Music & Memories: Lucy Anne Sale creates a soundscape for the city in Retold

Posted on 24 June 2018

They say that memories are often more powerfully triggered by sounds than sights, so for a show as focused on real-life community memories as Mercurial Dance’s Retold, finding the right person to to create its musical score was crucial.

Forming part of our Read All About It! project – an ambitious performance takeover of the former Coventry Evening Telegraph Building this July – Retold is firmly rooted in the city, not only drawing on its history, but also created and performed by the people who call it their home. Among them is Coventry-based musician and solo recording artist Lucy Anne Sale.

Working in situ at the CET Building over the last few weeks, Lucy has created a richly textured, evocative and continually evolving soundscape for the production, inspired both by Coventry’s physical landscape and by the people who inhabit it. Capitalising on the distinctive acoustics of the building itself, her work combines songs with instrumental sections, and live music with elements recorded on site.

“As well as singing, I’m going to be playing live with the piano, guitar and flute, alongside a backing orchestra of pre-recorded music which will involve all of the musical instruments here in the room with me, including the typewriter in the corner,” she says.

“The really exciting thing is that I’ve actually recorded some percussion down in the basement using the old machines there – so all the printing presses and stair rails and things like that have become almost like a drumkit.”

Lucy Anne Sale

That said, the soundtrack currently being assembled is only part of what you’ll hear during performances, which will be slightly different every night. Like the dancers in Retold Lucy will be required to think on her feet, responding to stories drawn from audience members on the day.

Of course, the collaborative nature of the show adds another dimension to this complexity: she’s not just improvising around the stories themselves, but also improvising around the dancers’ interpretations of them. It’s a new challenge for Lucy, but one that she’s excited about taking on.

“I had some experience of collaborating with dancers from when I was studying for my degree, but I’ve definitely never improvised music to dance having only just heard a story for the first time!” she laughs.

“It has taken me out of my comfort zone,” she admits. “I’m used to creating a song and presenting it at the end of a process, when it’s been polished and perfected as far as possible. I have improvised with other musicians before, but that’s usually been around an emotion or a feeling rather than a story. It’s also the first time I’ve recorded myself rather than working with a sound engineer.

“However, I think it’s grown on me and I feel like I’m already a lot better at it now than I was at first. Although it seemed a bit daunting initially, the company have been so supportive, that in the end it couldn’t have been more perfect.”

This mutual support has been vital throughout the development of the project, with Lucy, Oliver and the dancers devising the piece together with writer/dramaturg Olivia Winteringham, gathering regularly to discuss the stories they’ve sourced from the community and drawing out common themes and issues. In fact, says Lucy, it was partly this that attracted her to the project.

“It was an opportunity to write music that came out of discussions with other people rather than purely from inside me, and also a chance to try composing in a different way to how I’ve composed for the last however many years. I do like new challenges. But also I think the fact that it’s a big performance piece in the centre of our city made it feel like a real honour to be asked. I’m really grateful to Mercurial Dance and the Belgrade Theatre for giving me this opportunity, as well as to Alan Denyer for giving me access to this room before he’d even met me!”

Lucy Anne Sale

Well-established in Coventry’s music scene, Lucy was initially approached by Oliver following recommendations from local followers of her work. In many ways, she’s as much a product of the city as the show itself, woven into the tapestry of Coventry stories that echo through the corridors of the CET Building, both from its days as home to the newspaper, and its more recent reimagining as a public art space.

That sense of her own part within a shared history which being in the building has impressed upon her has been just as invaluable a source of inspiration for Lucy as any of its physical or acoustic features.

“Having this studio space on site is really inspirational because actually being in the building feels quite magical and poignant,” she says.

“Partly that comes from speaking to people who come here and making new friends – lots of the people coming round on tours have come in and given me stories about the building. Also being within a hub of artists has been really good, because it’s created a central space for people to meet and discuss ideas.

“There have been some magical things that have happened by coincidence. For example, there was one day when I’d been working on a 20-minute piece of music for a section where the dancers read out birth, marriage and death notices, which is one of my favourite parts of the show.

“I’d just finished and started packing my instruments away, when suddenly the door opened and my backing vocalist’s parents walked in. They had no idea I was working there, and when I asked what made them want to visit the building, they explained that one of them used to work there, doing the birth, marriage and death notices! It’s all the amazing things like that which make you feel like what you’re doing is important.”

Retold runs as part of Read All About It! at the Coventry Evening Telegraph Building 10-14 July as part of the Coventry City of Culture Trust’s build-up programme to 2021, supported by Heritage Lottery Fund, Arts Council England, Coventry University, University of Warwick, Coventry City Council and Coventry Business Improvement District.

Tickets are available to book now.