Posted on: April 11th, 2013

pre smedleys


It takes the eye
It takes the hand
It takes the mind of man

To loop and hook
To check the stitch
To lay and press
To fold
To know when all is right
It takes the rhythm in the mind of man

(Emmet D. Williams Jr. 2013)



Posted on: April 8th, 2013

We name the guilty wo(men )

john sml

Mr Monday: John Parish (guitars, keyboards, drums,)

catherine sml

Ms. Tuesday: Catherine Graindorge (violin, viola, vocals)

corey sml

Mr. Wednesday Corey Mwamba: (Vibes, Swarmandal, dulcimer, flutes)

Seb sml

Mr Thursday: Seb Rochford (drums and drums)

Pete sml

Man Friday: Pete Judge (trumpet, Rotary Valve Steam Tenor)

marco sml

Mr Fixit: Marco Tagliola: Recorded and Live Sound, Shower Controls

gav sml

All things bright and beautiful: Gavin Bush (films and stills and archive images)

emmett sml

Emmet Williams (Still photography, assistance beyond duty’s call)


JANE MIDDLETON SMITH: The John Smedley Archive and Drum Majorette

JOHN MUMBY: Tour Guide at John Smedley, Archive Aid

CHARLOTTE OATES: John Smedley Factory Access and Tour  Co-ordinator

IAN MACLEAN: as John Smedley

KEITH JEFFREY:  the dread at the controls

ROB NEWMAN and HIS MERRIE MEN: Cables, Sparks, Speakers and small miracles

OLI MELIA: Technical Assistance


The combined forces of the good people working shifts at Lea Mills

The staff at The Makeney Hall Hotel

The staff and locals of The Holly Bush Inn, Makeney

The staff and volunteers at The Chocolate Factory

MARK SUGGITT: Chief Facillitation Officer and Greaser of Palms (Time and Motion)

LOUISE CLEMENTS: Producer and Chief Rabbit-From-Hat Operative

CALLY: Foreman and Director


Posted on: April 6th, 2013

Mics and photo

The Developer admire one of the many fine photographic exhibits in The Chocolate Factory gallery.

Sound check

The stage is set for tonight’s concert, John Parish seen fettling his drum under the watchful eye of the 143 year old Drum Major..

Savoy Grill

The welfare and diet of The Developer being uppermost in Cally’s daily tasks, the venue for a pre-event expensive and lavish slap up feed is selected from Derby’s Finest Gourmet Dining Guide.


Posted on: April 5th, 2013

corrugated  smedley

Here, the enveloping countryside is a magnet for cycling, hiking, and driving visitors, folk on their Easter holidays taking in the fresh air may be forgiven for thinking they are getting closer to nature, but they are also getting closer to immensive industry. The indust may have taken place anywhere from the Bronze through to this current Information Age little is spared the interference of humans, and most wild life has had to quick step to the march of time. Whether the progress has been agricultural, industrial, technological or sociological, the scars run deep. The term ‘Native Species’ means little in this valley of export and import, concrete and clay.

Audible sighs go up when something old is uncovered, platitudes pour forth suggesting that ‘they’ no longer build ‘em like they did in the olden days, and I wonder when ‘The Olden Days’ officially kicked in, and whether this date is different depending on our age or the subject matter being admired. The hideously abused word ‘Vintage’ now seems to sit on any piece of old tat, ignoring the fact that being of a high quality was an essential criteria for the use of this word.

Vintage wine is not just wine made a few years back.

Inevitably there is waste when it comes to making things, The Developer may end up with a good hour of music surplus to requirement (all of it vintage – hem hem) Gavin will have tons of footage that may never be seen, and Smedleys get £1.00 per kilo for their offcuts. These flawed and rejected patchworks of merino and cotton are for the chop and go to some far off land for to make loft insulation. I imagine how many limbs of beautiful still-born mechanically retrieved jumpers are currently embracing hot water tanks in distant lofts all over the land.

Once upon a time, when Detroit still made cars, on leaving work each day, a worker smuggled out one component in order to build his own car at home, which he did. I assume the security staff turned a blind eye to him stuffing a bonnet up his jumper, but, because of his know-how and training, he could assemble all the parts at home in his garage. The Smedley assorted limp offcuts are shriveled segments of outerwear, useless without the skill and machinery needed to combine them into cohesive garments. The Developer will put them to good use, perhaps sewing in a DVD of the week’s work – for sale at a later date.

Star of today’s musical soundbed is a Stoll knitting machine from the 1930s running off concertinaed metal punch cards.  After delicate negotiation with its agent it added rhythm by its clocklike mechanism -  careful listeners may also spot the ringing bells of a shift-change and the creaking groan as pipes expand under heated steam pouring through their veins, the Factory has become the 9th member of our merrie troupe.

MP Theresa Coffey – in an ill-judged attempt at single footedly kick-starting the new car market – declared her few-year-old Toyota a thing of the past (no nostalgic sighs) and pronounced “the era of make-do-and-mend’ is over!”  All this at a time when we all suffer (for we are all in this together remember?) from a previous lengthy bout of living beyond our means, like buying new cars when we didn’t ‘need’ one.

