I write this review a little bit pissed and very enthusiastic. I’ve just come back from Barnsley Civic after seeing the final part of a project called Bring the Happy.
Bring the Happy is an interactive psycho-geography/theatre project created by Invisible Flock. Over the last month, they have been set up inside an empty shop unit on The Arcade with interactive maps of town and encouraged passersby to pop in and share a happy memory, and to explore those memories left by others. Over time a new map of Barnsley was developed – one that incorporated people’s memories of specific streets, buildings, shops, schools, pubs, parks and most of all, memories of people. Invisible Flock, along with the band Hope & Social, then turned those memories into an unforgettable performance, which takes place over two nights at The Civic.
Now, the psycho-geography element of the project I was really up on. It is something I’m really interested in and took part in that side of it as soon as I could, encouraging others to do the same. For performance however, I was worried it would be over-the-top, like those staff I saw jumping up and down on the tables in Lush this afternoon, or like that sales training where they make you dance and ‘shake it out’. And I had those concerns right up until five minutes in, until BOOM, they were gone on here one of my friends memories read out, a memory of her grandma’s daily walks to the post-office which involved her stealing flowers overhanging from people’s gardens.
The Civic theatre space was set up cabaret style – basic stage/band area and then tables and chairs scattered, with programmes, wine and glasses, little goodie bags containing kazoos, sparklers and glow sticks. The ‘show’ started with an introduction to the project, given by the three folk I recognised from the pop-up shop on The Arcade. These guys were Invisible Flock, Ben Eaton, Victoria Pratt and Richard Warburton, and they were backed by the extraordinary band Hope & Social. Throughout the introduction, the trio of narrators took it in turns to explain what Bring the Happy was, how it started and how it came to be in Barnsley. They also started to shared memories, opne of them being my friend’s.
Following the introduction was a series of songs inspired by the memories shared at previous Bring the Happy projects and those shared in Barnsley.
Songs/memories included a big band ska number, Ballad of babies, about those memories shared with the theme of births at Barnsley General. There was a song about an Italian gent who works on Barnsley Market who shared his memories of his late wife. There was the song about the many drunken memories which took the shape of a Crystal Castles style rave – and no encouragement was needed to get people waving those glow sticks. The song about first kisses and dances was a waltz, which included the narrators dancing together and I – without being asked – got up and started waltzing with our lass – a performance not forced by a customer service training session.
The spoken word parts to the songs had a rhythm to them that heightened emotion, just has the performances themselves do. But something that heightened the emotion and connection to the audience was allowing space and pauses to reflect inbetween ‘readings’.
And to bring balance to all that happy was a section called In The Dark, which spoke about the sad memories people shared when prompted to share a happy one. And also the angry memories and reactions people have towards an ‘arts’ project like this in the first place. This balance was a detail that was critical to the success of Bring the Happy.
Bring the Happy was a genuinely an uplifting and emotional experience and much of that was down to the quality of the ‘narrators’, the band and the quality of the songwriting. Hope & Social was like a melting pot of The Polyphonic Spree, Elbow and Counting Crows. Or those times when Arcade Fire dance and play amongst their audience – big uplifting indie pop with elements of folk and swing. And with that mix of the spoken word, sermon-like readings of memories it became almost church like. I wondered if this was what the Atheist Church I read about in the news recently would be like. It is all about the communal experience, community, storytelling and myth making – very church like. But then no different to the best gigs and finding a communal connection in concert.
A highlight for me was definitely the song The Gardener of The Dearne. I couldn’t tell if this was a song they had written themselves or if this was a cover. It was essentially a folk song which spoke about the land of our grandfathers, and mentioned many of Barnsley’s villages. I often go to Barnsley Folk Club and am familiar with many of the local folk songs and I thought this one could slot straight in. Is this one I’ve miss, I thought. It turned out that it was one of their own, a song specifically written for the Barnsley performances and inspired by the stories told to them, and it was outstanding.
I cannot recommend Bring the Happy enough, whether it be by nipping into their memory hub in town or going to their resulting show – only you can’t, because it’s all finished now. Or until they roll into the next chosen towns next year, which I’m told will be Exeter and London. However, you can still input your memories on the Bring The Happy map here: invisibleflock.co.uk/bringthehappy/map.html
Read more about Invisible Flock, Hope & Social and Barnsley Civic do by following these links.