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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.
©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.
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.”

©Anne McKay

Drawing Event on 30th May.

Brush up your drawing skills with Anne McKay, graduate of the Glasgow School of Art.
Drawing Event in the Greenock Art Club on 30th May.
This event will be the first of three 4 hour workshops, in May and June, where you can learn new techniques in a friendly and productive environment,

All levels of ability/experience are most welcome and there is a maximum of 10 places for each class, which will allow for indepth tuition and encouragement.The further two workshops will be in held in RIG Arts, Greenock, on 6th and 13th June at 1pm until 5pm. To book a place, please go to Facebook Absent Voices Community Page, and “join” whichever workshop(s) you would like to attend.
A big thank you to The Greenock Art Club and RIG Arts for supporting Absent Voices.

Sweet Day Out At Beacon Arts

WHAT: Absent Voices Pop Up Show WHEN: Friday 28th March 2014 from 2.30-8.30pm WHERE: Beacon Arts Centre, Custom House Quay, Greenock, PA15 1HJ Full press release: Absent Voices Popup at Beacon Arts Centre Invitation flyer: Pop-up Invitation


A group of Inverclyde-based artists and musicians is holding a free day-long event featuring live music and art at Greenock’s Beacon Arts Centre. The group of eight artists-in-residence at Greenock’s historic A-listed Sugar Sheds have been working on a project called Absent Voices, exploring the rich legacy of the sugar industry in Inverclyde. Primary schools, community groups and members of the public have been collaborating with the artists-in-residence and now the group wants to share this work-in-progress with the public. The artists are also looking for people who worked in the sugar industry to come forward and take part in the Absent Voices project. Their memories will contribute to a visual and sonic archive which the artists are currently building up as a lasting legacy. The Absent Voices Pop Up will take place on Friday, March 28 from 2.30 until 8.30pm. The eight artists will be joined by celebrated Inverclyde maritime artist, James Watt, who will display several of his iconic Clydeside paintings for one day only. Mr Watt will be speaking at the event about the importance of drawing as a tool for gathering information. Absent Voices lead artist, Alec Galloway, said: “As a group we have all been working on creating an archive which will tell the story of the once-mighty sugar industry in Inverclyde. “This pop-up event will give us a chance to spread the word about Absent Voices far and wide and to encourage members of the public to become involved in this exciting initiative.”


  • A display of drawings, paintings, photography, stained glass and poetry inspired by Inverclyde’s sugar industry heritage
  • Artwork produced by Inverclyde primary schools and community groups
  • Absent Voices artists, Rod Miller & Anne McKay, sharing their experiences of Sugar Sheds drawing walks in which members of the public have taken part
  • Live performances from Kevin McDermott and Yvonne Lyon ((check Absent Voices website for timings)
  • Samples from an under-construction soundtrack of the Sugar Sheds by Ryan King & Alan Carlisle
  • Beautiful Sugar Shed-inspired photography by Alastair Cook, alongside new writing from Scottish poet John Glenday.
  • The opportunity to sign up for FREE workshops in stained glass, urban sketching tours around Inverclyde, digital photography and songwriting.
©Anne McKay 2013

Sugar Loaves at All Saints Primary

Absent Voices artists Anne McKay and Rod Miller, with sonic assistance from Kevin McDermott ran a series of workshops with All Saints Primary exploring the Sugar Industry from source to transport to refining , then production. This was featured in the Greenock Telegraph on 6th January. The pupils designed and made  their own Sugar Loaf. The finished loaves were even dipped in Sugar from Barbados. Thanks to Abbie Thorne from The McLean Museum for her input.
©Anne McKay 2013

Sugar Loaves at All Saints Primary.

©Anne McKay 2013

Workshops at All Saints Primary.

©Anne McKay 2013

Workshops at All Saints Primary

©Anne McKay 2013

Workshops at All Saints Primary