testing... testing... one two three
Wondering what the craic is?! Well, gather round by my side, I'll build a wee fire and we shall talk, sing, laugh, play and share stories...
Born and raised in the peaks of rural NW County Durham, I grew up in a little colliery cottage in the fields, full of music and songs*. It was through folk music that I learned about the world; about my own personal, local, national and world socio-political history, about our traditions and culture, and crucially, it is how I learned of life, love and loss.
I have sung since I could speak and was raised in a family who nourished me with music. This has remained a life long passion and I count my
blessings that my life's passion has also become the the tools of my life's work.
I became chronically ill as a young child and I spent the best part of a decade very ill; often bed-bound or a wheelchair user. Although I will always have health issues, I manage my conditions well and my disabilities remain mostly hidden. My ongoing experiences of managing long term health issues and navigating the many challenges, predjudices and struggles that this entails have given me great strength and as the years pass I recognise and appreciate this more and more.
Having experienced and observed huge life challenges myself, I understand and can empathise with the many battles faced by others. My
experiences have shaped me, my politics and my views and I believe in embracing life and living it to the fullest, being the best that we can be and trying to shape, create and carve out a
better world for those who will follow in our footsteps, for we only have one chance at life - we have not a moment to waste.
I am hugely independent and work very hard to remain so. Like so many others who manage chronic health conditions and all this entails, I refuse to
let them define me - or my life. I prefer always to focus on the positives and my abilities, actively channelling my energies into positive passtimes, relationships and work - both
professional and voluntary, through my active and ongoing involvement in social justice, environmental and political campaigning.
Despite not attending school full time until college age, I worked hard and went on to study Folk and Traditonal Music at Newcastle University/Sage Gateshead. I am honoured to have been taught by and worked with some incredible folk musicians including; Alistair, Johnny, Louisa, Chris, Maggie, Sandra, Kathryn, Desi, Stuart, Catriona... to name but a few, and later life, work and music gave me the honour of working and singing with the inimitable Benny, Jude, Dave, Bex , Andrea, Katherine and Geraldine, all of whom have all been positive influences in my work and music. Thank you.
I have worked within community music and education since graduating and my main focus during this time (strangely enough for a musician!) has not been on my own musical performance work and practice, but on using my music and voice in other ways; developing my education, community engagement and production work and focusing on positive social justice and grassroots political campaigning.
I have worked incredibly hard to carve out a career for myself in what is an increasingly challenging, insecure, precarious, exploitative and undervalued sector. Contrary to popular belief; music is not play, it is hour upon countless hour of dedication, research, study, learning, listening, compositon, practice, remembering, reflecting, rehearsal, performance and the expenditure of untold energies and emotions.
My work and music has taken me on some incredible journeys, to some amazing places and I have been honoured to have met, worked and sang with some
wonderful people. I am proud of the contrasting chapters of my story, the many lessons learned, hurdles overcome and the many friends I have made, loved, lost and discovered along the way.
I am hugely grateful to those who have nurtured and supported me along my journey, sharing their love, life, lessons, wisdom, expertise and experience - for they have given me wings to fly. Your
belief is my strength.
As always, I sing for my ancestors and those who came before and for those still yet to come, for they are our future. And I sing especially for my
father Michael, my star above.
Bethany Elen x
*this may sound idyllic, however, situated on the highest points in NW Durham, we were often snowed in for 3 months of the year, huddled round
our wee coal fire...
In our lives we have all experienced and observed a ‘mother’ figure, whether they be biological, spiritual, imagined, fostered, adopted or assumed; related by blood or by relations forged through shared experience, trust and time.
I think today of our maternal ancestors, mothers and children. I hope that we can all find opportunity today to reflect, remember and recognise the incredible inspiration, impact and influence that mothers (in all their shapes and forms) have upon our lives, to pause and think upon our own experiences and observations of motherhood and to find joy and to celebrate, commemorate and sing for mothers everywhere.
I think especially of those mothers and children who are separated, estranged and disconnected either through choice, conflict or circumstance and those mothers who have lost children and those who have lost their mothers; I hope you can find peace, healing and comfort today.
