• high voice; pf
  • 24 min

Programme Note

This cycle of five songs sets words by the South Yorkshire poet Ian McMillan from his collection 'Magic Lantern Tales' (2014) written in response to interviews and documentary photographs by Ian Beesley. In 1994 Beesley was appointed Artist-in-Residence at the Moor Psychiatric Hospital in Lancaster where the majority of patients suffered from senile dementia or Alzheimer’s. Here he came across a drawer full of glasses and another full of photographs. Some patients had been in the hospital for decades and for those who had died with no living relatives, their last few possessions were placed carefully into these drawers. ‘Many of the photographs,' remembers Beesley, 'were related to the First World War, soldiers [...], family gatherings, weddings with the grooms in uniform. These glasses were the glasses they must have used to look at their fading photographs perhaps [in an] attempt to pull back some fading memory. Two simple wooden drawers containing a visual eulogy to forgotten lives. This experience prompted me to photograph and interview as many men and women who had experienced the First World War before it was too late'.

'My cycle,' Frances-Hoad says, 'tells the stories of three of the elderly people interviewed by Beesley: Lily Maynard (101), Harry Holmes (100) and Mabel Walsh (104).

'Lily found a young man cowering in the bushes on her way back from the fair during a thunderstorm. She rather liked him, so she coaxed him out and took him home. They started going out and were planning to get married when he was called up. He went to the Somme (July-November 1916) and never came back. Lily never married.

'Harry Holmes was a decorated war hero, serving at Ypres, when he returned to Bradford to be a painter and decorator. He became good friends with Harry Ramsden (of fish'n chip shop fame). The pair loved to while away the hours down the pub, but when Harry K found a teetotal wife, the pub trips had to stop ... until Harry H hatched a cunning plan, for Harry R to buy a dog so that they could walk it (to the pub) every day! This continued for many years, unbeknown to Harry R's wife. When Harry R died, his wife had to start walking the dog. It promptly lead her to the pub where Harry H was propping up the bar …' All Harry ever wanted was 'a stroll, and a pint, and a kiss'.

'Mabel Walsh used to go out with J B Priestley before he was famous, but "he was an argumentative bugger" so she had to "jack him in". She found a fiancée who was more her type, but, loading a truck in 1918, he was killed instantly by a tiny piece of shrapnel. She never married.'

The three poems are framed on either side by 'Marching Through Time', offset by a pedalled tolling 'bell' in shades of green - the 'colour' of the note/key E for the composer: 'They marched through the streets of these Northern towns, and their winding sheets and their hospital gowns are not all we remember of these marching men'. In the course of each number there are telling homage-allusions to songs or individuals associated with the First World War period.

- I, V - 'The Lads in their Hundreds' (A Shropshire Lad, A E Housman/George Butterworth, 1911: Butterworth lost his life, shot through the head, at the Battle of the Somme, August 1916).

- II – Keep the Home Fires Burning (Lena Guilbert Ford/Ivor Novello, 1914: 'They were summoned from the hillside,/They were called in from the glen,/And the country found them ready/At the stirring call for men')

- III – Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag, and Smile, Smile, Smile (George and Felix Powell, 1915: 'Smile, boys, that's the style. What's the use of worrying?').

- IV – Elegy (Thomas Moore/Cecil Coles, 1907: 'When weary wretches sink to sleep/How heavenly soft their slumbers lie!/How sweet is death to those who weep,/To those who weep and long to die!' Coles was killed by a German sniper on the Western Front, April 1918, aged twenty-nine.

Magic Lantern Tales was premiered by Nicky Spence and Iain Burnside at The Venue, Leeds College of Music, as part of the Leeds Lieder Festival, 2 April 2016.