A 40th-anniversary revival of Peter Bellamy’s most revered work The Transports performed by some of the UK finest folk stars at the start of the year resoundingly lived up to its billing as one of the key folk music events of 2017 (read our live review here).
Wall-to-wall acclaim from the critics was topped by a 5* review in The Guardian who described it as “A stunning fully staged folk suite of extraordinary richness and variety.”
Now there is a second chance to see the famed and emotive story of 18th-century exile, with the original cast reprising their roles.
The Young’uns, BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Best Group (2016 and 2015) will join forces with fellow Folk Awards winners Nancy Kerr (Folk Singer of the Year 2015) and Greg Russell (Young Folk Award and Horizon Award).
Sartin, another former member of the esteemed and much-missed Bellowhead, is also Musical Director of the project while author, storyteller and folk singer Matthew Crampton is once again the narrator and Tim Dalling (The New Rope String Band) is Creative Director.
The collective will take to the road in January 2018 in a 14-date tour of the ground-breaking ballad opera opening at Cheltenham Town Hall on January 10 and aptly bringing the curtain down in Norwich on January 24 – the city from which the story originates.
Supported by Arts Council England, the show fuses together moving, inspirational music and spellbinding storytelling within a vital historical and contemporary tapestry. Rarely can Bellamy’s famed folk opera – a tale of 18th-century exile – have been more pertinent, set against the current tide of forced migration.
Bellamy, a unique singer, musician and composer, tragically took his own life in 1991 at the age of just 47, but left a treasure trove of work of which The Transports is seen as his greatest triumph.
Complementing the tour once again will be the accompanying Parallel Lives project which aims to link the show to refugee support groups in the tour towns.
The Transports was written after Bellamy read a story in his local Norfolk newspaper about the first transport ship to Australia. It is based on the remarkable true tale of convicts Henry Cabell and Susannah Holmes. Imprisoned for theft at Norwich Gaol prior to being transported the pair fall in love and have a son but are refused permission to marry. As Susannah awaits transportation to Australia at the quayside her son is refused passage but a guard, taking pity on her, travels with the infant to London to appeal to Lord Sydney, Home Secretary. Sydney orders that Cabell and Holmes be reunited, allowed to marry and transported together with their son as a family.
The folk opera was released on Free Reed Records in 1977 featuring some of the biggest names from the Seventies folk revival – The Watersons, Martin Carthy, Nic Jones, A.L Lloyd, June Tabor, Cyril Tawney and Dave Swarbrick – and was named The Guardian’s Folk Album of the Year. It was first performed at Norwich Castle and
While Paul Sartin has composed new musical arrangements storyteller Matthew Crampton has created fresh narrative elements to tell more fully the extraordinary story behind The Transports.
Says Paul: “This is perhaps Peter Bellamy’s greatest legacy – an immensely powerful, beautiful and haunting collection of songs and texts crafted in a traditional English idiom. Unique in its conception, it is unified by a narrative which speaks with immediacy and passion and demands both musical and human responses.”
Matthew has toured a show based on his latest book Human Cargo: Stories and Songs of Emigration, Slavery and Transportation. He says: “Mass migration is a defining dilemma of today. There’s seldom been a more vital moment to revisit The Transports – it’s not just a great musical experience but a sharp reminder of folk music’s power in portraying the way the world works.”
“In our accompanying Parallel Lives project we will work with organisations supporting refugees in Britain, gathering stories of those trafficked or transported from Britain in the past alongside the stories of those arriving in the country and showing how the ebb and flow of migration has helped shape our country.”
The performance will also include one new song that fuses perfectly with the Bellamy originals – the moving and much acclaimed Dark Water, penned by Sean Cooney of The Young’uns.
It tells the story of Hesham Modamani from Syria who, after fleeing his home country following the disappearance of his brother, took the drastic decision to swim the Aegean Sea with fellow Syrian Feras Abukhalil. Hesham is now studying in Germany and recently The Young’uns went there to meet him.
Award-winning record producer Andy Bell will be the sound engineer for the production with Emma Thompson creating the lighting.
Coinciding with the tour will be the release of the live recording of The Transports on January 12 on Hudson Records, a landmark album destined to become a collector’s item.
THE TRANSPORTS TOUR DATES – JANUARY 2018
10 CHELTENHAM Town Hall 0844 576 2210
11 LONDON Union Chapel 0871 220 0260
12 YEOVIL Octagon 01935 422884
13 MANCHESTER Dancehouse 0844 888 9991
14 PRESTON Guild Hall 01772 804444
16 BURY ST EDMUNDS Apex 01284 758000
17 BROMSGROVE Artrix 01527 577330
18 GUILDFORD G Live 01483 369350
19 SOUTHAMPTON Turner Sims Concert Hall 02380 595151
20 CHESTERFIELD Winding Wheel 01773 853428
21 LEEDS City Varieties 0113 243 0808
22 DURHAM Gala Theatre 0300 026 6600
23 BERWICK Maltings 01289 330999
24 NORWICH Maddermarket Theatre 01602 620917