Song of Contagion performances:

wiltons music hall front door james perry
Tuesday June 13th to Saturday June 17th

Wilton’s Music Hall, Whitechapel, London E1 8JB

Tickets £10 – £17.50 (concessions available)

Box Office: 020 7702 2789 www.wiltons.org.uk

Tuesday 13th June to Saturday 17th June at 7:30 in the evening
Saturday 17th June 2:30pm family show
Evening performances run 2 hours 20 minutes including interval;
Saturday Matinee runs 60 minutes without interval
Full Price £10 to £17.50;
Concessions £7.50 to £15;
Family matinee prices: £12.50 adults, £7.50 children.
Family offer £30 for 4 tickets (must include 1 adult and 1 child)

More details: http://grandunion.org.uk/song-of-contagion.php

Map:

The company we keep: the BBC proms follow Grand Union to Wilton’s

Interior of Wliton's Music Hall

Some fans of the BBC’s proms were befuddled last year, when David Pickard, the festival’s new director, exploded out of the Royal Albert Hall and “put music in the right setting for that music”, including in a multi-storey car park in Peckham. This year, they’ll be going to Wilton’s Music Hall. As he told BBC Front Row’s Kirsty Lang last night, the Proms will be going to “the amazing Wilton’s Music Hall” with Peter Maxwell Davies’ Eight Songs for a Mad King. “It will be very special, I think, to see that piece in that setting,” he said. Listen to the interview:

We’re ahead of you, David. Grand Union chose Wilton’s as the venue for Song of Contagion precisely because it resonates so completely with much of our material. It’s close to the site of the 1866 cholera outbreak, described in our opening song, and celebrated in a walk before the show on Saturday June 17th. It’s close to the great sugar warehouses of Tate & Lyle and the other colonial giants that began to dribble ill-health into our diets in earnest in the late 18th century. “A little of what you fancy does you good” — a classic Victorian music hall song that surely once graced the stage at Wilton’s, will feature in our song about corporate lobbying and coronary heart disease.

Wilton’s Music Hall is indeed amazing; rattle it just a bit and you’ll shake out much that is core to the history of Britain and it’s colonies. We’ll certainly be rattling it in June (book here to join us.) But we’ll leave some ghosts for Prom goers to discover, too.

Stalking King Cholera: a walk that revisits London’s sordid past

It’s almost exactly 150 years since the last great cholera outbreak in East London. The city was saved by Sir Jospeh Bazalgette’s astonishing sewage system, much of which is still in operation today. That system over-rode the perfidious behaviour of corporations — the eight water companies that supplied often unfiltered water to Londoners. Though cholera hasn’t returned, the perfidious behaviour of corporations flows on. Just last week, Thames Water was fined £20.3 million for dumping raw sewage into the Thames.

If you’re interested in the history of East London, of epidemiology, of great works of sanitation or if you just want to discover some of the ghoulish hidden treasures of the East End, join guide Sophie Campbell as she takes us through the slums through which London’s last cholera epidemic raged, the cemeteries it filled, and the pumping stations that put an end to it.

The walk will end up close to Wilton’s Music Hall, in time for the evening performance of Song of Contagion on Saturday June 17th. If you fancy coming to that after the walk, book here.

Book your place on the walk now. Sophie can only take 25 guests, but we may be able to add other dates. If it’s sold out, you’re interested in the walk but can’t make the date, or if you have any trouble booking through eventbrite, please email us on walk@songofcontagion.com

Help write lyrics for Song of Contagion – Saturday November 5 – All welcome

Lyrics over musical staff

The Song of Contagion project continues apace. Tony and the musicians have been working through musical ideas and now it’s time to think about the lyrics for the songs.

We’ll get together this Saturday, November 5 from 2 PM to 5 PM at The Chapel, 15b Old Ford Rd, London E2 9PJ (Map)

We’ll be kicking around ideas for lyrics for the Song of Contagion performance. On the cards: The Dengue Merengue (why you know more about zika than dengue); Infectious Activism (how HIV activism went viral); A Tale of Two Cities (cholera in London and Calcutta) and much more. All welcome. Please come, bring your friends and your ideas.

Facebook event - Help write lyrics for Song of Contagion Facebook Event page

Help choose Contagion stories: July 11th @ Elizabeth’s

Which diseases will stalk the Hackney Empire next spring? It’s a question we’ve been thinking about since Song of Contagion began. We’ve made a lot of progress to date, with help from many of you. That’s helped refine our thinking, and we’ve a better idea of how the show might work than we did at the start. So we want to ask for a final round of disease input before handing over to the music creatives. We hope to end up with a shortlist that the songwriters and composers can use to start creating the show. If you’ve got ideas, please join Elizabeth for beer, pizza (or other forms of booze and sustenance, depending on how many of you email and say you’re coming) and discussion at her place in north-east London on the evening of Monday July 11th.

