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: matthewcrampton.com / thetransportsproduction.co.uk/parallel-lives  / jeffwarner.com

Matthew Crampton presents Parallel Lives:

TOUR DATES

2 June             Newcastle, Gosforth Civic Theatre
7.30pm, £12, £8, £3, gosforthcivictheatre.co.uk

3 June             Beverley, East Riding Theatre
£16, £14, eastridingtheatre.co.uk

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

7 June             Shoreham, Ropetackle Arts Centre
8pm, £14, ropetacklecentre.co.uk

12 June           Exeter, Phoenix
8pm, £14, £12, exeterphoenix.org.uk

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

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

15 June           London, Kings Place
8pm, £14.50, kingsplace.co.uk

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

17 June           Bedford, The Place
7.30pm, £14, theplacebedford.org.uk

PARALLEL LIVES PARTNERS FOR HUMAN CARGO TOUR

Bedford            Bedford Refugee & Asylum Seeker Support www.brassbedford.org.uk

Beverley           Open Doors Hull & TBC https://www.facebook.com/opendoorshull/

Blackburn         People’s Enterprise & Empowerment Forum www.peef-pendle.co.uk

Bristol              Bristol Refugee Rights http://www.bristolrefugeerights.org/

Bristol City of Sanctuary https://bristol.cityofsanctuary.org/

Cardigan          Cardigan & North Pembrokeshire Amnesty International Group

Dorchester       Verne Visitors Group http://www.vernevisitors.org.uk/

Dorset Race Equality Council www.dorsetrec.org.uk

Exeter              Refugee Support Devon http://refugeesupportdevon.org.uk/

Exeter City of Sanctuary https://exeter.cityofsanctuary.org/

Halesworth       Suffolk Refugee Support & TBC http://suffolkrefugee.org.uk/

Liverpool          SWAP Support for Wigan Arrivals Project https://www.swapwigan.org/

London            Refugee Council https://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/

Matlock           Derby Refugee Advice Centre http://home.btconnect.com/derbyrefugeeforum/

Newcastle        Action Foundation http://actionfoundation.org.uk/

St Albans         St Albans for Refugees http://www.stalbansforrefugees.org/

Herts Welcomes Syrian Families http://www.hwsf.org.uk/

Settle                TBC

Shoreham         Brighton & Hove City of Sanctuary

https://brighton-and-hove.cityofsanctuary.org/

Torrington        North Devon Refugee Solidarity https://www.facebook.com/groups/1641979666042474/

North Devon Sunrise CIC www.northdevonsunrise.org

Bude Welcomes Refugees http://buderefugeesupportgroup.org.uk/

More info and full list of PL partners from previous tours at http://thetransportsproduction.co.uk/parallel-lives/partners

 

 

VARIOUS ARTISTS – The Transports – A Tale Of Exile And Migration (Hudson Records HUD007LP/CD)

TransportsTom Paxton once remarked about one of his songs that it originally sounded as if it had been written a century ago, but that he no longer considered that a virtue. Fortunately, Peter Bellamy had no problem with “telling it like it was”. His ballad opera The Transports was, in the opinion of many, the best example of how effectively he could write songs that sounded as if they had been written around the time of the events they describe, which happened in the late 18th century. The Transports – A Tale Of Exile And Migration, released on January 12th 2018, is not, of course, the first recorded version of the opera.

The first recording was released in 1977, and included some enormously influential artists, including some whose influence has survived long after they themselves left the stage. (For example Bert Lloyd, Cyril Tawney, Dave Swarbrick, and Peter Bellamy himself.) The ‘silver edition’ released in 2004 included not only the (remastered) original recording, but also a collection of newer recordings by other artists, including members of Fairport Convention; Coope, Boyes & Simpson; Steve Tilston; and Damien Barber and John Kirkpatrick. This latest CD, produced by Andy Bell, features a younger generation of singers and musicians, including members of The Young ‘Uns, Bellowhead, Faustus, Waterson: Carthy, Whapweasel, and Belshazzar’s Feast, as well as Nancy Kerr, Matthew Crampton and Greg Russell.