To all mothers; stepmothers, grandmothers and to those in maternal roles; aunties, sisters, cousins, children, carers and to all women kind, I send you love this Mother’s Day. May your teachings, struggles, stories, wisdom and songs continue to guide us, shining a light on this journey of life 💜 Artwork: The Three Ages Of Woman: Gustav Klimt
These are crazy times... and as I move into my 8th month of working remotely and online I feel an ecclectic mix of being energised, equipt and enraged to engage with whatever is thrown my way over coming weeks... everyone is struggling to fathom what the future will hold. One thing is for certain, there was and never will be a 'getting back to normal'. As I said way back in April, we are still months away from returning to any semblance of what we once knew...
In the meantime, we must work together to collaborate, create and pave a new way of working, one that is safe, inclusive, supportive and truly accessible for all.
Online activities and remote learning are not for everyone. The lucky, skilled and privileged may relish at such provisions, whilst thousands more may struggle to engage, lacking the confidence, experience and training to utilise and access such opportunites. The UK goverment's handling of the coronavirus crisis has unmasked the brutal reality of the extent of the inequalites that blight our society and my heart goes out to those affected most from this crisis.
Now more than ever our communities need art and culture to not only thrive, but to simply survive. When government fails, the arts will prevail. So onwards we must go...
JANUARY 23RD 2020 - I have known and loved dearly many people with 'Dementia' - an 'umbrella' term often applied erroneously, all too often
misunderstood and misjudged. So when I was asked to lead the development and delivery of Dementia Friendly Community Choirs by Colin Robson of Durham County Council and Belinda
Williams of the Alzheimers Society as part of their Dementia Friendly Communities initiative, I relished the opportunity. I myself, as someone who has numerous chronic conditions and hidden
disabilites, advocate more than anything the right for everyone - irrespective of their illness, conditions or diagnosis - to engage in our communities and wider society. What is needed however
to accomplish this task successfully, is education, knowlege, understanding, support, empathy and compassion. (No small order...!)
Despite my own decade of experience working with all manner of people, from every walk of life, I was unprepared to the extent of which this work (developing and leading three Dementia Friendly Choirs), would move, emote, evoke and affect me. In my one of the first pilot sessions delivered last springtime in a rural East Durham community centre, an elderly woman brought from a nearby carehome appeared to be asleep for the duration of our time together. However, towards the end of the session as I began to lead a song, one which she evidently knew, it struck such a chord that she sat bolt upright, eyes wide, full of life, and sang at the top of her voice. The song ended and she sank back into her chair and within seconds she was asleep once more, her recent movement merely a memory. However, hearing that song stirred something deep inside and I saw the inpact, effect and power with my own eyes, in hers, and it melted my heart.
Last week, during our first session of Forget Me Notes at Ushaw, one of our wonderful singers 'B' spoke of her love of poetry. She is living with pronounced Dementia. Her carer mentioned that 'B' liked the Wordsworth poem and began the first line "I wandered lonely as a cloud" ... I continued: " "That floats on high o'er vales and hills"... B sprang to life and picked up where I had left; "When all at once I saw a crowd, a host of golden daffodils... beside the lake, beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze. Continuous as the stars that shine and twinkle on the Milky Way". Her recitation of the poem was possibly one of the most moving, beautiful moments of recent memory and one I shall cherish forever. To see, hear, feel the emotion, passion that those lyrical words evoked, both in myself, in 'B', in the others present, was true magic. This week at Ushaw, during our session she broke into song "morning has broken like the first morning, blackbird has spoken, like the first bird... praise for the singing" - indeed.
During this week's session I began singing 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow' and 'H' who sits usually eyes closed, swaying and humming to
the music, opened her eyes wide. As she watched me and listened, her wide eyes burned into my soul. The joy that music brought in the all too fleeting moment when our eyes, minds and hearts
connect cannot be replicated nor replaced. I felt and I still feel, that I am truly blessed for music moves like nothing else can and I am humbled to have the opportunity to share such magical,
momentous moments with others through my work and music.
Since summer 2015 I have been involved in the Jeremy Corbyn Labour leadership campiagns, singing for socialism at various hustings and rallies throughout the country.
