Bringing the West End Alleyways of Morecambe & Heysham to Life!
Jules (far right) greets the Extinction Rebellion, Discobedience ‘Stayin’ Alive’[i] dancers
Back at the beginning of December 2022, on a sharp winter day with sun, I was fortunate to experience the Creative West End’s[ii] Avenues and Alleyways tour, led by tall, imposing, poet, musician and singer Jules – an immensely likeable and informative Minotaur of a man.
An alleyway or backstreet where Morecambe and Heysham merge
We did not always follow the designated route and even to someone who lives in the very heart of these alleyways, they can be deceptive, misleading, tricky . . . “Backstreets” corrected one senior Morecambrian lady as we took a diagonal across the park to Alexandra Road, “we never called them alleyways”. Jules tried to adjust to this, but understandably, despite the rarity of bona fide avenues in the area, the tour wanted it to be alleyways so that the once well-known anthem, Avenues and Alleyways[iii] recorded by Tony Christie in 1973[iv] (and used as title music for a TV series I was lukewarm about as a kid, The Protectors[v]) could be played at frequent intervals on fleeting sound systems. Once heard, like it or not, this distant echo perhaps of West Side Story (1961)[vi], is impossible to eradicate from the mind, although it was only later that I realised the underlying violence[vii] of the lyrics:
Listen to a squealer cry
Then a little later in the morning paper
Read about the way he died[viii]
Sun warmed wall near the entrance to another alleyway
Tuning in to a mysterious QR code (see below) . . . though tuning is probably not the right word
At various points, apparently embedded in appealing ceramic tiles mounted on designated walls, QR code[ix] generators – a total mystery to me until a friend explained them – enabled evocative instalments of Jules’ alternative Ariadne story to play on the devices of those possessing the necessary technology. Fortunately, I was able to eavesdrop over the shoulder of a friend.
Alleyways palimpsest . . .
Élisabeth de Bézenac photographing the Jazz Swing Dancers, Grafton Place
The Jazz Swing Dancers. Photo by Élisabeth de Bézenac
Between this virtual story involving Icarus, Ariadne and the Minotaur, around every corner of this fascinating West End minefield (you have to keep one eye on the ground mostly thanks to careless dog owners) groups of dancers and actors awaited us, no doubt freezing and willing our appearance: Anthony and Stephanie’s Swing Jive Dancers[x] southwest of Grafton Place, Extinction Rebellion’s Discobedience[xi] group performing ‘Staying Alive’ between Westminster and Byron, and up on Cavendish Road a presentation described on the colourful and useful map provided, as “Belly Dancing”.
This turned out to be a lone dancer, a woman in white, entrancingly performing what I would’ve assumed was a form of sacred Indian dance designed to honour or placate the gods[xiii] . . . but what do I know? Sacred or profane, it was very beautiful the way she moved centrally in an arch of the foliage at the edge of the sunlight. Although the community garden which formed her arena – a small green space with raised beds of herbs and vegetables up against the end wall of a tall Victorian terrace and resembling a reclaimed bombsite – is familiar to me, her performance completely transformed and transcended the place. The often-overflowing recycling point alongside, became invisible.
Nora Hird[xiv] volubly pegs washing. Photo by Élisabeth de Bézenac
Scruffy Jack harangued by his long-lost wife. Photo by Élisabeth de Bézenac
Last but not least, came the Nib Crib[xv] players with their three varied and mirthful plays. But I won’t write too much, since many of them are good friends and I might be suspected of bias.
The Dynamite Duo
The Nib Crib Players
Suffice it to say that Nora Hird (!), Tom Tabbs and TNT, (The Dynamite Duo), Scruffy Jack and the whole company kept the well-wrapped audience amused despite that both us and them were now in heavy shade and cold wind.
An unforgettable day.
Alleyway or backstreet behind Cavendish Road, 3rd December 2022
West End sky, 3rd December 2022
© Lawrence Freiesleben,
Morecambe, January 2023
With thanks to Jules Abraham and Élisabeth de Bézenac
[vii] “JOHN LEAK IS BACON” I might be wrong, but this partially expunged Morecambe graffiti appears to threaten a squealer . . .
[viii] Very appropriate for Morecambe some might say! And it is interesting to consider what effect the Eden project might have after Rishi Sunak’s flying visit to “seal a £50m deal”: https://www.lancasterguardian.co.uk/news/people/town-buzzing-as-prime-minister-rishi- sunak-visits-to-seal-ps50m-deal-for-eden-project-morecambe-3993613 This project is controversial in the town, many believing that it’s little more than a money-making venture: the ‘buzzing’ in the headline subtly reflecting this. The rarely present Tory MP, David Morris (“Driving past in Morecambe & Heysham”: see internationaltimes.it/make-votes-matter-2 ) claimed that “Morecambe will never be the same again and that’s fantastic.” Maybe in the future he might pay the odd visit himself?
[x] Usually known as the Jazz Swing Dancers but also referred to this way at times.
[xi] XR Morecambe Bay’s striking banner was notable at the climate and social crisis demonstration in Blackpool last year: internationaltimes.it/a-rallying-cry-in-blackpool/