While thinking about Lou’s situation, I had plenty of time to contemplate the bridge, a jagged zig-zag symbol. I was also thinking about the new piece I was working on, inspired by a hymn that Kate and I had heard recently in church, the John Ireland setting of Samuel Crossman’s 17th century text, My Song is Love Unknown. Eventually the driver got back into his cab, switched on the engine and the journey to Exeter resumed. This hospital visit was the last time I saw Lou.
Starcross Bridge is on Hat Hut Records, hatOLOGY 754
and is available from Westbrook Records
Information about the CD and sound samples
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, 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 marking the 250th anniversary of the birth of William Blake. This performance set the pattern that continued for the
next decade, with a small acoustic line-up and invariably a large choir. There have been performances in Blake’s city at regular intervals, notably at Toynbee Hall in 2008, where the DVD/CD Glad Day- Live was filmed and recorded, and at St Giles-in-The-Fields, Soho in 2014. There have been Festival appearances in Norwich & Norfolk (2014), Bath (2015) and Bury St Edmunds (2017).
A year ago when Lou Gare was in hospital I went into Exeter to visit him. The bus journey was broken unexpectedly by a lengthy stop at Starcross where the bus route runs parallel with the railway. The driver switched off the engine and for a quarter of an hour (it seemed longer) nothing moved. No train passed. No bird sang. To quote Edward Thomas’ Adlestrop, ‘No one left and no one came on the bare platform’.
Remembering John and Margery Styles, founder members of Smith’s Academy.
Photographs by Kate Westbrook
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 had become an integral part of the repertoire of the Brass Band on tour 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.
29 September 2018
GLAD DAY the History
More William Blake material was added, and in 1980 Bright as Fire, a programme devoted entirely to Blake settings, was recorded for Original Records (later released on Impetus) 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.
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, including festivals in Salisbury and Dublin, always involved a local children’s choir. The double album Glad Day, which includes six pieces not on the original recording, was released on Enja Records in 1997, funded by an award from the Airshaft Trust.
Over the years the Blake material has been constantly re-invented, by changes in instrumentation, the variety of choirs, occasional personnel changes and the introduction of fresh material. The performance in the Parry 100 Festival sees further innovations. Composer Mike Westbrook has stepped back to concentrate on the role of musical director, bringing in pianist Matthew Bourne and actor Tim Goodwin. Spoken texts will now include Adrian Mitchell’s ‘Children of Blake’ and Blakes’s ‘Golden Builders’.
Phil Minton and Kate Westbrook, Tim Goodwin, Billy Thompson, Chris Biscoe, Matthew Bourne and Steve Berry will be joined by the choir Wessex Rising Voices, directed by Ali Sharpe.
BRIGHT AS FIRE THE WESTBROOK BLAKE PARRY 100 FESTIVAL
ST PETER’S CHURCH HINTON ROAD BOURNEMOUTH BH1 2EE
SATURDAY 6TH OCTOBER 8PM
3 September 2018
Starcross is a small town beside the River Exe. Brunel decided that his railway should run along the edge of the Estuary and Starcross station is right on the water. A sharp metallic bridge connects the ‘up’ and ‘down’ platforms, the only link between the town and the estuary with its jetties and boats.
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.
Ali Sharpe director of Rising Voices Wessex Choir gives her personal reflection in our October post
September 2018 Posts