Early Stroll Songs premiere

I am so proud to have brought the Early Stroll Songs to the light of day on Tuesday. 

It was a fantastic evening, as I hope anybody who came along will attest. Ian McMillan was on sparkling form, guitarist Amanda and lutenist Mark were brilliantly sensitive and yet wonderfully sololistic with their colour and energy, while Richard's score for the Songs themselves - which I already loved - grew on me even more as I sang through it a few times. 

Ian's words, of course, were equally brilliant and a joy to convey. The characters, the sights, all painted with so few words.

We are planning on posting the live recording of the songs on Soundcloud over the next couple of weeks. I'll keep you posted on Twitter. 

In the meantime, a huge thank you to everyone who contributed to the evening: the sponsors and grant awarders, the crowdfunders, the Bristol Festival of Song, St Georges and all the individuals who've supported the project from its start.

We'll be bring the Early Stroll Songs to other venues soon - watch out for details!


Early Stroll Songs through the Year

The Early Stroll Songs represent - among other things - a trip through the seasons of the year. 

Richard, the composer, has selected the 20 or so tweets (there are 13 songs in all, some of them have two Tweets; one has one-and-a-half!) which make up the lyrics so that they follow a cycle from autumn, through winter and spring and into summer, back to the beginning point as the leaves are "waiting for Autumn's starting gun". 

It's a lovely way of giving the whole work a unity and direction, and also allows Richard to use his musical imagination and technique to bring some beautiful moments to the set of songs. There's the crispness of a winter morning, the heat of the summer, the pent-up excitement of spring, plus a few touches of local calendar-related colour. 

In the summer we meet some pigeons and a cat chasing birds; in the spring look out for the shafts of sunlight. Of course, all the tableaux that are formed by the Tweets are early morning ones, so there's often that sense of freshness, gloominess, shaking-the-sleep-out-of-eyes-ness (that word's almost a Tweet in itself) in the songs. 

How to portray all this is something that I've been thinking about quite a bit. You'll have to some to the performance on October 11th (in St Georges, Bristol) to see what I've actually made of it, but I hope that whichever of my current plans I eventually put into operation makes sense and adds to the effect. 

I'm performing the premiere of the Early Stroll Songs at St Georges on 11th October. Tickets from here

Early Stroll Songs - thinking about Betjeman

Early Stroll Songs is a new song cycle by Richard Barnard. I've commissioned it to go along John Rutter's cycle Shadows (which, like Early Stroll Songs, is scored for guitar and baritone) and it's going to be performed on October 11th 2016 in St Georges, Bristol. 

Richard has recently sent me the full score, so I'm now able to start thinking about the songs as a set and to begin considering how to perform them and keep a narrative through them.

To some extent the narrative side of things is quite easy as the lyrics - all of which are actually tweets, sometimes two in a song - have been chosen to go through a year. There's autumn, winter, spring and summer, so it should be easy enough to keep involved in the tale. 

But now I've started to look at them in more detail I can see some other 'hooks' I might use to keep people's attention. 

One is a surprising number of references to horses. But more consistent, more telling and more difficult to pin down is the tweets' intense attention to the little details of other people's obvserved lives. I've decided that in places, it reminds me of the documentary films that I used to watch when I was a teenager (I've just found one, called Beside the Seaside, which is exactly what I mean - John Betjeman is the narrator. View it here. I just have, and the start is fantastic - VW Sea Symphony with some great footage). Boy, they knew how to make documentaries in those days when every inch of film, quite literally, was valuable. 

Not being too fussy about it, tweets are the same. You don't have the luxury of great resources, and every little nuance counts. A small observation holds the weight of a universe; a well-chosen rhyme or metre speaks volumes. Ian's tweets have all those things, and much more. 

Meanwhile Richard's music has an amazing diversity. Punchiness, lightness, melody and poise, imagination and some cheeky references to well-known pieces. 

This is going to be a mighty addition to the repertoire. I am very happy that I'm going to have the responsibility of premiereing it, let alone having commissioned it!