Helen Petts: The Cutty Wren



Helen Petts is an artist and film-maker who explores rhythm, texture, sound and chance events, both in the landscape and in her long-standing relationship with the free improvisation music community. A former television director of arts programmes, she now regularly shows her own art work at film and music festivals and in gallery installations – both in the UK and internationally. Her latest commission for Manchester Art Gallery "Space & Freedom" explored the legacy of Chinese artist Li Yuan-chia in the Cumbrian landscape and featured Steve Beresford improvising on prepared piano. In 2012 she was commissioned by the Cultural Olympiad and the Hatton Gallery Newcastle to make the film "Throw Them Up and Let Them Sing", in which she followed Kurt Schwitters' escape route from Nazi Germany to rural Norway and the Lake District. She studied Fine Art at Goldsmith's College and Middlesex University and Film at Westminster University. Her work is distributed by Lux Artists Moving Image.


In the clip below, singer Phil Minton performs his own version of the traditional British folk song "The Cutty Wren". It's a song from the Peasants' Revolt (1381) which was caused by many grievances, one of which was excessive Poll Tax. The Cutty Wren were the mercenary police whom the peasants fought and occasionally killed. When this happened, the peasants would destroy the evidence as well as stave off hunger and starvation. So the song is about eating policemen.


(Purist's note - Phil Minton sings "John the Red Rose" instead of "John the red nose" because guitarist John Russell - who for many years ran the Mopomoso free improvised music night at the Red Rose club in London - was sitting right in front of him and he got a little confused...)


With piano accompaniment and arrangement by Veryan Weston.




Film by Helen Petts.  Shown in a special feature on Phil Minton at the Il Gesto del Suono Film Festival in Bolzano (Italy 2009), Zwei Tage Zeit Festival Zurich (2012), The Voice and the Lens symposium Icon Gallery, Birmingham (2012) and Spitalfields Music Festival at the Whitechapel Gallery (June 15 2014).