Author Archives: absentvoices


Sugar Archive

McLean Museum & Art Gallery, 15 Kelly St, Greenock PA16 8JX
01475 715624
Saturday 22nd November – Saturday 20th December, 2014
Monday – Saturday, 10am-5pm
AN archive created by artists and musicians who have been exploring the heritage of Scotland’s once-mighty sugar industry is set to be handed over to the people of Inverclyde.
Sugar Archive, which opens at The McLean Museum and Art Gallery in Greenock on Saturday 22nd November, is the culmination of a year-long public art project chiefly inspired by the A-listed Sugar Sheds at James Watt Dock, Greenock.
The Absent Voices Sugar Archive is an actual and virtual collection featuring a range of mediums, from paintings to drawings, stained glass, photography, poetry, film, songs and soundscape. The collection, which includes new poetry reflecting the loss of the sugar industry by Scotland’s national poet, Liz Lochhead, will be formally handed over to the McLean Gallery curators when the exhibition ends on 20th December.
Artists involved in the Absent Voices collective are: Alan Carlisle, Alastair Cook, Alec Galloway, Ryan King, Yvonne Lyon, Kevin McDermott, Anne Mckay and Rod Miller.
The exhibition will highlight a broad range of work produced by the group as well as visual art, music and film-based imagery produced in collaboration with the wider community in Inverclyde.
The sugar industry shut up shop in Greenock in the late 1990s after more than 300 years continuous operation in the town.
Lead artist in this Heritage Lottery Funded (HLF) funded project, Alec Galloway, was inspired to create the project by his own family connections to the sugar industry in Greenock.
He said: “By focusing on the historic sugar sheds at James Watt Dock in Greenock, the artists have created a lasting archive of material for current and future generations to come.
“As well marking the importance of the sugar industry in Scotland, the archive shows a remarkable outpouring of creativity on the part of each and every artist involved.
“We have all been inspired and delighted by level of community participation in Absent Voices’ workshops and also the way in which the project has reached beyond Inverclyde. It’s been fantastic to see national figures such as Liz Lochhead, and fellow poet John Glenday get involved through the wonder of Alastair Cook’s innovative ongoing Filmpoem project.
“We worked with schools and community groups, conducted drawing and photography tours of the sugar sheds and songwriting workshops at the Beacon Arts Centre in Greenock.
“Through all these events, the level of interest in Absent Voices grew and grew. There was a real desire from the wider community to discover – or rediscover – the stories which surrounded sugar refining in Inverclyde. It re-enforced our feeling that it was important to create this archive.
“My family all worked in the sugar industry and it has been very moving for me personally to see this project unfold. One of the artworks I have created is a glasswork featuring my grandmother, Mary Galloway, who worked at The Glebe, a well-known sugar refining warehouse, in the 1920s.
“I’ve also been working on glass-works relating to my great-grandfather, Alexander Cochrane, who was killed when Walker’s refinery in Greenock took a direct hit during the Greenock Blitz of 1941.”
ALASTAIR COOK Photography and filmmaking
During the summer of 2014, award-winning artist, Alastair Cook, was artist-in-residence at Dutch Gable House in Greenock as part of Absent Voices. He was commissioned to create four projects for Absent Voices: Every Memory, Everything We Have Ever Missed, McArthur’s Store and three new films for Filmpoem.
