||[Jan. 27th, 2018|04:14 pm]
One day, Hugh Masakela, the next Ursula LeGuin. I have no private insights to add to what the whole of the internet has been saying, but there were giants in those days, and they leave a gap.
Which leads me neatly enough to Peter Bellamy. No special insights here, either: I'd certainly never seen a production of his 'ballad opera' The Transports, and I don't think I've ever heard a recording, either ('Mainly Norfolk' lists those missed opportunities, and there's a video of a production, too). But as much as I enjoyed the revived, revised production we saw on Monday, that unknown original hovered in my mind.
In particular, I wish I'd heard the original, entirely sung, version, the true 'folk opera'. I found Matthew Crampton's narrator intrusive. This was partly his manner, which seemed too large, too emphatic, and maybe if that hadn't grated, I'd have been more appreciative of the factual, historical details the spoken word was able to carry. It also made possible the 'parallel lives' strand of the narrative, which drew comparisons between the transported prisoners of the eighteenth century and the migrants of today: an entirely worthy, entirely admirable addition, but it felt extraneous. This, too, wasn't without its compensations, and here's the perfect demonstration:
The clip gives a taste of the narrative style, and it also gives you Sean Cooney's Dark Water, which I liked very much. Is it the only addition to Peter Bellamy's songs? They have a very particular flavour: it tool a little checking of the programme to assure myself that no, this wasn't a patchwork of traditional material, these songs were written for this story. But surely that final, rousing chanty, led by Saul Rose, while it could have been traditional, was in a different tone? The 'happy ending' of The Transports (and it does end unexpectedly well for the central couple) comes when they are safely ashore, and the parallel lives of the contemporary refugees has not yet found a happy ending. This upbeat finish jarred me.
I promise you that I was already thinking these things before I found this interview about the process of adaptation, which gives the rationale for the changes that were made, and confirms that this is a version designed for people who don't always listen to the lyrics, and who need to leave the theatre on an upbeat. Not, in other words, designed for me.
As always, I find it easier to talk about what doesn't work than what does. What absolutely did work were the performances: as an evening of thematically linked songs, it was terrific. I thought Nancy Kerr was under-used as the Mother (I'd have liked to know more about what happened to her, too, but Peter Bellamy doesn't seem to have told us that, and it's quite likely the historical record doesn't, either). I liked Rachael McShane, and will look out for her again.
But the stars of the show, for me, were the Young'Uns. We first saw them back in 2010, and thought they were "fine, I suppose," - I'd enjoyed their singing for free in the Sage concourse beforehand more than I did their contribution to the concert itself. They stayed in my mind with the information that When they grow up, they're going to be the Wilsons... In the interim, it seems, they have grown up, and have taken to writing their own songs, which I don't usually regard as good news. But I may have to make an exception in this case. I need to investigate further, but luckily YouTube has what looks like the whole of their appearance at Shrewsbury Folk Festival:
I haven't yet watched beyond the first song, but I'm looking forward to it.
ETA: Over on LJ, grondfic confirms that "As far as I can tell, only Dark Water has been added by the new version; but the shanty Roll Down has, in addition, been transposed to replace an instrumental finale entitled The Convict's Wedding in the original," which makes a lot of sense.
This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.