Though our discussions so far have been wide-ranging we now want to get focused, not on diseases themselves, but on the different social, political and physical forces that shape our perception of the importance of a disease or illness. We want to choose a handful of diseases which illustrate specific parameters, then develop musical stories in which those parameters can be heard. With input from lots of you, we’ve now come up with a more rigorous list of the parameters which affect our perception of disease. They look like this:
parameters
(click image to download the Word file)

I’m lobbying for a diarrhoea story (Drain Brain?) that starts in 1830 and tells the story of poo-related deaths in London and Calcutta. The British and the Indian music will start off at the same volume because back then, diarrhoea was killing roughly the same proportion of the population in those cities. Then in the 1850s the British music gets deafening — that was the Big Stink and the cholera epidemic that followed. This rattles the Victorians into action, and they start to build drains — represented by the introduction of a didgeridoo as a bass-line to the British music (I’m hoping for a dij because it both looks and sounds like a drain…) As a result, diarrhoea deaths in London plummet. While the dij bass-line carries on, the rest of the British music gets quieter and falls silent. The Indian music, on the other hand, never gets a bass-line. Neither the colonial government nor the many subsequent Indian governments have invested sufficiently in basic sanitation, and tens of thousands of children continue to doe of diarrhoea in Indian cities to this day.
Parameters illustrated: Prevalence, near/far, infrastructure, time.

Other current contenders:
Dengue Merengue (HT Andrew W). Contrasting dengue with zika. Both are viruses spread by the same mosquito, in the same places. Dengue has been quietly killing people for years, and gets virtually no attention. Along comes zika, throwing up pin-head babies at a faster rate than the Brazilians can build Olympic stadiums. Front page news!
Parameters illustrated: visible vs. shocking, cute victims, near/far, press as influencers.

Shell Shocked: the story of mental illness resulting from war and violence. A century ago this was a “pull-your-socks-up” condition. Eventually it became diagnosable (as post-traumatic stress disorder), then pathologised and treated, though arguable only if you are lucky enough to experience it as a soldier from a rich country with a big health-care budget for veterans. The vast majority of civilians in conflict zones are exposed to more shocking violence and loss than intervening troops, but get no care.
Parameters illustrated: Unrecognised to pahtologised, near/far, us/them, Pharma as influencers.

We’ve got a couple more up our sleeves, but you get the picture. We want to hear YOUR suggestions. Please contact Elizabeth with ideas, or if you’re in London, come along at 7.30 on July 11th. If you e-mail info@songofcontagion.com, we’ll send you directions.

Enough PowerPoints, already!

solar_system

I’ve just emerged from three days buried in a bunker at the Geneva Health Forum, which focuses on health in lower income countries. There was a great cartoonist, but otherwise it was all quite po-faced: power-point presentations,* incomprehensible posters and much thanking of sponsors. LOTS of rather earnest, mostly white people suffered from the Public Health Fallacy: the idea that if only they had the (technical) evidence, all governments would do the best thing for their poorest and most neglected. Despite all of the (historical, political, social) evidence that the poorest and most neglected mostly get, well, neglected by those that govern them.

I propose adding this to the evidence base: po-faced conferences with power point presentations to an audience that has seen them all before do not generate new ideas about inequality in health. And I propose trying something different: let’s put the technical evidence up against the historical, political and social evidence in a piece of music, and see what gets drowned out.

Does that sound crazy? Maybe? Will it change the world? Of course not. Will it allow us to think a bit more creatively than another powerpoint presentation in a bunker conference? Probably. Will it be a lot of fun? Certainly!

Come along tomorrow, Saturday April 23, and add your voice to the project, which we’re calling Song of Contagion. (It’s supported by the Wellcome Trust, and most of what they support turns out pretty well.) We’re meeting in Hackney, East London, to begin to decide which diseases to songify, and what, besides the technical evidence, we should be adding to the musical mix. The fact that the Minister of Health’s wife owns a Pharma company, maybe? We didn’t hear THAT at the Geneva Health Forum…

*The illustration for this post came from one of my PowerPoint presentations, questioning whether data sharing presentations are creating an asteroid field of repositories where really we need a solar system. Pretty abstruse, eh?

(Originally published by Elizabeth Pisani on April 22, 2016)

World Health Day is D-Day for lobbyists

Greenpeace world health day

Today is World Health Day. Judging from what’s in the Song of Contagion Twitter stream (@songfocontagion), this is above all an opportunity for a lot of lobbyists and marketing specialists to promote their specific cause. Greenpeace has been quite active, because of course you can always make a health issue out of the environment. There’s quite a bit from the Indian government, a lot of it focusing on diabetes (the prevalence of which, we will learn from The Lancet tonight, has more than doubled in India since 1980). But there are also Indian companies trying to convince us that ghee, or clarified butter, is good for us after all.
We’ve got single-disease NGOs all clamoring for our attention to “their” disease, often with recourse to statistics. This from the Mental Health Foundation for example:

Finally, you’ve got marketers of fads and gizmos, all capitalising on World Health Day.

All of this is part of the clamour that leads to really important decisions about what research gets done and which interventions get funded. (Oddly, I’ve seen little today from Big Pharma, who I thought would be all over Twitter — maybe they are promoting their wares through the NGOs and foundations they fund?) If you want to help us make sense of how much influence initiatives such as World Health Day really have, then turn the results into music, please join us at http://songofcontagion.com/ Details of out April 23rd launch workshop — which will discuss how priorities are set in global health, are here: http://songofcontagion.com/launch-workshop/

(Originally published by Elizabeth Pisani on April 7, 2016)