Adventures of Grounded EcoTherapy


image credit: Ollie Smallwood

The summer season of the Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden has come to an end. The garden has closed to the public for the winter months but will open again in spring 2016. It’s been a really busy summer for the gardeners, on site at Southbank Centre and further afield. We have asked them to tell you a little bit about their summer adventures…

Grounded EcoTherapy:  Recovery for people and places, are your neighbours on the South Bank.   We are the team who set up, and now look after,  the much-loved roof garden familiar to all South-Bankers on top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

Some of you will know that as well as being gardeners we are a team of vulnerable adults who have had problems with addiction, mental health issues, homelessness, or all three.  Working with Grounded is the first regular commitment most of us have made in many years.  Through gardening at Southbank Centre, and at other London sites, and through working with others, we gradually regain self-respect and calmness.

We wanted to share with you a couple of things that have made 2015 a particularly exciting year for Grounded.


image credit: Ollie Smallwood

In June, a small team of us got the chance to take a stall in the Green Futures Field at Glastonbury Festival.   The trip was largely funded by an extraordinary effort made by our team of gardeners, we worked really hard in our own time to put together the money needed.  At Glastonbury we pitched our unique bodgers (green woodworkers) bothy, made by ourselves from recycled timber and sacking.   Here we set about spreading the message of Grounded Ecotherapy.  The stall was hugely popular, and hundreds of people visited it, and stayed to chat, drink chai, and chill out with us.   Here they could learn the basics of green woodworking, sitting on a shaving horse and using a draw knife to carve themselves a spatula.  Others made Wild Mobiles choosing from our huge store of salvaged beach jetsam and shells to construct their own hanging work of art!  We decorated the stall with the mobiles, and brought them back to hang in the Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden – a link to Glastonbury and the many friends we made there.   We were so proud of how the stall worked out, and how people really loved it.


image credit: Ollie Smallwood


image credit: Ollie Smallwood


image credit: Ollie Smallwood

At the end of July, having been invited to take part in Shuffle Festival, a week-long film and events festival in Mile End, Grounded were given a space and we built another even bigger bodgers camp in Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park.    Here we lived for the week, cooking on open fires and again talking with visitors about the work of Grounded Ecotherapy.   We became one of the main attractions of the festival as people were drawn to the camp, and again stayed to talk over the fire with chai and toasted marshmallows.  Green woodworking, mobile making and live music were a big draw and the last night saw a crowd of over 50 enjoying the fires and each other’s company.


image credit: Ollie Smallwood


image credit: Ollie Smallwood

It’s been a busy year!   And it’s going to be a busy winter.   As gardeners will know, work never stops in a garden.   Some may think that during the colder months the Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden is deserted.   In reality it is busier than ever.   We are up there, whatever the weather, repairing and constructing, sewing seeds and looking after trees and plants, so that the Garden can bloom again beautifully in the Spring and survive the rigours of another busy Summer.  Last winter was taken up among other tasks with building around 25 new vegetable boxes from scratch.  This winter our big jobs will include building new boxes for the olive trees, and sourcing and bringing in new logs to replace all the ones around the edges of the meadow and woodland gardens, which are now rotten.   Our 6 year-old greenhouse has seen much action and needs renovating, and the supports for the rose arbour all need replacing.  We laid a new lawn this Spring, but the feet of many thousands of visitors have taken their toll, and it needs replacing again.   It will be cold when the icy wind blows off the river under the concrete overhang of the Hayward Gallery, but we love the work, and are mainly just so proud and happy that the Garden will be staying throughout the renovation works at the Southbank, and delighting visitors again come the Spring.


Meltdown: The Last Post

It’s the last day of the festival, and the journalists of Meltdown Media have one last review to post before they go. The ten-strong team has done a great job of reporting on the festival, posting daily reviews, interviews, photos and video. We wish them all the best as they go back to A-levels, university courses, jobs and gap years.

We’ll leave the last word to Max, who emailed to say: ‘I feel unbelievably lucky to have partaken in the course … I’m definitely going to miss attending the Meltdown Festival and I think I will have many sentimental memories from it.’

We’ll second that.

