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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.


Harback publication documenting a music-based project on the bulding site of Bristol's city centre led by artist Neville Gabie