Lois and I have spent a decade with (mostly older) people, talking about their accumulated life experience. Sometimes it seemed as if the past was made exclusively out of the 1930s and 40s and it happened to other people. Their faces got older, hair whiter as they moved into the human winter, and I watched. But my childhood in the 1960s is also long ago and now so are my 1980s, 90s, even the 2000s. As the numbers click away, I feel the need to touch some of what's gone, because it is still precious to me. Eventually, nobody is immune to the past.
During the 1980s and 90s, my sister Finella and I played music and made art, in a band called The Gingerbread Tree. You'll never have heard of them, because like a million other human projects, they were too little to be noticed. But now a publisher will put out a collection of the collages and so over 2014, Finella and I also began to dust off the recordings we'd made and started assembling them on YouTube as an online archive. You can dip into them as they gather over the year - we will put updates on this blog.
What surprised me was how powerfully they evoked time and place, as if they exhaled the oxygen of that past world. I was living in urban Manchester, while Finella was out in leafy Cheshire. The split between those two places can be heard in the music, torn between gentle folk and darker broken-edged songs. There's the sweetness of Long Drops of Rain, then the maddened urban energy of Whizz Kid.
What also surprised me was that the songs are so prescient of my work with arthur+martha. Long Drops of Rain and Huckleberry were both written about homeless people. Whizz Kid describes a breakdown linked to substance abuse. Cradle Days and Coronation Street are about the process of ageing...
Some of the pieces were used as film soundtracks and some were put out on a small label CD. Most haven't been heard for 15 years or more. What has been a particular delight has been inviting musicians and film-makers to get involved in the remixing and video-making - they've breathed newness into these little time capsules. Artist Dave Griffiths allowed a complete re-edit of his film Seer's Catalogue, which became the Whizz Kid video, while Matt Dalby shot a film especially for Huckleberry, using the interiors of abandoned buildings in Manchester.
Putting together The Gingerbread Tree material on YouTube is an ongoing project, that'll take us a year or so. As we do it, occasional updates will appear on this blog; The Gingerbread Tree YouTube channel and Facebook page. Alongside each video is a short piece of prose, telling the story behind the song. Lend us your ears, we'll be sure to return them.