He has also collected and curated the creative response to the sugar sheds in a new book, titled Absent Voices. This book shows the new work of a number of Absent Voices artists, alongside others who visited over the past year, with new poetry and writing by Scotland’s National poet, Liz Lochhead, as well as fellow Scots poets, John Glenday and Jim Carruth (Glasgow Poet Laureate), among others. The book will be available at the exhibition in the McLean Museum. Throughout October 2014, Alastair exhibited Every Memory at The Beacon Arts, unveiling In order to win, you must expect to win, a new series of documentary and portrait photography with Greenock Boxing Club, alongside new large format photography for Absent Voices. From September until November, he exhibited Everything We Have Ever Missed at Dutch Gable House, showing large format print photography for a book with accompanying work by poet, John Glenday. Alastair produced double exposure photographs made using 35mm film: there is no digital trickery, the film is sent through the camera twice, hiding the resulting images until processing. All this work was made in the Sugar Sheds; working with the poet in Greenock over a period of months. Limited numbers of the book will be available as part of the exhibition. To reflect Greenock’s origins as a fishing village, Alastair is also exhibiting McArthur’s Store at 6Art in Greenock, running concurrently with the Sugar Archive exhibition at the nearby McLean Museum. McArthur’s Store is a series of wet plate collodion tintype portraits of fishermen who work from McArthur’s Store, a creel store on the Old Harbour in the small east coast fishing town of Dunbar. This photographic process dates from 1851 and was used until the 1880s. Alastair was also commissioned to make three new films for Absent Voices: Alba, Greed and The Fishermen and the Weather Wife. These films will screen in Greenock at a special event to be announced.
ALEC GALLOWAY Glass artist and painter
Greenock-born Alec has a deep family connection with the sugar industry in his home town. An award-winning stained glass artist and lecturer in architectural glass, most of his glass creations develop from ideas taken from sketches and observational drawing. As part of Absent Voices he has looked at how the craft of traditional stained glass has declined as an expressive art form and contrasts the profile of stained glass in the 21st century with Victorian Scotland when the art form flourished. Alec hosted stained-glass workshops in Greenock in which participants were taken on an historical journey to observe windows in the town made by the finest exponents of the art-form; including Edward Burne Jones, William Morris and Gabriel Rossetti. His hands-on workshops went on to explore traditional glass painting techniques, with students creating their own works in the spirit of those important artists. He has also explored his own personal links to the sugar industry which employed most of his family from the 1900s onwards. This included researching the story of his great grandfather’s death while working at the Walkers refinery on the night of May 4th 1941 when Clydeside was targeted by German bombers during the blitz. Alec has unearthed images and stories relating to this incident and produced a very personal body of work  exploring themes linked to both family and the wider sugar trade. As well as creating works in glass and paintings, he has projected images shown directly on the interior walls of the sugar shed building.
Alan and Ryan, who play in The Alphabetical Order Orchestra together, began working on a soundscape for Absent Voices at the beginning of 2013. Focusing on the community, history and the trade that connects them, they set out to give the Sugar Sheds ‘a voice’.
Using the sounds of the building, the rhythms of the trade and lives of the people who passed through the doors (including Ryan’s grandfather, Jim King, who worked at the sheds), they have researched the sounds the building makes.
Ryan says: “We’ve taken sounds we’ve bounced around its walls and recorded them. We’ve interviewed and collected interviews with members of the community, and had discussions to understand what life was like around the dock and in the sugar trade. We enlisted the help of sound engineer and musician, Jim Lang, and another member of our band, Gary Deveney.
Together we formed an experimental and exciting group approach to writing and recording. We have recorded music in the studio and taken it to the Sheds and sent it out into the building and re-recorded it, used fusions of Caribbean and Celtic rhythms, and evoking moods and atmosphere though sound. Ultimately we hope to encapsulate the sound of the sheds to record the past, present and future of the building as a soundtrack, giving it a voice.”
