“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.

 

 

A winner amongst winners

They’ve only gone and done it again!

Louis Beckett and his volunteer team at The Miners Arts and Music Centre in Moston has not only won the Community Project of the Year Award at Manchester’s Be Proud Awards but also scooped the Pride of Manchester Award 2017 too, presented to the winner of winners.

“On the night it didn’t really hit me,” Louis tells me. “But a few days later I’m thinking, this is big.”

“It is big,” I say, “and congratulations.”

Earlier this year I wrote about the amazing work Louis and his team have done bringing this old miners’ washrooms back into life for the community. In an area where facilities are sparse, The Miners has provided a venue for community groups to flourish.

“We’ve done it from nothing, haven’t we?” reflects Louis. “We’re bringing people together, I can see that now.”

“It’s not as if you’re motivated by profit, are you?” I suggest. “You’re motivated by other things.”

Those other things, for Louis, include his belief in social justice. Only last week I attended a sell-out fundraising event featuring Ken Loach, the acclaimed film director of social documentary films like the recent I, Daniel Blake that was screened in the Centre’s own cinema on the night. All the profits from that event went to the critical work of the Salford Unemployed & Community Resource Centre.

“I’m keen to bring people together,” says Louis. “Rather than being sat at home watching the telly, I’d like people to come here, have a cheap beer or brew and have a chat with someone. I think we do that well.”

When The Miners first opened they hosted Barbara Shaw’s Creative Community, and still do. “And we’ve got a dance group that started small and now has 30-odd kids coming on two nights a week.”

The events they’ve hosted range from cooking sessions to Zumba classes. They’ve been home to Contact Theatre’s cultural entrepreneur programme and followed that with a sewing academy and fashion show. There’s a kids’ drama group, a new fine arts group, all on top of a popular series of gigs and social events.

“You must be feeling pretty good about this,” I suggest.

“I am now,” says Louis.

This isn’t the first time the great work of The Miners as been recognised. Last year Louis lifted the Forever Manchester gong for Most Inspirational Project. No doubt the two new trophies will join this one alongside the homemade meat pies in the café’s display cabinet.

Well done Louis and all at The Miners.

Check out The Miners Facebook page for events and updates.

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From fabrication engineer to community hub hero

“This one’s got bits of chorizo and smoked cheese,” says Louis showing me one of his pies in the community café. “It’s a bit misshaped, but it’s all there. Very rustic.”

Louis Beckett has been running The Miners Community Arts and Music Centre for nearly seven years.

Back in the day this single-story building off St Mary’s Road was a washroom for the local pit. Then it became a working men’s club until it closed in the early 90s.

Louis has in fingers in so many pies, I’m finding it difficult to pin him down. “As well as running this place, you’re also an artist, aren’t you?”

“I like being creative in whatever I do,” he says, pulling the pie-heater away from the kitchen wall so he can clean it. “Even with my cooking. But I have to do all sorts running this place. One minute I’m the cellar man, the next I’m taking bookings for gigs.

“But I do like to think of myself as an artist, although by trade I’m a welder, a fabrication engineer.” I must have pulled a puzzled face. “I know, it’s a bit weird.”

“I loved art as a kid. I started off at St Thomas More School in Miles Platting before I moved to the High School of Art in Cheetham Hill. That was great. It was much more creative than it was academic.

“When I was 12 or 13 I had a job as a butcher’s boy for Yates’s Butchers on Tib Street, next to the Wine Lodge. When I turned 16, the butcher – Norman Dixon – offered me a full time job.

“Really I wanted to be an architect but my dad said no, I had to get a ‘proper job’ rather than go on to college and university. I didn’t want to be a butcher so I went looking for another job. Bolton Brady Industrial Doors and Shutters in Ancoats was taking on apprentices and I went there and learnt the bench. Engineering was a semi-skilled job and I loved fabricating with metal.”

“Were you annoyed with your dad for not letting you follow your passion?”

“I suppose so, but that’s parents, isn’t it?”

“When Bolton Bradys shut down I got a series of jobs in small fabrication workshops, a few years at a time, until they shut down and I was laid off.

“In my 30s I went back to college and did A-levels in Fine Art and Design. And then I applied to Huddersfield University to do a BA Honours degree in Fine Art.

I took just three paintings to the interview and sat and talked to the people on the panel. They listened to what I had to say, looked at my work and said, right, you’re in. “But I couldn’t afford to go. It was full time for three years. So I went back into fabrication for another five years.”

continued in: The Miners: an oasis in a desert of closed venues and dwindling resources

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