Tuesday, November 18, 2014


in Folk Song and Prose
at Brentwood Theatre

I've been listening to In Flanders Fields, the album from Coope Boyes and Simpson, so I was keen to hear another traditional music take on the Great War, presented by folk musicians from clubs across the South East, produced by Chris and Linda Paish, and narrated by Jan Ayres.
Some pieces in common, of course, Living It Up, and that musical hall classic Oh It's A Lovely War.
Poems from Owen and Sassoon, Kipling and Duffy, and songs the Tommies knew, as well as some original material: Thirteen Florins, a splendid, heartfelt new piece, written and sung by Mike Sparks, about Suffolk farm workers who enlisted after the harvest, leaving money behind the bar of the pub against the day they returned; a lovely setting of Vera Brittain's Perhaps for two unaccompanied voices, and Old Men Sing Love Songs, inspired by George Butterworth, whose Banks of Green Willow we heard sung very much as he would have first heard it in Edwardian Billingshurst.
It's a shame that this worthwhile charity event was let down by poor presentation. Folk clubs, I know, are relaxed, informal places; eye contact with the “audience” is carefully avoided. But this was a theatrical entertainment – the performers in the spotlight, us in darkness. Seeing all the musicians sitting in a semi-circle, staring down at their folders, looking at their watches, did not create a good atmosphere - unlike the cans of Maconochie's, the jars of Tickler's, which, with the poppies, successfully evoked the period. A good idea not to have applause between the items, but leaving a hesitant pause instead killed any mood that might have been created. And too many performers, readers especially, were simply not up to the task.

Perhaps the summer woods will shimmer bright,
And crimson roses once again be fair,
And autumn harvest fields a rich delight,
Although You are not there.
Perhaps some day I shall not shrink in pain
To see the passing of the dying year,
And listen to Christmas songs again,
Although You cannot hear.'  
But though kind Time may many joys renew,
There is one greatest joy I shall not know
Again, because my heart for loss of You
Was broken, long ago. 

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