YVONNE LYON Singer and songwriter
Greenock-based singer-songwriter, musician and teacher, Yvonne, has been busy writing new material based around the sugar industry while encouraging aspiring songwriters of all ages to make and create their own songs. Together with Anne Mckay and Kevin McDermott, she took part in a series of workshops with P5/6 at Whinhill Primary in Greenock throughout March/April 2014. The theme was The Folk Of The Sheds, bringing characters that would have worked in there in 1900s to life through songwriting and visual art. She said: “We have been encouraging imagination as a form of learning about the history of the sheds and touching on subjects such as the slave trade, trade triangle, working songs and folk songs of Africa, Scotland and the Caribbean. To date, five original songs, incorporating English, Gaelic and Scots have now been recorded with the P5/6’s as featured singers.” The children also showcased their songs at an Absent Voices pop up event at the Beacon to resounding success. In collaboration with fellow AV artist, Alastair Cook, Yvonne composed a Filmpoem score to poems by Angela Readman. She hosted songwriting workshops for the community throughout September to encourage songwriting as a form of uncovering stories related to the sugar industry; looking at working songs, slave songs, folk songs as forms from which to write. Compositions are also being recorded to form part of the archived work.
KEVIN MCDERMOTT Singer and songwriter
Born and raised in Maryhill, Glasgow, Kevin started working life as an apprentice with Yarrow Shipbuilders before signing to Island Records and going on to forge a successful career as a musician with his band, The Kevin McDermott Orchestra, and as a solo artist. His anthemic Voices (from 2008 album, Wise to the Fade) has become the theme song for Absent Voices as the year of creating the Sugar Archive progressed.
Currently working on an album of songs which draw inspiration from the global reach of the sugar industry, Kevin has played several gigs this year, including one with Pretenders guitarist, Robbie McIntosh as part of Celtic Connections 2014 in Glasgow, and at The Beacon Arts Centre in Greenock.
He has also performed at two primary schools, Whinhill and All Saints, both based in Greenock. At Whinhill, Kevin took part in songwriting workshops with fellow Absent Voices artist, Yvonne Lyon and Anne Mckay, while at All Saints, he was involved in a sugar inspired project which saw the pupils making ‘sugar loaves’ and creating murals.
Gourock-based Anne has collaborated with various community groups in Inverclyde, ranging from primary-aged children to the elderly.
Working with All Saints and Whinhill Primary Schools, through drawing and painting, children produced murals and 3d sugar loaves, investigating their heritage, through images and by looking at artists, Stanley Spencer and Joan Eardley, and depicting scenes relating to the sugar industry.
Together with with fellow AV members, Yvonne Lyon (and guest Kevin McDermott), the Whinhill project incorporated music and art as a means of describing the Folk of the Sugar Sheds.
Anne lead a number of Walking Drawing Tours of the Sugar Sheds with Rod Miller as well as hosting figure drawing, portrait classes at the McLean Museum, using their exhibition as source material.
Mural workshops were undertaken with Your Voices Community Care in Greenock. This group included middle-aged to elderly locals who have bee dealing with such issues as depression.
Anne also interviewed and drew 100-year-old Bertie, who worked in the sugar sheds as a boy. In her own own work for Sugar Archive, Anne is considering those who worked in the sugar industry and the processes involved in the refining process. Her work features the workers as spirits and their interaction with nature. She is also collaborating with poets,  who are writing poems based on her personal AV drawings.
ROD MILLER Painter and photographer
Together with fellow Absent Voices artist, Anne Mckay, Rod has worked with P6/7 pupils at All Saints PS in Greenock on a project in which the children made ‘sugar loaves’ from sugar paper and painted them with designs/stories/images.
