They call it their passion project

“Moston and Harpurhey have had such negative headlines in the media,” says Josh, “we’re determined to give a voice to local people and show how powerful this community really is.”

I’m sitting in the back room of The Miners Community Arts and Music Centre with young filmmakers Josh Wilkinson and David Hall, aka Modify Productions. They’re telling me about the documentary they’re making about many of the community groups in this area.

“We don’t want to put our own spin on the film,” adds David. “There’s nothing about us in it. It really is a project by the community, for the community.”

As a photographer and writer, I’ve done a few passion projects myself: self-initiated pieces of work about a subject you feel strongly about. Because no one is paying you have the creative freedom to do what you like. Hopefully prospective clients like your approach and commission something themselves.

“Have you found anything that’s surprised you while you’ve been making the film?” I ask.

“I’ve grown up in Moston and hadn’t appreciated how much positivity there is about,” says Josh. “I can get the bus into town, look out on a grey day, and not realise how many little hubs of goodness there are about the place.”

Only just into their twenties, these two have known each other since they were 12. They were both in front of the camera before deciding to make a career of being behind it.

“We used to go to an acting class in Manchester together,” says Josh, “although my very first theatrical experience was with Moston’s MAD Theatre company up the road.”

David studied performing arts and was part of the National Youth Theatre in London. “It was only a couple of years ago that I started to branch out into media,” he says. “I just bought a camera and taught myself through books and videos on YouTube.”

I’m impressed. “You’ve learnt all your technical expertise from YouTube?”

“Pretty much, yes,” he says. “A few years back you’d have no alternative but to go to film school to get access to all the expensive cameras and editing suites. But now the technology is accessible and there’s a wealth of information online.

“There are still good reasons for going to university but the reasons are more to do with networking and making contacts.”

“And tell me about the name,” I ask. “Why are you called Modify Productions?”

“We came up with some obvious names for a film production company but, when we researched them, they were all taken,” says Josh. “We want to shake things up a bit, do it differently and the name came from that really.”

Josh and David are certainly clued up and I’m convinced they’re going to make a success of their production company. Already they’ve completed some promotional films for commercial clients and even won a competition for a short horror film. While they’re getting started they both still have part-time jobs but already have an eye on the future.

“In a few years time we’d like to be working on Modify full time,” says David, “maybe have an office in town and a group of creative collaborators around us. But we’d still be making our passion projects…”

“So when can we expect to see your Moston and Harpurhey film?”

“It’ll be premiered in March, just across the way,” says Josh, pointing to the Moston Small Cinema on the other side of the bar, “but we haven’t set a date yet. We’ve got a few weeks of editing yet, working out how it all fits together.”

As I switch my tape recorder off, Josh and David turn the tables. David sets up as I’m sat in front of an impressive-looking video camera, Josh fixes up some lights and within minutes I too am a subject for their documentary.

“So,” asks David, “what has struck you about Moston and Harpurhey as you’ve been writing the Another Music blog?”

What is Moston Brook?

The boring answer: it’s a fast-flowing stream, running from the confluence of the Bower and Holebottom Brooks, in Chadderton and Hollinwood, down through Failsworth and Moston. Then, close to Newton Heath, it is swelled by the Dean Brook and flows on south-westward, along the Harpurhey border, to join the River Irk at Collyhurst. There, now you know.

But, to a ten-year-old growing up in New Moston in the early 1960s, the brook and its surroundings was a land of adventure. A place to meet friends and exercise the imagination, in deserts of sand near the old brickworks, jungles of knotweed, alien landscapes of the ‘white hills’ and rugged, cratered flatlands and hillocks beside the stream.

Moston Brook and the White Hills, east of Belgrave Road, in November 1970

We would make dens among the rowan and hawthorn (ouch), search for newts and frog-spawn, explode the Himalayan balsam seed-pods, or build dams of clay, stones and broken bricks, to be washed away by the next rain.

Heavy rain saw the brook in furious spate, swelling to river-size, flattening grass either side and sometimes sweeping fallen tree-trunks and other debris downstream. And the steep valley sides, with grassy flats below, were perfect for sledging, in winter snow.

Nearby was the Rochdale Canal, then disused but remarkably weed-free and still capable of floating the odd home-made raft, or supplying tiddlers caught with a net or (for the more dextrous) a bent pin strung from a piece of bamboo. Close to Wrigley Head canal bridge, sports fans could watch the occasional inter-works match on Ferranti’s football field, or peep over the fence on the opposite side of the path, where the same firm had bowling greens and a tennis court, between the canal and the railway.

