Making Together at Castle Huntly
Since Autumn 2021, Vox Liminis’ Louis Abbott has been leading songwriting sessions at HMP Castle Huntly as part of the wider ‘Unbound Making Together’ project. Through this strand of the project, people preparing to return home from prison are connected with a supportive, welcoming community while artistic ideas are shared and exchanged from afar.
In this blogpost, Louis fills us in on what’s happened so far, and reflects on how it’s felt to get back to working in-person again after lockdown.
In September 2021, we kicked off a new block of weekly sessions at HMP Castle Huntly, near Dundee, working with some brand-new participants.
After a year or more of uncertainty and ever–changing restrictions, it’s been energising to finally get back to face-to-face delivery of sessions. So much of the work we were doing pre-pandemic was prison-based, and in those early days of Covid it felt like the people we were already somewhat removed from (by their being inside) had become further distanced from us. We were also aware that Covid restrictions were even more complicated for those in prison.
During lockdown, we found new ways to connect and create with people in prison. Through email, virtual visits and occasional phone calls, people were able to meaningfully participate in creative processes. We’ve discovered the many benefits of these methods- as outlined in this blog by Alison Urie– and are continuing to incorporate them into our work.
We wanted to start this first block at Castle Huntly with real energy, so we enlisted to help of song-writing workshop guru, Findlay Napier, who accompanied myself and Vox colleague, Lisa Howe, up to the Castle for an intensive two-day song-writing session. To keep the delivery of the workshop as safe as possible for all involved, we kept numbers manageable and ended up collaborating with 6 participants in two separate groups, working on the creation of group-written songs.
Meeting in two separate rooms meant we were able to stick to the prison’s Covid guidelines, but it also allowed the two groups to work in very different ways. Findlay’s group flew out of the traps and had the beginnings of two ideas by the end of day one. My group worked a little methodically and generally had more of a transient feel, with folk coming and going throughout the process due to visits or meetings with prison staff. This disruption to the flow when writing is pretty common in prison work; people quite often get called away for whatever reason. Sometimes they return and pick up where they left off. Sometimes not.
After so long ‘off’ I had some low-level anxiety going into the session; that I wouldn’t remember how to work in that environment especially given I hadn’t really done any creative collaboration for the best part of two years by that point.
But it felt like putting on a comfy old jumper. Lots of laughter and gentle encouragement. Sharing the space with a bunch of strangers who were all there to simply try something new.
Good collaboration within group work tends to blossom when everyone involved comes with an open mind and a bit of bravery. The guys in my group would likely not have called themselves songwriters – a few quite openly admitted that they had signed up for a bit of a giggle – but they ended sticking it out and becoming really invested in the process. By the end of day two we had created 3 brand new songs.
The foundations laid on those two days led to an eight-week block of song-writing classes that began as the leaves started falling in October and finished for the year just a few days before Christmas, laying down some group backing vocals on a song titled ‘Psychedelic Firework’, with a set of lyrics born from an exercise in acrostic poetry led by Glasgow-based musician, Jill O’Sullivan. Several members of the current group who meet every week were on that original two-day workshop and obviously took enough from it to want to keep meeting and sharing ideas.
In 2022, we’re excited to continue our weekly sessions, to open them up to more new people and to experiment with new art forms.
We also hope to continue to build connections between Castle Huntly and the Unbound community, both relationally and creatively. The creative theme of ‘signs’ will be used across all ‘Unbound Making Together’ projects and artistic ideas will be shared and exchanged from afar.
We’re also working to create more opportunities for collaboration for those on home leave or post-release from Castle Huntly.
Check out our group song ‘Psychedelic Firework’ below. The demo features group vocals recorded in the Castle itself plus some extra instruments added by Jill and I.
Protons and photons fusing together
Smashing and dancing like a whirlpool
Youthful and truthful, just a spoonful
Christ upon the sunlight
Heroes up within the stars
Elvis, he’s a hero he’s a superstar
Does everybody kinda feel the same
Elastic and celebrated?
or left at the side like a kid at the clyde?
In the echoes of your mind
You look but you cannot find
Rise up, rise up and go forth into the abyss in my head
Earth shattering, mind blowing decisions
Indigo nights bend the sky into the sea
Clear stars fight with the light of the moon
For now the city sleeps and the waves chase sealions
Like white horses at the carousel
Walking the tightrope trying to stay balanced
Open a can of coke, imbibing the gallons
Rock n roll like a square sausage roll
Kickin and lickin like bar-b-que chicken
Wonders of the universe, so vast, so infinite
Onward into space and beyond
Round the rings of Saturn, kings
Come and go but you never leave
Leave a comment below or email us.