In these short dark days and long nights, light is ever more important. Over the coming month in the run up to Christmas I will be focusing my writing and my photography on light.
This year has been immensely difficult for everyone and I fear worse is to come as we head into 2021 and increasingly dystopian times. However bleak things are and however much bleaker they might become, there is always light.
This is the final verse from A Requiemand it feels so very relevant.
We have had a great week touring A Requiem. On Sunday 29th September we were at the Herts Jazz Festival, hosted by Clark Tracey. Lovely theatre gig with a very appreciative audience and great vibe. Because it was a festival set, the suite was truncated to fit the time slot but it worked well and felt good to be playing it again after a break. I am finding that the music is affecting me and my performance in subtly different ways each time we perform. I have always responded to Song Without Words and found it a deeply affecting piece but this week I have been listening intently to Dark at the Edges and Sacred Music both if which seem to haunt me.
These pictures were taken by Mike O’Brien at Herts and I share them here with Mike’s kind permission.
On Wednesday we set off on a long drive to Swansea to play the opening night of the Swansea Jazzland International Festival. The venue was a little pub tucked away on a high street and had a more traditional, earthy feel to it. We received a very warm welcome from the Swansea team and from the audience who were most attentive and generous in their response.
From Swansea we headed over to The Stables at Wavenden. This gig was a real treat. Beautiful theatre, comfortable and a good size yet still intimate. I was especially excited to be there as Cleo Laine was a performer who fascinated me as a child. I used to love seeing her on TV with her fabulous hair and dresses, singing in that unique style. I was a little more nervous than usual but I really enjoyed the event and had some warm and wonderful conversations with members of the audience after the show.
On Monday we head off to Southport for the last of our October dates. Between now and October 12th, I have a special offer regarding the sale of the book. You can purchase A Requiem for just £5. Simply email email@example.com to order copies. The book features all the poems performed as part of the show plus extras. The artwork is by renowned North East Lincolnshire artist Dale Mackie. See Dale’s work here: https://www.dalemackie.com/
Monday was a monumental day. A great team assembled – better than the X Men, better than the Avengers, even better than Charlie’s Angels. These were real heroes; champions of music and children. Something spectacular happened.
Around 800 children under the direction of the inspirational Caroline Gooch performed A Soldier Through Time, supported by the La Luna creative team, a wonderful live band and a crew of staff who held the day together and made it deeply moving and immensely successful. The children sang their songs so beautifully and with such conviction and the story of Monsieur Perdu, a young French cartwright living in 1915 and facing war came to life for an audience of rapt parents and friends.
It has been such a pleasure to run this project in partnership with NEL Music Hub and to work with such a committed and engaged team of artists and teachers.
Below is one of the stirring images from the work by artist Darren Gallagher.
The day continued with the first performance of the official tour of A Requiem with the Alan Barnes Octet and featuring the Great Grimsby Community Choir and Youth Voices, once again under the direction of Caroline. It is a challenging and wonderful work to perform and we were all delighted with how it went. The choirs added a further depth and dimension to an already rich and moving work.
The tour continues with two further gigs in July; Alford on July 20th and LLandudno on July 28th. The full details are below in the poster
A Requiem the book is now available to purchase direct from me for £9 inc P&P. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to order.
On Friday 15th February myself and the Alan Barnes Octet premiered our brand new collaboration, A Requiem,a brand new suite of music and poetry, commissioned by Grimsby Jazz Projects and supported with funding from Arts Council, England.
Having worked on the poems from the autumn of 2017 to a final tweak the day before the premiere, I was full of nervous excitement and anticipation – especially as I had not heard a note of the music and truly had no idea what to expect.
It was wonderful to be reunited with the full band again. I had been looking forward to seeing everyone again and have so many happy memories of outstanding gigs on our previous Fish Tales tour. This is truly an all-star band and each musician brings his own particular signature, which becomes apparent during the solo sections.
As we got underway with the rehearsal it was soon clear to me that the music was extraordinary. Full of twists and turns with complex rhythms and nuances; the music felt like a journey through time and through the story of war across a century that I was also telling with the poems. The music was full of drama and intrigue and I found it incredibly moving and intense.
