Sally Clifford finds out how the canal – with a little help from some fleecy friends – played a part in a unique music celebration in West Yorkshire.
Textiles have played an integral part in Yorkshire’s history so it was fitting for some fleecy friends to be part of a unique celebration.
HERD, described as a ‘spectacular sonic feast for the eyes and ears,’ was a collaborative project involving artists, musicians, singers – and Sheep – commemorating Kirklees Year of Music 2023.
Helen Marriage, CEO of arts production company, Artichoke, explained the HERD project had been around two years in the making.
During that time, she says they focused on the history of the area known for its rich textile heritage and mills to create a soundscape incorporating music reflecting that legacy.
The ground-breaking project, devised by composer Orlando Gough and produced by Artichoke, involved artists and local people.
Perhaps the celebration’s most unusual and eye-catching feature was the 23 singing sheep led by the giant mother sheep (Aina) broadcasting her soundscape into the distance.
Over six days, the 23 sheep sculptures, created by Huddersfield artist, Dave Young, and each named after the ancient sheep-counting song Yan Tan Tethera, appeared throughout Kirklees – including the local canal.
Helen is a narrowboat owner who lives part-time on her 70ft long vessel, The Black Countryman, on the Oxford Canal. She explained some of the flock would be afloat, all created from recycled materials such as discarded metal, denim and rags, reflecting the area’s textile heritage.
The soundscapes were commissioned from local sound artists and mixed together by Orlando Gough and sound designers Sebastian Frost and John Del’Nero with recorded performances by the choirs, bands and soloists involved in HERD.
“They really capture what the place looks and feels like, the early history of rural Yorkshire right up to its post-industrial present,” says Helen.
Shepley Bridge Marina in Mirfield, home to The Safe Anchor Trust charity, was the destination for two of the flock departures.
Established in 1995, the charity, run entirely by volunteers, provides canal boat trips for physically and mentally disabled groups as well as the socially disadvantaged through age or social isolation or deprivation.
In support of the Canal & River Trust, the charity also helps to maintain its local waterways and surrounding environment.
Kevin Thorburn, a volunteer and Trustee of the Safe Anchor Trust, explains: “We were asked to provide a working boat to transport mechanical sheep, complete with sound systems along the Calder & Hebble Navigation and Huddersfield Broad Canal from Mirfield to Huddersfield. It sounded like a wonderful and fun community project our volunteers were keen to be involved in.”
Departing from the marina with the Safe Anchor Trust’s volunteer crew on Lady Brenda – one of the charity’s five-strong fleet – a 36 ft narrow beam workboat used for clearance and environmental work – were small rural sheep, Vedoro and Wix.
Shaped on a steel frame, the sheep were filled with lighter materials, including willow and bamboo. Their heads were modelled in clay and a cast was taken in papier mache or thermoplastic sheet. Additional fabric/paper textures and paint were applied after.
Inside each sheep was a sound system playing sounds of industry, manufacturing, music and people on the journey to Huddersfield.
Interestingly, Jeff Trigg, volunteer and trustee with the Safe Anchor Trust, is a member of Huddersfield Choral Society – one of the organisations contributing to the soundtracks for the event.
“I think it’s good to be involved and to be part of something that is Kirklees wide and a project promoting music throughout Kirklees. Also the links with the historical past and the textile industries within Huddersfield,” said Jeff.
“The Safe Anchor Trust is a community project and it is good to be part of a community project across Kirklees.”
Kevin said: “Over the years we have carried some unusual items on our boat, from shopping trollies to bikes, most of them which we have ‘pulled out’ of the canal or river as part of our environmental work. But music playing model sheep has to be up there with the strangest and wackiest cargo we’ve had!
“It is both a privilege and an opportunity to be able to contribute to other events going on within Kirklees.”
Following their travels, the HERD, including Pethera, a small rural sheep which was transported on the front deck of the 32ft long Marsden e-Shuttle operated by Huddersfield Canal Society, arrived in St George’s Square, Huddersfield, on Sunday July 16 for the free event finale – the performance of five specially-commissioned future songs for Kirklees.
Mike McHugh, Trustee and Boat supervisor with Huddersfield Canal Society, said it was great fun to be involved in the exciting event.
Said Helen: “It encapsulates all of the elements that make Kirklees as special as it is.”
HERD was supported by Kirklees Council; Arts Council England; National Lottery Heritage Fund; West Yorkshire Combined Authority; Canal & River Trust and One Community Foundation.