Category Archives: Sheree Mack

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!”
©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.  
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.”


Rod Miller

I managed to catch up with another artist involved in the Absent Voices Project: Rod Miller. Rod’s been working on the walking drawing tours with Annie as well as working at All Saints School. Rod mentioned that the children really understood and related to the importance of sugar to the local area and were fascinated at just how many things are made from sugar bi-products. So a good job done there.


But Rod’s role in the project doesn’t end there as he is also exploring how the local sugar industry was represented in the works of such artists as Sir Stanley Spencer and Joan Eardley. These two artists recorded the local shipbuilding industry in their works, an industry that no exists except in the remnants of the Sugar Sheds at James Watt Dock and the Glebe refinery building. Rod is therefore talking to the community, gleaming stories and memories from the people about the sugar trade and it’s impact to inspire his paintings. So he is always on the look out for more people to talk to. So please just get in touch if you have anything to share about both the sugar and shipbuilding industries. Thank you.


Through talking to Rod I came to realise there is much more to his artist practice than just research, compose and paint. As Rod said himself, “Painting is non of your leisurely relaxing airy fairy routine. It’s hard work and graft and feeling.”

Painting is a solo effort and is pretty intense. First, he works things out in his head, often going from ideas straight  to canvas. Sometimes he might work about with the composition on paper and draw some of the parts out with pencils and charcoal but these always seem to change a bit when he starts to paint in oils.


When Rod gets into the painting itself more often that not things start to change again. It will end up looking quite different from what he had in his head when he started out. But that’s just the creative process, the part where the painting is creating itself. It take’s on it’s own life force and energy and dictates to the artist how it wants to look.
Rod mentions a struggle at this point between him and the painting. Between how he wants the painting to look and how the painting itself wants to be seen. In the end the painting always wins.

I found it fascinating talking to Rod about his artist’s process and the energy that exudes from the final art works. Thank you for sharing Rod, it was a pleasure.
©Graeme Nichol

Walking Drawing Tours

For the past few months now, artist Anne (Annie McKay) has been facilitating walking drawing tours around the Sugar Sheds. The tours involve walking around the sheds inside and out, sharing the history of the buildings as well as looking into the details; the fabric of the sheds themselves. Along the way, it’s important that the participants become familiar with the environment, it’s history and significance, as well as learn and develop their drawing skills. Mark making, tone, lines, textures and shapes are all explored as they gain confidence in their drawing abilities. Annie hopes to continue with further drawing tours throughout the year up until November. Not only is Annie involved in these tours but she is also working with a number of primary schools in Greenock to create artworks for the Absent Voices project as well as finding time to concentrate on her own art work.  After being brought up just down the road from the sheds, Absent Voices as a project feeds into Annie’s desire to interact with the community around such themes of their shared heritage and history.
©Graeme Nichol

©Graeme Nichol

I managed to catch up with one participant from the series of walking drawing tours, Graeme Nichol. A self-motivating artist, he joins each tour with three aims; to have fun, to learn new techniques and to be inspired through the practice to observe, conceptualise and capture future ideas. The last tour Graeme joined was useful for providing new insight into the buildings.  Different details where picked out in the shadows. This particular session, Graeme became interested in the shadows of the cranes and the reflection of the sheds in puddles outside. The group setting is very supportive and enjoyable, as well learning from each other reinforces the value of these events, events that are  worth repeating.   Graeme has passed the Sugar Sheds for years going on holiday and hadn’t really understood the industry and history of the place. Having a love for the sea and all things maritime, Absent Voices is providing Graeme with the fascinating opportunity to experience the Sugar Sheds and explore the contact between the sea and the sugar industry.
©Graeme Nichol

©Graeme Nichol

  Graeme was kind enough to share some of his work produced during the walking drawing tours. For one particular session, they were experimenting with working with templates to build up drawings. The drawings started during the tour are used as a reference archive. This archive Graeme has utilised as he works up some of his charcoal drawings to exhibit at the Seagull gallery in Gourock. One of the first drawings he developed has now been sold through the Rig Gallery. This is excellent news and demonstrates one of the many ways in which this project, and Absent Voices as a whole is touching and changing the local community’s lives.
©Graeme Nichol

©Graeme Nichol

Whinhill Primary School P6 ©Anne McKay


Have you met the syrup girls? Those young female workers who were only allowed into the Sugar Sheds come 1902? They were wee lasses brought in to pour the syrup. The young children at Whinhill Primary School have met the syrup girls and are getting to know them better as they bring them to life through the Absent Voices school projects.
Yvonne, Nicole and Kevin at Whinhill Primary ©Anne McKay

Yvonne, Nicole and Kevin at Whinhill Primary ©Anne McKay

Yvonne Lyons and Annie McKay have been spending time in Whinhill Primary School reimagining life in the past for Greenock with the younger  generation of the present with the aim of creating a more flourishing future for everyone in Greenock. The young children are working across the creative genres of art and music to visualise as well as  vocalise the variety of characters who came into contact with the Sugar Sheds. You can hear more about the project here: What this project achieves, along with Annie’s school project in All Saint’s last year, is the next generation learning about their history but not in the usual, sometimes boring straightforward kind of way.
Anne McKay with artwork produced by P6 at Whinhill Primary School.

