"Cottonopoli:" The Blues and Gospel Train arrives in Chorltonville
Speaker: Paige McGinley
On May 7, 1964, Granada Television of Manchester produced a musical television special for the BBC. Directed by John Hamp, The Blues and Gospel Trainfeatured
performances by Muddy Waters, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Cousin Joe
Pleasant, African American musicians who were touring Great Britain
with the American Folk Blues and Gospel Caravan. The Blues and Gospel Train program employed an elaborate mise en scène of
an imagined American South--bales of cotton, broken-down farm
equipment, washtubs of laundry--all set upon a disused train platform
in suburban Manchester. One side of the tracks was converted to the
stage, while the other side seated the audience of enthusiastic white
British teenagers. Surprisingly, this evocative and theatrical mise en scène departs
radically from the stripped-down aesthetic of the singers' nightclub
performances on the rest of the tour and produces, instead, a
theatrical, narrativized event of migration and return, arrivals and
farewells. And while one might argue that dressing the platform simply
made for better television, this paper suggests that the choice of the
train platform as stage is deeply embedded in two webs of
association—one of blues' relationship to the rails and one of
Mancunian identification with migration as both reality and
possibility. Further complicating the analysis of the event is its
intermedial nature; as a televised concert that employed a version of
the "live studio audience," The Blues and Gospel Train presents
the opportunity to reconsider the proscenial and screenal architectures
that drive both theatrical and televisual spectatorship.
McGinley is Assistant Professor of Theater Studies, American Studies,
and African American Studies at Yale University. Her work has been
published inTDR, Performance Research, and Theater Survey. She is currently completing a manuscript on blues performance and theatricality.
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