The inspiration for this was a series of talks which he delivered on the history of sugar from its initial discovery, ensuing world wide trade and its implications for slavery and the effect it had on our local town.
Anne Mckay and Rod also led Walking and Drawing Tours of the Sugar Sheds at James Watt Dock, together and then separately. On these tours, Rod gave a talk on the history of the building and challenged the participants to record the building using different drawing techniques such as thumbnail sketches, line drawing, shadow drawing and full detailed drawing using graphite and charcoal.
Rod also held figure drawing classes with models posed and dressed based on historic photographs of sugar refinery workers. Various drawing techniques were used including line drawing speed drawing, with attention to perspective and body proportions.
He also led photographic tours in and around the sheds.
Rod has been working on a series of oil paintings as his personal contribution to the Absent Voices archive. Influenced by his research into the history of sugar story, these paintings have a surrealist narrative which talks out the less-than-savoury aspects of the sugar story.
The A-listed red-brick and cast-iron former sugar warehouse sits alongside Greenock’s Titan Crane at James Watt Dock, Greenock. A local landmark with its distinctive zig-zag exterior, it not been used for sugar-making since the 1960s.
Prince Charles is a known supporter of retaining it and even visited the building in 2002 to add his voice to a campaign to save it from demolition.
Despite several attempt to demolish it, and a fire which almost destroyed it in 2006, it is now wind and watertight.
The building was used as a venue during the 2011 Tall Ships Race, which opened many eyes to its potential as a space which could be used for public events. It was also used during part of Glasgow2014, the celebration of culture which ran alongside The Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this year.
Built between 1882 and 1886 to designs by Walter Kinipple, the 700-ft long sugar warehouse was constructed in four red-brick sections with arches and pilasters in yellow brick. It is recognised as an example of early industrial architecture, with an unusual feature of a colonnade of cast iron columns forming a sheltered unloading area next to the quayside. Currently owned by Clydeport, the warehouse operates as a storage facility in tandem with the James Watt Dock Marina. Absent Voices is supported by Heritage Lottery Fund, Inverclyde Council and Riverside Inverclyde. Colin McLean, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) in Scotland, said: “The sugar sheds of Greenock are a symbol of the central role the town once played in the world’s sugar industry, an industry which brought with it jobs, housing and economic prosperity. The Heritage Lottery Fund is delighted to be part of a project which brings the community together to explore, record and celebrate this important industrial heritage and the legacy that it leaves in the town today.”
Trade began between Greenock and the sugar exporting colonies of the West Indies around the early 1730s, but very little of what was imported stayed within the area. Glasgow had been refining sugar since the 1660s, and so much of what was brought ashore at Greenock and Port Glasgow was shipped up river by cart.
It is possible that there were a number of small refining industries operating in the area at this time. However, the first commercial refinery was not established in Greenock until 1765, at the foot of Sugar House Lane, close to where the Oak mall now stands. It was built by Mr Mark Kuhl, and employed just a handful of men. Other refineries quickly followed and by the 1820s there were at least eight operating in the area.
By the 1870s, there were 14 or 15 large refineries in operation, producing a quarter of a million tons annually and employing thousands. At this time, there was no town in the Empire, outside of London, carrying out the trade so extensively and Greenock earned the title of Sugaropolis, sugar capital of Scotland.
The sugar industry in Greenock came to an end when sugar giant, Tate & Lyle, closed its Westburn Refinery in 1997.
For further info contact Jan Patience on or Alec Galloway on
Alexanders Harp

