About Amber – Part 3

Interview with Stafford Lindsey, Murray Martin and Peter Roberts. Interviewer Graeme Rigby.

00.00 – 05.42 “Begins by talking to SL about his background in industrial archeology, which began when he was sent by the engineering firm he worked for (Vickers), to university in Sheffield, then later when he completed a PhD. He came from a pit village background, his family were all miners.

SL: One of the things I did as an industrial archeologist was rescue recording, so a building was about to be pulled down we would try to take a few photographs, maybe a few measured drawings. For example we recorded the dozen or so farms that were flooded for the Keilder reservoir, we surveyed them and photographed them. Some subjects couldn’t be recorded this way. Where processes or people were involved I thought we would need film. Discusses how he was inspired by Sam Hannah and his woodwork films to teach students. He wanted to commit himself to documenting the industrial North-East. ”

“05.42 -13:14
“GR: Can P and M talk about how you got involved?

MM: Discussion about how he came to the same idea as S, being an industrial painter and then going to art school. One of my first films for Amber when I was a student was filming the Shields ferry, I wanted to document that. As a group we wanted to document working class life, although not that vague!

PR: The environment was familiar to me, all the men in my family came home in overalls smelling of mineral oil and paint. The visual aspect was there but it was also about reconnecting about something that was much more personal, that 15 years of education had kind of alienated us from. It legitimised things for me. We came across people living dignified lives and I realised it was nothing to be ashamed of, not to be left behind.

MM: My position was similar to Pete. In Stoke, children were allowed in the factories, I watched my mum paint the teacups. I had access to that. I learned at University that middle class kids were not smarter than working class kids and that you were being designed out of your background. It was a class based system. Your parents saw you as different, you were ‘better them’. My parents were shocked that I wanted to record this, and that I was living in a terraced house in Byker!

MM: Stafford sussed us out pretty quickly! He would say there is this railway line or there is this brick works. Of course, they are exactly in the terrain we were interested in. ”
14:03 “SL: I didn’t have that alienation and I lived in a pit village. If you do engineering you can’t be divorced from the shop floor. You had to spend your summer vacation back in industry. I cherished the industrial environment, crafts that were being practiced everyday by hundreds of people. It can only be done through film. The way that the men move in the glassworks it is like it is choreographed, like a dance. You can’t write about it.
Discussion on the Bowes line film, how he approached Amber and what the filmed. Also stated how he wanted a commentary but that Amber didn’t ”
18:35 “MM: It is interesting about the commentary. The film still sells after 30 years. People asked why there wasn’t a commentary. But if you were just to go on the line and look with your eyes then you wouldn’t have all the answers.

PR: It is also in the tradition of the British documentary movement, where it was just observation of people in their everyday lives, without direction. Commentary adds another layer.

MM: It also makes you lazy: how can you show things visually? But there were great anecdotes and stories that we could have used.

PR : The amazing thing is the danger, people riding on the buffers of the train. These dangers are macho but also another skill.

SL: In the glassworks, that is where the dance comes from the men are trying to avoid danger. Discussion on the Wearmouth glassworks and how they were less accessible in terms of filming. ”

26:05 “MM: Full access was important to us. On the health and safety issue, once it was agreed no one ever worried about about us. In the shipyards, were used to climb on the tankers there were sparks everywhere. But I was never afraid, it never felt unsafe. The glassworks film what strikes you is how balletic it is, lads that drink 15 pints a night, smoking a tab when working but the movement they make!

SL: Discusses the difference in the last shift at the glass works, and the filming of the work at the brickworks in Swalwell. Filming of the pony there and the stories attached to them.

MM: One of the things that did effect it was that when we turned up to film the brickworks they had closed the factory. The men had not quite signed on so we went around those that we knew and said we will pay you a weeks wages, will you work? So they said yes. They opened the factory and worked for the week. The attitude to the horse was symbolic and we kept that in. Otherwise it was a record. No one asked us why it was open!”
“PR: The machinery was medieval!

SL: It was the same in the glassworks. If a medieval glassblower had walked in, they would have known what was going on. ”

“34:40 – 40:52 ” “SL: I would like to ask Peter about the challenges behind the camera?

PR: It was largely to do with finance, there were only 3 on the crew with a sound recordist. We were using different stock, and different lenses. In the huge brickworks you were reliant on light through the missing tiles! But having control, you can always wait.

MM: But the thing that was central was that is it was visually amazing. Our films were thought through very carefully but they didn’t have scripts they were done in our heads. It was making the obvious ballet work as a ballet.

PR: In the glassworks we used a tracking device on an improvised platform, which added dynamism. Following the glass coming out.

MM: I regret, in generalised terms, that we didn’t do more subjects but there just wasn’t the money for it.

Tape cuts. ”

40:52 [Starts mid-sentence with MM speaking about health and safety] Access became difficult in the late 70’s to shipyards. In the case of Scotswood, they were closing and we asked for the glass negatives but they wouldn’t give them to us, they would rather smash them.

“42:19 – 48:50 ” “GR: Can you talk about ‘Launch’ and the filming of launch?

