NORTHERN GROOVE in conversation with Garner Harris

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Tell me about the North East company ‘Creative Seed’…‘The Creative Seed was started as a production company and Carnival was one of the things we did. We made films, produced music and multi-media content. To give you an idea of how diverse our work is, yesterday we were doing event for adults with learning difficulties down in Stockton. It was a Caribbean garden party with the sound system, DJ and dancers. We also did the Newcastle MELA, where we worked with community groups from all over the North East. For that event we worked with 5 professional dancers, 2 stilt walkers, community groups, sound systems, props and we had to manage all that. It’s a lot so we’re going to narrow down the scope of what we currently do whilst developing the staff capacity of the company. I find myself managing more than creating these days, especially considering that my training was originally in dance and choreography so I would be nice to do more creative work’.

Working with people who wouldn’t normally take up movement and dance do you see how important it can be ? ’Over the years we have worked with quite a lot with adults with learning disabilities. We can see the difference it makes. Sometimes with movement it’s not the only the physical exercise that people are getting out of, it can be uplifting psychologically as well. There’s a tutor we work with, Sarah Shaw who teaches 3 groups of adults with learning disabilities in South Tyneside and she often comes back with stories of ’this one was doing this today and that one was doing something amazing today’ that sort of thing you know. That makes all the difference. Not everybody can connect with people like that, on that level. My partner and wife Sandy and I were talking about this lately, that we like working with people who have that ability to connect with a broad range of people. And it’s that openness to communicate with people. The people we work with all have that ability with the groups we work with’. 

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Did any of your family do any creative work ? ’Not really but my father was a sheet metal worker and he was always making things in the house. Like figures and sculptures. He would use everyday stuff like string and glue to bind stuff together in much the same way as we do for some of the techniques we use for making carnival costumes. He’s always there beside me when I’m doing something creative. ‘No Garner, do it like this’ I’d hear him say’.

What is your background, how did you get involved with creative work ? ’My background is in dance. I had always danced but got really into it in the 1970’s through disco. I was listening to disco and funk from America when I was 13 and going up to the 100 Club in the West End of London. This was a daytime club. We would get on the Bakerloo line train at Wembley Park station, up to Oxford Circus and the club was about 300 metres away. We would go as a group and meet other kid’s from different area’s of London. It was a downstairs dive type club. It would start 12 o’clock, the bass would be thumping, there was an old Jewish lady on the door charging 50p or something like that to get in and her hubby Ronnie L was the DJ. At the end of the club, at 3pm, the place would be like a furnace from all the dancing and they would have to open the doors at the back of the club and you could just see the steam rising. That was my first experience of dance, it was underground at the time. At 13 years old to have that amount of excitement was really stimulating and inspiring. So your imagination was allowed to just open up. That would lead to going to places like Pineapple, the Dance Centre and being introduced to formal dance training and that sector of the entertainment. I met my first dance mentor, an inspiring South African woman called Leoni Urdang and she took on 14 guys from that whole underground dance scene on scholarships to get a formal education in dance. That was my whole route into ballet, contemporary dance all of it’. 

What types of music do you listen to ? ‘I listen to the likes of Grooverider to Thomas Tallis to Beethoven I listen to it all. If I like it I like it. This genre of music thing has got to be out of the window by now. Something either touches you or it don’t’.

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You’ve done a lot of stage work how did that come about ? ‘Yeah also I’ve also done a bit of TV, music video’s, a British tour of a couple of musicals. We were backing dancers on Top of the Pops for Kim Symms, Shakin’ Stevens, Inner City people like that. I was also working McDonalds, cleaning pub’s in between the jobs it wasn’t a glamourous lifestyle haha. To be honest probably more downs than up’s’. 

How did you end up here in South Shields ? ’My wife’s family are from South Shields. Sandy and I went on our first date in ’92 at the Notting Hill Carnival after we first met in 91 when we were working on the stage show Starlight Express. She was head of wardrobe and I was swing and understudy where you had to learn and know multiple roles within the show because you could be called to go on stage at any time during a performance. Anyway the reason we moved to South Shields was because Sandy didn’t want to bring a family up in London so she packed up the Nissan Micra and came up North in 94’ and I followed her up shortly after’.

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I remember 2 shops in South Shields, Tribal Revival and Buggin’ Sounds that you were involved in.…’Yeah, Sandy was making jewellry and doing parties and stall’s and I said why don’t we get a shop selling carvings and drums, all sorts. So Tribal Revival was Sandy’s passion. When I came here I was offered Artist in Residence at Gateshead from 94-95 and at Buggin’ Sounds I was trying to develop a recording studio, a record label and we were doing club nights. We were doing Steppaz which was at Rockshots night club in Newcastle. Looking back it was way too many things at one time but when you’re younger you have that energy don’t you. But I went into sales because my family was young then and I needed a bit of stability. That was 4 years working for people like Reg Vardy, Springfield Auto’s, BT…but came out of that and started the Community Interest Company, Creative Seed, teaching dance in schools, community centre’s from Redcar to Berwick, all over the North East. I kept that up for about 5 years. I remember doing some dance sessions in Biddick Hall, at Percy Hudson Youth Centre. And it was wild. The energy in there was electrifying. Some of the kids were doing summersaults of the walls. If that energy could have been harnessed aww man. You know the happiest I’ve been is doing the work I’m supposed to be doing. When I’m working with adults with learning disabilities or kids who wouldn’t normally get involved in dance  and then they get it, they start to move. We at Creative Seed work with them and we see them shine…that’s when I’m happiest. When everyone in the room is getting on I love that, that’s what I strive for. That’s who I am. I’ve always been happy just sometimes the opportunity isn’t there’. 

In the past 10 years there has been a number of well known entertainers, comedians, writer’s who have came from South Tyneside. Can you pinpoint why that is ? ’One of my theories is because where it is geographically. You’ve got the river, the coast and the hill’s all close by. If you can escape the cities and expand your mind and things are not as bad as they could be. You can’t move in cities, it’s all confined. At least here you can go where the world is bigger than where I am at this minute. South Shields you can do that. You can go up Cleadon Hills and be anywhere. Go to the beach. The river. Wow…anywhere and let your mind drift. The other thing is that the North East is known for grafters. When people up here are working, they work really hard. Nobody can take that away from them. If your not inspired by people who work hard up here you’re not going to be inspired by anything. The grafting mentality from the shipyards, the miners, to the women working in the factories and making sure the kid’s get fed. That is why I love the place so much’. 

For more information about Creative Seed contact: 

https://www.creativeseed.org

Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2018