© 2017 by 8digitalPRWeb for Absent Voices

yvonne lyon//

"blessed are the poor, the silenced and the scarred, for there will come a time our voices will be heard" 

“For Absent Voices I was asked to explore the role of 'work songs'.  I discovered that many 'work songs' were not only beautiful and memorable but also covered a whole range of genres and themes.”

 

THE SWEETEST FREEDOM - LIBERATED IN SONG

Singing was allowed.  Nothing else was permitted in the plantation, but music was not only allowed, it was encouraged.  For slaves, the unbearable back breaking tasks and the cruelty of the overseers was somewhat temporarily diminished with song.  Rhythmic sounds and words, often in a call and response delivery, helped to regulate the pace of the manual labour.  They had no freedom to speak of in any sense, but somehow in singing they were liberated.

But singing was much more than a mere metronomic activity to increase productivity.  It was a way to free the mind from constraints, allowing expression of feelings and offering an opportunity to recount a narrative common to all.  This shared activity, rich in tone and texture, told stories of attitudes, feelings and beliefs and often carried a sub-text of sly warnings pertaining to their cruel masters.  Through song, they found their voice and their voices were united. 

“Blessed are the poor

The silenced and the scarred

For there will come a time

Our voices shall be heard”

 

Using their respective vernacular and united in song, the slaves of the African Continent and sugar industry workers of Scotland toiled separately but together under one sun.  Touched by this resilience of human spirit Yvonne penned 'Sweetest Freedom' – a song that is underpinned with hope and which she describes as “attempting to connect the plantation slave of the 1900's with child workers in the sheds.”

 

The connection of musical sentiment or theme is prevalent within the song ‘Where the Poor Find Gold’ written by Yvonne and David Lyon.  The song explores the River Clyde and it's role within the sugar industry, weaving notions of escape from a harsh life to distant lands filled with hope and promise.

 

“O great river will you carry me

Take me from the shallow into deeper sea

I'll find changing in your mighty tide

With every revelation as you be my guide.”

 

55°58'33"N   4°44'30"W - the last coordinates of MV Captayannis, a Greek sugar vessel tasked with delivering raw sugar to James Watt Dock for processing at the Tate & Lyle refinery.  The captain beached the vessel on a sandbank saving the entire crew.  Known locally as the 'sugar boat' the hull is still visible today.  Intrigued and fascinated  by this piece of history Martin Jones penned “The Sugar Boat”

 

As Captayannis says goodbye

Now all these years later

The boy sees her nearby”

“The very name 'Absent Voices' reflects the fact that when you enter the sheds and spend time in and around them, you can almost hear echoes of voices, shouts, cries; the songs of the folk who worked there and whose lives and rhythm of life were centred around that building.”

 

This Sugar is Not Sweet

 

The lament penned by Shelagh McKay Jones explores the theme of exploitation as seen through the eyes of an Irish female immigrant, who believes she is on a passage to America but finds herself in Greenock where she is forced to work very hard in the sugar sheds.  

 

“My heart is broken, my dream's not real

I'm still livin' on the famine wheel

I thought comin' here was the better deal

Now I'm not so sure that my heart will heal”

 

Mining honesty and truth, fact and fiction, Yvonne created a tangible lineage from the working songs of slavery to the waulking songs of Scotland.  She provided an environment of discovery for both  established and fledgling songwriters who were inspired to produce chants of labour, love and protest.

 

THE ROLE OF SONG

A plantation field holler call and response and a Waulking song have their roots in rhythm and narrative.  This was an area that Yvonne chose to explore.  As part of the Absent Voices Collective Yvonne held a series of songwriting workshops involving the local community.  “My aim” she said, “was for the songwriting sessions to be as interactive  and creative as possible.”  The overarching theme of the workshops was to produce a collection of original songs representative of the historical aspects of singing in the workplace.  By drawing on the musical influences of the plantation and melding Gaelic Waulking songs together with Scottish folk songs, the songwriting sessions offered a platform for the marriage of music and narrative.  Frances Dunlop of Inverclyde's own Waulking song group Sgioba Luaidh Inbhirchluaidh demonstrated the 'Waulking of the Tweed' and was commissioned to write a Waulking song for the Sugar Sheds.

Waulkin is a practice of beating newly woven tweed against a surface to soften it.  Rhythmically beat-driven songs were sung to accompany the task beginning at a slower pace and quickening as the tweed softened.  Frances penned 'Mìle Marbhausg air an t-Siùcar' (A thousand curses on Sugar) based on her own family history involving an ancestor, who quite possibly, lost his eyesight between the ages of six and sixteen whilst working as a sugar house apprentice.

The song tells of the tragic blinding of a young boy as seen through the eyes of a neighbour. 

“Isabella is devastated, heartbroken about the merry, cheerful lad: young James, musical and well-known – now sightless, with no spark in his eyes.”

The Beacon Sessions delivered eight inspired songs with Yvonne at the helm, informing, encouraging and suggesting throughout the creative process.  Each song was recorded by Jaime Stables on location  at The Beacon Arts Centre and at Red5 Audio in Greenock.

Yvonne went on to collaborate with David Lyon, Martin Jones, Shelagh McKay Jones and between them they wrote and performed five tracks as part of The Foundry Sessions.  “I was inspired to write three songs, one which was co-written with my husband David Lyon.”  ‘She Survived the Winter’ was inspired by Alec Galloway's family connection to the industry.  Yvonne said of the song, “Part of the Absent Voices work is trying to re-imagine what the sheds could one day be.  The song is in seasons and springtime represents the hope for her future as a place that can serve the community once more.”

The connection of musical sentiment or theme is prevalent within the song “Where the Poor Find Gold” written by Yvonne and David Lyon.  The song 

explores the River Clyde and it's role within the sugar industry, weaving 

notions of escape from a harsh life to 

distant lands filled with hope and 

promise.

“The very name 'Absent Voices' reflects the fact that when you enter the sheds and spend time in and around them, you can almost hear echoes of voices, shouts, cries; the songs of the folk who worked there and whose lives and rhythm of life were centred around that building.”

“Isabella is devastated, heartbroken about the merry, cheerful lad: young James, musical and well-known – now sightless, with no spark in his eyes.”

“Part of the Absent Voices work is trying to re-imagine what the sheds could one day be.  The song is in seasons and springtime represents the hope for her future as a place that can serve the community once more.”