In August 2016 I wrote this song about the current political climate, dedicating the chorus in a show of solidarity of support to Jeremy Corbyn. I was proud to debut this song at Jeremy's Sunderland rally and sing this at the Stand, Edinburgh at the launch of Labours' new arts policy during the Edinburgh Festival in August 2016.
SONG FOR JEREMY – Sunderland Rally 12th August 2016
Democracy, decency, honesty, hope
For a new kind of politics, Jez is wor bloke / Jez has our vote
Join with me as I sing: (we support Corbyn x 3)
Momentum grows, the tide it turns
Bridges are built, hope returns
Change is coming, we feel it near
Reform is our friend, we’ve nothing to fear
Politics is a rich man’s game
With dirty tactics, no rules, no shame
The grassroots are rising, the people speak
We will take back our country, reclaim our streets
Don’t believe all you see, hear and read
The media deceives us with fallacies
The cynics and critics, the capitalists
Their hate and lies, our hope shall eclipse
For many years, Labour lost its way
From the path of peace it blindly strayed
With a true socialist elected to rule
Our party returns to its hard won roots!
We will stand together, comrades unite
For our future, we must now fight
For equality, peace, education for all
Heed our calls, build bridges not walls
We must open our hearts, open our minds
Break partisan ties that blindly bind
In our quest for justice, every shade shall unite
(and) we’ll keep the red flag flying high
I am proud to have been asked to sing 'The Red Flag' at the close of Davey Hopper's memorial service at Redhills. and bring what was an unforgettable and fitting
tribute to a wonderful trade unionist and activist to a close. Immediately following the funeral, I rushed outside and my friend and I erected the 'Women Against Pit Closure' banner in tribute to
the women of the miner's strike. Pictured below are my dear friends Anne Scargill and Betty Cooke (members of the orginal, legendary 'Women Against Pit
“Davey Hopper was a revered, passionate and committed socialist, trade unionist and internationalist. The impact and effect of his tireless work will be his legacy – the 150,000 attendees at this year’s Durham Miner’s Gala is testimont to this.
“He was radical and innovative within his field, striving to make unions more democratic and unifying communities through his politics, campaigning and leadership. His contribution towards social justice, international solidarity and socialist causes was unparalleled and I was honoured to close his funeral celebration at Red Hills today by singing ‘The Red Flag’. Solidarity forever comrade Davey." Here's a short article I contributed to paying tribute to Davey Hopper.
It was a rare pleasure to perform last night at the Tyneside Cinema Christmas party! I was joined onstage by the most magical cohort of community musicians; the 'Coast road' collective comprising of the effervesent: Dave Camlin, Brendan Murphy, Bex Mather, Paul Susans and we were joined for a debut performance with the incredibly talented Mister Paul Edis.
Despite losing my voice (tssssk, careless singer!) to a particularly virulent headcold, rendering me unable to sing much more than a few husky harmonies (think Joan Bex after 100 Malboro & you'll have an idea of my vocal abilities that evening!) it was an absolute joy to share the stage with such an incredibly gifted and virtuosic gaggle of musicians.
