Mighty machine strikes musical note

01 Jun 2012

The world’s largest working steam mill engine was transformed into a gigantic instrument at a unique concert this bank holiday weekend (Sunday 3 June).

The Ellenroad twin tandem compound engine
The Ellenroad twin tandem compound engine

Three brass players accompanying the running Victoria and Alexandra engine at Ellenroad Mill, Rochdale, played a composition by University of Manchester masters student Simon Joyner, from Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire.

While the public looked on, the musicians –also from the University-  played the piece in two parts at positions dotted around the engine.

They began with a fanfare, increasing in speed as the 85-ton fly wheel -  which is as big as a house  - gradually roared into life.

He said: “The piece is a celebration of the incredible power and beauty of the Ellenroad engine, which will itself become an essential part of the ensemble.
“The spirit of the music is linked with the rhythm of the engine, amplifying its physical workings and moving parts as it gathers speed, reaches an optimum power and finally comes to rest.
“The idea is to create a musical whole out of the engine’s sonic and visual character, but the project is also about taking classical music out of the concert hall and into other environments.
“Lancashire has a rich culture firmly rooted in its industrial heritage, and although it is not my own heritage I was deeply impressed by the passion of the volunteers at Ellenroad, as well as the power of the engine.

“The fanfare aims to reflect some of the solemnity of the loss of such a great industry, as well as the glory of the engine."

His supervisor, music lecturer Dr Richard Whalley said: “It really takes your breath away to see the Ellenroad engine in action.

“So the idea of having musicians playing alongside it, as if the engine itself is a huge musical instrument in its own right is very exciting.

“The staff at Ellenroad have been an absolute pleasure to work with, such is their enthusiasm, and I’m confident Simon has the talent and inspiration to make something spectacular happen.”

The ‘twin-tandem compound’ engine delivers 3000 horsepower – enough to run twenty thousand 100W light bulbs.

The original 1892 mule spinning mill was destroyed by fire in 1916. After the war, a new ring-spinning mill was built and the engines were refurbished.

In 1985, the mill closed and was largely demolished, leaving only the engine and boiler houses. It was saved by the Ellenroad Trust in 1986.

Chairman of the Ellenroad Steam Museum Society John Wilson said: “We’re delighted to host these musicians: it’s casts a really different perspective on the Victoria and Alexander engine.

“We’ve been opening on the first Sunday of every month for many years-  but I can’t remember anything as unusual as this.

“Many thanks to Simon and Richard for thinking of us.

“It will be a bonus to our society’s members and volunteers who give their time and effort to make this place work and open for the public to enjoy.

Notes for editors

An MP3 of the performance will be available.

Performances will take place at Between 12.30 and 13.53 and 14:00  and 14.30 on Sunday June 3

Simon Joyner, Richard Whalley and John Wilson are available for interview

Photographs will be available on Sunday evening

Journalists are welcome to attend the performance.

Simon Joyner (MusM, BMus Hons) is a young composer and arranger based in Manchester. His work is diverse in style and medium, ranging from choral and orchestral to jazz and including works for theatre, film, installation and concert. He is currently studying towards a Master's degree in Composition at the University of Manchester with Dr Camden Reeves.

Simon's work is generating increasing interest - in 2011 he received two commissions from Manchester University Music Society and Ad Solem (University of Manchester Chamber Choir), and in 2012 his work received performances by internationally acclaimed string quartet Quatuor Danel, and North-West-based contemporary music ensemble Psappha (2012). His music for Schmucks Theatre Company's production of 'The Little Match Girl' also recieved critical acclaim after its premier in April 2012, and the play will be performed in Tunisia in June.

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The University of Manchester
0161 275 0790
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