All Along the Wall was a show commissioned by Brampton Live during 2010. Brampton Live Festival was beset by an unlucky chain of events which meant the festival had to be cancelled. The centrepiece of the festival was the official premiere and CD launch of the All Along the Wall which was released on Fellside Recordings. Although the festival didn’t go ahead, the ‘All Along the Wall’ show did, and it was an incredible occasion.
The concept was simple and ingenious. Take a group of songwriters and performance poets, place them in a remote farmhouse close to the Roman Wall in Northumbria. Their task was to write a 75-minute piece that would tell the story of Hadrian’s Wall. This was not just a case of reading a history book and regurgitating it into song. The story had to also embrace the people, landscape, past and present. They had five days to complete the task and perform the results on the sixth day to an audience!
Those that were selected and rose to the challenge were: Boo Hewerdine, Jez Lowe, Julie Matthews, Rory McLeod, Ruth Notman, Kate Fox and Elvis McGonagall. They were also joined by instrumentalist Kate Bramley on fiddle. As anyone who has been subject to a team building event will know, it is the ability of that team to act together in camaradarie that not just brings results but makes a lasting memory on all present. Left there with only their musical instruments and laptops for company, they brainstormed ideas for this melting pot work which celebrates the 80-mile long wall between Wallsend and the Solway Firth – an historic frontier between England and Scotland.
Boo Hewerdine reflected on the whole event and had this to say:
All Along the Wall was written and rehearsed in five days of teamwork, camaraderie and delicious over-eating. By the time we finished the show…it all seemd rather miraculous. I have never been in such an ego-less creative environment, though it’s a miracle we got anything done for all the laughing.
The remote location and feeling of history around them must have built with the focus placed upon it. It would have driven home the importance of community in such a rural locations. Towns, farmlands and sometimes families and neighbours were sepearted during the Roman occupation. This inspired Rory McLeod to write Other Side of the Wall in which he visualises this experience through the eyes of a young shepherd boy and the fear he would have felt.
Boo Hewerdine picked up on the fact that not all Roman Soldiers were Italian and actually came from all over the Roman Empire. On End of the World the Wall is seen through the eyes of a North African Legionnaire.
Confident that those around her were writing about the Wall and Romans Ruth Notman decided to write about something different. Lizzie Batey is about a local Good Witch from Brampton, a very nice personal touch. Not all the songs on the album are set in the distant past, Julie Matthews wrote a very moving Shepherd Who’s Lost His Sheep which echoes the devastation of the Foot and Mouth Crisis. Kate Fox underpinned the song with a very moving introductory poem for Julie’s song called A War, an apt title which, for many farmers felt like a war zone at the time.
I could go on a lot longer but suffice to say this is a great project which is deserving of continued resurrection. So the good news is they will reunite for three very special dates this autumn (Sept 23-25). All Along the Wall will be performed at Bury Met on Friday, September 23, Biddulph Town Hall on Saturday, September 24 and The Sage, Gateshead on Sunday, September 25. The septet will be joined by guest fiddler Kate Bramley who also featured on the CD and at the Maryport show.
An opportunity not to be missed!