Alec Galloway, The Artist

Read the first part of this two part article here. Alec Galloway works with glass. He works between architectural realms -installing glass in buildings and spaces and also gallery based work. One of his specialisms is the idea of trying to liberate glass from is architectural straightjacket which has lead him to produce sculptures that include stained glass. Totems. He refers to then as totems. These are usually set in the landscape and employ natural light as a means of bringing elements of time and life to the work. They also function as sculptural pieces and usually sited in places close to where the land meets the water. Alexanders Harp Alex’s focus will be to respond to the sugar sheds, the sugar industry and history in relation to Greenock through the medium of glass. He’s been looking at the impact that wealth had on Inverclyde through the era when sugar barons became extremely wealthy. One of their chosen indulgences was stained glass and Greenock still boasts a fine array of the best design in glass anywhere in the world. Alec plans to document this work in relation to unearthing hidden glass treasures. He is also exploring the works from the hands of glass masters like Stephen Adam, who was widely commissioned to produce work for the rich. Most of these works are unseen by the general public which gives them an added intrigue. Alec will be undertaking glass classes which look at these pieces and explore techniques of the glass masters who made them. Participants will be able to make their own works under supervision. In addition Alec hopes to also facilitate a series of Urban Sketching classes throughout Inverclyde. The end game is the production of a new creative archive that talks about the sugar heritage and the sugar shed building in a slightly different way. Alec enjoys the idea that this archive will stand as a creative response that one day future generations will look at and be given an insight into the people who inhabited the space and also the impact that sugar refining had on Scotland and the rest of the world. bomberThe community have responded positively to the project overall, especially those with links to the sugar industry. Some of the artists of the group have undertaken community classes and worked with local schools and some amazing work has been produced. A lot of satisfaction comes from working in schools  because all school aged children are of a generation now that know little of the industry. They find out why Jamaica Street is called Jamaica Street etc. Children love the idea that their little town has a much wider past when a spotlight is shone on things like this . The project also gives the elderly members of the community a focus and platform to share their wonderful stories and experiences. Talking about this ageing generation, Alec believes they get the most out of this project, ” they feel part of it because they have the knowledge that we as artists do not possess…. and they get great satisfaction from seeing a simple story somehow crystallise into a beautiful artwork or song or poem….”. Please keep checking back with the website to find out more information about Alec’s forthcoming classes with the community.  
Alec Galloway ©2013 Alastair Cook

Alec Galloway, The Project Co-ordinator

We are on journey now and the more we travel the more we will discover…. I finally managed to pin down Alec Galloway. Serving as the coordinator of the whole Absent Voices project as well as participating as an artist himself, no wonder it’s taken a while to be able to talk to him about the whole thing. But it was worth the wait. It was really interesting and enjoyable to talk with Alec and gain a deeper understanding of this multi-disciplinary creative arts project. Alec put this project, Absent Voices, together for several reasons.The first was probably due to his frustration at the lack of recognition for the sugar industry. He said that when most people think about Greenock, they think about shipbuilding failing to recognise the town’s reputation as a Sugaropolis. Greenock once boasted 19 separate refineries as well as being the birthplace of Abraham Lyle (Tate and Lyle). There are generations still living and working in Greenock who link back to the days when the industry was in bloom. nanny Alec’s family were all sugar people too. He was brought up in the East End of Greenock and had a close relationship with the docks and quays of Greenock as a boy. He would secretly play with his mates in the sheds; sliding down mountains of unrefined sugar, much to the dismay of his mother who would have to shake the sugar out of his hair, ears and clothes when he returned home! Alec feels very strongly that this project had to happen, needed to happen. He said,” The building has stood silent for too long and it was time to turn it inside out and tell the local community about its history…. “. Alec is not leaving things as they are now. Initially, when this all began, he thought it would be a one off project. But it has become clear, as the project has developed and more and more of the local community has gotten involved that the project has gathered its own momentum. Absent Voices has funding up to and including November 2014, but Alec is adamant that this is not the end. “We have to continue…the project must somehow get more funding for the next phase ….all of us agree that this is just the beginning so  ….onwards!”
The Herald 18/8/14.

Free Workshops from Absent Voices

Members of the public are being invited to take part in free workshops which draw on Greenock’s rich industrial heritage. For the last 10 months, the Inverclyde-based Absent Voices collective has been busy working on creating an archive which talks out the creative story of Greenock’s once mighty sugar industry. By focusing on the Sugar Sheds, the group is creating a permanent record of the sugar industry in words, pictures and song, which will culminate with an exhibition in Greenock’s McLean Gallery in November. The following free community events will take place under the banner of Absent Voices. • 11am-4pm, Saturday 30th August: FREE Figure Drawing Workshop at Greenock Art Club. Led by Rod Miller. • 7.30pm-9.30pm, Monday 8th, 15th, 22nd & 29th September: FREE songwriting workshops led by Yvonne Lyon at The Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock. Limited numbers but all ages and abilities welcome. All songs written at the workshops will be added to the Absent Voices archives Lead Absent Voices artist, Alec Galloway, said: “The tours and workshops are all free and open to anyone with an interest in drawing, photography or songwriting. “We supply all the materials and the feedback from past Absent Voices workshops has been extremely positive. This is a great opportunity to get creative and to get involved in an important project which is seeking to tell the story of sugar in Inverclyde.” You can sign up to the tours by leaving a message on, or emailing at or

