take shape. My immediate thought was to collect songs from the site in all languages as the basis for a project. But what I had in mind would not have been possible without the close collaboration of David Ogden. Together we developed what has become the Cabot Circus Cantata. After days of collecting, David and the City of Bristol Choir began months of transcribing and learning the songs in all their different languages. The intention was for the full choir to return to the building site and perform each song in turn for the workforce.


Developing the project was full of unexpected surprises. One of the most poignant, was when Anna spent an evening helping the choir learn her song in Polish. On another occasion, attached to the outside of a building, sixteen floors up in a tower lift, Simeon sang to me in Bulgarian and Russian during a five minute break. We also found two men working on site who were to play a significant part in the Cabot Circus Cantata. Raymond had written a song which he first sang to David and me on the steps to my portacabin studio; a song which he later performed as part of the Cantata. On the same day ten or more Punjabi builders squeezed into the portacabin, each taking turns to sing. Santokh, a professional singer in the Punjab before coming to Bristol, had a whole repertoire of songs which he sang to us. On the day of the performance he was working on site, but in his break he came and sang again, still in his work clothes and covered in concrete dust. These moments of exchange were the essence of the project. On the day of the performance, whilst the choir were singing in the concrete shell of a new building, several speakers located around the site relayed their live performance. This was for site staff only, a concert while they worked. Later that same day the whole concert was repeated in St James Priory for an audience; a deliberate attempt to make a link between the newest and oldest buildings in Bristol. A few days later I played time after hours when it reverberate through these echo in the fabric of the

the recordings on site once again, this was quiet. I wanted to hear the songs huge concrete structures, to leave an buildings for ever. Neville Gabie


Ant kalno murai – Lithuania

Choir, piano, brass and side drum Selected by Mantas and Rimantas, Fireproofers


' – Hungary Tvaszi szel

Piroska Uitz, solo, choir and piano Selected by Eva, Canteen staff


Dhamalan / Daroo – Punjab

Santokh Singh, solo Selected by Santokh, Concrete labourer


Hubava si moyo – Bulgaria

Choir, piano Selected by Simeon, Tower lift operator


Jhaljhali ankhama – Nepal

Ladies choir with djembe, trumpets and piano Selected by Mahendra, Gate security


Asika thali – South Africa

Choir, djembe and brass, piano Selected by Fernando, Swazi, Zane, traffic control


St James Priory


Acknowledgements | This project has been made possible with the fantastic commitment of many people. We owe our thanks in particular to; the site staff who braved the embarassment of singing to two complete strangers; the dedication of the City of Bristol Choir in learning and performing on site; the staff of Sir Robert McAlpine who gave the choir access to the site and provided a safe environment in which to perform; The Ambling Band; St James Priory for the use of their building; the whole team at Bristol Alliance and to Sam and Sarah for their tremendous support throughout. Special thanks to; Santokh Singh and Raymond Henry as well as the soloists from the Bristol City Choir; Piroska Uitz, Lucy Pope, Angharad Thomas and Tibor Bicsak; Piano, Richard Johnson; Percussion, Jeremy Little; Judith Ogden | Neville Gabie InSite Arts would like to thank Neville Gabie, Artist in Residence at Cabot Circus and David Ogden for their inspired collaboration. This project has been funded by the Bristol Alliance and the Arts Council of England. We would also like to thank the Bristol Alliance for their vision and support for this three year artists appointment and their commitment to the realisation of Neville’s projects and their openess to the unknown. Cabot Circus Cantata | First published in June 2008 by InSite Arts, 300 Burdett Road, London, E14 7DQ. 07917 153555 Printed as an edition of 1200 hardbacks with DVD isbn 978-0-9547300-5-5 © 2008 InSite Arts, The Artists and Authors © Black Gold, written and composed by Raymond Henry Photography © Neville Gabie, Ian Sadler – Five Valleys Photography www.fivevalleys.co.uk All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without prior written permission of the publishers. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A British Library CIP record is available Book design by Alan Ward at www.axisgraphicdesign.co.uk Typeface: Lucida Sans Typewriter Printed and bound by Editoriale Bortolazzi Stei, Verona Sound recordings Richard Jeffery-Gray – Hoxa www.hoxa.net Filming Neville Gabie and Oogoo Mia Editing Oogoo Mia and Neville Gabie www.oogoo.net


Cantata