Let us all applaud the era of clothes built to last as The Developer wade through the factory shop carrying armfuls of Smedley garments in preparation for tomorrow night’s chilly concert. We shall be both well attired and warm, and the clothes will be passed on to our grandchildren who will once again proclaim (with a sigh) that ‘they’ don’t make them like they used to anymore.

The original 1890 Marching Drum of the Lea Mill’s Brass Band (they turned Silver in 1906 it transpires) was carefully lifted down from its 100 year long slumber. Sighs were offered up, and it was respectfully struck with a beater by John Parish. They make em better these days.

Ghosts were woken, and the distant sound of marching charging feet were heard outside once more…

brass band big drum


Posted on: April 4th, 2013

keep the gangways clear

The language used in the process of creating music or film or clothing can swiftly skip through the florid fields of wish and wash, Mere words fail often and so metaphor by association and simile swing into action “a little bit harder, somewhat brighter, perhaps a touch of warmth?” we’ve all had to respond to these encoded unspecific generalities at some time before – “ certainly, I know just what you mean… I think”

High street highwaymen who abuse terminology in order to sell cure-all snake oil have their whims routinely clipped by legislation and sales description acts. Food is too dangerous to mis-describe, but when it comes to bath and shower essentials, then the massed entries of Roget come to lead the charge and confusion blends with evocative bullshit to create a mixed fibre all of its own.

So when does Home Made and Hand Made trip over the edge of Plausibility Cliff? The moment the cotton is plucked from the plant, the wool sheered from the sheep, a process starts; both machines and hands are used, even if the hand only pushes the button marked ‘on’.

The thread winds through many stages, spinning, knitting, dying, finishing, pressing, packaging, selling, purchasing, wearing, like a cloth-headed version of ‘John Barleycorn Must Die’ and yet the jumper still comes out hand-made.

The music is processed in much the same fashion, from the lessons learned from ‘A Tune A Day’ to the playing here in The Developer, via pedals and amps through Marco’s desk onto hard drives and into film, it all gets touched along the way, but machines (designed and made by man) play a big part and out of it all comes ‘music’ – that woven thread that creates delight boredom or anger, depending on the listener’s taste.

Smedley’s garments are not for everybody, and there will be those who don’t enjoy The Developer, but the great mistake we now call The Great HMV Cock Up is the trying-to-be-something–for-everyone, the Primark and Greggs of the musical tapestry.

Yet all processed food remains a loaded gun. Turkey Twizzlers are frowned upon when factory made but are they not just Sunday’s roast in a breadcrumb jacket? The humble potato is poisonous until processed, and this starts with the luring of slugs with beer on the allotment, never mind the deep-fat fryer…

Language runs out of steam and so taste has to take over

two drummers drumming

The Developer on a Dual-Drum Glitter Band setting


Posted on: April 3rd, 2013

silver band

It is a matter of great honour and pride for The Developer to hereby announce the reformation of the famous Lea Mills Silver Prize Band after a 98 year ‘taking stock’ lay off.

The band were kitted out in 1890 by John Marsden Smedley who also provided the instruments bought at great cost (£120) from London, later to be replaced by an even shinier set at a further cost of £320 in 1906.

Equipped with bowler hat, fife and drum, this much revered outfit went on to win many a national award, competing against the finest brass the North could throw back at them, only to come a right cropper in December 1911 when they played to the striking workers at Lea Mills and, thus, an incensed J. B. Smedley demanded the immediate return of all uniforms and instruments.

It’s my ball, you’re not playing with it, and I’m going home.

Like an olden day Simon Cowell, Smedley found that he could make or break a band and so he sent them packing.

The big bass drum was tucked away in the rafters of a works building and the trophies stored in penance in the archive until, that is, this week – where our intrepid musicians return to the former spinning room in the factory to make music on silver instruments, joined, today by local produce Corey Mwamba, born and raised in Derby.

Just as the cotton is shipped into Smedleys from Peru, and the wool from New Zealand, via China and Italy, our truly international cast play on instruments from Germany, America, Dorset, India, France, Britain and Japan, but this time all paid for by the players, no benefactors this time, no stock taken.

We start marching now.


Ancient wind instrument used by the new silver band at Lea Mills, powered by electricity and printed circuits


Posted on: April 2nd, 2013

floorlines ready

Careering around the factory, a maze of corridors, steep narrow stairs, large empty open spaces with low ceilings and paths that cross… people mill about.

Each person is on purpose, an electrician fixing the cable on my computer, an office worker making tea, a delivery, an inspector, an interviewer, and though the factory is not in operation today – still the work goes on, paths cross.

It’s like walking through your empty school during the summer holidays or catching your teacher out shopping in normal clothes.

Upstairs in The Developer the music warps and wefts, the violin meshes with the Variphon,  they duck and dive and combine and then take their leave.

They are the two dancing swifts, a musical dog tooth dog fight in flight.

Both instruments have their own stories: the Variophon – a keyboard connected to an electric brain, powered by a tube in which human breath is blown in an early attempt at synthesizing brass instruments, had come up from the studio of producer Tim Friese Green, the Variophone was the reluctant star of his Heligoland album and now central to the Developer… The violin was born in 1927 in France and was passed down through the generations, Catherine being the most recent 30 year long custodian.

