The Unknown Land – a play about arctic exploration, at the Arden Theatre, Faversham on the 28th March

The Forgotten Land

In the 1840s, the race to discover the fabled North-West Passage gripped the public imagination.

The Unknown Land is an original play by Caroline Small for one actor and many characters. It is said to be a compelling tale of extreme survival from a time before radio communication and specialised polar equipment that includes the human tale behind the politics of the age, and the story of a man’s journey to the end of the earth and deep inside his own mind.

This production by the Cotton Grass Theatre, directed by Alan Meadows stars ex-RSC actor David Frederickson and my pal, concertinist and singer Keith Kendrick in a story inspired by true accounts of nineteenth century Arctic exploration, Inuit mythology and the fatal attraction of the polar regions.

Needless to say, I intend to be in the audience somewhere.

No flyer for a theatrical production is complete without a few quotations, so here they are:

“A terrific performance by David Frederickson in a really fascinating play full of wit and love that I didn’t expect from the title and subject matter. If it’s not the most unexpectedly joyous night out I’ll have this year it’ll do to be going on with.” (Rony Robinson, BBC Radio Sheffield)

“Absolutely gripping, multi-layered, wonderfully acted and very, very moving. See it if you can!” (Sally Goldsmith, singer/song-writer, poet)

“Spellbinding theatre. Theatrical dynamite!” (Catherine Parker, Downfall Productions)

The show in Faversham will be at the Arden Theatre on Friday 28th March at 7.30pm. Tickets are £12; call the box office on 07812 102456.

First of three Yankee Jack shanty CDs about to be launched

Yankee Jack John Short

The first of three CDs presenting the entire collected repertoire of the legendary Somerset shanty singer John ‘Yankee Jack’ Short will be launched at the end of May this year.

The songs were collected from the deep water sailor by the great folklorist Cecil Sharp in 1914. In all, Yankee Jack gave Sharp a total of 60 songs, 47 of which were included in Sharp’s influential book English Folk Chanteys.

Some of the sixty are familiar but others are rarer, and the songs not included in the book have remained unsung – until now.

Within the three CDs can be found everything from wild chants from the cotton ports of the Southern United States to texts of classic English folk songs, and from wistful contemplative laments to outright bawdiness.

Some of the shanties are believed to date from a very early point in shanty-singing.

All the songs on the CDs have been taken directly from Sharp’s manuscripts rather than from his book, with the aim of making them as close to Short’s versions as possible.

The genesis of the project was when well known singers Tom and Barbara Brown found the shanty Rosabella tucked away in one of Sharp’s manuscripts in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at Cecil Sharp House in London – they then passed the song on to friends including shanty singers Johnny Collins and Jim Mageean, and it quickly became popular among revivalist singers.

As well as Tom and Barbara, the performers on this disc on the WildGoose label include Jim Mageean, Keith Kendrick, Sam Lee, Jackie Oates, Roger Watson, Brian Willoughby and Jeff Warner, from the USA.

The CD is also dedicated to the memory of Johnny Collins, who would certainly have been involved in the project if he had not sadly died two years ago.

The launches of the first CD of the series are to be an invitation-only event on the evening of Tuesday 24th May at the Esplanade Club at Watchtet and at the Saturday afternoon of Chippenham Folk Festival at Chippenham in Wiltshire on the Whitsun bank holiday weekend.

The remaining CDs will be released as a double album later in the year.



Beyond the Quay, a CD of sea songs by Tom and Barbara Brown

Tom and Barbara Brown’s new album Beyond the Quay is
made up of sea songs

Tom and Barbara Brown are old friends, and I’m very pleased that they should should put out a CD of sea-songs. Songs connected with the sea  have been out of fashion around the folk scene’s clubs and festivals for far too long in this country.

Interestingly, even though I’ve recently heard the claim that sea shanties are the new Rock’n’Roll, there are none here. Instead, this CD is full of songs about ships, ports, sailors, and of course heroes and villains. Most are traditional and most belong to the West Country.

Tom and Barbara’s performances are marked by some very effective harmony singing, of which there are two excellent examples here: Young Susan and a version of The Death of Nelson to a tune learned by the couple from traditional source singer George Dunn of Staffordshire, with additional verses from the broadside ballad.

Another aspect of this disk that I particularly like is that it includes a very nice but less well known version of one of my favourites, The Bold Princess Royal. Tom’s version from Bristol is much harder to sing than the one I know from Sam Larner so much so that he gets extra points from me for making an excellent job of it. I gather it came originally from a singer called Albert Lightfoot.

In the interests of historical veracity I should explain that Tom’s version has the same problem as Larner’s – he has the British ship being chased to windward, which seems unlikely as the Moorish pirates’ xebecs were far better to windward than the British boats during the era being described.

And I should also add that Tom and Barbara have been lucky enough to be supported on this CD by our old friend Keith Kendrick and young musicians and singers Emily and Hazel Askew.

Copies of Beyond the Quay are available direct from Doug Bailey at WildGoose Studios and from folk music CD stockists generally. While you’re over at Doug’s emporium, do take a look at some of the other recordings he has on offer including Keith Kendrick’s recent CD Songs from the Derbyshire Coast.

Further information about Tom and Barbara Brown and a programme of their performances and general doings is available from their website .

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