Amanda Holloway, Ruth Hardie and Amber Price-Rees

Last Night’s Review: Young Jean Lee’s ‘We’re Gonna Die’
by Grace Hathaway

150827_We're_Gonna_DieA casual browser of the Meltdown programme may have been baffled by the phrases ‘We’re Gonna Die’ and ‘life-affirming’ placed in such close proximity to each other, but that is exactly what Young Jean Lee’s play is. Having been warned by other members of the Meltdown Media team that I would ‘definitely cry’ and that the performance was ‘really depressing’, I was thrilled to find that though I did cry, I also came away feeling uplifted.

We’re Gonna Die provides a delightful balance of increasingly personal and dark monologues with catchy songs, blending humour and honesty in a way that allows the audience to really connect with Lee. David Byrne’s voice carries the songs easily, with an absolute highlight being his hilarious impersonation of Lee’s great grandmother – on her deathbed!

Lee’s performance combines whimsy with pain through a little dark humour, declaring at the start that though ‘I hope none of you are in pain or lonely right now’, if we are, she hopes that the performance will give us some comfort. That is the overwhelming theme of the play really, the fact that grief and loneliness and suffering are an inescapable part of human life, but there are small things that can give a little comfort which she shares with us.

At the end of the performance the audience joined in with an a cappella rendition of the final song, and there was something wonderfully reassuring about hearing hundreds of people joining Lee and the band to sing out the words ‘we’re gonna die’.

The final performance of We’re Gonna Die is tonight, get your tickets here.

Meltdown Stories: An Afternoon Spent With Lonnie Holley

On a rainy Monday afternoon, Meltdown Media journalists Clara and Maxine made their way backstage at the Queen Elizabeth Hall to meet Lonnie Holley.

A rush of excitement and nerves flowed as we went over our meticulously crafted questions outside the door of the green room. For those of you who don’t know Lonnie Holley, he is a sculpture artist and experimental improvising musician. His musical work is often categorised as ‘uncategorised’ but you might say it centres on a mixture of jazz and folk. Our relaxed meeting with Lonnie revolved around topics such as the brain, his respect for our Queen and grapevines.

If you are aware of Lonnie you will have no doubt heard of his perplexing upbringing: Lonnie Bradley Holley Sr. was born in 1950’s Birmingham, Alabama, into a large family of 27 children. Lonnie was sold for a pint of whiskey at the age of four; and so the story to Lonnie’s heartening 65 years begins.

We were greeted with a warm welcome by Lonnie, who was improvising at the piano preparing for his performance later on that evening. He invited us to pull up a chair and our discussion began. Asked about the presence of music in his upbringing he said: “If one would say taking music, no; doing music, yes. My grandfather sung all day long, my grandfather was in World War I, and he sung there. And when he came back home, he sung at home… I love music, I can’t help it. Music has been a mother and a father for me. Music’s been a friend for me.”

From music we moved on to talk about Lonnie’s second passion, his sculpture. Lonnie has been creating abstract works since the 80’s and has been credited by institutes such as the Smithsonian. He recalled his desire to sculpt from a young age: “I see my whole life as being an artist because up and down the ditch, digging worms I’d run across broken glass, broken bricks, broken rocks and things – I moved roots. Same thing I’m doing now… A lot of times I would stack that in a certain way that I liked because it was beautiful to me.”

The majority of Lonnie’s sculpture incorporates upcycled materials and natural resources such as sand. Lonnie explained his choice of resources: “Everything I touched I tried to make sure it got understood as something. Not no piece of garbage – stop doing that to the human brain. Let’s get trash out of our vocabulary. Let’s move some things in order to make it better for what? Our mother universe.”

When asked which came first, his sculptures or his music Lonnie said they existed simultaneously. He describes the unity between his work as like Siamese twins: “They come from the same place, same brain. I haven’t created a greater love for either one of them.”

At the end of the interview Lonnie asked for a wire hanger from his dressing room and gave us a quick demonstration of his work. We were intrigued to see what Lonnie was going to do with this piece of metal. As we watched him bend the hanger and manipulate its shape, we were awed to see how he transformed this everyday object into the face of a woman. The piece is called ‘Any spoonful of knowledge will do’. We were lucky enough to film the entire process. Clara Thomas

See it here.