Anne McKay with artwork produced by P6 at Whinhill Primary School.

These children are learning new knowledge at the same time as new skills through the arts. Through being creative these children are learning but through these interactive ways they are taking ownership of their learning, gaining in confidence and supporting each other. The artwork this school has created along with the songs they have written will be shared to the community during a special pop-up event happening at The Beacon this Friday, 28 March from 2.30-8.30. This is an opportunity for the Greenock community to find out more about the project as well as how they can get involved too.

This is a story about a benevolent custom on repeat. About the burnt sugar smell of rum on your breath, and the wolves from hell inflaming your heart with greed. Greed for cubes of sugar winking like stars. Greed for the irresistible sickness of sweet cane syrup.

Greed, Sheree Mack, 2014

In my capacity as writer in residence at the Lit and Phil, I was tasked with linking up with the local museum which had a special South African exhibition on over the summer of 2012. I was hoping to have Gérard Rudolf there but he had returned home to South Africa a few years before. Before he left for home, he collaborated with Alastair Cook on a number of filmpoems. As the next best thing, Gérard suggested I get in touch with Alastair to get a screening organised for the night in question. Alastair has a very commanding manner. I was hoping to just get a DVD though the post but he insisted on coming down and screening them himself. All 4 of them. This was in June. By the August, I was visiting Alastair in Dunbar, while he was artist in residence at the MacArthur Store. This was when the famous collodion image of me was created, on an overcast Saturday with my screaming daughter on my lap. Alastair went on to commission me to create a poem for the then Absent Voices filmpoem project which saw six poets re-inhabits the abandoned Greenock Sugar Sheds with six films. We created Every Memory with musical support from Luca Nasciuti.
Palms ©Sheree Mack 2014

Palms ©Sheree Mack 2014

Now we reach 2014, and once again Alastair commissioned me to create three new poems in relation in to the sheds, but more so exploring the hidden dark histories, the connections of sugar to the Caribbean and West African through the transatlantic slave trade and slavery. In all honesty, this was probably my hardest commission to date. The weight of responsibility upon my shoulders in voicing this history as well as wanting to truly honour and respect this devastating past was at times crippling. There are so many different narratives and angles to this long history of slavery making it difficult to know where to start and where the end. Which issues or stories should receive that light of attention? Which issues could translate to a contemporary audience? For me it always has to be about the body. A body once free then captured. Within captivity, this body experienced very little agency or comfort. This body bore the brunt of enslavement through physical, emotional, sexual and psychological abuse. What everything boiled down to was how much value could be forced out of this one body. Just a body. The next step was thinking about the relationships, those connections between the body and other bodies. Those power relations that were a given, that could not be challenged or changed. The only power the enslaved body had was through its removal by any means necessary. With the first slaves, taken onto the big ship destined for the New World, the story goes that when the shackles were taken off they just floated up and flew back home. Through experience, the ship’s crew learned their lesson. From then on, they kept the cargo chained within the belly of the ship. After their first meal of salted fish, the crew saw that the slaves could not fly. I like to think that this story is true. I give hope to the idea that the enslaved body could somehow be free by rejecting the state of life that it was forced into. I like to hope that they, the individuals who were kidnapped, stolen and breed in slavery were keeping some part of themselves free from all shackles through thinking about sky or dreaming of walking home across the ocean floor.

You can touch me now. I have made myself stone. […] You can touch me. The wild current running under my heart you cannot touch.

Touched, Sheree Mack, 2014

from Voyage Autour Monde – Histories Du Voyage, L. I. Duperry (1826) from The Lit and Phil, Newcastle upon-Tyne

Greenock and the Slave Trade

by Sheree Mack. It is difficult to approach the subject of the transatlantic slave trade and slavery without having some prior knowledge. Be that extensive or patchy knowledge, it is difficult to pay attention to the objects or the peoples involved without making judgements, fitting them into our preconceived categories. When we can put aside these preoccupations, the subject of slavery has something new to show us – something that is beneficial to us in some way. When we open ourselves up to the truths of this trade, we allow ourselves to be taught about the peoples involved. We might begin to realise that we had a particular role to play in the history of the slave trade. We might feel moved by the harsh realities of the trade that we might start to want to know more and go on to share what we learn with others. Becoming engaged, becoming conscious always involves hearing some new truth. We can open ourselves up to this truth in many different ways. It helps if we stay curious. It helps if we are willing to listen to what history has to tell us and then learn from it.

