Some quick news on an interesting-sounding concert tomorrow, which I’ve only just picked up on:
Irish Heritage presents:
Daire Halpin & Jean Kelly: David Wallace’s ‘London Irish Reflections’
The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, England
Monday 14th November 2016, 7.00pm – information
‘London Irish Reflections’ is a new song-cycle for soprano, acoustic and electric harps and electronics, which merges two distinct art music traditions – Western classical and traditional Irish – and which is based on the reflections and insights of the London Irish community. The piece came about through Cork-born cousins and musicians Daire Halpin (soprano) and Jean Kelly (harp) commissioning a piece from a Kilkenny-born musical polymath (composer, pianist, conductor and dancer David Wallace) in order to explore their interest in the diverse and sometimes contradictory experiences of those, like themselves, who’d emigrated from Ireland to London.
Thought up by a four-person creative team, all of them London Irish (with the fourth being ‘Guardian’ journalist and deputy business/consumer affairs editor Dan Milmo), the piece expanded into a communal musical reflection on the experience of Irish immigration to London within current living memory. Drawing on Dan’s interviews with attendees at the Southwark Irish Pensioners project, it was supplemented by similar discussions with family members and friends within the London Irish community, including Dan’s conversations with members of the Bloomberg group ‘Paddy Chat’ and a swathe of people ranging from working artists to manual labourers who laid the foundations of the London Tube train network to the chief executives of several major London firms.
The song cycle is structured around various themes – including displacement and belonging – which surfaced as common shared threads within Dan’s various interviews, with the words of the interviewees have been rearranged to both form and inform multi-perspective reflections throughout the piece. Dan comments “I found a lot of the discussions at the Pensioners Project very moving because the interviewees had so many fascinating stories to tell about themselves but they had never been recorded.”
Jean confesses that “we were moved by the tales of hardship endured by the audience members – a generation of Irish emigrants who arrived in London in the 1950s and ’60s. The comparison to our own trouble-free, racism-free experience of moving to London was shocking to me, and I came away feeling that I owed a huge debt to this group of people who contributed so much to change the attitude towards Irish people in Britain, and who allowed my transition from Cork to London to be so smooth.” However, ‘London Irish Reflections’ actively celebrates the community’s experience as much as dwelling on its hardships. Daire adds “being an emigrant myself, I found a lot of the literature focused on the darker, tragic side of life as an emigrant. I wanted to explore the experiences of other emigrants and find a way to share our stories so we can reach out to the many, many people whose lives have been touched by emigration.”
David Wallace adds: “I have tried to create a sound world for each of the bodies of text that allows the message behind the text to really shine through. Working with both concert and electric harps helped to create a contrast in sound world that the text seemed to contain, one where the old and the new collide with the same agenda: the sense of loss at having to relocate.”
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For something slightly similar and imminent – musically different but based around community vox pops (admittedly the pre-Brexit voices of depressed communities in southern England) – you could compare and contrast this with Billy Bottle & The Multiple’s ongoing roadshow ‘The Other Place‘, which rolls into London next Sunday. This has also reminded me of ‘I Could Read The Sky’, the 1999 Nichola Bruce film on the London Irish emigrant experience, which was soundtracked (with typically mournful rhapsody) by Iarla Ó Lionáird. I’ll have to dig that one out again…