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Culture Watch: The Long Walk

Vinny Lawrenson Woods hopped aboard a bus and a ship for a journey with 100 musicians to hear the story of the deaths of 23 Chinese immigrants

Published on March 18th 2008.

Culture Watch: The Long Walk

WRITING a review is usually a straightforward affair, whether it’s a play, film or gig you generally know what to expect and therefore how to write about it, but with nearly 100 hundred musicians, six coaches, video, photographs and a boat, The Long Walk was anything but straightforward.

Described as a musical journey, The Long Walk was first commissioned by the Arts Council England and performed in Morecambe, in 2007, in response to the death of 23 Chinese cockle pickers who became trapped in rising tides on Morecambe Bay in February 2004.

Then commissioned by the Liverpool Culture Company and nine months in the making, the Liverpool journey was created by Peter Moser and Lemn Sissay in collaboration with musicians from Liverpool and beyond.

We met at The Cornerstone Gallery, Hope University for Act One of Two of the journey. Live music from a great ensemble band drew us outside where we were confronted by six booths which we had to choose from for our first leg. Each booth represented six different destinations around the city, including a hall in Kensington, Chinatown and a city centre bar. We went for booth three, “The Waterfront Bar” and boarded our coach to take us there.

Recollections of terrible school trips and dodgy art events involving guided tours were quickly dismissed as it became obvious some real thought had been put into this event. Entertained and expertly guided by rapper Ash Nugent, we arrived at our destination the Walk The Plank Theatre Ship near Mann Island.

Taking our seat on the floating theatre and complimentary mint tea in hand, the stage, hidden behind a stack of cardboard boxes, exploded into action. It revealed guitarists, drummers, singers, rappers, and a whole host of other instruments including a superb electric fiddle, and with the youngest musician no more than 10 years of age. Led by our rapper-guide, Ash, we listened to powerful and moving songs about home and the reasons we leave.

We eventually returned to the Cornerstone Gallery’s Great Hall to rejoin the other five coaches for Act Two of The Long Journey. Led by musical director Peter Moser, and performed by international musicians, The More Music Ensemble and the Community Choir and Orchestra, this was one of the most unique performances I’ve ever experienced. With a backdrop of video, stills and shadow imagery, the compositions were truly remarkable, telling the story of the Chinese migrant workers and their deaths.

Although inspired by the death of Morecambe Bay cockle pickers, the Long Journey was about the movement of people, exploitation and borders. We live in world that magnifies differences and ignores what makes us the same. Last weekend, music succeeded in reminding us of our commonality, that leaving our homes and families are difficult choices for everyone, regardless of nationality. True art happens when we are moved or changed by an experience, and this is what happened here.

The Long Walk was original and haunting. With compositions using a mix of Western and Chinese instruments, singing, shouting and rapping, it’s hard to imagine how it would work, but it did. It was a performance full of surprises but never lost its message. If you could only see one event in 2008, this could well have been the one, even if only to listen to UK Chinese solo vocalist Seeming To, as she was worth the ticket price alone.

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