The False Lights of Durham” is a music and light piece inspired by the intriguing history of the county’s treacherous coastline, and the tale of unexplained lights that caused so many ships to wreck in the 1860s.

Reports of these ‘false lights’ (which officials controversially blamed on local fishing communities) ended with the construction of the region’s electric lighthouses.

This piece draws its syncopated rhythms of light and melody from the characters of these lighthouses when they were first illuminated. The first light seen in the piece represents Souter lighthouse (which opened in 1871), followed in order by the lights at Herd Sand (River Tyne), South Gare breakwater, Sunderland North East pier, Hartlepool Heugh, River Tyne South pier, Sunderland South pier, Roker pier, Seaham North pier and River Tyne North pier.

The choir members represent the fishing communities, their lyrics a response to the Trinity House accusation that they had been luring vessels onto the rocks to steal their cargos.

Filmed and recorded on location in Durham Cathedral, the viewer’s perspective is that of a vessel at sea, surrounded by darkness, with only the coastal lights offering any visual frame of reference.



Commissioned by Northern Film and Media and BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art for Channel 4.