Park Hill Graffiti – The importance of music on heritage.

On the 9th February 2021, news broke that the infamous graffiti ‘I Love You Will You Marry Me’ had been removed from the Park Hill estate in Sheffield, to the uproar of the local community. The influence behind Yungblud’s early song of the same name. The story of the Park Hill graffiti is one of two halves. The remarkable beauty of neon lit graffiti on a brutalist housing estate, and the poignant story of how it came to be. It’s impact felt within the historic nature of the site and its cultural influence across the city.

Park Hill is intrinsic to Sheffield’s culture. Full of eclectic meanings. The largest grade 2* listed building in Europe, listed for social developments and a futuristic vision; moving the slum estates of Sheffield into modern housing for its citizens. However, the estate ultimately turning into a hotbed for crime where famously police wouldn’t go near the area due to gang culture. The site is built into Sheffield’s culture, a filming site for This is England, the backdrop for the Arctic Monkeys ‘When the Sun Goes Down’ music video and within the Pulp documentary ‘Life, Death and Supermarkets’.

Jason Lowe’s public display of affection to ‘Clare’ was spray-painted on a bridge at Park Hill, Sheffield, in 2001. He planned to take her to the Roxy on the facing hill, to show her. It was his two-fingers-up at the social services office opposite. The story differs over time, but Jason speaking to the Guardian in 2016 explained, “even though she was a loving person she was not one for accepting love. Just asking her face to face wouldn’t have been enough. And she said yes. But things went downhill from there.” Social services had advised Clare to pay attention to her children, not Jason. The graffiti has become an image of working class culture and has been shared across the globe. It was shown at the Venice Biennale of Architecture; Urban Splash, the Park Hill developers had replicated the proposal on T-shirts for their launch party and Alex Turner wore one on stage in America.

Image result for i love you will you marry me alex turner
Alex Turner wearing the ‘I Love You Will You Marry Me’ t-shirt

With a quirky act of romance
A version of Romeo and Juliet
This time with Adidas sneakers and cigarettes
A couple of kids trying to cut down the safety net
They twisted the story so they could bring glory to it

(Yungblud, I Love You Will You Marry Me)

Clare died aged only 30, the site holds strong personal attachment for Clare’s family and to Jason. Despite the huge exploitation of this graffiti, the heartbreaking story, goes further. Jason is homeless and hasn’t received a penny from the marketing that the Park Hill estate has produced. He’s tracked his father down, only to be rejected. One of his sons has been sent to prison for life, for murder. He heard the sentence announced on the radio while at work. Soon he left that job, near breakdown. He struggles to get work because of an unspent conviction. Speaking to the Guardian he was on the phone in the car, he pleaded to a Universal Credit helpline, in rising despair and tears.

When they wrote on the
T-shirts, cool merch, postcards
And lighting it up like a piece of art
They kicked him to the side and left him to starve
On the memory that’s re-breaking his broken heart
(Yungblud, I Love You Will You Marry Me)

Despite the graffiti having huge personal significance and evolving through modern culture, the role of music has been dismissed on the graffiti’s influence and its preservation.

Music and heritage have a symbiotic relationship. Places influence music and music influences places. Locations across the world have become tourism rich unofficial heritage sites, drawing on a personal connection to the band, and as we move into a streaming only world, a place of tangibility to the bands they adore. Salford Lads Club, Manchester (The Smiths), Strawberry Fields, Liverpool (The Beatles), Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France (The Doors), Grove Passage, London (The Libertines).

Its hard to imagine the music of Oasis without a Manchester rooftop scene, the music of Fontaines DC without a Dublin street and the work of Gerry Cinnamon without a packed Glaswegian crowd. Influenced by lyrics, music videos and culture of the band.

Sheffield itself, has been the backdrop for starting some of the greatest bands; Arctic Monkeys, Bring Me The Horizon, Pulp, The Human League to name just a few. The raw, post-industrialism of the ‘steel city’ spawning angst and escapism.

Image result for park hill mosaic
Park Hill Estate, Sheffield

Should the wider debate centre around musical influence playing a role in choosing what to conserve and to what extent? When heritage is so intrinsically linked to a culture, and to a song should we be taking further steps to ensure its survival? Does music form a further medium in heritage preservation? Gentrification can take the heart out of a place along with the roots of its culture and its cultural production.

To some, the notorious Park Hill graffiti was a small part of the wider estate, not essential to protect. But the human expression on a brutalist landscape and the music it inspired stands out clearer than the neon lights that adorned it.

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