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A song for the whole city: Bristol Beacon launch project promoting togetherness

The seismic events of the past year have sparked creativity across the country. Bristol Beacon is working on a project promoting togetherness while we’re apart, calling on citizens to channel their feelings into words and music

Inspired by the mass singing events held at Bristol Beacon – then, of course, known as Colston Hall – during the Second World War, ‘A New Song For Bristol’ is a project aiming to bring the city together (figuratively rather than physically) through music and the public’s creative responses to this historic past year.

Kate Stables of This Is The Kit. Image: © Ph. Lebruman

The pieces submitted have been collected into a living archive, as part of Bristol Beacon’s heritage exhibitions for the venue’s reopening. Some have also been hand-picked as the inspiration for new pieces of music by Bristol-based artists including This Is The Kit, Bucky, Lady Nade, Kayla Painter, Javeon, Solomon O.B and composer, musician and associate director of Paraorchestra, Lloyd Coleman. With the window for submissions now closed, the artist collective’s compositions are due to be finalised by early spring.

“A New Song For Bristol is inspired by Bristol Beacon’s long history of being a place for local communities to voice their views of the world and make music together,” said Cathy Mager, creative producer of Bristol Beacon’s Lantern Project, of the desire to ignite the fire of creativity, find ways to feel connected, draw on the extraordinary power of music and bring the city closer. “When you read about how the city was locked down at the outbreak of World War II and the entertainment ban, the parallels are striking between then and now. It was heartening to learn about how the venue and its team played such an important role in raising morale.”

The team wanted to encourage Bristolians to express themselves through words, music or song, share their experiences, and keep “that Bristol spirit” alive. The project is the first major artistic expression of the ‘transformation promise’ which pledges the ways in which Bristol Beacon strives to be a symbol of hope and community for everyone. Creative workshops were held online by the artist collective, who collaborated with community groups across the city to help create submissions. These include In My Dreams, a song by surgeon Rebecca Little who suffered with PTSD during lockdown and found composing songs helped her recover; a poem by Kelly Smith who cleans at St Peter’s Hospice in Bristol, written as some light-hearted humour to lift the spirits of her team; and Reece Pennington-Field’s poem about his lockdown experience while living with foster parents Mark and George.

Singer-songwriter Hannah Wood felt inspired by Bristol’s vibrant music and art scene. “Before the pandemic, you could walk into any little venue and have an amazing time listening to people’s music and stories,” she says. “Even though we can’t do that now, I’m struck by all the positivity that I see around on a daily basis; the encouraging messages people leave in their windows and warm smiles shared by strangers on socially distanced walks. It’s nice to see that Bristol is still Bristol despite the difficulties that this year has brought with it.”

Kate Stables of alt-rock/folk rock band This Is The Kit had the honour of reviewing the creative offerings for her composition. “The submissions that we’ve been going through and reading and listening to have all been incredible,” she says.

This Is The Kit worked on the song with Bristol band Bucky

“It’s been very moving to see the generosity and honesty of the people who have participated; putting so much time and energy and love into what they submitted. For me this song is about celebrating the people of Bristol and their stories and lives. It’s been a weirdo tough year and, in a way, the last thing anyone wants is a song about how horrible and hard it’s been, so I see it as a celebration of these excellent people and the fact everyone is doing a great job at keeping on keeping on and looking after each other.”

While Kate now lives in France, she has a strong connection to Bristol; it’s where half of her band live as well as friends and family. “It’s basically my UK base when I come back for rehearsing and touring,” she says. “It’s been over a year since I was in Bristol – the longest stretch I’ve ever done without coming back – and it feels a bit weird. I miss it a lot. Bristol was where I did a lot of growing up, personally and musically. It was the first place I moved to when I left home and it’s where I started meeting other musicians and being brave enough to play music with people and do gigs.”

She’s written the song for local choirs, and is teaming up with Bristol Fantasy Orchestra which has a choir section. “I was really into the idea of writing a song with a mixture of people’s voices in mind. As the submissions are people’s own stories and viewpoints, it feels right that the song should be sung and played by many different voices. And I really think community music groups and choirs are so important to the ecosystem of any city and the wellbeing of its communities. Singing and playing music with people is good for you, and learning new things is good for you. It’s a total mental and physical and community health winner.”

