Taking its cue from Charles Parker’s original BBC Radio Ballads, a series that aired from 1958-64, Towards a Radio Ballad: Songs of the Journey is a sonic theatrical performance created through a year-long collaboration between Implicated Theatre and migrant hotel workers from the UNITE the Union’s Hotel Workers Branch, as part of the Edgware Road Project.
Following months of interviews with migrant hotel workers, Frances Rifkin went on to work with sound composer and artist Patrick Farmer to produce a composition, that imagines what a possible Radio Ballad might be today.
In summer 2016, theatrical interventions were accompanied by a sound composition was a sketch that moved towards the broadcast version of the Ballad.
The original series of eight one-hour Radio Ballads were broadcast by the BBC from 1957–64. These Radio Ballads revolutionised radio documentary and have become highly influential today. They were “a form of narrative documentary in which the story is told entirely in the words of the actual participants themselves as recorded in real life; in sound effects which are also recorded on the spot, and in songs which are based upon these recordings, and which utilise traditional or ‘folk-song’ modes of expression.”
In 2006, there was a revival of the Radio Ballads and Charles Parker’s daughter Sarah Parker chose six issues to focus on, visiting steelworks, shipyards and fairgrounds across the countryside with fox and hare hunters, talking with musicians who’d been caught up in the Troubles and to people living with HIV/AIDS, gathering the different locations atmospheres and sound effects, in the process speaking with hundreds of interviewees.
Patrick Farmer is a musician and sound artist who works within improvisation, scores and composition. Commonly referred to as a percussionist, Farmer will often enlist the help of a drum as a resonator for natural materials or for filtering field recordings. He has performed throughout Europe and America, including concerts at ICA, Stockholm National Gallery, EyeDrum, The Radiator Festival, Derby Jazz Rhythm A Ning, and many others. He has forthcoming residencies at Q02 in Brussels and MOKS in Estonia. In 2008 Farmer co-founded the record label Compost and Height, which focuses on free downloads of improvisation and field recording.
Frances Rifkin is a theatre director, lecturer and trainer with a wide-ranging career in theatre, higher education and organisational consultancy. She is the artistic director of Utopia Arts working mainly as a director in Political and Community theatre. Trained with Augusto Boal, with extensive experience in Forum Theatre and has been the Director of Serpentine Galleries’ Implicated Theatre programme since 2011. Frances Rifkin is also an artistic director, oral historian, workshop leader, group worker and community arts animator.
Listen to Towards a Radio Ballad
Patrick Farmer and Frances Rifkin, audio commission, 2016.