A musical celebration of historic high streets

Published: 9 September 2021
Reporter: Peter Lathan

High Street Cultural Programme

Historic England has twinned North Shields and Lancaster for a musical celebration, a series of new songs inspired by the towns' historic high streets and local communities, entitled High Street Duets and produced by Newcastle-based Unfolding Theatre.

The songs have been written by North East-based songwriter Beccy Owen and writer Daniel Bye (Instructions for Border Crossings, The Price of Everything, These Hills Are Ours) who together with Unfolding Theatre's Associate Artist Alex Elliott, collected stories from local people about their towns.

High Street Duets is a nationally commissioned project by Historic England to support the North Shields High Street Heritage Action Zone, a four-year programme run in partnership with North Tyneside Council, which aims to make the high street a more attractive place for communities to live, work and enjoy leisure activities.

It is one of six Twin Towns commissions that are part of the High Streets Heritage Action Zones' Cultural Programme, led by Historic England, in partnership with Arts Council England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The Cultural Programme aims to make high streets more engaging and vibrant places.

The four songs—written in different musical styles—reflect the range of views and emotions that people within the local communities shared with Owen and Bye. They will be released one by one over the next four days at the Unfolding Theatre web site and can also be accessed through QR codes displayed in shops and other businesses around North Shields.

They are New Planet City, a slice of upbeat electronica about the kind of future we want to build, and how that relates to the past (released today, 9 September), followed by the soulful Sunken Boat (released 10 September) and What do People Want? (11 September), a punky protest anthem bringing together a gathering of contradictory voices. The quartet is rounded off with Shipping, a folk song about traveling to the past and future on waves of time (12 September).

Anyone can join in singing the four songs on Saturday 11 September in North Shields as part of a pop-up choir by joining Beccy Owen at The Exchange in North Shields between 11:30AM and 1PM where they will rehearse the songs before performing them live at 1PM at Bedford Street and again at 2PM outside the Old Low Light. Each performance will last approximately 15 minutes. No previous experience or perceived musical ability is necessary. To join the Beccy Owen's Pop-Up Choir, visit Unfolding Theatre's web site.

“It's been a wonderful thing to use songwriting to explore the ways in which people's memories and experiences are embedded in the very walls and streets of where we live,” said Owen. “It's been a unique experience to work with Dan on these songs, and I am excited to see what the people of North Shields think when they hear them.”

“At Unfolding Theatre, we love to collaborate and create connections,” added Annie Rigby, Artistic Director of Unfolding Theatre, “so working with local communities in North Shields and Lancaster to celebrate their local town centres in song was right up our street, if you'll forgive the pun!”