For Kate, that’s the most beautiful part. “It’s brought to the people of Bristol an opportunity to contribute to a group community project; a creative outlet and a reason to share writing or thoughts or music. On a personal level, getting to use everyone’s contributions to write a song and be working on it with Bristol musical heroes Bucky is a total privilege. Hopefully we will do all the contributors justice! It’s nice to have one song that was basically written by everyone but trimmed into a shape by Joff and Simon and me. It’s a really nice kind of time capsule project; all of these stories and poems and songs fossilised in one joint song and shared performance that serves as a kind of bug in the amber of this year’s specific tree sap.”

What A Year! Poem by Kelly Smith

We have laughed, we have cried but we have all survived; produced some amazing work that deserves a high five. Infection deep-cleans in full PPE, wearing a mask and you struggle to see, you keep on going, even though you are hot, as you do it for the patients and you all care a lot.

We Actichlor the walls, we Actichlor the floor, even Frank the CEO had a go and – do you know what? – he wasn’t slow; with two domestics it was quite the show. Over 13,000 views he had, did you know?! Things are different and all very strange; in the future all this will change. We will have our team back together again, missing those who are home gardening, cleaning and baking to stay sane.

If we can deal with Covid-19 without breaking at the seams we can look back together and remember what a year it’s been, and look at our unit; it’s spotlessly clean, no dirt or dust to be seen.

What I am trying to say is thank you for a wonderful year; I think I could say it’s been the highlight of my career. Throw any job at the domestic team and we will pull together like a dream.

This time next year we will no longer fear, it will all come to an end and we can cheer. An amazing team back together again, learning about infection control from Helen and Jane. Putting out the clinical waste in the pouring rain, remembering you forgot the key and have to repeat it again.

In the team we have Aga, Ann, Billie, Chris, Carol and Georgia, not forgetting Leanne, Leah and Lorna. And next up we have Mandy, Sandra and Suzy too; we have myself, Lin, and Tina, all of which are amazing cleaners; Ralph and Steve to complete the team, together keeping St Peter’s clean.

Living Through Lockdown: What Coronavirus Means To Me Song by Reece Pennington-Field

All of a sudden I had stop going to school and I missed my friends and teachers; all of a sudden the news was talking about a deadly virus; all of a sudden I felt anxious about my Dads dying of the virus. I didn’t want people to die; I didn’t want my Dads to get poorly.

All of a sudden I had to do lots of school work at home; all of a sudden I couldn’t go out on my bike or walk to the shops; all of a sudden I had to speak to my social worker through Zoom.

And then, all of sudden, I realised things had changed for me and tried to look at the good things that this terrible virus made possible for me…

Routine has been important to me; I even know the exact time of tea. Spending more time with my family has meant the world; I’ve even helped my sisters hair get curled. I look forward to my Zoom school on most days; learning new things in a comfortable way. Becki, Laura and Chelsea have helped me grow; I’ll remember that forever, I hope you know. I’ve learnt to talk and open up; there are always times people cannot shut me up.

I have baked cakes, cooked meals, burnt fires and done puzzles; I’ve learnt to care for the dogs, give them treats and put on muzzles. I’ve stayed up late and watched lots of movies; I’ve chopped wood and crafted bird boxes. I’ve learnt about the war and celebrated VE Day; I even got dressed up and listened to war stories from Mavis, our elderly neighbour, the first week in May. I’ve realised that I manage family time better on Zoom than in person; and this has stopped my anxiety worsen.

But most of all the memories that I will always carry with me when I am older; that it’s thanks to the NHS and our heroes that the weight is off our shoulder. I’ve learnt to love my Dads even more and enjoyed the precious time we have spent together in lockdown; I’ve appreciated them more and realised that this is my forever home. I tell them every day that I love them and they put their arms around me, making me safe; that reassures me every minute they love me too. And one day in the not-too-distant future that Corona will come to an end; I can only wish I haven’t driven Mark and George round the bend. Me and my forever family will look back on these memories and value our thoughts; on the memories of lockdown, the lessons we have all learnt and many things we have been taught.

bristolbeacon.org/news; asongforus.org

The song by This Is The Kit and Bucky will be released on 23 March on the Sound UK website