This song was created in September 1976 during workshops given by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger - who not only performed in Stantonbury Theatre that weekend, but also acted as song-writing consultants to Stantonbury Campus Drama Group: ‘They taught us how to write songs and music in the style of the Radio Ballads,’ said Roy Nevitt, Director of Drama (1974-2000) and co-founder of Living Archive. When workshop participants finally performed their creations, it was Paul Clark’s composition – It’s Dirty It’s Dusty – that uniquely prompted rare high praise from MacColl, a challenging man to please.
Paul wrote 20 songs for nine LAMK community projects over the next two decades: ‘I find the melody by itself first. I sit at my desk with a pencil, and start whistling until I find something I like, then I scribble it down. Having a tune gives me the cadences that the words of the song have to fit – you can hear where the rhymes and accents have to go in order to fit with the bounce of the tune. So it tells you what words you can use, and what words you can’t. However, being given a particular function by Living Archive can be quite liberating. With ‘It’s Dirty It’s Dusty’, I looked to the folk idiom, something with a lilt in it. I had listened to the tape of men from the Works telling of what it’s like when you’ve seen the work you’ve been proud of destroyed, and you no longer see a place for yourself in the world of work.’
We’d got a certain pride at Wolverton, we’d got a certain tradition, that we were the quality works. And even today it’s known as THE Works. If there was a difficult job to tackle or a one-off, they’d say, Send it to Wolverton Works, Wolverton can do it. And if Wolverton can’t do it, it can’t be done.
(Cecil Palmer, LAMK 1976)
The very nature of the place, and it’s a dirty damn place at the best of times, there’s nothing worse than you walk in – even on a summer’s day, you’re probably a bit warm - it doesn’t matter what you touch, it’s dirty, dusty…
(Richard Daniels, LAMK 1976)
The song became part of two special projects: The Works (1994) a Radio Ballad co-produced by BBC Three Counties Radio and Living Archive with first-hand accounts of life in Wolverton Works and the changes experienced over 50 years; and The Fabric of Milton Keynes (1994), a one-off event in CMK’s Christ the Cornerstone Church recorded live on BBC radio – where people from all over the new city came with their artworks, dance, music and song.
Images and interview extracts from LAMK archive
The song is featured on the Living Archive Band’s album All That’s Changed Vol 2 (LAMK)