Rejoice. The great Robb Johnson has written another song cycle, this time about his father and uncle. It’s called Ordinary Giants and covers the 30s, WW2 and the Welfare State. As with Gentle Men, his show about his grandfathers and WW1, it’s poignant, passionate and hilarious. And his songs, as always, are glorious. So imagine my delight at being asked to sing some of them, playing his Uncle Ern. One song’s a duet with Phil (Swell) Odgers – yes, him from The Men They Couldn’t Hang – who plays Robb’s dad Ron. We were down in Sussex recently, recording with Ali at the fine Brighton Road Recording Studios. What a treat.
Here’s a short video of me telling stories of Parallel Lives to the huge crowd who came to see The Transports at Shrewsbury Folk Festival. (And a glimpse of the great song Dark Water by The Young’uns).The Parallel Lives project gathers true stories, town by town across Britain, of people who’ve been forced to leave that place in past centuries and people who’ve come to live there in recent decades. People go, people come – migration is part of life. That’s the message. Parallel Lives always goes down well at performances of The Transports, for audiences love local tales – and it’s a fresh, human way to talk about the centrality of migration to human life. Plus, in each town we link with a local refugee or migrant support group. I’m now starting to gather stories for our next tour of The Transports in January, where we’ll be reaching places like Cheltenham, Yeovil, Manchester, Preston, Bromsgrove, Bury St Edmunds, Southampton, Guildford, Chesterfield, Leeds, Durham, Berwick and Norwich. Then I’ll share more stories when I tour Human Cargo next Spring with the great Jeff Warner We’ll soon be giving Parallel Lives a smart, new website. But, for now, you can read the tales I’ve gathered at http://www.thetransportsproduction.co.uk/ Do get in touch if you’ve got any stories or ideas. And thanks as ever to the wonderful Refugee Council for their help.
Good news. Next year I’ll be touring a new production of Human Cargo with the great Jeff Warner. It’s such an honour to share a stage with one of my heroes. He’s the real deal when it comes to traditional songs and he has this effortless way of a) taking you straight back to the 18th and 19th centuries and b) creating a lovely atmosphere at gigs. Thanks too to Alan Bearman Music for representing us. Maybe you know an arts centre, theatre or folk venue that would like Human Cargo? Do point them in our direction. I’ll be rewriting the show and including local stories for each venue in the form of Parallel Lives. So this should follow on well from the The Transports tour in January.
Thank you Shrewsbury Folk Festival. My first visit, and I can see why people rave about it. Must admit, I was rather scared, appearing in The Transports before such a massive crowd, and I’m new to the acoustics of huge tents. But it helps to share a stage with people so skilled as The Young’uns, Faustus, Nancy Kerr, Rachael McShane and Greg Russell. Plus the genius of Andy Bell on sound and Emma Thompson on lighting. And thanks to Keith Bache for the show pics. Now to learn some fresh Parallel Lives scripting for the BBC tomorrow…
First off, a remarkable video of the instant standing ovation from 4,000 people.
This year I’ve been busy with a show called The Transports – a words-and-music look at exile and migration. We’re really proud of the production, which won 5* from the Guardian in January. If you’d fancy seeing the show – or catching it again – here are four opportunities for you.
- Watch free the live stream of our performance at Shrewsbury Folk Festival, 2.45pm this Saturday afternoon
- Listen free to our performance on BBC Radio 3 this autumn
- Sign up for news of our CD coming out in December
- Book tickets for our national tour in January 2018
Peter Bellamy wrote a cycle of folk songs about the true story of a poor couple from East Anglia being transported as convicts to Australia on the First Fleet of 1788. Written in the 1970s, but sounding like traditional songs, his work The Transports became legendary, mainly thanks to an album featuring the folk music aristocracy of the day. Our production includes leading musicians of another generation: The Young’uns, Faustus, Nancy Kerr, Rachael McShane and Greg Russell. Plus me. I cut down and reshaped the original song cycle, and wrote a narration to set the scenes and link the songs. I’ve connected the story with exile and migration today. And through the Parallel Lives project, we partner with local refugee and migrant support groups in every town we play. Here’s a preview of our production and me talking about it on BBC Radio 4 Front Row.
