settings of the Poetry of William Blake by Mike Westbrook texts arranged by Adrian Mitchell and Kate Westbrook
"Mike Westbrook makes full use of his two striking vocalists, Kate Westbrook and Phil Minton. He finds music to match the ecstacy of ‘I See Thy Form’, the desolation of ‘London Song’, turns ‘A Poison Tree’ into a blood‐curdling tango, and fashions a magnificent anthem for ‘Let The Slave/The Price of Experience’, Blake’s great paeans to freedom, dignity and compassion." THE WIRE
"Westbrook’s settings are among the greatest British music of the century… bold, optimistic and inspiring." THE INDEPENDENT
"Perhaps the greatest work in all British jazz." INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY
William Blake was born in Soho in 1757. A poet and artist regarded in his lifetime as eccentric and politically dangerous, Blake is now acknowledged as one of the great visionaries in British Art whose work resonates strongly in the 21st Century.
Many of the songs that form the basis of Glad Day derive from ‘Tyger’, Adrian Mitchell’s musical about Blake, which was staged by the National Theatre Company in 1971, with specially commissioned music by Mike Westbrook. An original Cast recording was released at the time on RCA.
In 1977 this material formed the basis of Mitchell’s Glad Day, a Thames TV music-drama which marked the 150th anniversary of Blake’s death, in which the Mike Westbrook Brass Band participated. By then the Blake songs has become an integral part of the repertoire of the Brass Band on tours throughout Britain and Europe, on radio and TV, and particularly associated with singers Phil Minton and Kate Westbrook. Four of the songs were included in the Brass Band’s 1975 album For The Record.
More William Blake material was added, and in 1980 Bright as Fire, a programme devoted entirely to Blake settings, was recorded and thereafter performed many times, notably at St. Peter’s Church in New York in 1983 and at the Adelaide festival in 1984. Other artists who have recorded Westbrook’s settings of Blake include Van Morrison and folk singer Frankie Armstrong.
Mike Westbrook’s first fully choral arrangements were written for the Flemish Radio Choir, for a festival in Antwerp in 1998. These formed the basis for a radically new approach to the Blake material when, In 2007, and with the instrumentation reduced to accordion, violin, piano and double bass, Glad Day the Choral Version was given its first performance at the Foundling Museum, London, as part of the St. Pancras Festival of Contemporary Church Music. This concert marked the 250th anniversary of the birth of William Blake.
Other performances in London in have followed, most recently at the church of St Giles-In-The-Fields, a concert presented by The Simon Community. A film and recording of a performance at Toynbee Hall in 2008, GLAD DAY LIVE was released on DVD and CD by Westbrook Records in February 2014, supported by Airshaft Trust.
"...Arguably the most majestic work to appear in recent years. It's marriage of Inspirational lyrics and uplifting scoring, performed by some of the most talented musicians in Europe, harks back to the jazz suites of Ellington..." THE GUARDIAN
"Bright as Fire pulls no emotional punches, Blake's visionary words matched by some of Westbrook's most trenchant writing." Alyn Shipton - The Times
"It's one of the great fortuitous yokings together of the century: Blake's forthright lyrics, and Westbrook's English-Ellington music, the words brilliantly sung by Kate Westbrook and Phil Minton." Phil Johnson - THE INDEPENDENT
WILLIAM BLAKE by Adrian Mitchell Blake was born in Soho on November 28th. 1757. As a child he saw visions, refused to go to school and was a prodigy both as a poet and artist. He began to write poems, composed his own tunes for them and sang them for friends. (All the tunes are lost), Later he invented a technique for combining his skills as a poet artist and engraver in the illuminated books which he published himself. These Include SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND EXPERIENCE. THE MARRIAGE OF HEAVEN & HELL, URIZEN, MILTON and JERUSALEM. These he engraved and printed, then coloured in by hand with the help of his wife Catherine. They were always poor and Blake's work as a poet and painter was regarded by most people as eccentric, Blake was not only unfashionable but politically dangerous. Frankly opposed to all Kings, Warriors and Priests, he was tried for sedition In 1804 and was lucky to escape with his life. The obscurity of some of his later prophetic books may well he due to the political oppression of the time, Blake died at the age of 69 in 1827. This is the letter his friend George Richmond wrote to Samuel Palmer afterwards:
My Dear Friend, Lest you should not have heard of the death of Mr Blake I have written this to inform you,- He died on Sunday at 6 0'clock in a most glorious manner. He said He was going to that Country he had all His life wished to see & expressed himself Happy, hoping for Salvation through Jesus Christ - Just before he died His Countenance became fair. His eyes Brightened and He burst out into Singing of the things he saw in heaven, In truth he died like a Saint as a person who was standing by Him Observed - He is to be Buried on Friday at 12 in the morn. Should you like to go to the Funeral - If you should there will be room in the Coach,
Yours Affectionately, G. Richmond Excuse this wretched scrawl.
Kate Westbrook voice Phil Minton voice Mike Westbrook piano Steve Berry double bass Billy Thompson violin Karen Street accordion Chris Biscoe saxes
An Excerpt from Glad Day
In 1996 The Brass Band re-assembled for a revival of the Blake programme at the Greenwich Festival, For the first time a choir took part in a ‘live’ performance - the Senior Girls Choir of the Blackheath Conservatoire of Music and the Arts. Subsequent performances which included festivals in Salisbury and Dublin, always involved a local children’s choir. The album Glad Day, which includes six pieces not on the original recording, was released on Enja Records in 1997, funded by an award from Airshaft Trust.