Blog: Martyn Ware

The synth-pop pioneer with Heaven 17 and Human League, producer and audio artist previews his National Festival of Making project, exploring social histories of the working class

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My father was a steelworker in Sheffield and he had just one day off each week. We’d inevitably find him asleep wherever he lay on Sunday, as the six days of manual labour had taken its toll, but Friday night did bring some joy. Whether it was the pub or anywhere else, the whistle would blow and he would end up, like most people, enjoying a pint with the same people he shared a place with on the company payroll. In modern times, when socialising with colleagues can feel and appear forced, it’s difficult to imagine how natural it was for your one night of fun to be spent with your work mates. They were more than that; they were your real friends.

That sense of camaraderie and community spirit pervaded in working-class communities from the Industrial Revolution onwards and, perhaps, in some industries and places it remains true, but the working men’s clubs and pubs as we knew them are no longer the hives of hard-earned joviality for masses of thirsty workers every weekend that they once were. Why not document these times in some way?

 We’re looking for people’s memories of music, dancing, good times and bad

Arriving in Lancashire, we set ourselves right at the heart of a working-class history that’s etched above the doorways, in the stonework of the town halls and in the names of the streets. I am working with a range of manufacturers in Lancashire to create a new sound installation in the former Tony’s Empress Ballroom in Blackburn town centre, as part of the Art In Manufacturing residencies project. Artists can play the role of archivist and social historian in ways that engage people and fire the imagination. In that spirit, we’re looking for people’s memories of music, dancing, good times and bad, friendships, breakups, marriages and the artefacts, photographs and mementoes of times when the music and dancing reigned at Tony’s, where the dust sadly now dominates the dancefloor.

It was an important national venue for the northern soul community in the 1980s, with members of the Soultown nights coming from far and wide. Whether it was the Cavern Club, Haçienda, Wigan Casino or Tony’s, the moth-like attraction of exciting club nights for hundreds and thousands of working-class pleasure-seekers has gone down in legend. What happened in the north of England in recent decades should be as part of our living memory as the sepia-tinted, soot-covered memories of people like my dad and his mates, whose one night out through the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s was far more drinking Watneys than taking Es. We work hard; let’s celebrate the times when we’ve grabbed the chance to play hard.

Do you have memories of Tony’s Empress Ballroom? Contact if you have anything to share. Martyn Ware and other artists exhibit new work as part of the National Festival of Making, in Blackburn town centre, 12-13 May

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