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The City of Yes and the City of No

The City of ‘Yes’ and the City of ‘No’ 1981

Paul Fillingham  – Diary extract – 11 March 1981

I glanced down the staircase to check for mail but couldn’t see any. It was only later, when I ventured downstairs that I found an envelope jammed in the letterbox. It had a Nottingham postmark and the letter had been written by Gaffa vocalist Wayne Evans. It had a child-like drawing of a house on the front and offered words of encouragement on the launch of our art school band Pilchard Madras and implored us to come back soon to see his band at the Imperial Cooler Bar.

Today was the date of Mike Millward’s art performance, marking the twentieth anniversary of the building of the Berlin wall. Reflecting the apocalyptic mood in Leeds, this creative activity was in an altogether different vein to the comic colloquialisms that heralded from my home town. On the way to the Poly, I mailed a letter to my girlfriend Tracey, now living many miles away in Nuneaton but offering an important lifeline to more carefree times. Casting my eyes over the performance script, I was looking forward to the challenge of collaborating with Mike, whose politically charged tableaus evoked a gravitas lacking in my parochial mailings and populist iconography.

It was good to see Russ back in the studio, putting last week’s altercation with the National Front behind him. I had been concerned that he might consider leaving Leeds for good but he seemed more at ease today. I sketched in my notebook for most of the day until it was time for rehearsal in the fine art performance area. Unfortunately, Marek Stakievitch, who had the East German role didn’t show until minutes before the actual performance, so we had one shot at getting it right!

Mike did a brief introduction to the piece and I wondered how it would be received by our contemporaries. The performance began with four voices, each in turn, reciting poetry in different languages; Russian, German, French and English. I was last in line, delivering one of my own compositions, directly from an A4 notebook. As we spoke, working in silence with spirit level and mirrored breeze-blocks, Mike constructed a six-and-a-half foot wall in front of us, drawing upon his pre-student, work-experience as a bricklayer.

At the end of the performance, my fellow poets and I were totally obscured by the mirrored wall and the audience sat in stunned silence, looking at a reflection of themselves. Standing there in the shadows, we could hear Mike’s voice echoing out in front, delivering the closing lines to the piece. After he finished there was a silent pause and then suddenly, rapturous applause which took me completely by surprise.

The performance had generated quite a buzz and people congregated in my workspace, engaging in conversation well into the evening, Walking home to my flat in Headingley, I was accompanied by fellow students Mark Hardman and Fiona Patrick and felt a much greater sense of belonging, the day’s events having removed some of the barriers and cementing a far tighter bond with my contemporaries.