How the relaxed and friendly atmosphere of a cemetery and chapel brought musicians and listeners together to enjoy tunes from all over the globe
“People often say that the original sound engineers were medieval architects and church builders,” said Mark Fell, a South Yorkshireman who wears a flat cap and curates electronic music art pieces around the world.
“This is a beautiful cemetery, and the chapel is a great place to host an event like this, acoustically amazing.”
The Lush Spectra weekender at the General Cemetery attracted musicians from Australia, Iran, India and Sweden (and several from Rotherham) for a festival of experimental music, the first major event at the newly-restored Samuel Worth Chapel in the cemetery.
The venue is now available to hire for music and arts events, community groups and even weddings, said Janet Ridler of the General Cemetery Trust, who says the chapel will now become a venue for established festivals like Off the Shelf and Doc/Fest as well as inspiring new events after being taken off the national heritage ‘at risk’ register following a £270,000 restoration.
Lush Spectra brought in at least 1,400 visitors, said Sara Unwin from Sheffield University, who helped fund and organise the event as part of the Sheffield Culture Consortium.
“It was really rewarding to hear so many people saying that this was exquisite and outstanding, and there were lots of people saying they’d lived here all their life and didn’t even know this space was here,” she said.
“It was all really beautiful, and then on Sunday morning, when we’d seen the sky go dark, and then it went from black to green to blue to light blue, and the chapel doors were open while I was sitting on the steps looking out at the city. You could hear the birds start to sing, and Clare Salaman was playing her hurdy gurdy.
“It was an amazing goosebumps moment.”
Sara said the event showed that the city really could draw in cultural tourists from near and far.
“This weekend has helped reinforce that Sheffield is a music city, a festival city, and that things happen here that don’t happen anywhere else.”
Talk is already under way to repeat the event, said Mark, either as an annual festival or possibly more regular smaller performances in the new chapel space.
Many of the cast of musicians at the cemetery were aware of Sheffield’s musical heritage. “I grew up listening to music from this region like Cabaret Voltaire and Clock DVA, and as I travel round the world I realise that Sheffield is world famous for weird music,” he said.
“You are weird music royalty if you’re from Sheffield, and I’ve been super proud bringing these international artists here and hearing them say wow, Sheffield is an amazing place, it’s so beautiful and people are so friendly and so chilled out.”
There was certainly much chilling out of all kinds going on at the event finale on Sunday evening, with experimental musical connoisseurs and weird music royalty discussing sonic disruption over craft beers in deckchairs, among the tombs of the city’s non-conformist industrialists.
“These are places you used not to be able to go, you could get into trouble,” Mark said. “If you were a kid hanging out on these steps and drinking beer you’d get moved on.
“But now that we’ve all grown up, we’ve worked out how to do it legally.”