MM: Launch was a different film than the others. We made films when we could. Memory is imperfect but I remember Pete, myself and Sirkka going to Wallsend and standing by the river at the keel of the boat and I remember being staggered by it visually. And I thought why haven’t we made a film about this? We got permission from their PR woman and we filmed.
[discussion about the cameras and film used].

PR: The other thing was the ratio was 2:1 rather than in standard documentaries it is 10:1. Sometimes you see the fogging around the edges of the film we wanted to use as much as we could. [Discussion on editing and shot choices and the camera affecting the films].

MM: With Launch we wanted to celebrate working class achievement. We wanted to reveal why they were proud. [Discussion of when the film was shown in Germany it was a political film, given the working conditions filmed].

PR: The other thing was that the workers had built this thing in the end of the street but they weren’t invited to the launch. They were behind the wall .

SL: Would the films have been better if you had had more money?

PR: No, people are inhibited by crews and paraphernalia.
M: I don’t think money improves anything the best films are done on low budgets and filmed with passion and commitment. ”

53:45 “SL:In terms if you asked me know what should be filmed now I wouldn’t know because the whole industry has changed.
MM: The Gare steelworks is going to go, and that is an important record. But there are no drift mines now. And where is the evidence of mining in County Durham now? There is a pit-wheel in every town and that is you lot. In film terms there isn’t even a record of the Staithes or the shipyards.

PR: The last thing left is the steelworks and the foundry there.

SL: Maybe we should be looking somewhere else. Like in the ICI plant or the pot ash mine.

56:56 “GR: Where did you first come across Amber’s work?

SL: I did see the films first before I met them individually. Working and living in Newcastle I was aware of the gallery. I was always very keen to learn about my subject and I also wanted to use certain films in my teaching. But I can’t remember!

MM: We have continued to document, even the dramas are documentaries. The memory isn’t perfect and I sometimes discover things that contradict my memory.”

1:00:30 “MM: The other things that Stafford and Peter have talked about is the role of women in industry in this region.
PR: In Newcastle there was Rington’s or the clerical workers at the Ministry.
MM: There was Welshes at the toffee factory, I visited there and I thought it was very interesting.
SL: That was my first contact with the Shields ferry. After the war you couldn’t get sweets, but sugar was rationed and if you had surplus sugar, you could take it to Welshes and exchange it for sweets. I did that once a month. One of the main sources of employment for women in Northumberland was in agriculture but that died out by the 1920’s.
MM: And in the fishing industry. Catholic women were land based processing and selling and the men went and caught the fish.

1:05: 05 – 01:11:38 ” “PR: In terms of recording, a lot of it was carried on with photographs people like Bruce Ray capturing elements of ship building. The elements that we didn’t do are covered by photographs.

MM: But film does it differently. It is a different way of receiving information. There is a poetic quality to the films. I have always said record it, even if it is done badly it is still a record. The visual sensibility is an important element. People have filmed things that no-one looks at anymore because they are visually boring.

GR: P can you say more about this? Because you came to Amber not wanting to do documentary.

PR: it was just not the experience that I had had. Television had dominated documentary in this country. But factual and journalistic based. It wasn’t until I found out about the British documentary movement and the then visiting the Amsterdam doc festival that I realised that there was lots of ways to make a documentary.

MM: The enthusiastic reception to these films was always abroad. Or from people like Stafford. Not people with a film background and they created the space for us. I applied for funding from Northern Arts but the films were rejected because it wasn’t art. We went to local authorities, we though they would want to fund the filming of their local heritage but it didn’t happen on a regular basis. We have always worked in spite of the system. Edgar Anstey saw the films, he was a producer on night mail and housing problems and he contacted us and said that this is in keeping with the British documentary movement. He was a great fan. We were involved with people like that. We were one of the few groups of retained their independence.

SL: What was the reaction of showing the films to people that worked in the place?

PR: We showed them at our place, in our cinema. People are often surprised at what they do. At their own surroundings.

MM: There are different responses. This is audiences. In Germany the films are shown on a much broader scale

01:22: 18 ” “This is the audience problem. I remember showing the rushes [of film about Shields ferry] to Laurie, as his dad had worked on the ferry and he told me he had cried. Then I showed it in an art gallery, I was standing next to the father and son. I felt very responsible. Afterwards the father was in tears and the son said, that is the first time I have heard my father speak. You never know where you are going. Audiences are difficult. Negative reactions come from local councillors who want to remove this eyesore and industries! Let’s get rid of the cloth cap image… it is nonsense but they are bound up in it. People are still surprised when you are celebrate ordinary peoples lives.

SL: It is something I feel very strongly about, we tend to minimise arts and crafts and skills when they are found in industrial environments. If you describe tube drawing, an intelligent person would say it isn’t possible! They had to be so precise.

MM: Now it is the nostalgia market. People say was that what it was like? And they lived on Tyneside! How many people have been down a mine or in a factory? People don’t know how others spent the bulk of their lives! These records are important.
[Ends MM still speaking]. “

Support Amber

Collection • Gallery • Access • Education • Production

Support Amber

Collection • Gallery • Access • Education • Production