The rehearsal day was given an extra layer of excitement as Radio Humberside were broadcasting live from the Central Hall throughout the afternoon and several of us gave brief interviews in which we talked about the work and the project as a whole. Friends and colleagues also came in to give short interviews about the work they are doing in the cultural sector in the town and so the rehearsal had the feel of an event in its own right.
It was a long day and the work required considerable concentration from everyone. After only a short rest for tea, showtime approached and I really felt the nerves kick in. I now have a better understanding of my ‘gig-zone’ and my need to have some space to mentally and physically prepare for performance. It’s an odd place where in equal measure I do and do not want to perform, where nervous energy builds and I have to turn inwards in order to find the right mood for delivering outwards to an audience.
Before I started writing A Requiem I never thought that war would be a subject I would want to work with. I spent a great deal of my undergraduate degree studying the world wars and the literature of war of the twentieth century. But it was not an area I ever wrote about in my own creative writing so when this process began I was taken aback by how I was gripped by the subject and how urgent it felt for me to write and to read and to go back to some of the literature that had so absorbed me when I was younger.
And it was not just the literature of war and the nature of conflict and its impact that gripped me, it was also the processes and rituals of commemoration and the artistic expressions of remembrance that I wanted to explore. I heard in my head the words of the Libera Me of the Latin mass for the dead;
Libera me, Domine, de morte æterna, in die illa tremenda Quando cœli movendi sunt et terra Dum veneris iudicare saeculum per ignem.
I couldn’t quieten the words, words I had sung over years of on-off membership of various choirs. I had the sense that the words were telling me something and I had an obligation to listen.
Using the structure of the Requiem mass for the dead gave me a clear starting point and an over-arching theme to work with. Alan and Pat liked the concept and so we all worked towards the production of words and music that would culminate in a work to both honour the dead and call for peace. I didn’t want to write a religious piece and worked carefully to ensure that my words would acknowledge all the dead of the century past regardless of creed, colour, gender or nationality and see every victim of war as first and foremost, human.
The work proved challenging to perform on Friday night. It is emotionally charged, powerful and in places bleak and dark. The subject matter is solemn and serious and I felt that solemnity around me as I delivered my words amidst powerful, strong and stirring music. However, one of the central motifs of the work is light, lux aeterna. The light always returns, however dark it has been.
I am now looking forward to recording the work and publishing the poems. I am also excited about touring A Requiem later this year and taking it to audiences across the country.
I am delighted to announce that A Requiem will premiere at Grimsby Central Hall on Friday 15th February at 7.30 pm. Tickets are now available from the box office, call 01472 355025 to reserve in advance at £13.
A Requiem is a collaboration between Alan Barnes, Pat McCarthy and myself and is work that examines the impact of a century of warfare across the world and which asks questions about the possibility of peace. The idea germinated on a dismal late autumn evening in 2017 when I was thinking about what remembrance means and what progress we have actually made across a century in terms of understanding and attempting to stop war.
With a great deal of hard work, commitment and energy, the indomitable Gill Wilde and I put together an Arts Council application to bring the work to life. Happily our bid was successful. Not only has this new work been commissioned, it will be recorded on CD and the poems will be published in a new collection. Venues across the UK have booked A Requiem and it will be seen by a national audience. Dale Mackie has produced the artwork for the project and internationally renowned artists will perform together to create a moving, memorable and ultimately uplifting tribute honouring all who have died in conflict.
Here’s a review from Jazz Rag of the performance at the festival:
One programmed concert of new music at many a festival these days is the latest suite by Alan Barnes, usually for an all-star octet. This year it’s Fish Tales, music and poems based on the Grimsby fishing industry. I often wonder how precisely thematically based jazz suites relate to their subject matter, but in this case the correspondence between the music and Josie Moon’s words is pretty close, from the rowdy fun of Three Day Millionaires to the street parade sounds of Homecoming, even Dave Green’s bubbling bass solo for The Drowning Man. Moon’s poetry covers the domestic, the documentary and the supernatural, her explanations are clear and her readings dramatic. Alan Barnes’ writing makes particular use of the versatility of his threeman reed section (some lovely writing for two clarinets and bass clarinet) and, with top-class soloists throughout the band, Mark Nightingale and Robert Fowler made a particularly strong impression.
