An Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman walked into a bar. I was the Englishman, and I’d walked in to the Corby Irish Centre to talk to the many Irish and Scotsmen within about contemporary art. But that’s not the punchline.
From Scotland to Corby was our 2017 project which saw two Scottish artists travel to Corby to work with communities in the town, exploring cultural shifts that take place when people relocate.
The first of these, Roddy Buchanan, is an artist who examines how sports, games and recreational activities can express and communicate issues of race, nationality, aspiration, culture and identity. Roddy was hoping to work with Celtic and Rangers fans based in Corby. My job was to do a recce for contacts. The Corby Irish Centre and the Grampian Club next door seemed like a good place to start.
From experience I knew that I might initially be viewed with suspicion, especially as Roddy would later tell me “You look like a policeman”. Taking courage from my Fermynwoods owl badge, which in this context might be mistaken for the Sheffield Wednesday FC crest, I approached the table next to the screen showing the Celtic vs St Johnstone game.
I was freely welcomed to join, and after the discovery that I was raised on the very same estate in Corby, I was part of the group – a mixture of Celtic and Rangers fans, all good friends. I expressed surprise to find the Rangers supporters present, given the history of sectarianism between the two sets of fans. “Why? It’s not like it used to be anymore”, came the reply, before discussing how the tribal rivalries had been watered down by the growth of the English Premier League and how their children and grandchildren all supported English teams nowadays.
The group were soon reminiscing about the good old days when you could ask a taxi driver to “take you where it was all kicking off”. One claimed he was once in a pub and “some guys came in wearing balaclavas and starting screaming and shouting – but that was just the band!” Arriving a few weeks later and in time for the Scottish Cup Final, Roddy would follow up on many of these anecdotes and contacts.
Corby, often referred to as Little Scotland, was once home to the largest Rangers supporters group outside of Glasgow, owing to the Scottish population who migrated to and remained in Corby to work in the steel works since 1930s, bringing many of their customs with them. What did this look like in 2017? Despite an Irish Club full of Celtic fans across multiple generations celebrating their 2-1 cup final victory over Aberdeen, Roddy would describe the visibility of the proud traditions of Scottish football clubs in Corby as “like the last of the Mohicans”. It felt like a key moment in the living history of Corby, which Roddy would document as it threatens to disappear as new communities come and go.
Roddy installed several of his photographs in pubs around Corby where fans traditionally meet, including The Corby Irish Centre, The White Hart and The Hazel Tree; together with transcripts of interviews with key figures from this period of social history (which can be found here and here). One of these photographs will also be exhibited at J. Hammond Projects, London, opening on 20 June 2018.
Roddy’s artistic practice resonated strongly with Fermynwoods’ claim to Infiltrate The Everyday. His documentary photography wasn’t fly on the wall. He would meet, befriend and be welcomed by individuals in order that he and his camera would be fully accepted. This was never truer than some months later when he was in Paris for the Paris Saint-Germain vs Celtic Champions League match. Two Celtic fans from Corby recognised him as the artist who had been working in their home town.
When I first started working for Fermynwoods, a peer complimented me saying there was nothing that Fermynwoods wouldn’t attempt to do. This project was perhaps one that only Fermynwoods could have done. If that is not enough of a punchline consider this: growing up in Corby many years ago and drinking in one of the pubs that Roddy so successfully infiltrated, a friend of mine advised me that I would never find contemporary art in Corby.
From Scotland to Corby was funded by Arts Council England. David Blyth was the second Scottish artist to work with us on this programme. Look out for this and more Fermynwoods Friday posts each week looking back on some of our favourite projects over the past 20 years.