Watch us at Shrewsbury
Head to Shrewsbury Folk Festival. By the weekend, this should explain how you can watch a live stream of our performance in the main Bellstone Marquee at 14.45 on Saturday 25th August. It will be our largest gig to date – up to 5,000 in the audience I understand, along with a mosh pit and TV screens – so I’m getting suitably excited.
Hear us on BBC Radio 3
On Wednesday we go into the BBC Radio Theatre in London to record The Transports in front of a live audience. If you’ve secured a ticket for this, I’m afraid the BBC has a habit of giving out more tickets than there are seats. So it’s first come, first served, and many are likely to be turned away. Apologies but we have no control over this, and I don’t know what time would be wise to start queuing. But the good news is that you won’t need to queue to listen to it. Just pour yourself a drink, put up your feet and consult your i-player. Transmission will be sometime this Autumn. I’ll let you know.
Listen to the CD
The album’s being prepared for release around December. We had a great time recording it in Sheffield and the early mixes sound terrific. If you’d like to sign up for exclusive info about advance sales, please head to Hudson Records.
Book tickets for January 2018
We’re heading out on the road again this January. We have the same fine cast and we’re travelling widely around the country. I can’t wait to perform at City Varieties in Leeds – home to The Good Old Days – and we’re delighted to have two East Anglian venues in Bury St Edmunds and Norwich, close to where the story is set.
If you know people in these towns who may be interested, do pass the word on. Last year our tour sold out in advance in every venue (except one huge one), so people are advised to book early.
Cheltenham Town Hall 10 Jan
London Union Chapel 11 Jan
Yeovil Octagon 12 Jan
Manchester Dancehouse 13 Jan
Preston Guild Hall 14 Jan
Bury St Edmunds Apex 16 Jan
Bromsgrove Artrix 17 Jan
Guildford G Live 18 Jan
Southampton Turner Sims 19 Jan
Chesterfield Winding Wheel 20 Jan
Leeds City Varieties 21 Jan
Durham Gala 22 Jan
Berwick Maltings 23 Jan
Norwich Maddermarket 24 January
I’ve spent the summer performing dodgy music hall shows – often including the removal of trousers – so it will be good to return to the seriousness of The Transports. (Though I must remember not to break into Knock Knock jokes and filthy limericks between songs).
Oh, and I can hardly finish an email without re-mentioning that Five Star review in the Guardian….
Go well. Best wishes,
Your Monday morning treat. Here’s video evidence of a wardrobe malfunction during last week’s Muddling Through – music hall & singalong with David Eagle and myself. This mishap occurred during The Man on The Flying Trapeze and I had to be aided by Graeme Knights. Must admit, it’s the first time I’ve had anything pulled off on stage by a burly shantyman. Happy Birthday Graeme. PS the attending mob had not been deterred by warnings from Nancy Elliott, Paul Sartin, Michael Hughes, Sean Cooney and others (see below). Thanks Paul Davies for evidence.
Never mind the critics, these are our friends’ warnings about Muddling Through:
“Dear God, tell me this isn’t happening” Michael Hughes.
“Every so often, an act comes along which enthrals audiences and changes the face of music. This is not such an act.” Nancy Kerr.
“Check your diary. Be anywhere but there.” Paul Sartin.
I’ve never had people dance to my singing before. But yesterday John and June took to the floor during my teatime music hall gig in Kentish Town. It was hosted by a remarkable organisation called North London Cares, which links young professionals with older folk so they can find out about each other’s lives. This might involve a gang of pensioners visiting a hipster branding agency in Shoreditch. Or, like yesterday, some twentysomethings watching aghast at the fruity innuendo of music hall classics – and experiencing the simple delight of a singalong. It was great fun.
They took to the floor when I played Dance the Night Away by the Mavericks. This works quite well on the banjolele. But two weeks later I was in Ilfracombe, wandering back to my b&b late on a Friday night, when I heard the same song booming live out of a hotel for coach parties. I went in. A half-hearted entertainer crooned to a backing track, while a group of elderly ladies swayed carefully on the floor. The blokes sat silently behind pints. I had a vision of where my career might lead.