Matthew Crampton and Jeff Warner tour new Human Cargo show

Human Cargo

Acclaimed storyteller Matthew Crampton unites with American folk music legend Jeff Warner in a new show based on Crampton’s book Human Cargo: Songs & Stories of Emigration, Slavery & Transportation.

Human Cargo gives voice to past exiles – emigrants, slaves, transportees – to shed fresh light on today’s migrations. Through the accompanying Parallel Lives project, it includes – wherever it performs – local stories of migration and partnership with local refugee and migrant support groups.

In a remarkable evening of story and song, Crampton tells true tales of individuals forced into exile in the 18th and 19th centuries. He weaves these stories through a tapestry of traditional folksong from the time performed by Warner. As Crampton explains, ‘History usually tells of the rich, the famous and the lucky. But what of ordinary people? Folksong helps give them a voice.’

Parallels with today are clear. Crampton says, ‘Mass migration is a defining dilemma for the world. Giving it an historic perspective can detoxify the debate. Adding local stories helps people find their own place in the story.’

This approach draws on Crampton’s recent success with his co-adaptation of Peter Bellamy’s folk ballads The Transports.   With full houses and standing ovations in two tours across Britain, critics agreed Crampton’s re-imagining of The Transports helped lift Bellamy’s brilliant concept to new levels.

Jeff Warner is one of America’s foremost interpreters of traditional music, well loved for connecting 21st century audiences with the everyday lives of people from past centuries. Born to one of America’s most eminent families of folksong collectors, Jeff grew up listening to the songs and stories of his father Frank Warner and the traditional singers his parents met during their collecting trips through rural America.

Through the Parallel Lives project, Crampton has formed links with 50 different refugee and migrant support groups. ‘There’s an incredible array of local initiatives across Britain – individuals who get together and say, we must help refugees who arrive in our town.

Crampton will also research and tell local stories at each venue. “I hunt through original passenger lists from 18th and 19th century ships to find people who’ve migrated from that very town. In parallel, I talk of people who’ve come to live there in recent decades.’

Crampton’s book, Human Cargo, was described by broadcaster Cerys Matthews as “An elegant, vital insight into human suffering and survival”.  The book gathers personal testimonies of those actually aboard slaveships, emigrant boats or transportation vessels. It links these with modern accounts of being trafficked. With 25 folksong lyrics and 50 gorgeous woodcuts and illustrations, it is “a little gem of a book” (FATEA) and “well-researched … fascinating … a great read” (Living Tradition Magazine).

The Human Cargo show travels Britain during May/June 2018 in a 16-date tour which leads up to UK Refugee Week (18-24 June). The tour starts at St Albans Maltings on 11 May. It travels widely across Britain, visiting venues such as Bristol St George’s, London King’s Place and Liverpool Philharmonic Hall.

Websites: /  /

Matthew Crampton presents Parallel Lives:


11 May           St Albans, The Maltings Arts Theatre
8pm, £14/£13/£10,

12 May           Blackburn, Mellor Brook Community Centre
8pm, £12.50,

13 May           Settle, Victoria Hall
7.30pm, £14, £8,

16 May           Cardigan, Theatr Mwldan
7.30pm, £14/£12,

17 May           Bristol, St George’s
8pm, £8, £18/£16/£5,

23 May           Torrington, Plough Arts Centre
8pm, £14.50/£12.50,

2 June             Newcastle, Gosforth Civic Theatre
7.30pm, £12, £8, £3,

3 June             Beverley, East Riding Theatre
£16, £14,

5 June             Liverpool Philharmonic Hall Music Room
8pm, £12.50,

7 June             Shoreham, Ropetackle Arts Centre
8pm, £14,

12 June           Exeter, Phoenix
8pm, £14, £12,

13 June           Dorchester, Shire Hall
Details to come – venue opens in April

14 June           The Cut, Halesworth – with FolkEast
7.30pm, £14,

15 June           London, Kings Place
8pm, £14.50,

16 June           Matlock, Florence Nightingale Hall, Holloway
7.30pm, £12.50, More info 01773 856545

17 June           Bedford, The Place
7.30pm, £14,


Bedford            Bedford Refugee & Asylum Seeker Support

Beverley           Open Doors Hull & TBC

Blackburn         People’s Enterprise & Empowerment Forum

Bristol              Bristol Refugee Rights

Bristol City of Sanctuary

Cardigan          Cardigan & North Pembrokeshire Amnesty International Group

Dorchester       Verne Visitors Group

Dorset Race Equality Council

Exeter              Refugee Support Devon

Exeter City of Sanctuary

Halesworth       Suffolk Refugee Support & TBC

Liverpool          SWAP Support for Wigan Arrivals Project

London            Refugee Council

Matlock           Derby Refugee Advice Centre

Newcastle        Action Foundation

St Albans         St Albans for Refugees

Herts Welcomes Syrian Families

Settle                TBC

Shoreham         Brighton & Hove City of Sanctuary

Torrington        North Devon Refugee Solidarity

North Devon Sunrise CIC

Bude Welcomes Refugees

More info and full list of PL partners from previous tours at