Rod Miller

Greenock-based Rod Miller has worked as a professional photographer for over 20 years and runs the photography department at Glasgow Dental Hospital & School. He also teaches photographic techniques at the Glasgow and Edinburgh Post Graduate centres for dentistry. In the mid-1990s, Rod started painting again, returning to a passion which he had nurtured growing up in Greenock in the 1970s and 1980s. He was a key player in Watersongs, a project established in 2007 as a response to the changes in Inverclyde’s traditional industrial waterfront. Rod continues to be inspired by his surroundings, especially the history of his home town, the wider Inverclyde area and as the people within it.

Yvonne Lyon

Yvonne Lyon is an experienced singer-songwriter and teacher based in Greenock. She recently graduated with a Masters in Songwriting and Performance from the University of the West of Scotland. Her most recent album, These Small Rebellions, produced by Wet Wet Wet’s Graeme Duffin was Iain Anderson’s album of the week on his late night BBC Radio Scotland show and has received extensive play on national radio. Her music combines poignant lyrics with strong, creative melodies, demonstrating a voice that can be both fragile and intense. Yvonne has shared the stage with artists such as Patti Griffin, Karine Polwart, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Boo Hewerdine, Luka Bloom and Eddi Reader. She won the Burnsong International Songwriting Competition and subsequently sang her winning song, All Is Not Lost, at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. She has appeared on BBC 1, BBC Alba and has had two sessions with Bob Harris on BBC Radio 2.

About Absent Voices

Absent Voices has been devised to explore and preserve in words, pictures, song and sound, the legacy of Greenock’s once mighty sugar industry. According to lead artist, Alec Galloway, by telling the story of the sugar sheds, hopefully a fitting creative use will be found for this Category A-listed building. The artists are: Al Carlisle Alastair Cook Alec Galloway Ryan King Yvonne Lyon Kevin McDermott Anne Mckay Rod Miller This vast red-brick and cast-iron former sugar warehouse sits in the shadow of Greenock’s Titan Crane. A local landmark with its distinctive zig-zag exterior, it not been used for sugar-making since the 1960s. Prince Charles is a known supporter of retaining the former sugar warehouse and even visited the building in 2002 to add his voice to a campaign to save it from demolition. Absent Voices activities taking place include: • Working with local schools to educate and inform young people about the area’s history in sugar-making • Recreating physical markers of sugar making in the sheds – such as plaques and pillars – in glass • Songwriting workshops based around the songs sugar workers sang at work • Recording the ambient sound of the sheds and photographing former workers in the sheds using traditional wet plate photography. Built between 1882 and 1886 to designs by Walter Kinipple, the 700-ft long sugar warehouse was constructed in four red-brick sections with arches and pilasters in yellow brick. It is widely recognised as a prime example of early industrial architecture, with an unusual feature of a colonnade of cast iron columns forming a sheltered unloading area next to the quayside. Currently owned by Clydeport, the warehouse now operates as a storage facility in tandem with the James Watt Dock Marina. Absent Voices is supported by Heritage Lottery Fund, Inverclyde Council and Riverside Inverclyde It will culminate in November 2014 at an exhibition at The McLean Museum and Art Gallery in Greenock.
©Rod Miller 2014

Drawing Events 16th-17th August

Hello all you Absent Voice supporters. We are really please to announce the return of the Walking and Drawing Tours.

It’s been a few months due to events that have been going on at the Sugar Sheds such as the Commonwealth Games so we’re going to be holding a tour over a two day period to make up for it.