Wrigley Head canal bridge, facing north, from the path between the canal and the brook, September 1982

Ever in the background, off-setting the meanderings of the brook, the railway ran atop its almost straight embankment between Failsworth and Hollinwood, crossing the canal near the bowling club.

Steam engines had given way to diesel, for the local passenger services from Manchester to Oldham, Royton and Rochdale, but there were still frequent goods trains to interrupt play from time to time. Often of thirty or forty wagons, these carried coal to Ferranti’s and mills in Chadderton and Shaw, as well as Higginshaw Gas Works. There was also steel stock to engineering works in Hollinwood and Werneth, and a seemingly endless procession of parcels trains to and from Oldham’s Clegg Street depot.

Then on summer Saturdays, of course, came the lengthy holiday excursion trains and Wakes specials, each invariably headed by an express steamer.

The railway was a reminder that industry, with its attendant waste and pollution, was never far away. The brook would occasionally display one of a rainbow of colours, from dye-works upstream in Hollinwood.Moston Brook with Belgrave Road in the background, May 1974. The valley here was known as ‘Morris Clough’ up to the nineteenth century.

Wrigley Head and Ivy mills were in use as a plumbers’ merchant and mail-order warehouse. The Springfield Laundry belched steam near the canal lock and the remains of Hardman Fold brickworks stuck through the grass on the west side of Hale Lane, its huge and deep clay-pits still lurking behind, partly filled with muddy water (a potential trap for the unwary).

Close to these, the pig farm vitiated the summer air with its unmistakeable perfume. The district had long been a curious mixture of the rural, industrial and suburban, all cheek-by-jowl. Despite patches of tipping and strange sticky substances leaching down the hillsides (some themselves formed from industrial waste), the brook valley and adjoining area was still a haven for wildlife, dog-walkers, anglers – and, of course, children.

No computers, no smartphones, but how could anyone be bored, with all that on offer?

 

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“Let’s get together and feel alright”

“Sopranos, on the count of three. One, two, three….Every little thing is going to be alright….

Altos get ready…and three…Every little thing is going…

Tenors, two, three…Every little thing….”

Tosin, the choir’s Director, clicks the rhythm with her fingers and they all follow her lead. When she’s happy it’s time to stand up and give it their best.

“One love, one heart, let’s get together and feel alright”

“Louder, sopranos, and…” The air vibrates with the volume. I feel privileged to be there.

It’s Monday evening and I’m at a workshop for Amani Creatives Community Choir.  They line the edges of the practise room. They’d started with breathing exercises and musical scales followed by an African song. It sounded rich and rhythmical.

Three musicians support them. I cannot play an instrument or read music so, to me, what they do is nothing short of magic. Tosin communicates with them using just a few notes or hand signals and they make slight adjustments to the rhythm or pitch that to her make all the difference.

At the break I get chance to speak to the choir’s Creative Producer Emmanuela Yogolelo to find out more.

“We’ve been together since May” she tells me. “The idea came about following last year’s winter festival. We felt the community should be actively involved so we handed out fliers and talked to people to see if they were interested in singing or even listening to music.

A choir is a great way to get people out and socialising and we want it to reflect the diversity in our community regardless of age, gender, nationality or ethnicity so that everyone is represented”.

I comment on the songs I’d heard them practise so far as they’re all different.

“We sing in different languages and a range of songs including African, reggae, jazz and popular songs like Oasis. It’s a varied just like our membership. We want to appeal to as wide an audience as possible.

The musicians are professional African so there is no denying the African influence in some of the arrangements. It’s important for the development of the choir to get used to working alongside them”.

There was hardly a spare seat in the practise room so I ask what will happen if they expand.

“We’d have to use the main hall upstairs although it would cost more.

We’ve been lucky enough to receive funding from Forever Manchester. Securing funds to meet our costs is a big challenge. If successful, we aim to develop the choir to the next stage, improve performance quality, hopefully perform locally at events and build up a good reputation.”

The practise session is about to restart so we re-join the rest of the choir. I stay a while and listen to ‘Mary Did You Know’. It sounds lovely and so infectious that I join in – just can’t stop myself!

If you want to hear them too, join them at their Christmas Concert on Saturday 23 December at 4pm in the Simpson Memorial Hall, 361 Moston Lane, Moston. It’s free and everyone is welcome.