Five Shorts Blasts

Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey

Brighton Festival

The authentic nature of the swelling waves, the sun glinting on the bright green sea and the gulls wheeling up above all conspired, along with the chugging engine, wafts of diesel and frantically chopping blades of the propellers to add their own elements to the soundtrack and it’s repetitive, soothing drone soon became a descant to the rising and fall of the boat we rode in.

In international maritime language the sound signal of five short blasts means “I am not sure of your intentions and am concerned we are going to collide”. Vessels use the audible signal of five short blasts to communicate this alarm, using a horn, a whistle, or whatever is to hand. 5 Short Blasts is inspired and deeply informed by this maritime expression of uncertainty, drawing attention to the shared act of navigating the unknown.

I’d suggest you stand and hold on, turn your back on the boat and look out to sea, gaze to the horizon you’ll never reach, or watch the city slowly shrinking to become a smear of tower and brick work along the coast. It’s far more fun than sitting under a blanket and listening in.

Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey are artists who create unexpected situations for listening and here it’s compromised by the change of location but still manages to convey our island life and the way people’s lives are still intimately connected to the sea. The text from Tony Birch and Tim and Julia Crouch written specifically for the estuary at Shoreham but having moved at the last moment still managed to convey some jolts of soul-searching reflective depth. The festival mysteriously claiming ‘tidal complications’ as the reason for its move, although anyone familiar with tide tables, estuaries and alternative facts might deduce otherwise.  However, its site specific departure didn’t detract much, all rivers lead to the ocean after all and it was easy to imagine the various elements being discussed by the voices silently slipping by underneath us and the waves.

The boat stopped at one point, we drifted along with the tide and narrative, tea and a flap jack came out, a wonderful moment of sweet British island life and all felt well.  The narrative murmured about types of mud, slurp, slop ,slurry, slough, giving us the definitions of each, like a land forecast from Dr. Seuss while out to sea, slush, slag, silt, it was evocative and faintly twee but huddled under blankets in the seriously powerful pitching sea my fellow festivalers looked vulnerable, small and fragile and its possibly one of the very few festival shows I’ve attended which has such a direct connection to the sea that makes this city so special.

An interesting boat trip, some food for thought, a moment feeling free of the land and riding the wild white breakers of the churning sea, safe in a boat, with a few moments of delightful silliness which I won’t spoil but contain more than one trombone it all adds up to something delightful, ethereal and touching.  Not quite graspable, certainly not profound, but authentic and palpable none the less. I felt free for an hour it even made the return to the wretched marina bearable.

I went and had a smoked mackerel bun afterwards from the award-winning Jack and Linda at the Fishing Museum, and looked out over the sea and thought of the men and women who fish and work in, on and under that great sparkling apparent wilderness.


Saturday May 6 – Sunday May 28, around high tide (Everyday except 8, 9, 15 – 17, 24 & 25 May)

Time slots dependent on the tides

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