Later that evening, Lonnie’s gig began in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. The supporting act of the evening was Alexis Taylor, who created an easy-going vibe, playing the keyboard and singing soothing vocals alongside his band.

After the interval, Lonnie came on stage with his live band and was welcomed by the cheering crowd. Seated at his keyboard, the 65-year-old performed songs from his Just Before Music album, including ‘All Rendered Truth’, released in 2012. Singing distinctive and resonating vocals, Lonnie’s improvisational performance truly showed his creative and artistic character. His imaginative lyrics and expressive vocals created a dream-like environment.

Throughout the set, musicians from his band each had solo sections, including the double bass, drums and keyboard. The blend of instrumentals in this performance, mixed with Lonnie’s harmonious vocals made for a highly original sound.

Alexis Taylor joined him on keyboards towards the end of the set, and at the finish, the whole band took a bow and thanked crowd for their support. Maxine Harrison

Meltdown continues this weekend: look on the Southbank Centre Meltdown site for details.

Meltdown Day 11: So What Next?

Meltdown festival may be drawing to a close this weekend, with tonight’s screening of Planet of The Apes complete with a live score by the BBC Orchestra, and performances by theatre/music crossover artists Gob Squad, and Young Jean Lee’s ‘We’re Gonna Die‘ but if, after this weekend you find yourself with Meltdown Festival withdrawal symptoms there are still a few things left to enjoy from the comfort of your own home.

Lauren Laverne interviewing David Byrne on BBC Radio 6 Music

Lauren Laverne interviewing David Byrne on BBC Radio 6 Music

Firstly, maybe you want to listen to the man himself discussing why he chose the artists he did for this year’s Meltdown Festival. Over on BBC 6music you will find ‘The David Byrne Radio Show’, David Byrne in conversation with Gilles Peterson, and Lauren Laverne’s show from last friday – which she recorded live with David Byrne from the fifth floor balcony terrace. Lauren was also joined by other Meltdown performers such as Sinkane, Money Mark and Matthew Herbert – well worth a listen.

Speaking of Matthew Herbert, the multi-talented musician used the sounds of the doors at the Southbank centre to create a song specifically for the festival titled ‘Something at the door’ feat. Rahel. Take a moment to appreciate the fact that every sound you hear on this track, except Rachel of course, is taken from the building. Amazing!

Next up, maybe you want to know more about the Southbank Centre itself. If you’ve turned up for a performance a little early this weekend, or even if you are just keen to know more about the history of the building, why not put your headphones on for a guided audio tour of the Southbank? There is even a pdf map you can download to help you navigate your way around!

Finally, maybe you haven’t had a chance to come and see any of the eclectic mix of performers but you are keen to hear who David Byrne chose for his festival. Or perhaps you can’t remember the name of that excellent support band. Well here is a handy mix of songs by each and every musician to leave you with your own Meltdown Festival in your living room after the excitement is over.

Last Night’s Review: Young Marble Giants

by Louisa Attfield

The post-punk group Young Marble Giants, celebrating 35 years since their best-selling album Colossal Youth, were greeted with massive applause as they made their way on stage at the Royal Festival Hall.

Adult Jazz had warmed up the crowd with their psychedelic mix of indie, pop, jazz and hip hop, their distinctive style a patchwork of influence and inspiration. The songs radiated a charismatic energy and the band were relaxed, lulling the audience into a sense of carefree abandon as they listened.

When Young Marble Giants came on, the audience was immediately drawn in. With the dark, discordant riffs of the Velvet Underground and Alison Statton’s haunting, floating vocals reminiscent of Belle and Sebastian, the group manage to add a certain beauty and tranquillity to what would otherwise appear to be rage-filled songs. Hardlymoving, the group, Statton in particular, managed to hold the crowd enthralled. She stood in the centre, powerful and charismatic, whilst the brothers stood to either side absorbed in playing guitars and keyboard. Between tracks the group’s often self-deprecating humour kept everyone’s focus whilst they retuned, and their amusing anecdotes prevented anyone from losing patience. A minimalist approach, off-kilter and unique even 35 years later, means the songs from that album are still fresh.

