In a tourist shop we heard Lu Me Sceccu on a cassette of Sicilian Folk Music. Then we found a little wooden flute called a friscalettu and we knew that we had found the key to The Ass. Lu Me Sceccu became the
centre piece of the show, performed by our Sicilian street band consisting of friscallettu, mandolin, accordion, soprano sax and tuba. Everyone in the company sang, including D.H Lawrence, in both English and in the Sicilian dialect.
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08 January 2021
No. 44
Lu Me Sceccu Programme Note
In 1985 we worked for the first time with Pete Whyman. With Foco Novo Theatre company we toured in our music/theatre show The Ass. The piece is based on the D.H. Lawrence poem. Fresh from the Guildhall, Pete’s assignment was one in which he was required to dance, sing, to wear traditional Sicilian costume and play the saxophone wearing a donkey’s head. None of these did anything to impair his virtuosity. Few musical careers can have been launched more auspiciously.
Working on the script of The Ass, Kate and I went to Sicily, to Taormina where Lawrence and his wife Frieda settled in 1920. We found the Porta Cappucini. It was the sight of an Ass tethered there that inspired Lawrence to write the poem. For us there was no donkey to be seen since in our time the preferred means of transport was by noxious-smelling little pick-up trucks that buzzed in and out of the ancient city gate.
By the 1980s donkeys were only brought out on special occasions plumed and paraded, pulling decorated carts. We were there out of season, so not a donkey to be seen. Assured by the locals that we would find donkeys in the countryside, we scoured the surrounding hills but drew a complete blank. In the end the search became more important than its objective. The very elusiveness of the Ass only added to the mythic quality of the humble beast.
We have waited more than thirty years for the opportunity to take the song back to its source. The short tour of November 2018 was our chance. I pulled out all the stops for what I hoped would be a symphonic ‘town band’ arrangement. In the ranks of the Uncommon Orchestra are three members of the original street band,- Kate (this time without friscalettu) leading the ‘choir’ and introducing the piece in Italian, me (sans tuba) attempting to conduct, and Pete, dazzling and endlessly inventive on clarinet.
Peter Whyman in 'The Ass'
Pete Whyman in “The Ass” with Foco Novo, 1985
Of course we wondered if it might seem presumptuous, tactless or plain embarrassing, for a jazz band to come and play to Sicilians their own folk music. We needn’t have worried. When it came to the braying, the whole house erupted.
Mike Westbrook
Lu Me Sceccu is included in the Westbrook Music Theatre album The Ass. Available from Westbrook Records.
Mike Westbrook's programme note for the Westbrookjazz Picture Show 'Lu Me Sceccu'
which can be seen here
Peter Whyman in 'The Ass'
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Remembering John and Margery Styles, founder members of Smith’s Academy.
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Kate & Mike Westbrook
Kate and Mike Westbrook