Sheffield film uncovers DIY music movement hidden in garden sheds

A documentary made by two Sheffield university professors will tell the story of how “hairy guys in sheds” have created their own identity through building cigar box guitars.

Friday, 13th December 2019, 7:17 pm
Updated Tuesday, 31st December 2019, 2:04 pm
A cigar box guitar in action

The half-hour film, Cigar Box Blues – The Makers of a Revolution, has been directed by Virginia Heath, professor of film at Hallam University, and written by Paul Atkinson, professor of design and design history.

It portrays the passionate makers and players of these instruments.

Paul said: “Although the cigar box guitar has a long history in the USA, where it formed part of the culture of traditional blues music, it has only recently become popular with musicians in the UK.”

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Virginia added: “After factory and mine closures, makers like the ex-miner from Barnsley featured in the film have finally been able to pursue the creative path they always longed for.

“This film reveals how just three chords, played on their unique, DIY, instruments, hand-made from recycled materials, connect them to their truth.

“As a filmmaker, it's intriguing because the guitar makers see their DIY movement as part of a wider resistance against the way in which our culture has become so mass produced and standardised.”

The starting point for this collaboration was a research article, Hairy Guys in Sheds, written by Paul Atkinson, which explored the phenomenon of the three-string cigar box guitar and the DIY revolution that has accompanied its uptake in the UK.

The article emerged from research into a book on the design history of electric guitars, which will be published in September.

Paul said: "It is a particular form of DIY culture which entails many people (mainly hairy guys) working in isolation in sheds across the country to create their own instruments out of recycled scrap and upcycled components.

“The instruments and the resulting maker’s music are then shared among virtual communities of practice through extensive use of social media, and among real communities of players and audiences through public performance at concerts and festivals.”

Cigar Box Blues – The Makers of a Revolution is available on BBC iPlayer.