Hello, I’m Scott Johannsson. I have the pleasure to be working on this (quite intimidating!) project, which takes me back to my young life growing up in Erdington…
We moved to Perry Common when I was around 7 years old, in 1977. The year of the Queen’s Jubilee. I remember street parties, and it was generally very 70’s back then.
We came from Edinburgh, and I had a thick Scottish accent- people in shops used to comment, and get me to ‘say things’ so they could hear my brogue. Kids at school weren’t quite as nice, but at least creative- I ended up with lots of nicknames, ‘Haggis’ probably the most amusing.
My ‘real’ surname is Johnston, and I used to amuse myself by coming up with an imaginary list of about 13 ridiculous Scotch middle names, writing them out on the blackboard whenever the other kids teased me about where I was from- you know, ‘MacDougal, McTavish, Rabbie, Campbell…’ etc. And I used to feel better, because it seemed like the idiots believed me.
I don’t think I ever felt like I really belonged in Birmingham, which might be why I’ve always had a great interest in (and empathy with) the wide mix of cultures and ethnicities which make up the city. And the music and art which they have brought with them.
I’m really excited to have been chosen by for-Wards and Flatpack Projects to represent the Erdington district in this city-wide project. Although my parents still live in Perry Common and I visit regularly, I’m not really in touch with what’s happening in the district since I moved from Stockland Green/Slade Road in the mid-90s. Its great to have a reason to meet new people there, who all have their own experiences, opinions and cultural backgrounds.
My approach to the sound recording and composing sessions involves exploring these aspects, both in terms of local and personal history.
As a composer, a tag which I would never apply to myself really, I’m expanding the brief of the project a bit to encompass other areas in which I like to work- including photography, filmmaking, drama, experimental and electronic music and working with outdated technology and/or archive materials. All of these elements will come into play, I hope, in working together to create a piece, one which represents something of our shared experiences of Erdington.
Most exciting to me is the groups themselves, hand-chosen by me and the for-Wards team to suit best the approach which I’m taking.
Stockland Green History Group – was started in August 2014, based at Highcroft Community Centre on Slade Road. They are an informal group who meet once a month, to discuss…local history! Immediately upon meeting the group back in October, at a session attended by 25+ members and including a terrific talk by a local resident about growing up there in the 40s-50s, I was very keen to work with them. Their interest in both the past and the local buildings of historical interest was a perfect fit for what I had in mind, not to mention that their membership is wonderfully diverse and incredibly enthusiastic. We’ll be doing our first session together on the 20th and I can’t wait.
PEA Welcome Centre/Cafe – has been situated on Erdington High Street for the last two years, and is run by the Polish Expats Association, as well as being connected to CENTRALA arts space in the city centre. Although there were not any existing groups at the centre, once I’d met with the fantastic staff and chattec through things, I was determined we could create a group. The centre is both a lovely warm space for anyone to drop in for lunch or a coffee and cake, as well as an advice centre for the local Polish community. I’ve always had a fascination with Eastern European culture and arts, and saw an opportunity with the Welcome Centre to perhaps provide some provision for local residents to get involved in a creative project- one in which they could explore their cultural and geographic heritage as well as their current surroundings. The group for the first session this month was mainly (but not exclusively) made up of Polish residents, and we had a great time using the Welcome Centre’s meeting room to chat, get to know each other and plot our sound recording task. We recorded conversations on the High Street, different ambient atmospheres such as a rainy graveyard and a betting shop, and were privileged to be allowed to play on the organ at St Barnabus church! Each of us, mostly non-musicians but with a couple of keen amateurs, took turns to explore the organ with it’s ‘stops’ and different sounds, improvising a 5-10 minute piece of music…it was incredible. I was thrilled to see that everyone, even the most shy amongst us, was willing to have a go. One of our group is a young girl who speaks almost no English, and was particularly apprehensive about ‘just trying it’ when it came to the complicated-looking organ. It was the highlight of my day when she took the plunge, giving us a fascinating piece of improvisation (from someone who had never played an instrument before). The vicar of the church, Freda, was incredibly hospitable and friendly, and allowed us to have fun/record each other whilst the people in the adjacent cafe were probably wondering what kind of service/recital was going on around them!
Chivenor Primary School (Year 4) Tyburn – is a superb school in the Castle Vale area, and I’m really looking forward to starting work with the children in the coming weeks, I have lots of interesting tasks planned for them involving improvising music along with animation, doing research into local/family history and basically using their imagination lots!
I am still in the process of confirming the participants for the Kingstanding ward, which should be very soon- sadly, it didn’t quite work out with a group at Perry Common Library, who seemed really enthusiastic but very difficult to contact! I would have loved to work there, since that was my local library as a kid and I spent many many hours there, mostly in the beautiful wood-panelled reading room which is still there, even though the rest of the building has been fully modernised. But there’s nothing to stop us going there and recording the sounds of shuffling pages, or people trying to stifle coughs/whispering to each other.
My next post here will include some photographs, which I need to dig out of my ‘archives’ and scan in – as a photographer, I’ve kept all of my prints (even from waaaay back) in a large trunk, and this includes all of my amateur snaps from the time I was growing up in Erdington. I want to contrast some of those photos with more recent (digital) ones, and also include images contributed by the participants. Although the project is very much sound and music focussed, I will be deliberately provoking us all to consider different media and forms as inspiration in our work together.
Scott Johannsson, Feb 15th