This live CD isn’t just a reproduction of the original recording with different musicians, however: it mirrors the touring revival from 2017 (which at the time of writing is just beginning another 14-date tour that ends in Norwich on the 24th January: see the website linked below for details). While it’s still based on the true story that captured Peter Bellamy’s imagination all those years ago, it uses spoken narrative between songs rather than the four sections of ‘The Ballad Of Henry And Susannah’ from the original recording. The narration, by Matthew Crampton, also draws parallels with the plight of 21st century forced migration. Perhaps the only reservation that I have about the CD is that while the narration is very capable, even a new listener might not want to hear it every time after they’ve become acquainted with the story. But in this age of iGadgets and personal playlists, I suppose people are much less likely to simply put on a CD and play it all the way through.

The production also includes Sean Cooney’s own recent song ‘Dark Water’, about Hesham Modamani, who swam from Turkey to Greece in his bid to escape from Syria. Live performances include stories of migration researched by the Parallel Lives project. While the song doesn’t have the ‘traditional’ quality of Peter Bellamy’s songs, it doesn’t jar – on me, at any rate – and it’s an excellent performance.

For comparison with previous recordings, here’s a listing of the songs: there are 28 tracks altogether, including the spoken tracks.

  1. ‘Us Poor Fellows’
  2. ‘The Robber’s Song’
  3. ‘The Leaves In The Woodland’
  4. ‘The Ballad of Norwich Gaol’
  5. ‘I Once Lived In Service’
  6. ‘Sweet Loving Friendship’
  7. ‘The Black and Bitter Night’
  8. ‘Dark Water’
  9. ‘The Humane Turnkey 1’
  10. ‘The Plymouth Mail’
  11. ‘The Humane Turnkey 2’
  12. ‘The Green Fields of England’
  13. ‘The Still and Silent Ocean’
  14. ‘Roll Down’

For reasons of space, I won’t go through the performances individually: the songs are of a uniform high quality (and, happily, the booklet includes the lyrics). The vocals (both solo and ensemble) and instrumental work are never less than very good, though Nancy Kerr’s bravura performance on ‘The Leaves In The Woodland’ deserves a special mention.

If you already have an earlier version, it’s still worth taking a look at this for its change of focus (and, of course, some excellent performances). If you’re not acquainted with The Transports but like the sound of songs that are very much in a traditional vein and tell a fascinating historical story with 21st century resonances, you should definitely take a look. And if you tend to prefer more contemporary renditions of contemporary material, take a look anyway. You might just surprise yourself.

David Harley

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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Artist’s website: www.thetransportsproduction.co.uk/

A Taste Of The Transports:

MATTHEW CRAMPTON – Human Cargo

Muddler Books – ISBN 978-0-9561361-2-1 – Softback 164 pp

Human CargoHuman trafficking is never far from the news these days, whether it’s young women from eastern Europe being brought to the west and forced into prostitution; immigrants fleeced by people smugglers before being trapped by gang-masters or refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean and dying in the attempt. Behind all the stories is the profit motive but I for one have never linked today’s news to the slave trade, the press gangs and forced emigration of the past. Matthew Crampton’s book makes that link.

The book is divided into two parts. Firstly, Matthew examines slavery, kidnapping into indentured servitude, military recruitment by whatever means and transportation and secondly, he discusses the stories of those emigrants who volunteered to go, often lured by false promises and whose fates were frequently no better than those of the slaves who preceded them.

Initially, I found Matthew’s short punchy chapters and rapidly changing time-frames a little irritating but once I’d got into the pattern and the rhythm of Human Cargo everything fell into place. Although most of the book is taken up with historical accounts, old illustrations and folk song texts, its focus is very much in the present and the modern reports which parallel the historical text show that very little has changed since the 17th century. Modern villains may not be the rich traders in Liverpool or Bristol nor the greedy landowners clearing the Scottish highlands and the west of Ireland for their own purposes; nor yet governments (as far as we know) but the stories are the same.

Human Cargo is well laid out with facsimile broadsides and posters tempting the unwary and is an easy read. It is a primer rather than an academic treatise but the sources of the various narratives are properly documented as are the song texts and Matthew doesn’t restrict himself to English sources which is refreshing. It will prick your conscience and raise your awareness and then point you in the direction of further reading and for that it achieves its purpose admirably.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of the book then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Author’s website: www.matthewcrampton.com

To give you a flavour of the book, you can have a listen to a previous live concert performance by the “The London Lubbers” which used excerpts from “Human Cargo” via the soundcloud link below: