Sam Slatcher

Musician Sam Slatcher, sitting on a stool holding a guitar

Sam Slatcher is a musician, singer-songwriter and community arts facilitator living in County Durham who is passionate about engaging different communities in the process of storytelling through song writing.  ​He has been performing live across the north of England since 2017, and in 2018 launched his debut extended play release at a gig in the City Theatre, Durham.

Sam launched his first full album ‘Stories of Sanctuary’ to a sold-out audience at Durham Cathedral in Oct 2018 and in 2019 toured the Stories of Sanctuary project with acclaimed viola player Raghad Haddad from the National Syrian Orchestra across the UK. Sam has worked with/supported various artists including Steve Pledger, Joe Solo, Harri Endersby, Joseph Hammill (Cattle & Cane) and Gareth Davies-Jones.

​Sam is involved in various creative projects in North East England including an Arts Council England funded project called Stories of Sanctuary which brought together people from refugee and other backgrounds through creating songs about seeking peace and sanctuary for war and conflict. In December 2018, Sam launched Citizen Songwriters, a social enterprise set up to bring communities together through creative songwriting.

Culture Durham has been speaking to Sam to find out more about his work.

What is your connection to County Durham?

I came to live in the North East for the first time in 2008, when I started a degree in Human Geography at Durham University. I was soon to grow very fond of County Durham with its rich history and strong sense of heritage and culture, which for me was everything from celtic spirituality, to the birth of the railways, to mining and Methodism (my Grandpa was a Methodist minister and railway enthusiast from a mining family, although from Yorkshire). Apart from a short spell in West Yorkshire, I’ve lived in Durham ever since and last year relocated my mum, dad and grandma to County Durham!


Why did you choose to be a community music practitioner?

It was through academic research into community arts practitioners and how they brought together people from different backgrounds in creative ways, that I found myself drawn to community arts in the context of my own art form, music. Studying geography, I’ve always been fascinated by what makes people tick and found music a very imaginative means of exploring this. Ever since I’ve been on a journey of discovering the rich tradition of folk music that is rooted in collective struggles and how this is experienced when people come together and create music around a common cause.


Why did you create Citizen Songwriters?

In 2018, I managed to secure some Arts Council England funding to run a project called Stories of Sanctuary bringing together people in County Durham who had a story or two about seeking sanctuary, mainly Syrian refugees but also others who had their own story of seeking sanctuary of a kind. This project made me realise the potential of community songwriting and after a flurry of interest from arts organisations and local authority arts teams interested in similar projects, I recognised there was a need to set up a Community Interest Company that could manage the demand for projects like this. It has been a lot of work, but it’s also been well worthwhile and has now grown bigger than me and has enabled other musicians to get involved in community arts. Since 2018 we’ve worked across the North East in Middlesbrough, Stockton, Ashington, Stanley, Sunderland and Shildon, as well as various online projects.


What have been some of the highlights?

The highlights have been seeing how creativity can unlock more creativity. The Stories of Sanctuary project, for example, planted the seeds of another project in Ashington where local people and refugees recently settled came together to write music about their town. Some of the choir in the Stories of Sanctuary project suggested touring the performance we had created for Durham Cathedral, and this inspired us to start a Crowdfund campaign which helped raise funds to tour the project around the UK, reaching another 1500 audience members in 2019. The highlights have also been in the more routine moments, when people realise, they have an inner creative world, a voice, a song and discover they have something to sing about.


What are the challenges?

The pandemic has been the most obvious challenge. Singing is a rather breathy activity and doesn’t favour social distancing! In recent months, coming back together to sing has been really rewarding and a precious reminder of how we’ve taken for granted the power of music sharing the same room together. That said, we have also discovered lots of useful ways of connecting online and reaching people who may never have come along to a workshop in person. Another challenge is how to finance the work. We tend to jump between project funding to project funding which means that there are sometimes gaps between projects and a lot of unpaid hours of work. This also means that when we set up a project, it’s really important to consider how that group or community will continue to stay connected after the funding runs out.


What are the benefits of your work?

There are so many benefits to community songwriting! There’s the excuse to come together and tackle a creative project, which can bring unlikely people together. Then in the workshops there’s all the benefits of creativity, enabling personal development, building emotional resilience and confidence, supporting people to connect with others and their community. As a freelance arts practitioner, there’s also the benefit of being able to grow into the projects that feel important and connect with other creative practitioners whose work aligns with ours.


What are your plans for the future?

We have three strands of our work with Citizen Songwriters. There’s the song writing workshops and performances with people seeking sanctuary including a brand-new project in Sunderland (Sunderland Stories of Sanctuary). Then there’s song writing workshops that support people with positive mental health wellbeing which includes one-off workshops, a choir in Durham, and various commissioned work we get asked to do. And thirdly, there’s the work around celebrating the culture and heritage of places. Here we’re working on a project in Shildon, County Durham – the world’s first railway town, the starting place of the Stockton & Darlington Railway. The project will bring communities together to explore Shildon’s rich heritage and all the possibilities that will open up in the next 5 years with the 200th anniversary of the Stockton & Darlington Railway in 2025.

Finally, a new chapter awaits as we explore more place-based activities including developing an arts cafe on a former LNER (London & North East Railway) Intercity125 high speed train buffet car which has been donated and is now in Weardale and is a partnership project with the Weardale Railway, a 18 mile heritage line in the Durham Dales.

The project is a partnership with the Weardale Railway and The Auckland Project in Bishop Auckland with the buffet car being donated by railway rolling stock leasing company Porterbrook.  Excitingly we are also opening a community recording studio in Chester-le-Street, County Durham.

More information about Sam Slatcher can be found on his website which can be seen here.  The website for Citizen Songwriters can be seen here.