The Mill has grown organically in a methodical haphazard fashion, the purpose and contents of the rooms alter as history dictates a change in the manufactory process. Though the main ordination of these buildings reside laterally east to west, the connecting fibres of the joining routes cut across this, binding them all together in a semblance of patchwork crazed order.

The flooring of The Developer room is a medley of inserted maple and hardwood floorboards, telling its own history. Throughout the factory one treads the boards of unique creaking wood and fibre marquetry, some in board strips some in uncut flat plains. A new canteen has been created and the new flooring retains a patent Smedley creak as if the house musician/architect (once considered the same) was instructed to carefully adhere to the score.

rooflines ready

The varied roofline of the Smedley Mill showing the contradicting Standard Roof Angle Directive (S.R.A.D.) instigated in part or whole over the years.



Posted on: April 1st, 2013

small clock 2

Bank Holiday Monday: the banks are shut but the customers are out spending their money in force. The Derwent Valley is a magnet for spenders, hikers and bikers, popping out for a pint of milk is a 2 hour expedition.

On arrival at the Mill, the film and music equipment lies dormant, a series of tidy piles in the Developer Room, so kindly entrusted to us by John Smedley and Co.

Bank Holiday means that the mill workers are off all day, the entire mill lies dormant, ready…

Waltzing through the sleeping machinery of the enormous knitting hall, I am struck by just how complex the older machines look: row upon row of identical olive drab well-oiled machines with grey steel governors, cams, pinions, shafts and spindles all wearing a fine thin protective film of lubricant, the smell of warm wax hangs in the air, apparent only, perhaps, to incomers like me.

The hall is spotless, everything in its place, no margin for error.

Florescent earplugs nestle sleepily in their dispensers, everything seems poised to spring back into operation on Wednesday.

Which switch is thrown?

How do you make these things work?

How are they coaxed back into life?

Working in the knitting room, day-after-day, the workers must get used to the procedure, oblivious to the complexity of the process, and, like an old car, they must get used to the signs of break-down: above the racket, and through the earplugs;

that extraneous whirr,

that unwelcome click,

the gentle complaint of a tired bearing

about to fail.

One of mankind’s more gormless expressions: ‘if it ain’t broke –  don’t fix it’ wouldn’t fare too well here. Machines are like humans, the right constant  care and skilled attention stops the breakdown from happening

‘If it ain’t broke – it probably soon will be’

And so too – when it comes to the flight cases packed with electronic gismotronickery. To my untrained eye, nothing would ever fit together, everything would require a puzzled expression and a manual, with ‘that’s strange, it doesn’t usually do that’ comments to accompany a sound bashing. Not so for Marco who leaps over boxes, drags out cables, positions speakers in a pre-ordained position, all seems normal and natural, just another day’s work, only we don’t let him have a bank holiday today.

Lunchtime arrives, The Developer clocks off, the clock stops ticking and all is ready for knitting…

yarn store 3

One of the more idiosyncratic rooms at Smedleys: a room where tall tales can be exchanged amongst the workforce.

EEC regulations demand that all participants are warned of being stared at upon entry.



Posted on: March 21st, 2013

The First Time


When first approached by the Format Photographic Festival, the plan was hazy, it involved perhaps photography, music, film, and sound but certainly a factory.

The factory was the starting point and a number of reconnoiter trips took place up valley and down dale, starting in Derby heading up the Derwent and many a tea room was visited in the good name of intense research.

The John Smedley factory at Lea Mills stood out early on. It is not a museum, nor is it a sentimental nostalgic yesteryear recreation in need of sympathy and support.

It is a world-beating active hybrid of all that has been learned over some 200-plus years coupled with the latest technology and marketing weaponry that befits such a successful product.

So a factory tour took place: up stair and down tunnel, through interlinking buildings and low-ceilinged rooms we walked through history of the past and a future.

Immediately a direct correlation emerged between the music, photography and film on the one hand and a John Smedley piece of clothing on the other.

In the latter the raw material arrives from all over the world and it is prepared  for manufacture. It passes through the hands of designers, knitters, assemblers, finishers getting packaged and advertised and sold in chosen outlets.

In the former the music arrives from players the world over and passes through the hands of producers, tape operators, engineers, mixing engineers and mastering studios getting packaged and advertised and sold in chosen outlets.

The mistake commonly made is a view that the item of clothing was processed by operators less talented and skilled than the staff of a recording studio.

Not a bit of it, the knitting machines are but gigantic mixing desks, the overdubs come in the form of machinists, the mastering in the guise of the pressers.

If people knew how much thought, skill, time and talent went into an album release by John Parish they’d no longer bleat that CDs are ‘too expensive’ just as the cost of a Smedley garment may be deemed too high until you have that factory tour and you leave  wondering how come their garments are so cheap….

My only hope is that we can turn out something of equal age, beauty and skill, John Smedley have had a 200 year head start, we start on April the 1st, reminded of what  particular folly that date signifies.

Best Essays

Posted on: February 18th, 2013

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