The Radical Luddites
The Radical Luddites are a Tang Hall SMART CIC community ensemble instigated by Musication members in York, UK.
At a glance:
Project duration: 1.5 years*
With: Tang Hall SMART CIC
Who: 8 adults across project
When: weekly sessions at SMART, York
*1.5 years indicates my PhD research engagement with The Radical Luddites.
The Radical Luddites was developed in response to a request from Musication members to play as a group and to explore genres that were not customary for Musication sessions. One Friday afternoon on arrival to Musication, Bob a Musication member, approached me and said “I’ve got a job for you. Are you in good singing voice?”. In response to this invitation, and with an intuitive feel (perhaps ingrained through my approach to community music facilitation, whereby saying ‘yes’ is a core part of practice emergent through ‘hospitality’ as an invoking of the practical meaning of community in the work of community musicians (Higgins, 2012)), I said yes, without knowing anything about the call beyond ‘job for you’ and ‘singing’. The job was to sing The Girl from Ipanema alongside a small group of Musication members that were rehearsing instrumental parts for this track to play at The Orb’s Feva festival (for further description of this critical incident see The Start: I've got a job for you).
Performing at Feva galvanised a sense of buzz and potential for the group to grow. With a forthcoming opportunity to perform at York Barbican later that year, and since I was able to volunteer additional time to Tang Hall SMART CIC (THS) afforded through my PhD studentship, through conversation with THS director Sue Williamson a regular weekly slot emerged for past and present Musication member ensemble work. Members of The Radical Luddites attended this additional weekly session, which supported their development as a band.
Why this project for PhD study?
To my recollection I had never worked on a project that was so visibly participant-instigated. I was keen to research through music-making with this group since its inception was borne through an act of responsiveness, with palpable scope for music-making to be embedded in responsive approaches, and moreover during this period of my study, responsiveness was an emergent theme of the inquiry. Sue had suggested that the group be supported by THS staff member Graham Rogers. This enriched the rationale for the project’s inclusion in the research. At the start of my engagement with THS Sue and I had discussed Musication’s specific project focus to support participants to become facilitators, and its connection to my research interest in the role of the facilitator and the interrelationship between participant and facilitator in creative music-making contexts. Since Graham is a former THS participant that is developing his role as facilitator with the support of THS, I was particularly keen to explore co-facilitation with him. At this stage of the group’s set-up I also had an interest in co-facilitation as a possible line of inquiry for the research within the context of community music creative collaborative music-making as joint endeavour. There is a messiness about PaR and research in community contexts (for discussion see Haseman & Mafe, 2009; Leavy, 2015). In my work with The Raddical Luddites and other PaR settings I have found the process of undertaking research to shape its direction. This pathway through inquiry is not a neat route, rather stages of research are entangled.
Analyse = Findings
As Morwenna Griffiths explains, “They [stages of research] evolve, often mutually affecting each other, and, indeed, do not become finally stable until the research is completed… In some arts-based, practice-based research, the focus only becomes clear towards the end of the process” (Griffiths, 2010, p.169). The Radical Luddites offered a particular entanglement whereby the inquiry and group shaped each other through responsiveness and interplay. Finally, the group’s interest in becoming a band connected to my research interest regarding collaboration in socially-engaged music-making contexts.
“ […] cos if you’re on your own strumming at home on guitar with only a song you think this’ll never be good enough. But it’s like what Tim said, you get a band together and it actually takes a whole different life doesn’t it” (Malcolm, May 2018)
The Burnholme Bossa Nova Band with Bob
The Bad Bargain Band
The Radical Luddites
The Radical Luddites (formerly The Burnholme Bossa Nova Band with Bob, and then The Bad Bargain Band before landing on the current name) attended the weekly community ensemble sessions at THS. Facilitated by Graham and I, these weekly sessions would begin with group improvisation, followed by group discussion to determine the focus and approach for that week, which would usually lead to working on two tracks (devising material, structures and rehearsing) with a short tea break in the middle of the session. Through discussion, rather than write tracks collaboratively as a group, members were keen to lead on their own songs whereby contributions from others in the group supported development of their initial ideas. This allowed for participant ownership of material and process, and participant leadership as members took increasing responsibility to direct the shaping of their tracks in connection to input from group members.
a title encapsulating the genre that gave the group its initial momentum, alongside recognition for band member Bob who brought The Girl from Ipanema to the group as a starting point.
In recognition of THS’s location on Bad Bargain Lane, York.
Inclusion to group sessions was supported through participant-centred practice. Breakout sessions, provision of notated materials or recordings and other working practices were tailored to support the inclusion of members at different stages in their music-making - for example instrumental technical facility, ensemble skills and openness to creating through collaborative processes. Alongside weekly music-making sessions, performances were a key driver for the group. Members articulated that whilst they enjoyed the creative process they wanted something tangible to aim for. During the research period The Radical Luddites performed at York Barbican, York Festival of Ideas, The Centre @ Burnholme and Orb’s FEVA festival 2017 & 2018. I also led a conversation session with the group with the dual aim of discussing their understanding of our music-making together and to ascertain member ideas regarding the band’s future directions.
Reflection for PhD PaR settings is made available through critical incident discussion within this online portfolio and the exegesis. Here, I offer some brief points specific to The Radical Luddites. Over fourteen months into the project, the question of band or collective presented a ‘persistent troubling’ (Hughes & Lury, 2013) in my practice with this group. During this period, members increasingly identified as a band and with growing confidence and experience, some in the group were keen to launch The Radical Luddites as a gigging band beyond THS. Whilst the aim of community music activity may be to empower participants to be agents of their own change, through ownership and agency over their music-making, this raises important questions such as – how should participants be supported towards independent music-making? Moreover, when making music with vulnerable participants that may have multiple, profound and sustained needs, what might be the possibility for and consequences of continued engagement? Is there a point where intervention must come to an end? And how can these questions be addressed with careful management of participant expectations?
Figure 1 @Publicdomainphotos, Dreamstime Stock Photos
The question of band or collective was also a persistent troubling with regards to group membership inclusion and exclusion. Identification of The Radical Luddites as a band was perhaps to the detriment of weekly sessions that were open to all. Whilst we had some newcomers to the group they did not stay for long. For discussion see critical incident Identifying as a band.
Griffiths, M. (2010). Research and the Self. In M. Biggs, & H. Karlsson (Eds.), The Routledge Companion to Research in the Arts (pp. 167-185). Routledge.
Haseman, B., & Mafe, D. (2009). Acquiring Know-How: Research Training for Practice-led Researchers. In H. Smith, & R. T. Dean (Eds.), Practice-led Research, Research-led Practice in the Creative Arts (pp. 211-228). Edinburgh University Press.
Higgins, L. (2012). Community Music: in Theory and Practice. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199777839.001.0001
Hughes, C., & Lury, C. (2013). Re-turning feminist methodologies: from a social to an ecological epistemology. Gender and Education, 25(6), 786–799. https://doi.org/10.1080/09540253.2013.829910
Leavy, P. (2015). Method Meets Art: Arts-Based Research Practice. The Guilford Press.