Last night I was part of a 50th anniversary celebration of the ground breaking radio ballad ‘The Travelling People’, which was first broadcast on April 17th 1964.
On the 17th April 1964, the BBC broadcast The Travelling People, a ‘radio ballad’ by Ewan MacColl, Charles Parker and Peggy Seeger. The last of their incredible collaborations, this programme explored the lives of Gypsies and Travellers in their own voices, interspersed with songs by MacColl.
To commemorate and celebrate the 50th anniversary of this broadcast, I was part of a new radio ballad recording with some amazing performers and people who are either Gypsy, Romany or Travellers as well as though people that collaborate or work with that community. The night itself was based at New Cross Learning which is an occupied library which is open to the community and addresses lots of social activist issues and supports people in New Cross with access to books and learning, I loved this venue, especially as its right opposite Goldsmith’s University! The organisers of New Cross Learning were so gracious and open that it reminded me of the first time I walked into the Glass Onion community arts centre here in Peterborough in 2006, which without that I would not be performing today. So please check them out if you ever near there, go in buy a book, watch a film or just have a chat with someone wise to the world.
I was excited to perform with the ever so stylish Damian Le Bas again and it’s always such a pleasure to listen to his kushti poetry and views on the world in general and there was also Mark Brown who organised the night, whose musical talent is enthralling, such a soft voice but with real purpose and passion behind it. I was also a bit nervous about hearing Alex Etchart’s version of his Dale Farm ballad again mainly because the last time I heard this was at Grow Heathrow in February, I cried like a baby!
Already the night was going to be full of heart and boy was it, kicking off with some images and audio clips of the original broadcast, that then moved into a stirring performance by Mark and his stunning gang of musicians including the incredible voice of Sarah Jewell and by the way Sarah if you read this, your voice sounded great even though you were a snot monster as you put it and I can’t wait to hear it in full flight and health.
Then the night moved between poetry, music and voices so seamlessly that it was almost like we had rehearsed it, which we hadn’t that was all down to Mark and his precision ed organising. I have to admit though that when Thomas McCarthy sang I was taken to a time that relied on it’s singers to tell it’s stories and goodness what a voice, Please see a video of his below just so you can understand my awe. Then to really bring the night to a colourful conclusion The Gypsy Stars performed and getting to sing the Romany national anthem was just an absolute delight and the whole night is something I will never forget. I also received a huge compliment from Brenda Downes who works at the Irish Community Centre in Lewisham and has being working with Gypsies, Romanies and Travellers for years, when she said my poetry moved her and that only just hit me today, that if your honest your work can really make people feel connected and for that I am very grateful.
The amount of positive energy and passion in that room was intoxicating and there were already mumblings of performing the night again, maybe in Wiltshire,maybe in Peterborough which if that happens I recommend everyone comes too. Please take a look at the other performer’s/ collaborators web links below and also Thomas’s video and I will post up some images and the actual recording very soon.
Big thanks to everyone last night and please be lucky.
About the performers:
* The Gypsy Stars: http://thegypsychronicles.net/gypsy-stars-uk/
* Thomas McCarthy: www.thomasmccarthyfolk.com
* Damian Le Bas: www.damianlebas.com
* Alex Etchart: http://alexetchart.com/
* Peter Cox, author of Set Into Song, a brilliant history of the radio ballads:www.setintosong.co.uk
* Hedgemustard: www.hedgemustard.org
* Sarah Jewell: runs Songlines Choir http://songlineschoir.co.uk/
* Brenda Downes will talk about her work with Travellers in Lewisham:www.lewishamirish.plus.com