Ruth Ewan

A mini concept album and drawing project
23 August 2011 – 19 September 2013

Part of the following series:

Central Line Series


A LOCK IS A GATE is devised and led by artist Ruth Ewan with composer Kerry Andrew and poet Evlynn Sharp and created by young people from the Laburnum Boat Club youth project, Hackney.

Nearly 40 members of the Club aged 9 to 19 years old took part in creating an album of experimental songs, album artwork in the form of a book of drawings, posters for the Central line and forthcoming artwork for Bethnal Green Tube station. All the voices, words and drawings are the participants’ own.

A LOCK IS A GATE weaves sounds, songs and drawings into a part-real, part imagined journey that winds through London from the Tube to the canal. Along the way the young voyagers pass through a long canal tunnel and negotiate a lock. From their narrowboat they see puzzling sights and dazzling colours. They make songs telling of who they are and how they think others see them, and share their hopes and dreams for a better world in which to grow up.

A lock on a canal is a watergate that requires special knowledge to unlock. But once open, it lets a boat pass along different levels of water. In that way, a lock is both a barrier and a way through. In the title song, the lock stands both for a real canal lock and for the obstacles we all face in life.

Limited edition CD album and Downloads
A free, special edition of the album as a CD with sleeve artwork is available. To request a copy by post email art@tube.tfl.gov.uk

You can listen to the album HERE and download the sleeve artwork booklet as a PDF HERE The CD album sleeve artwork is in the form of a book follows a parallel journey to the songs below.

Listen and download the Album
Here are notes on each album track – Download a full transcript of the song lyrics.

1. Setting off
A young traveller gets ready and sets out on a journey through London from the Tube to the canal. He tells us what he sees and hears on the way.

2. Journey through the Canal Tunnel
We go with him on a narrowboat along Regent’s Canal and through Islington Tunnel. The boat passengers describe what they see on the tunnel walls: signs, images and messages hidden beneath the city. There is a puzzle to solve, letters to piece together.

3. Seeing the Moon
We come through the tunnel and out under the night sky. As we approach the canal lock the passengers talk nonsense. The only clear thing is the moon in the sky

4. A Lock is a Gate
The boat comes to a canal lock. The passengers think about other obstacles they have met in life. They solve how to open the lock like a gate so we can keep moving.

5. Magic Machine
After unlocking the lock, the voyagers share their wishes and ideas for a better world.

6. Moving
The boat carries us through the landscape. The traveller feels the thrum of the boat against the water.

7. Like Birds
This place inspires one of the young passengers to sing a song about how it feels to be her.

8. Like Fireworks
Another voyager sings a song about herself. The others join in, and the sky fizzes with colour.

9. Turning
It’s time to leave. We turn the boat around.

Laburnum Boat Club
Laburnum Boat Club in Hackney is a social education facility, concerned with the development of children and young people of all abilities, primarily through watersport activities.

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Visiting Information

Artworks for this project are not currently available to visit. The stations where they were / will be installed are listed below.


  • Absolutely love this project. A real gift for all of us commuters tired of advertising and bad posters. Great job guys – less ads more art! Well done all!

    Jonathan May

  • good images and message

    shanti thomas

A LOCK IS A GATE Album Artwork

Link to Download

A LOCK IS A GATE Learning Guide

A free School Resource for Teachers of Key Stage 2 years 5 & 6 based on the album ‘A LOCK IS A GATE’.

Link to Download



Supported by the National Lottery thorugh Arts Council England.

A LOCK IS A GATE was selected from a series of invited proposals for commission by Art on the Underground in partnership with the Barbican Art Gallery, Chisenhale Gallery, Create Festival and the Whitechapel Gallery.