Friday, 8 April 2011

Review: The Village Quire: High days and Holidays along the Welsh Border Marches Maesyronnen Chapel, Saturday 2nd April 2011

It was after telling a colleague where our permanent family base was, and singing the area’s praises he responded with the words, ‘ Ah!, a sense of place. You must be very fond of it’. I had not come across the phrase before.

This conversation came back to me last night during the first performance of this new programme from the Village Quire. I was already feeling that ‘sense of place’ when we parked the car in the field by Maesyronnen Chapel and looked across the Wye Valley to the northern escarpment of the eastern ranges of the Black Mountains. I knew I was in for a musical treat but I did not appreciate how much that landscape and its history was to be woven into the performance I was about to witness.

I think it is not only fair, but accurate to say, having heard the Village Quire perform on several occasions now, that these singers and their narrator are unique. With a mixture of West Gallery Music, Shape Music, Catches ( rounds which can be a bit cheeky) and the broader traditions of the folk repertoire, the audience never fails to be bowled over by the glorious polyphonic blast that greets them at the start and which underpins the performance throughout. I suspect that much credit has to go to Dave Newell, their conductor and fellow singer, for the harmonic arrangements which are so beautifully brought to life by this well balanced and disciplined group of voices.

‘I Like to Rise When the Sun She Rises’ led the way into a not so distant world of rural worthiness, naughtiness and rebellion which through its echo enriches us today and which makes living on the border so interesting. In looking back from the comfort of modern living we must remember that these would have been hard times, yet among all the troubles, humour, faith and community seems to have produced the communities which so fascinate today.

In all there are 16 pieces in the programme with an interval just over mid-way. It is hard to choose a favourite at this stage, but suffice it to say that the material ranges from the secular to the sacred, from the Welsh to the English, and from the light to the dark as though reflecting the tensions that have for centuries ebbed and flowed across our much loved Welsh Marches. Like having heard an album for the first time the favourites only emerge when you have had time to mull over the tracks. This is why I shall be going to another performance of this programme later in the season.

Similar tensions can be found in the readings which interleave with the songs. I am ashamed to confess that although my particular sense of place has been with me in excess of 50 years I have never got round to reading any of Raymond Williams works. This author’s description of our part of the Marches, taken from his book The People of the Black Mountains, is used to set the scene and the image presented is one that will remain with me permanently. I shall not spoil its effect by repeating it here and would advise, if, like me, you are a Williams novice, that you postpone reading the book until you have seen and heard this performance.

Also among the readings are extracts from Mary Webb, Alexander Cordell, Dylan Thomas, and Pat Malloy together with extracts from the stunningly named Brecon and Merthyr Silurian. For those who know little of the toll road troubles Dylan Thomas’s account in ‘Rebecca’s Daughters’ is entertaining history at its best.

This is a demanding programme but is no less well performed because of that and certainly no less enjoyable. I could go on at length about how important it is that people get together and sing and where this fits into what appears to be a retreat from funded culture, but you would find this tedious. Instead I will say that anyone who has an interest in music, local history and literature will feel very disappointed when they hear from friends what they have missed. To avoid this feeling, make sure you go.


The Village Quire will be performing at:

St Michael and All Angels Church, Lyonshall, Herefordshire
On 30/04/2011
Further details and tickets from Bo Hollingshurst on 01544 340788
at 7.30 pm.In aid of the church bell fund.
£7.50 in advance / £8 on the door
(to include glass of wine / juice)

St James' Church, Audlem, Cheshire
2.00 - 4.00 pm
Entry free to festival goers.
Tel. (01270) 812125

At the Abergavenny Food Festival
Abergavenny Baptist Church, Frogmore Street, Abergavenny
7.30 pm
Details to be announced

Singing Workshop for FolkWorkshops
Newton Church
Newton St Margaret's
7.30 pm
And at nearby St.Margerets Church Saturday 1st October at 7.30
Tcket details to be announced. All proceeds in aid of both church funds.

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