Tim who? I hear some of you shout! It feels like a long time since Tim Van Eyken released Stiffs Lovers Holymen Thieves back in 2006. He has been busy and has also presented a BBC Radio 4 show that you can still catch.
Tim was persuaded to send a personal message out to fans today to reasure them he was still alive and well as well as updating everyone on what he has been up to:
After finishing at War Horse I decided to take a couple of years out to pursue some life-time ambitions. I’ve completed the first of those – a year training in dance, and I am currently one term into a year at Oxford School of Drama learning how to act better!
When I have finished all this I will be out and about again and I should think I ought to record something before too long as well. Thanks for hanging on!
So there you have it, some other good news is that Tim presented a radio show on BBC Radio 4 that is being repeated this Saturday afternoon at 3.30pm titled: Vital Mental Medicine: Shackleton’s Banjo.
As his ship was sinking through the Antarctic pack-ice, Ernest Shackleton allowed each member of his expedition to take 2lbs of possessions with them as they abandoned ship. One exception was made; Shackleton saved Leonard Hussey’s banjo saying, “We must have that banjo. It’s vital mental medicine.”
So it proved; when Shackleton set off in a small boat to sail to South Georgia to get help, he left behind on Elephant Island twenty-two men. They lived for months under an upturned boat and some old sails. Every Saturday the banjo-playing meteorologist mounted a concert. He composed songs and whenever they caught a seal to eat brought out his banjo. He played, the men sang – and anger and depression were kept at bay.
Leonard Hussey survived, as did his banjo, now in the National Maritime Museum, its skin marked with a dozen signatures of members of the failed expedition to the South Pole.
Tim van Eyken is best known as a squeeze-box player and singer – he was the Song Man in ‘War Horse’ at the National Theatre. But he also plays the banjo. Tim explores the character of Hussey and the role he and his banjo played in saving the sanity of the explorers. He plays some of his songs – sadly not on Hussey’s banjo, which is too fragile, but on his own, made by Pete Stanley, who sheds some light on the original instrument.
Tim also hears from Pieter van der Merwe of the National Maritime Museum about the importance of music in expeditions and, thanks to some remarkable archive recordings, Hussey himself. He plays the tune Shackleton asked for the night he died. Hussey reveals, too, that his banjo had seen action in warmer climes, “having among other things been played to an audience of cannibals in Africa.”
If you have the option to use the BBC Listen Again service you can listen now as it was first aired on Tuesday last week. Full details here