Simple and powerful, Young Marble Giants enchanted the audience with disjointed riffs, thought-provoking lyrics and sweet, pure vocals. It’s no wonder Kurt Cobain was a fan.

Meltdown Day 10: Looking Beyond the Headliners

We are past the halfway point in the final week of Meltdown, and we’ve already seen an eclectic mix of artists, from drone metal pioneers Sunn 0))) to flamenco singer Estrella Morente. Tonight cult post-punk band Young Marble Giants perform their 1980 album Colossal Youth and Young Jean Lee premieres her life affirming show We’re Gonna Die. But it’s not just the big names that deserve to be mentioned. The support acts at Meltdown are unique and accomplished but they struggle for attention alongside the headliners. So today I am going to highlight my three favourite support acts.

1) Nubiyan Twist

Nubiyan Twist

Nubiyan Twist

A surprising choice, perhaps, but jazz fusion band Nubiyan Twist supported indie group François and the Atlas Mountains on Tuesday and their contrasting styles complemented each other perfectly. The 12-piece group effortlessly fused 60s jazz with modern groove and hip-hop. The combination of saxophones and guitars with turntables and synthesisers produced a unique and vibrant sound. The star of the show, however, was main vocalist Nubiyan Brandon, charismatic with a voice that moved between smooth jazz to spoken word. A vibrant take on both the old and the new, Nubiyan Twist is a group to watch out for.

2) Phurpa

Opening for the drone metal band Sunn 0))), famous for their loud and theatrical live shows, is no easy feat but Phurpa proved up to the challenge. The three hooded members sat in a semicircle on stage holding the crowd’s interest in what could be mistaken for a Satanist prayer ritual. Using a range of Tibetan ritual instruments and practising a deep, unintelligible chant called gyukye, the group mesmerised the audience. The repetitive music was dark, unique and riveting and strangely cathartic. They play the kind of music you can use to get you to sleep, but only if you want to have nightmares.

3) Reuben Hollebon

Reuben Hollebon is a young singer-songwriter who hails from Norfolk, England. His vulnerable barefoot appearance and raw voice highlights his personal lyrics in an unforgettable, intimate experience. Alone on stage, with just a half-size guitar, singing about the moonlight and changing landscape, Hollebon is so different from the confident, often brash, polished performers that often grace the stage. His personal performance transports the audience to the lonely wild landscape that he calls home.

Honourable mention: Adult Jazz

Tonight indie quartet Adult Jazz support Young Marble Giants in what promises to be a memorable performance. The Leeds-based group, whose fragmented songs can be a difficult listen, explore themes such as oppression and gender confusion. This unpredictable, dynamic group is well worth exploring.

Buy tickets here


Last Night’s Review: Sam Green

Honor Virden

Sam Green

Sam Green

The New York-based filmmaker Sam Green opened his live-music documentary showing with The Rainbow Man’s Ex, a short piece as intriguing and unusual as it sounds, which makes a surprising link between an eccentric and notorious sporting fan and the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

In The Measure Of All Things, with its documentary film footage, in-person commentary and live music, Green illustrates perfectly the wonderful weirdness of the world we live in. Somehow through his childlike fascination for the Guinness Book of World Records he hints at the humanity and evolution of society in each featured story but without attempting to patronise you with moral conclusions.

Matched with his soothing and honest method of speech, you feel lulled into a happy tranquillity with existence, like a child being read a bedtime story that somehow encompasses everything you need to know about humanity without being distressing. It does contain darker moments – such as the man stuck in an elevator for 41 hours or the suicide of the man who survived being struck by lightning seven times because he said he was ‘unlucky in love’.

The soft visual tones of Green were matched by a musical accompaniment so well rehearsed that if it weren’t for the richness of sound you could forget it was live. It was essentially a beautiful experience.

Meltdown Day 9: Turning a spotlight on the audience

Honor Virden skewers the social stereotypes in the Meltdown Crowd


credit: Victor Frankowski


You are between 50-70 years old, taking a break from your addiction to BBC Four documentaries and constant visits to London’s largest art exhibitions to attend Meltdown to see something different. If female, you have a cropped haircut, probably bleached blonde or naturally grey, matched with a bold print blouse and oversized glasses. If male, you’ll be found with wild and wiry grey hair, a shirt and the most comfortable pair of shoes you own.