As I stood in front of Paul S and Brendan, I was both physically and metaphorically uplifted by the rhythms and riffs; reacting to the resonance of their music as it reverberated forwards, soothing away the stresses of the day. As they began a rendition of Camlin's anti-consumerist anthem 'Work Less, Buy Less' my hips began to sway, my shoulders lift ...As the funk ebbed and flowed, the masterful songsmiths Camlin and Mather weaved the lyrical magic into a rich tapestry of timbres and I was spellbound by their beautiful music. I felt enriched by their energy and the emotion conveyed and conjured by the music... Paul Edis and Bex's rendition of Joni Mitchell's 'I Wish I Had a River' sent shivers up my spine, conveying with such eloquence the fragility and passion of the song. As much as I wished to sing along, I appreciated in that moment that sometimes one must be silent to truly hear - 23RD DECEMBER 2015. (Photographs by Joe Haydon - Vision Made Reality)
"He's five feet two and he's six feet four
He fights with missiles and with spears
He's all of thirty-one and he's only seventeen
He's been a soldier for a thousand years
He's a catholic, a Hindu, an Atheist, a Jain
A Buddhist and a Baptist and Jew
And he knows he shouldn't kill and he knows he always will
Kill you for me my friend and me for you
And he's fighting for Canada, he's fighting for France
He's fighting for the usa
And he's fighting for the Russians
And he's fighting for Japan
And he thinks we'll put an end to war this way
And he's fighting for democracy he's fighting for the reds
He says it's for the peace of all
He's the one who must decide who's to live and who's to die
And he never sees the writing on the wall
But without him how would Hitler have condemned him at Dachau
Without him Caesar would have stood alone
He's the one who gives his body as the weapon of the war
And without him all this killing can't go on
He's the universal soldier and he really is to blame
But his orders come from far away no more
They come from him and you and me and brothers can't you see
This is not the way we put an end to war?" UNIVERSAL SOLDIER - NOVEMBER 2015
My Grandad Tombo would have been so proud of me! Ed Pickford and the Elliots of Birtley as a (self-proclaimed!) "warm up" act?!? I almost floated away like a balloon and burst with pride, not bad for a lass from Stanley, ehy? Or rather, how very fitting that I should be sat there, that day, singing songs of political and social struggle - from the coalfields to the mills, suffragettes to the slave trade - the miner's hall rang out with the sound of voices joined in song. As I sat and waited for the Elliots to begin, a hand appeared over my shoulder... I turned to see a kindly gentleman's face smiling and in his outstretched hand, a Werther's Original sweet! How thoughtful of him, I observed. He was sat with his friend and they told me of the time they came to Redhills when they were young men, after the second world war; "we used to come here every week of the classes, you should have seen the place, full to the rafters!" I met some wonderful new friends, who took me for dinner and told me of their life and work with the WAPC - to be around such incredible and inspiring women was like a dream... The colliery banners were displayed with pride and it was a rare opportunity to see them up close, such beautiful tapestries, woven of so much more than merely cloth, truly the fabric of our communities.
As I finished the set with "The Red Flag" my heart soared. I will never forget the voices of those joining me in song, the sunshine through the beautiful stained glass windows and the smell of the rich, dark wood... I was truly home.
- OCTOBER 2015
On Tuesday I returned to my hometown, the wild district of Stanley, Co.Durham (*un*officially the windiest place on the planet and seemingly where the snow seldom melts). I was there to attend an event commemorating the Burn's Pit Disaster. I was deeply moved; not only by the gale force icy winds, by words spoken by local townsfolk and also by the poetry and writings performed by local school children's. A small ceremony was held at the site of the colliery, now marked by the old pit wheel sunk into the ground upon the site of the old baths. A wreath was lain by representatives of the town council and I was pleased to observe that despite the despicable weather, that around 30 people attended the event. Afterwards we went to the old Stanley Civic, the Lamplight Arts Centre and watched Jack Hair's film documentary depicting the disaster. I was moved to tears by the photographs and testimonies, recounting and describing the events and aftermath of the disaster in which faulty safety equipment caused explosions deep in the mines. Scores of miners were trapped underground and killed by deadly poison gas. The community was shaken by the death of 168 men and boys, most families in the area losing a loved one in the terrible accident. The funeral processions brought the town to a standstill as thousands flocked to the town to pay tribute. Tuesdays (the day of the explosion) were thereafter known in Stanley as 'Black Tuesday'.
The struggle and strength of our ancestors, who overcame such hardship and injustice, their work and lives woven into the cultural tapestry of this region, is a
constant and unforgettable source of inspiration to me. 107 years have now passed since the disaster and I am dismayed to see so how precious little remains of our mining heritage and the
disipation of the communities it created. NE industry has changed beyond recognition and the old ways of life, passtimes, practices and traditions, all now seem many worlds away. As I sit,
reflect and remember I am in equal parts saddened, enraged and empowered, but overwhelmingly I am immensely proud - of my story, my history; of the politics, people and places that have shaped my
life. The miners, those men who worked in the black darkness, deep underground, who's toil fuelled our industrial revolution, pioneered our civilisation, men who marched behind their
colliery banners - they were so strong, so proud and true. In their memory, we must we all try to be too... I remember the words me old Grandad Tom used to say; "keep your timmer in pet" - and so
~ February 15th 2018