Life

Anne Hailes: The Camera offers a snapshot of Belfast undefined by the Troubles

Engine Works Light Turning Shop, Harland and Wolff, 1935 – Helen’s grandfather is pictured in the front row, fourth from the left

LOCKDOWN, lock up, furlough, shielding – words that have become part of daily life and they all mean the same thing, life on hold. It has meant devastation for so many families, the sadness of deaths and the misery of illness.

If you’re lucky it has meant having time on your hands, with the occasional outing to alleviate the boredom. For many it has meant using their initiative to keep interested, others have renewed friendships after years of silence.

Here’s a story that warms the heart about a boy and a girl who met almost 40 years ago in the Crescent Arts Centre.

Helen Parker was working with the Belfast Community Circus and she’d just finished a drama course at Rupert Stanley College. Brendan Morrison was studying art, also at Rupert Stanley, and the two hit it off as they had one thing in common – they had a passion for music and entertaining.

“I’d been singing and playing bass for a few years and as Brendan was writing songs and performing at parties our friendship began and we entertained many people across the political divide for around four years," says Helen.

"One song in particular proved to be a favourite. The Camera was a song that Brendan wrote in 1983 and was popular at these gatherings. I’m originally from east Belfast and Brendan’s home was in Ardoyne but we realised that music was a great way for Catholics and Protestants in Ireland to put differences aside, forget about the Troubles and just get together to be creative.”

Helen sang for the cover band RSVP all over Ireland until the late 80s when she developed nodes on her vocal chords.

“So I took the decision to move to London in 1986. I lived there for three years and then moved to Canterbury in Kent where I live with my husband Tony Rico Richardson.”

Tony is a well known musician, played saxophone for Bad Manners also Amy Winehouse, and from Pixie Lott to Bono with hundreds between.

“We have two children, Dottie and Liam and I work as front-of-house manager at the Gulbenkian Theatre. In 1997 Brendan moved to live in Santiago, Chile, where he works for Fair Working Conditions, the Irish company that audits and inspects factories in China, India, Vietnam and the Philippines on behalf of US retailers to ensure that human rights and employment standards comply with international laws. He lives with his five children; three born in Belfast and twins born in Santiago.”

:: The Camera

Unsurprisingly over time the two lost contact until two years ago when a familiar name popped up on Facebook and friendship was rekindled. They talked about old times, the gigs all over Ireland, the fun and satisfaction of bringing people together through music and especially singing Brendan’s song The Camera, a gentle, soul-searching song – “I’m looking through a camera at my own existence, this is where I dwell on moments missing ….”, wistful reflection of a time gone, leaving just a photograph on a wall.

“We thought it would be a nice surprise for our friend Ethna Roddy who introduced us at the Crescent so we intended recording the song for her – after all, she was our biggest fan.”

But they were both busy so it was all talk and nothing was done – that is, until coronavirus became a worldwide crises.

“Suddenly we had something positive for our confinement. We began by searching through suitcases and boxes of old family photographs, sending us both on an emotional rollercoaster on our mission to compile a slide show to accompany the track.”

Suddenly it was all systems go. Brendan asked his family and friends to look out old photos and Helen compiled them all and put them into some sort of order as Brendan worked on the music.

And the project began to take shape as Helen put it, with video files pinged back and forth from Santiago to Canterbury.

“I feel The Camera has more than a nostalgic feel for us, it reflects the times that we are in now, communicating with loved ones on screen while we are so restricted and looking forward to getting back to our lives as they were.”

On the track Brendan sings with Helen and also plays guitar, with Helen’s husband Tony Rico playing saxophone, flute and slide guitar. The result is simply beautiful and I hope radio stations all over the country will decide to play this record. Listen and hear for yourself at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UehFWSWIQqk

:: Another Belfast talent

Sculptor Tim Shaw, born in north Belfast, has the great honour of having one of his works selected to stand at the entrance of the Imperial War Museum in Manchester.

In his early 50s, Tim is one of the youngest members of the Royal Academy of Arts and has exhibited all over the world, with a number of major commissions including The Minotaur for the Royal Opera House London, The Rites of Dionysus for the Eden Project, Cornwall, and the huge Drummer for the central square of Truro, also in Cornwall.

Because of the coronavirus there have been hold-ups in the preparation of the final sculpture which will be cast into bronze in the autumn.

Man on Fire was originally conceived in response to the US-led invasion of Iraq. Reports promise a larger-than-life exhibit in scale at 4m x 4m x 2.5 m.

"It captures the horrific moments of a figure on fire, caught in conflict. The sculpture is a powerful image of contemporary conflict and compassionately relates to the human cost of war."

:: More at timshawsculptor.com

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