music review

Songs And Stories From The Centre
Trebus Projects,  
Trebus Record One,
£15 (including postage)


“I ran out of the front door in the nude, followed by the porter, the taxi driver, Tony and all the rest and I ran down to the river, went down the steps and jumped in,” recalls dementia patient Sheila on I Jumped In The River a spoken-word memory archived on this arts-funded album, writes David Hemingway.

“There seemed to be a terrible current and it drew me away down in the middle of the river and I thought I was going to die. Silly thing to do. It wasn’t very clever at all.”

This short-run vinyl album is a collection of recordings of people with dementia and mental illness who, in collaboration with professional artists and musicians, have been encouraged over a period of months or years to recollect and record fragments of their autobiographies.

It transpires that Sheila is a descendent of The Hunchback of Notre Dame author Victor Hugo, danced with actress Diana Dors and dated acid-bath murderer John Haigh. But, as project director David Clegg says, the care she received amounted to little more than “someone wiping her arse and no consideration for that fantastic past.”

The collection is intriguing one on a number of levels. As a musical artefact it has drawn comparison to Karlheinz Stockhausen and Tom Waits and it would also be easy to file it alongside “outsider artist” collections such as Irwin Chusid’s Songs In The Key Of Z or curios such as the Langley Schools Music Project.

The album’s greatest success might, however, be in prompting questions about the way health care staff relate to, and work with, service-users. Activity-based care manager and sometime gallery curator Clegg envisaged the album not as therapy but as a means of producing an archive of biographies of people whose pasts had been largely forgotten.

Apparently, however, recapturing these stories has seen at least short-term improvements in the quality of the lives of some of its participants.

David Hemingway writes for XLR8R and Record Collector magazines and is a rehabilitation co-ordinator at an independent hospital

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