Northeast singer-songwriter Sinead Florence Livingston reveals how Roker Pier inspired her song 'The Patchwork Pier'
Why did you write a song about Roker Pier?
I was at University at Sunderland, and sometimes when University work was getting too much, I'd go down to the seafront for fresh air and open space. Coming from Weardale, sometimes I craved that. If I ever missed home, I'd sit and think that the water there had gone past my house and I'd feel connected to home. I've always felt connected to both the sea and the hills and I'm sort of torn between them both.
I studied Community Music, and one of my 3rd year community projects was called Follow The River, which ended up as a visual soundscape performance looking at various aspects of the River Wear from start to finish, using bits of old iron, Frosterly marble, shells and pebbles and plastic bags to make the sounds of mining, shipbuilding, the river and the sea. The pier is such a fascinating structure to me, and even now when I see it, it sort of signifies nearly being home. One of those things that if you've been away a while, and then see it, it feels weirdly welcoming.
Why did you call the song The Patchwork Pier?
At the end of University, me and my friend Mark decided to walk down to Roker. We were walking along the pier, reminiscing about our time at University, and having a good giggle, and when we got to the end of the pier, we looked back towards the shore and the pier, at that time (2013) had been patched up so many times it looked like a patchwork quilt. Then Mark happened to say "patchwork pier, there's a song in that" and so, the idea was born!
I had a little guitar riff that I'd come up with a few weeks before that I liked, but didn't have any words for, so when I moved home to Weardale I did some research about the pier (I might have used a little bit of poetic licence with the dates, 1885 was the year they began building, but the song says that's when it was "fresh and new" but I couldn't get the finishing date to sound right!) The song was born in Sunderland, but the words were written at home in my garden in the sunshine with water that flows into the Wear trickling by, which in my mind, seemed rather fitting.
What's the reaction from people when you play it?
I've sent people to sleep with it! My mum runs a bunkhouse and we get a lot of cyclists who are doing the the Coast To Coast, and they often end up at Roker. Occasionally, if there are any musicians in the cycle groups we have a bit of a music session and a right good sing-song and it's been known to send people to sleep. Sometimes we've had people who have contacted us after they've got to the pier saying that they could hear the song in their mind as they got there, which is nice.
It's also been known to silence a room which is a very odd feeling. Usually when I play solo gigs, I'm not too bothered if people chat, I don't mind being background music but once or twice it has just captured people, and then I go all shy - it is a nice feeling when people do listen to songs, if a little bit odd. I'm always very appreciative, especially when people can connect to it.
How long have you been a singer songwriter and how did you get started?
I wrote my first song aged six, called There Are Fairies in the Garden on my very first keyboard that I bought with my pocket money. After that, my next significant song came along after my parents split up when I was 15. Music helped me through that. Ever since a young age, I've always been around music. I was brought up in a folk environment, going to folk festivals and folk clubs with my parents and lots of music concerts, so I guess music has always been in my blood. I first started to perform with a guitar at a local folk club, which was a great way to start as folk clubs are very supportive places! I've never written a song in the same way twice. Sometimes the tune comes first, sometimes the lyrics, and more often than not, it takes me by suprise!
Are there any plans to sing The Patchwork Pier in public?
I've sang it many times in public before, by myself, but last year, I did a choral arrangement for it with One Voice Choir (the choir I lead at Arts Centre Washington) and we sang it at our summer performance last year when we did songs from Sunderland and the wider North east. We will be singing it again at the Tall Ships in the town moor stage at 10am on the 12th of July, really looking forward to that.
Have you ever sung it on Roker Pier itself? Would you like to?
I've not sang it on the pier yet, but I would love to one day....maybe even with the choir! That would be lovely.