Most likely to be found at: Estrella Morente; Young Jean Lee’s ‘We’re Gonna Die’; Gaby Moreno


You’re two women in your mid- to late-20s, most likely found drinking wine-based concoctions until the self-conscious seat-shuffle dance progresses to standing and dancing excitedly to a band you’ve been assured is very underground – until you notice it’s just you and return to your seat. Wearing semi-office-appropriate clothing, e.g. a polyester pastel tank top, jeans, the summer ‘essential’ metallic flats and a blazer. You will be mildly hungover at work the next day but this will not stop you talking about how amazing the band that no one in the office has heard of is, and feeling quietly superior for being in the know.

Most likely to be found at: Matthew Herbert, Benjamin Clementine, Sinkane, Sam Green’s ‘the measure of all things’


You’re in your early to mid-20s, you’re a man with scruffy hair, a beard and horn-rimmed glasses, wearing a band or striped Uniqlo tee your partner probably bought for you, matched with chinos, suede shoes and a Herschel backpack. You will also get slightly drunk but on vodka and coke with someone you haven’t been dating long enough to feel completely comfortable with. Unlike the Friends with Cultural Benefits, the evening will only get a brief mention on one of your many social media accounts, most likely Twitter or Instagram, so people know you’re doing cool stuff but it’s totally no big deal.

Most likely to be found at: Anna Calvi, François and the Atlas Mountains, Young Marble Giants


You are in your early- to mid-20s and can be found in a massive group of your supercool friends all dressed in a mix of faded denim, Urban Outfitters, vintage, regulation trendy trainers and with unisex topknots. You know you are the coolest person there, not only because you’re young and you’ll never get old like everyone else but also because you knew the underground band before they even existed. You will talk loudly to others in your group about the performers so everyone in the audience knows you’re not just the same as the classic hipster sitting behind you.

Most likely to be found at: François and the Atlas Mountains, Bianca Cassady


You are 16 to 21 years old and can be found viciously trying to absorb every moment of Meltdown trying to come up with an original piece for the blog and over-analysing those around you.  Or you’re attempting to look natural at the after-show party, while wearing a Meltdown Media tee-shirt mostly covered with some kind of hoodie or jacket in an attempt to make you seem like one of the professionals and not just an inexperienced adolescent with too much responsibility.

Most likely found at: Any gig you could get tickets to


Interview: Francesca Nunn meets François and the Atlas Mountains

François & The Atlas Mountains 2014

François & The Atlas Mountains 2014

I arrive in the Queen Elizabeth Hall with fellow Meltdown Media journalist Max to speak to François Marry, lead singer of François and the Atlas Mountains, ahead of his Meltdown performance yesterday evening (Tuesday 25).

François is atop a lighting rig, surveying his kingdom. “This is big, yeah! We’ve done some huge festivals in France, which were not as prestigious-looking as here, but very busy. I’m probably more comfortable in smaller places.” Nonetheless this avid Talking Heads fan is excited to be here, and effervesces about David Byrne’s dance moves – “He’s sensational, it’s just so spontaneous and at the same time very tight – you think, how did they get that together?” He neglects to mention his own moves, or indeed the fleeting choreographed interlude we were treated to in the performance I attended that evening.

Marry is emphatically French. His English is perfect – a Scottish bandmate and seven years in Bristol made sure of that – but he pronounces every syllable, charmingly trips over diphthongs, and before the finale of his concert, apologised to the audience for singing in French too much: “If you stay, I can translate all my songs word-for-word into English right now!”

The band’s newest project marries François and the Atlas Mountain’s romantic electro-pop with African rhythms and instrumentation – the xylophone-like balafon, the ngoni and the thianhoun, played by Djiga Boubacar and Sanou Darra who flew from Burkina Faso especially for Meltdown. So how exactly did this come about? “We were so inspired by African music, and we wanted to see what it was like on location, so we ended up recording songs with them.” Two days in Ouagadougou that resulted in three songs, and 10 days overall in African Francophonie exploring rhythms and traditions resulted in L’Homme tranquille. “It still sounds very exciting, but they’re also songs that are very old, over 200 years old. It feels like very natural music, very instinctive music.” Hearing them perform the anthemic earworm melodies of “Soyons les plus beaux”, “Ayan filé” and “Danser sur un volcan”, it does indeed seems a fitting musical and cultural partnership.