A wee change in the format will see those who have already been on the tours given the opportunity to do more complete drawings of their favourite views with their favourite drawing medium. Those who haven’t will be taken on the history tour as before. Drawing as you walk as you learn about this fascinating building. These tours are open to anyone with even a passing interest in drawing or learning to draw in one of the heritage rich sites in Inverclyde. The tours are free and all materials will be supplied. They will run on the 16th and 17th August from 12n – 4pm. Please sign up by sending leaving a message on Facebook, email or text message to: Email: Tel: 07765419421    
©Anne McKay

Anne McKay

Anne has been extremely busy with Absent Voices projects.  Here are some pictures taken at Your Voice Community Crae Mural project and at her recent drawing workshops.
©Sheree Mack

Al Carlisle

Al Carlisle, one of the eight artists involved in Absent Voices, was kind enough to give up some time to talk to me about his contribution to this project so far.
Alan Carlisle

Alan Carlisle

Al, working with fellow Absent Voices artist as well as band member Ryan King, plans to produce a soundtrack/soundscape that captures the ambience of the SugarSheds. They hope this piece will work to encompass the past, present and possible futures of these buildings.
They began by focusing mainly on the structure and the stories this might tell. Who knows where this could lead?
They could create a vast sonic landscape, a soundtrack to the building. This soundtrack could captures the history and feel of the building from the workers and the community’s point of views dating from the era of mass production right down to its decline. Their sound piece could possibly get down to the real nitty-gritty of exploring the actual brickwork of the sheds. Nothing is ruled out at this stage.

Both Al and Ryan have spent time at the sheds recording as much as possible inside. They hope to get more recordings which involve the general ambience of both inside and outside of the buildings. Just using a sensitive hand held recorder at this stage can pick up frequencies of sound imperceptible to the human ear.  From standing in the doorways of the sheds, sounds picked up include the wind and rain battering down on the roof, boats’ riggings rattling alongside the marina, and the building itself singing as the wind cuts through it.
©Sheree Mack

©Sheree Mack

Al aims to write, play and record a composition of sorts, which fits in with the
building.  Along side the actual structural sounds and notes,  Al and Ryan have been recording interviews with members of the local community, such as past workers and individuals linked in some way to the sugar industry of Greenock.  Through these interviews,  they hope to capture the impression of what the sheds were like in full flow in its heyday but also the feel for them during the state of decline and eventual closure. How was the community affected when their life source was severed?
The community response has been great, as Al and Ryan have witnessed the eagerness of individuals to lend their voices, views and stories. This participation has really supported their efforts and work so far.

The next step for this duo of artists is to have their first session with a engineer/producer Andy Miller. Andy has a great reputation, having worked with bands such as Mogwai,
Arab Strap, Songs: Ohio, amongst others.  Both Ryan and Al have worked with Andy before and know that he is up to the job of capturing and producing what is required.

Within their plans is taking the sounds captured from the buildings, the contribution from the community and adding to them guitars, drums, synths, piano, percussion, spoken word and anything else they think will work with them. At the moment, there are very few constraints within this part of the project allowing the creative process to take over and see where it leads.

It all sounds very exciting and we look forward to hearing pieces in progress as well as the final piece in November. Thank you Al for sharing your thoughts about your part within the Absent Voices project.  
Figure Drawing II with Rod Miller

Drawing Event – Saturday 5th July

Following on from the success of his first drawing class, Absent Voices artist Rod Miller will be holding the second of three drawing classes at the Greenock Art Club, The Stables, Gourock Park, Gourock. The classes which are free, are very informal and are open to anyone of any skill level that is interested in drawing, the history of the local sugar industry, or just getting out the house for a while and doing something different. All materials and refreshments will be supplied free of charge, so you need only bring your enthusiasm and sense of fun with you :) Places are limited to around a dozen-and-a-half-ish-or-so. To book your place send Rod a message here or email or text 07765419421. See you there!! You can listen to Rod speaking to Inverclyde Radio here.
Yvonne Lyon