On January 23 1772, a petition was brought to the magistrates and council of the Burgh of Ayr. James and Robert Hunter, brothers and Ayr‘s foremost tobacco merchants, had a proposal that they needed the council to sign off on. It read:

‘That whereas the demand for sugar, both raw and refined, was very considerable from this town and the neighbouring county connected with it, and large sums of money were yearly remitted to Glasgow, Greenock, London, Bristol and Liverpool for these articles; the petitioners were humbly of opinion that it would be of much public and private benefit that raw sugars were imported here from the Colonies, and a sugar house erected in this place for refining them’.
rom Voyage Autour Monde  – Histories Du Voyage,  L. I. Duperry (1826) from The Lit and Phil, Newcastle upon-Tyne

from Voyage Autour Monde – Histories Du Voyage, L. I. Duperry (1826) from The Lit and Phil, Newcastle upon-Tyne

The facts are that both the Scottish and English owned land in the West Indies and the east coast of America from the 1600s. This land they cleared for planting tobacco and sugar. They could only run these plantations by working the native people and indentured servants to their death. Following the 1707 Act of Union between Scotland and England, Scottish merchants joined the

English trade routes including ‘the triangular trade’.

Goods such as cloth, copper and guns were shipped from Britain to West Africa. These were sold or exchanged for Africans. These African’s were taken from their homeland shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to the West Indies or America where they were sold into slavery. The enslaved Africans worked on the plantations, producing raw materials such as sugar, rum,

tobacco and cotton. These raw goods were then shipped to Britain to feed the growing markets. So was ‘the triangle trade’ and Port Glasgow and Greenock were two major trading ports in this trade.

 from Voyage Autour Monde  – Histories Du Voyage,  L. I. Duperry (1826) from The Lit and Phil, Newcastle upon-Tyne

from Voyage Autour Monde – Histories Du Voyage,
Vue de l’ile de L’Ascension L. I. Duperry (1826) from The Lit and Phil, Newcastle upon-Tyne

The sugar trade between the Clyde and the West Indies began about 1732. 1775 saw the total sugar imports amounting to no more than 4,000 tons. Greenock saw a small proportion of this. But less than 80 years later, Greenock boasted refineries where 700 men were employed and turned out 50,000 tons annually. It was largest depot for raw material in the kingdom.

What happened between 1775 and 1852?

A cane monopoly strangled supplies to Britain with the East India Company restricting refiners outside of London, but when these were withdrawn in 1834 the imports from Manila and the East Indies were enlarged. By the 1850s, there was only London and Greenock in the Empire

carrying on the trade. Couple this with a massive increase in demand in the UK for sugar and the Clyde refineries were kept in business and grew. 2

These are the facts and figures. These can be easily found within the books, articles and documents detailing this part of British history. What is not so easy to discover are the people, their lives, both white and black, who are behind these facts and figures, or fallen between the cracks and gaps. Those who had position and the power to write history factored themselves into these records. Their names will be passed on throughout the generations. But what about those people who were powerless? What about those people who did not have the opportunity, for one reason or another, to have their story recorded and passed on?

This is where Absent Voices can do some good; to fill in the gaps in history, to approach the subject of the transatlantic slave trade and slavery in new initiative ways and reveal some new truths.

1 Both images taken from Voyage Autour Monde – Histories Du Voyage, L. I. Duperry (1826) from The Lit and Phil, Newcastle upon-Tyne
2 Robert Murray Smith – The History of Greenock – Published 1921 This download text is provided by the McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock – © 2009
Sheree Mack ©Alastair Cook 2013

Introducing Sheree Mack

Picture  ©Alastair Cook 2013 I am coming up to my tenth year of blogging. Apparently, blogging turns 20 this year too. I can still remember the first blog I wrote. The purpose was to spread the word, keeping people updated about the development of a newly created group of writers. We presented a professional and informative face that meant keeping people at the distance. Things have changed since then. Now blogging is all about making a connection with your readers. I’m always drawn into reading other people’s blogs. Favourite and popular blogs are where an individual shares the light and shade of their life. Blogs that are open, honest and emotional, rooted in real experiences are the blogs that the reader can forge that vital connection and return to. If I go away from reading a blog having learnt something new at the same time as feeling something, then I am a satisfied customer. Sharing our stories and experiences with one another helps us feel less alone. It is also a great way of transforming the ideas, thoughts, and plans that are jumbled up in our heads into a tangible form. Through the writing, things become clearer. A blog is less a diary and more a magazine, a place where you can document projects, curate images and words, sharing motivations, research findings and outcomes. Here is where you will read the Absent Voices blog. This is where you will find the life and the heart of the project. I intend to gather the threads together from all the artists involved in the project and weave a rich tapestry of what is happening behind the scenes as well as the front of house as the project progresses towards the grand finale in November 2014. There’ll be lots of blog posts about ideas as well as interviews with the artists involved. There will be feedback on activities facilitated as well as details about that vital community engagement in all parts of this project. Absent Voices, the project, would continue to be silent without community involvement, thank you. Keep checking back as this blog continues to be updated.