It's been 40 years since Peter Bellamy's most revered work was released, and it has lost none of its power, nor (sadly) its relevance. While a 25th anniversary version of the original recording was released back in 2002, this release features an all new cast, and what a cast it is. The Young'uns, Faustus, Nancy Kerr, Greg Russell, Rachel McShane, and Matthew Crampton star in this new production, performing on 14 consecutive days this month across the UK.
Peter Bellamy wrote the tale after reading of the story in his local Norfolk newspaper, about the first transport ship to Australia in 1788. It featured the true story of two convicts, Henry Kable and Susannah Holmes, who fell in love in Norwich Gaol and had a son together. Refused permission to marry, the two are split apart when Holmes is taken to Plymouth for transportation to Australia. At the quayside her son is refused passage, but rather than drop the baby at the local poor house, the guard travels to London to appeal to Lord Sydney, the Home Secretary. Sydney orders that the family be reunited, allowed to marry, and be transported together as a family.
The early songs waste no time in getting us into the heart of the story, as Henry's father desperately joins with a neighbour to rob a local property. David Eagle in particular is perfect in the role of Abe Carmen, with The Robber's Song a real highlight on the album. In truth though, there is no weak link here in terms of performers. These musicians are at the top of their game, especially Sean Cooney and Rachael McShane as the central couple.
There is an abrupt turn midway through, taking a break from Bellamy's tale to tell the tale of Hesham Modamani from Syria, swimming the Aegean Sea with fellow Syrian Feras Abukhalil. Dark Water is of course a Young'uns track, and is sung here to great effect by Sean Cooney, with the rest of the company joining in towards the end. It's a great song, and serves a purpose, though it does feel a little out of place on the album. It does link Bellamy's tale with the world today, and proves just how relevant it still is.
This production doesn't just come across as a tribute to the original, it is far more ambitious than that. Unashamedly political in focus, the production brings this historic tale into the modern day, shining a light on what is going on across the globe, and will undoubtedly be a great experience to watch it live. With performers of this calibre, and songs like The Ballad of Norwich Gaol, and The Green Fields of England, the CD should prove popular too.
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