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/
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.
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.
This week sees the official release of A Fish Tale – A Story and Song for Children. This is the little sister project to the major A Fish Tale Jazz and Poetry tour. This work has been undertaken in partnership with Gill Wilde at Grimsby Jazz and Sue Baker at the NEL Music Hub. This Spring the creative team has delivered sixteen workshops for primary school children in NE Lincs.
Today we came together with 700 children, a fabulous band and conductor and performed the story and music live to an audience of rapt parents, grandparents and guests. What a joy. All of this work was made possible thanks to an Arts Council grant and has been money well spent on a worthwhile and hugely enjoyable piece of work.
We now have a wonderful book for sale; a photocopiable resource including the whole story, the songs, lyrics and music and a CD to accompany. This is available to order directly from me by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
The book is £20 plus £1.50 p&p. This is a resource that can be used by children’s groups, schools, community groups, libraries and choirs and incorporates local history and myth as well as having fantastically singable songs.
I have to say a big thank you to my partner and co-writer in this project, Pat McCarthy who is a consummate composer and sympathetic arranger for voices. You can catch us out on tour with Alan Barnes and the orchestra across the country and also look out for McCarthy and Moon gigs coming very soon.
This week I’ve been working in local primary schools giving workshops in readiness for the MAPAS (music and performing arts service) Key Stage 2 Singing Festival in July. As part of our Arts Council funded jazz and poetry project we’ve written a junior version of A Fish Tale. It features a narrative set across three time zones and eight original songs telling stories about Grimsby’s fishing heritage.
Pat McCarthy and I wrote the songs together using different genres to make the piece as varied and dynamic for the children as possible and to introduce them to styles they might not have come across before. We’ve got rock and reggae, folk, gospel, a sea shanty, a lullaby, a nursery rhyme and a hymn. This week we’ve delivered 9 workshops in 8 schools working with about 30 children at a time and next week we have a further 7 workshops in 7 schools.
Working with children in this way is exhausting and exciting in equal measure. All schools are different in terms of atmosphere and of course all children are different because they’re all unique little humans. We’ve heard some gorgeous singing this week and seen such enthusiasm for the songs and the story. It’s been a lovely experience.
Music education is vital to children’s artistic and emotional growth. I’ve said before and I’ll keep saying it, singing is a birthright and we each carry our own unique instrument, our voice with us. Singing with children is uplifting and energising. Watching them grow in joy and confidence over these two-hour workshops has been extraordinary; gratifying and moving.
The cuts to arts education have been devastating over recent years and are set to continue if a Tory majority is returned on June 8th. It really isn’t party political to fear the impact of further cuts in arts education, simply realistic; fewer music teachers, less music in school, fewer musicians for the future. Ultimately, fewer projects like these that inspire children not just to learn about music but also about history, stories and superstitions. The kids have loved hearing about witches stealing egg shells to sail away in and cause havoc in the Arctic.
There have been many moments of joy and fun this week – kids say lovely things that charm, disarm and frankly stun you sometimes. We’ve had all of that this week. For me, a truly profound moment was reading the school creed for Western Primary School, shared here with kind permission of the head and staff. What a beautiful, inclusive and humane message the creed conveys. I stood and read it over and over before the children arrived to do the workshop and I thought, yes, if we all took this on and applied it to our communities, we’d change the world beyond recognition.