If you’re hoping it’s all going to be over by Christmas, think again – the near five-year centenary of the start of the First World War has yet to officially begin, and yet the media in both Britain and on foreign shores has already started trading prime-time blows.
Of course, the folk community has a long-established commitment to the recounting of tales of the conflict and some of the more poignant commemorative performances will no doubt come from folk musicians. One thing we are confident about is the fact that the Lancastrian trio Harp and a Monkey will be among those leading from the front.
The electro-folk-storytellers have provided us with our song of the day for the past two November Remembrance Days and we are now delighted to have the video exclusive on their song The Gallipoli Oak, which is from their recent Folk Radio UK Album of the Month All Life Is Here.
They have chosen to officially release the video this weekend to mark Gallipoli Day on April 25; the anniversary of the day in 1915 that Allied forces first mounted their ill-fated bid to take over a small peninsula off the Turkish mainland. More than a quarter of a million Allied troops died during the bloody 10-month campaign and in excess of 300,000 Ottomans.
Gallipoli Day is a national holiday in Australia and New Zealand, but it will also be widely commemorated across Britain this weekend, and the biggest and longest running ceremony outside of London will take place in Bury, Greater Manchester – the home of the regiment of the Lancashire Fusiliers. It also happens to be the residence of Harp and a Monkey singer and historian Martin Purdy.
Martin has spent more than 20 years studying the First World War, acted as a freelance advisor on the subject to the BBC Who Do You Think You Are? franchise, written a book for them and co-written two others on the subject. It’s safe to say that he knows his stuff!
He told us about the inspiration for The Gallipoli Oak song: “It is actually the name of my last book and the subject matter inspired the words to the song. I came across the lone English oak tree at Gallipoli on a trip to the peninsula some years ago when I was doing research for my first book.
“The tree was planted four years after the end of the First World War by the parents of a lad from Rochdale who wanted to mark their son’s memory. They paid Turkish gardeners to keep watering the sapling they had taken out, and the gardeners remained true to their side of the bargain.
“In the years that have followed the tree has become something of a talisman for Lancashire commemoration – there were thousands of Lancastrians killed at Gallipoli and many of them came from the streets where we grew up. It is a particularly emotive story for us.”
It is also one of the many lesser known stories of the First World War that Harp and a Monkey will be recounting in a special show that they are working on as we speak, and one which is already being booked-in at venues across Britain.
Martin said: “I expect our show to challenge many of the stereotypes of the war that a lot of other First World War ‘shows’ will – with the best of intentions – merely be underlining. It’s fine to sing ‘Tipperary’, read out a bit of war poetry and talk about the horror of war, but it is also a very limited approach that ignores decades of research into the many nuances of a conflict that played a huge part in shaping the world, both for better and for worse, that we live in today.”
Harp and a Monkey will be performing a short preview of their First World War Show at the official opening of the restored trench training system at the old Clipstone WW1 Camp in Sherwood Forest, Nottingham, on Sunday, May 25.