Yvonne Lyon

” I reckon the kids have learned more about the history of their local community in 4 songs and a mural or art than any textbook or lecture. Not only that, as they paint those lives into being and sing the songs, they live the characters a wee bit themselves!” Strong, inspiring words from Yvonne Lyon as we talked about her involvement with the Absent Voices project. Yvonne is on board as a singer songwriter with the project mainly exploring the role of ‘work songs’. These ‘work songs’ are not only beautiful but also cover a whole range of genres when it comes to songs and music. A piece of music sung while carrying out a working task, usually repetitive, back-breaking work, these songs not only detailed the work, maybe included a narrative but were also used to keep the field hands, factory workers and slaves moving in the process. Yvonne is very much interested in process as she adopts a flexible approach to what she individually as an artist will produce at the end of the Absent Voices project.  As she said herself, “I’m allowing the process to guide the product. I am much more interested in the processes going on. I am extremely interested in how we can enter into the process of making art to re-imagine the sugar industry: the legacy good and bad. Re-imagining is important for me. I am keen to help people see through song. The process of writing a song can open up your eyes and ears to so much more than just reading about history and really does bring aspects to life for people, whether it’s in the act of writing or listening.”
Yvonne, Nicole and Kevin at Whinhill Primary ©Anne McKay

Yvonne, Nicole and Kevin at Whinhill Primary ©Anne McKay

So far Yvonne has worked with Whinhill Primary School, to write and record four songs. She is also on board to compose the music for three filmpoems with Alastair Cook. In terms of further local community involvement, Yvonne is keen to engage with local choirs, offering songwriting and performance workshops, hoping to culminate in some sort of performance in the Sugar Sheds themselves.

Yvonne’s practice from the beginning has been to embrace the collaborative aspect of this project and pursue a cross pollination of disciplines. For example, very quickly Anne McKay and Yvonne sparked an idea to work together at Whinhill bringing together visual art and songwriting in one mini project. It has been fantastic so far and extremely inspiring. They’ve  worked with P4/5 throughout March for two hours a week, splitting a group of 40 pupils in half. They gave them four characters to bring to life through visual art and song, people who would have worked in the sheds around 1900. Anne’s group would decide what they looked like, wore, their environment and they Yvonne’s group would decide what voice to give them. So through this collaboration, they have literally given these Absent Voices a face and voice. The pupils loved both aspects. They’ve written songs based on Gaelic Waulking songs fused with African Slave songs and spirituals, canons (songs in a round), jigs and laments with Gaelic lyrics.
There was a taster of their creations as six of the children sung their very own songs at the pop up event at The Beacon last month. The audience were in awe! Some education people who were there suggested rolling out the project out as a fuller educational initiative! From this, Yvonne hopes to record the children singing with fully produced arrangements of the songs.

The collaborative aspect is so exciting within the group, whether it is composing for Film and poetry with Alastair, recording vocals for Al and Ryan or working with Rod and Kevin, they seem to spark off each other. The pop up event was a real ‘high’ for that. They were beginning to see how each artist of the project was responding to the subject. Creativity begets creativity.

Yvonne recently toured with Eddi Reader. This was a very significant moment in Yvonne’s career to be part of this tour. “So many tiny and massive moments of meaning that an artist can wait a lifetime to experience, ” were part of this experience says Yvonne. However, she has enjoyed coming back to Greenock and realising that she is part of a community of artists, who work and support each other.  These artists operate within and for he local community also.

The final words from Yvonne are, “Community responses have been fantastic (as above) but we need to get the word out more. We have such a wealth of artists in Inverclyde and amazing stories to tell. I really hope we can just keep building relationships and ideas and that AV will be a catalyst for more.”