adventures on the black path

On the roadside, close to Teesport and a stone’s throw away from the Black Path, stands this rather impressive electrical facility, humming to itself a song of untold voltage. I thought I’d firstly photograph it (here’s the result) and then record the sound of its low thrum. Unfortunately as I aimed the camera, carefully attempting to get the ‘Danger of Death’ sign bang in the centre, a police car pulled up.

The policeman said he’d passed me earlier on wandering around the vicinity, and as it was an industrial area with few pedestrians, could he have my details as there was a high risk of terrorism in such an area? He also wanted to know why on earth anyone would be taking pictures of these things and he asked what was in my bag. I showed him the black boxes, microphones and wires I was carrying around and he contacted North Yorkshire Police to check out if I had any history of nefarious acts.

Explaining to the constabulary about just liking sounds for their own sake, and that the recordings might well be amalgamated into compositions which some people consider almost like music, might seem a fruitless task. To give him his due though, the chap (who said he was in the armed response team) listened, didn’t smirk, and said ‘its good to have a hobby’. I quite liked him. He was courteous throughout and the police car was warm and had a christmas tree air freshener in.

When he let me go on my way, I moved away from the road and onto the Black Path. Unfortunately my intention to record at the abandoned Grangetown railway station was thwarted. The gate which had previously been open was now chained and double padlocked. As if to rub things in, the batteries on everything ran out, the replacements didn’t work (duff batch), so I cut my losses and drove home.

On the upside, I can now go into any police station in Cleveland and ask to see my personal dossier. I now consider myself a bona fide sound terrorist.

The Black Path near Grangetown station



the black path

Now they’re all but gone, but at the time I had two marvellous blisters over my Achilles tendons. I’ve worn those boots many times in the past, but on this trek for some reason they decided to carve away at the skin, maybe a reflection of the environment we were walking through, which was nothing if not scarred. The surface of the land lay gouged and pitted where it had been scraped and scoured away by the demands of industry, an industry that was itself predicated on an ever expanding consumerist culture.

The route known as The Black Path cuts through a dystopian architecture of pipes, furnaces, coke ovens and brutalist deadspace like a green river. It follows alongside the railway line from Middlesborough to Redcar. Named after the soot from the blast furnaces that was discharged onto it, workers in the past would use it as an access route to the ship yards and steel foundries on foot or bicycle. These days it forms a dilapidated corridor through a wasteland of toxicity where nature is once again gaining a foothold.

I walked with my good friend Gavin Parry to assess the sounds of this striking environment by way of research. Something sputtered steam rhythmically behind a fence like a pressure release valve. Silent small fish moved in tiny shoals through standing water beneath a graffiti covered wall. Evidence of cable stripping lay in a concrete tunnel where the discarded insulation formed dead vines.

We attached contact mics to a railside fence and heard the grass tapping the wire. A passing train made the wire scream with agitation. Butterflies were constantly rising and settling on the grass around the path, and we found a mysterious tree, we thought possibly an olive? We ate chip butties seated on plastic chairs by a major road close to an abandoned railway station, where the act of copulation featured heavily in line drawings.

The walk ended on a bridge and a plaque told the sad story of a Lancaster bomber shot down by friendly fire and the young lives lost.

I have now purchased some new boots.

wharram percy


Wharram Percy is a deserted medieval village site on the western edge of the chalk wolds in North Yorkshire. Its church, dedicated to St. Martin, nestles in a valley, roofless and surrounded by memorials of the dead. On this near windless January day little else moved but the reeds in the fish pond and the gently whispering ivy still clinging to the winter trees.  

On the grassy bank above are the outlines of peasant dwellings and the Norman manor house. First settled in prehistoric times, Wharram flourished as a village between the 12th and 14th centuries, before final abandonment in about 1500.

This recording was made in the shallow water at the edge of Wharram Percy fish pond where beetles swam around in the forests of submerged water plants at the base of the reeds.



This pond at South Gare looks pretty lifeless. At one end an old bath lies in the water together with other items of detritus. A gentle breeze ruffles the grey, polluted looking water and there seem to be no plants growing beneath the surface, just a clump of sorry looking rushes over by the left bank. Over to the right the steelworks prepare for the refiring of the Redcar blast furnace

Not expecting much, I stood looking into the water wondering whether to record anything at all, when a pair of mating frogs swam into the shallow water by the shore, stopped for a moment and then returned back into the middle of the pond.

Spurred on by the obvious presence of life in the water, I gently placed two JRF hydrophones beneath the surface. This recording was used as part of the composition South Gare released on Linear Obsessional, but this is what it sounded like without any mastering, enhancing or boosting of any kind.

Alive with sound!