Morecambe Bay cockling tragedy: The Long Walk to a positive future

Pete Moser conducting The Long Walk.
Pete Moser conducting The Long Walk.

Musician PETE MOSER was deeply touched by the events of that night. This is his story about how he has worked with Chinese people, musicians and artists, to bring something positive from an unspeakable tragedy.

I have always wanted to live by the sea and now every day I look out onto the wide expanse of the bay and marvel at the range of colours and the sense of space.

And not a day goes by without a thought of the tragedy that took lives in the cold wind, rain and tide of a February night.

So much has been affected by that event and it has shifted my lifetime journey in ways that I never suspected when I came to live and work in Morecambe 22 years ago.

On the night of February 5, my wife Kathryn and son Joe watched the blue lights and helicopters coming and going from the sitting room window overlooking the bay.

In the morning the story unfolded and rumours flew around about what had happened.

A year after the event I was the musical director for an international exchange project with musicians from China and the UK.

We played together, combining fiddles, accordions, erhu (chinese fiddle), sheng (mouth organ), guitars and voices.

We discovered our common musical language, improvised, wrote songs and composed new music. Driving back in our big yellow van after that week in Gateshead I began to imagine a musical response to the tragedy. And so began The Long Walk.

I asked Manchester photographer, Dinu Li, for a visual response and as well as taking beautiful pictures of birds around the bay he developed a series of portraits of individuals in each city where we worked. He asked them to stand with their eyes closed and think about the event.

The 36 images we have collected are stunning and instantly take you into the minds and thoughts of the people.

I met with the amazing poet Lemn Sissay and we wrote a few key songs and developed a structure for the piece.

We worked with community participants in choirs, bands, folk groups, youth clubs and many other places.

Over six months, with funding from Arts Council England and other partners, we developed the piece and performed in a series of venues created around The Dome in Morecambe.

The whole More Music team was involved with support from local designers, technicians and over 120 musicians from the community.

The show was fantastic and a deep emotional journey was taken by the audiences and performers. I was sure that the project was changing lives. And it has. Year by year as it has grown and developed.

The specific links with the local Chinese community started with the Lancaster and Morecambe Bay Chinese Community association (LMBCCA) and the Hua Xian Society.

These relationships have grown and grown. More Music recreated The Long Walk in 2008 in Liverpool and Gateshead, each time devising the music over six months, creating new songs as well as singing and performing some of the original score.

Hundreds of musicians were involved and we worked with the Chinese communities in each city integrating them and their music with local jazz, folk and classical ensembles. It was at this point that the project began to stretch internationally.

Travelling has always been in my blood from an overland trip to Nepal when I was 18 to music projects over the last 25 years in Cuba, Tanzania, Canada, Chile and Brazil.

China had not been on my horizon until I received an invite from the British Council in 2006 to a cultural conference in Beijing.

With few expectations I went for 10 days and listened and learned from the artists and producers from Europe and China, all trying to get to grips with different ways of working and attitudes towards creativity.

I was fascinated by the conversations and began to see the potential for some community music projects.

Maybe, I dreamed, we could even get to the communities on the coast of Fuijian.

At that conference in Beijing I had a fateful meeting with Mok Chiuyu – an energetic and committed artist and producer from Hong Kong. So began the next part of my journey.

Six years later I have been to Hong Kong for eight working visits and to the mainland for projects in Shanghai, Beijing, Xiamen and Guangzhou.

I have made great friends in all those places and eaten amazing food in street stalls, posh restaurants and classy hotels.

The core programme of work on this journey has been with Mok Chiuyu in Hong Kong, working in partnership with his organisation, Centre for Cultural Development (CCCD) and based in the very poor district of Sham Shiu Po (Kowloon side). We developed community music there and made The Long Walk in 2009 with groups connected to various social agencies and schools.

I ran training days for local musicians, drama workers, social workers and teachers and a network began to connect people from across this amazing and vibrant city.

On every following trip I have made new contacts, delivered lectures and projects at different universities, created performances and even toured my one man band.

We are now on the cusp of another series of projects that will hopefully allow young people from our district to travel and meet and play in China. Who would have imagined?

Meanwhile, back in Morecambe, the Long Walk Chinese Orchestra has grown under the leadership of Rick Middleton. Two successful lottery bids have allowed us to purchase instruments from China and this year the orchestra is developing new links with the Chinese students at Lancaster University and will be playing all over the county to celebrate Chinese New Year.

There are over 18 players now and the cultural exchange and the sharing of music and ideas is fantastic. They have learned from our local More Music musicians and also so many great visitors including the fantastic Guo Yue – a flautist and cook who has performed up here many times and led school and community workshops.

Other visitors have come from China including theatre producer Eric Ng, who worked with us on the Sigh of the Sea. Support has been gathered from across the community with people giving time, wood for the bonfire, free printing, van hire and energy.

We hope the event on the beach will be a commemoration and also a celebration of those lives lost in the wind and seas of February 5 2004.

Maybe this will also be another step towards a project on that coast so many thousands of miles away.