"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.
Paige 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.
Part of the Intermedia Research Group Series.
Open to all. No registration required.
For more information about the Group and Programme, please visit IRG main page (link on the right-hand of the page)