Music and sound played a crucial role in Welfare State’s work. Live and recorded music, songs or pointed silence gave atmosphere to the imagery. From the early days, Welfare State’s ‘Blood-stained Colonial Band’ entertained the streets of Burnley.

Luk Mishalle in John Fox’s Engineers of the Imagination:

‘Early shows were rough and physical, and sharp enough to ride over and cut through traffic noise, as well as being able to attract audiences who might be some streets away. Music was used in the overture procession to attract the audience with a strong, energetic, acoustic sound, rather than the smooth, pre-recorded music they would be used to. In performance, music gives atmosphere and punctuates the performers’ every move. Words are often difficult to project outside and so music takes over and gives life and emotion to image and performance. This ‘silent film’ style relies on simplicity and allows anybody to be a ‘magician’ if they summon the right theatrical energy. This was, and remains, the basis of Welfare State’s outdoor style.’

Reproduced here courtesy of John Fox

The company used many small percussive instruments that could be played easily by less experienced musicians, but also involved a large wind section of trumpets, saxophones, clarinet, flutes, bagpipes and tin whistles. Less mobile string instruments were often used later in the company’s Barn Dance. As more professional musicians became involved with the company, their musical style evolved to include an increasing amount of style and influences, while still retaining the same inclusive ethos.

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