“I prefer playing in the UK, generally. In France, it feels like there’s a real theatrical side to music which I don’t really like – I don’t feel connected to it. It feels like bands need to build a persona, some kind of comic strip character. I haven’t really played that game very well.”

No need for a persona here – Marry is already Peter Pan incarnate, with a sprite-like energy, adventuring in foreign lands with his Lost Boys, and imbuing these ancient African songs with his own youthful artistry. Their performance was diverse, compelling, and fun – a true gift from François and la Francophonie.

David Byrne’s Meltdown Festival continues until Sunday 30 August.

Meltdown Day 8: Director Young Jean Lee on ‘We’re Gonna Die’

150827_We're_Gonna_DieYoung Jean Lee is an inventor extraordinaire. After starting her own theatre company in 2003, Lee created numerous pieces of avant-garde theatre that dealt with themes of identity politics, including her Untitled Feminist Show and Straight White Men. For her musical performance We’re Gonna Die, which she brings to Meltdown Festival this week, Lee extended her interest in identity politics to consider ideas of mortality, suffering and navigating life’s unexpected turbulence. Performing with her band Future Wife, Lee compiled an album of songs with titles such as ‘Lullaby For The Miserable’ and ‘No Comfort For The Lonely’ (think downbeat Belle & Sebastian and you get a rough idea of their sound) and monologues read by artists such as Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill, Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock of Beastie Boys fame) and David Byrne, among others. Byrne will take to the stage to perform with the band for the show’s three-day run at Meltdown Festival.

The album We’re Gonna Die is fascinating, heartbreaking and some of the monologues moved me to tears. Young Jean Lee’s project doesn’t hold the answers for how to cope with grief, but by the same token she manages to create something which, through its bleakness, manages to be life-affirming, even funny, perhaps because of its brutal honesty. I am very excited to experience ‘We’re Gonna Die’ as a live performance and witness the genius of Young Jean Lee first hand. It’s a piece that comes with recommendation from the late, great Lou Reed and if that isn’t enough to tempt you, then I don’t know what is!

Along with fellow Meltdown Music Journalist Honor, I had a quick Q & A session with Young Jean Lee ahead of her set:

How did the collaboration with David Byrne come about?

David saw the show twice in New York, and asked us to bring it to Meltdown. I asked if he could help us find a singer to sing the songs (secretly hoping he would do it) and then he did offer!

You previously stated (in The New Yorker), ‘I’ve found the only way to make theatre that gets the audience thinking is when I feel uncomfortable making it.’ Does that apply to We’re Gonna Die?

It applies to this show more than any other show I’ve ever made, since I’m not a performer and hate performing. When coming up with the idea for the show, I asked myself, “What would be the worst form of performance I could inflict upon myself?” And the answer was: “A one-person cabaret show with singing and dancing.” But for this show I’m cheating – I’m not singing, so I’m much less uncomfortable. 

Tell us about the show, and your reason for tackling such a difficult topic?

When my father died, a few years before I made this show, I felt very isolated in my pain, and I wanted to make a show that would comfort other people when they were feeling that way. The concept behind the show is one that any ordinary person should be able to perform, because it’s about all the terrible but ordinary things that happen to everyone. All the songs and stories are about heartbreak, loneliness, ageing, sickness, and death, but the stories are funny and the songs upbeat.

With We’re Gonna Die you recorded an album of songs and monologues. Why did you decide to make it a musical performance as opposed to a piece of theatre?

I think music is the ultimate comforting thing. The themes are so dark, but the show itself is entertaining and funny, so the music allows the themes to stick with audience members, in a comforting rather than traumatising way.

Do you have one piece of advice for young playwrights or film-makers?

My one piece of advice would be to become friends with other artists whose work you admire. Community is everything.   

We’re Gonna Die is on Thursday 27 to 30 August at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Buy tickets here.