Folkestone is quite a trek from Grimsby but I have become adept at sleeping in the back of the car or at being in a poet’s coma as my lengthy naps have been described. The Dartford Crossing is an event and I’m glad I was awake for it as the bridge is quite beautiful. The traffic isn’t and the roads are in a lamentable state – but I digress.
The welcome at Folkestone Jazz Club was warm indeed. The Tower Theatre is a beautiful space, a lovingly adapted chapel that is inviting and well designed for performances. The octet found themselves up close and personal again after being some distance apart at Herts on Sunday.
The vibe was suitably windswept and sea-inspired as a storm was brewing in Folkestone when we took to the stage for what was a barnstorming performance from everyone. Because the stage was small I sat to the side which gave me a new aural experience. I’ve got used to sitting with Mark and hearing a lot of gorgeous, warm brass solos from him and Neil with the visceral delight of Gilad cutting through. I’ve heard lots of drums and bass as well and so it was great to hear more of Alan, Dean and Pat this time.
After having my knees knock throughout the set last Sunday, I was pleased to feel enough nervous energy to power my performance but not so much that I feared I might fall over. As the tour has progressed I’ve added more layers of storytelling to my introductions and have grown in confidence. I feel I know the poems so well now and really enjoy inhabiting them as I share them with the audience.
The standing ovation at the end brought tears to my eyes and yet again the lovely comments from audience members made my heart swell.
I am thrilled that we have more dates in November and yet more next summer. At the moment I feel I could do this forever and never grow tired of it. However, there are stories, poems and ideas bubbling away and we shall see what time brings.
Back to life, back to reality, well until Thursday when we hit the road again and head for Folkestone for the last gig of part 2 of the grand Fish Tales Tour.
Grand indeed. We’ve had nothing but warm welcomes and kind words and I want to say thank you to all the venues and promoters who have hosted the production; Dave at Swansea Jazzland, Steve at Leeds Jazz 7, Chris at Wakefield Jazz and Clark at Herts Jazz Festival.
Thank you also to the lovely audiences who have been so rapt and so attentive. It has been a wonderful experience for me to truly feel the impact of my words in the response of the audiences.
Many thanks to everyone who has bought the books and CD’s, that is true support and is hugely appreciated.
Finally thank you to all the lovely people who I’ve spoken to after gigs who have commented on how much the poetry moved and affected them, how much they enjoyed the show and my delivery.
It is such a great joy and such a lot of fun to perform with this stellar cast of jazz legends, all of whom play with energy, fizz and aplomb. I have been dazzled by some of the solos and lost in the tunes as they weave and wander, telling the story through the voices of the instruments.
Fish Tales lives and breathes on the stage; it is a complex and beautiful work and I am immensely proud to have been part of its creation and to have the great good fortune to be bringing it to audiences across the country.
With National Poetry Day just one week away and lots of poetry events on the near horizon I thought a round-up of what’s going on would be a good idea.
On National Poetry Day, Thursday 28th September, the NE Lincs libraries are hosting readings from popular poets in our region. Between 1,00 – 3.00 pm you can hear poetry from Rob Etty in Cleethorpes, Maria Garner in Waltham, Margaret Griffiths and Caroline Burton in Immingham. Pat McCarthy and I will be performing together at Grimsby entral Library with poetry and improvised jazz. A little later at At 4.00 pm the Franklin College Young Voices will be reading at Riverhead Coffee. Carolyn Doyley and Gordon Wilson will be with them.
The Young Voices programme is now in full swing and their anthology will be the next La Luna publication, scheduled for release in time for Christmas. It promises to be a diverse and fascinating collection.
As part of their programme, Helen Mort will be running a workshop on October 6th followed by a reading from 5.00 pm on Friday 6th October at Riverhead Coffee. Helen has just won the 2017 Mslexia Women’s poetry Prize. She is a truly outstanding voice in British poetry.
Of course the next leg of the Fish Tales Tour kicks off in October and I can’t wait to be out on the road again.
Here’s hoping to see you at an event soon. Come and say hello.