Shoreham and Crawley dates for classic folk opera

Young 'Uns - Sean on right
Young 'Uns - Sean on right

Some of the UK’s finest folk musicians are to unite in a 40th-anniversary revival of Peter Bellamy’s most revered work, The Transports.

The Young’uns, BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Best Group (2016 and 2015), will join forces with fellow Folk Awards winners Nancy Kerr (Folk Singer of the Year 2015) and Greg Russell (Young Folk Award and Horizon Award). They will be joined by ex-Bellowhead cellist Rachael McShane and Faustus (Paul Sartin, Benji Kirkpatrick and Saul Rose).

Sartin, another former member of Bellowhead, is musical director of the project while author, storyteller and folk singer Matthew Crampton will be the narrator, with Tim Dalling (The New Rope String Band) as creative director.

They take to the road with dates including: February 1, The Hawth, Crawley (01293 553636) and February 3, Ropetackle, Shoreham (01273 464440).

Rarely can Bellamy’s famed folk opera – a tale of 18th century exile and migration – have been more pertinent, set against the current tide of forced migration.

Bellamy, a singer, musician and composer, took his own life in 1991 at the age of just 47, but left a treasure trove of work of which The Transports is regarded as his greatest triumph.

Sean Cooney (The Young’uns), who will sing the part of Henry Cabell, said: “The Transports was written by Peter who passed away 25 years ago, but he was an inspirational figure in the world of traditional folk music. He had a really inimitable soaring vibrato voice, and he just read about the story of Henry Cabell and Susannah Holmes in his local newspaper in Norfolk, this incredible true story of two convicts who were on the first fleet to Australia.

“The main character is Henry, and he got into a bad crowd. His father was hanged, but they decided to sentence Henry to 14 years’ transportation. But while he was in Norwich jail, he fell in love with another prisoner called Susannah Holmes, and incredibly they had a baby together. There was a crisis of where to send prisoners at the time, and they decided to send them to Australia. When the first list came through, Susannah was on it, but Henry wasn’t – so they begged to be allowed to get married, but permission was refused. She was taken down to Plymouth to board the ship, but the captain said that the baby wasn’t on the list and couldn’t go. Babies in those days would be either thrown into the workhouse or thrown into the dock.

“But the hero of the piece was the turnkey in Norfolk. He was charged with taking the prisoners down to Plymouth to go on the fleet. In a great demand for justice, he decided he would take the baby to London to the home of the Home Secretary, Lord Sydney, and petition him for justice. The Home Secretary decided that Henry and Susannah should get married and be allowed to sail together. It was a real rush against time to get to London to get the verdict and get back in time.

“That was the story that Bellamy read in the 70s and he turned it into this piece of ten or 11 songs telling the story. People who hear the songs just think they are timeless. When I first heard them, it was like they had been written 250 years ago!

“My band got into the traditional music scene about 12 or 13 years ago. We were just hit by the whole music scene where ordinary people get together in the backrooms of pubs and sing songs in their own accents about real things, real people, real history. In that world. Bellamy is a legend.”

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