Jack was your Great Uncle, how did you first come across his letters, and what inspired you to set them to music?
I first came across Jack’s letters as a boy. My father had been handed down from his father an old tin overflowing with small brown envelopes. Each one contained one of these very personal and beautifully written letters or sometimes a few letters had been put together in one envelope. There were also field postcards – cards with statements pre-printed for the soldiers to highlight as appropriate. These were used in the heat of battle when there was little time to write a letter or when senior officers didn’t want to risk any carelessly written information being unintentionally exposed to the enemy in the event of the mailbag being captured. Perhaps inevitably on all of Jack’s field postcards he has marked the sentences, “I am quite well. Letter follows at first opportunity,” rather than anything more worrying.
For years the thought had been sitting in the back of my mind that it would be a really special thing to somehow incorporate these letters into a performance. They are so full of life, good humour and youth and it would be a great tribute to a life cut short. It was only when working at a chamber music festival in Holland with pianist Simon Lepper that we discussed my ideas and that work began together on this project.
Why do you feel music is so important to bring Jack’s plight alive?
By using music in conjunction with the letters the audience is given space and stimulus to meditate on the content of each letter and to bring the story of Jack to bear on their own family’s history and the Everymen of that terrible conflict. The songs also enable us to further draw out the unsaid content of the letters; the strong personal emotions which are not made explicit therein.
I guess in the grand scale of World War One, and also the passing of time, it’s easy to lose the life of an everyday soldier like Jack – why do you feel it’s so important we remember him?
It is so easy to forget that these young men fighting a hundred years ago had similar hopes, fears and dreams as ourselves. They lived their lives in full colour – not in the black and white or sepia as we now know them from old photos. It is vitally important to remember the sanctity of human life and the obscenity of the mass slaughter of these young men. Through Jack we can see the value of every life and take a salutary warning for our own times. We also are prone to make the same mistakes as our forebears.
What would you say to entice younger audiences to come along and experience From Your Ever Loving Son Jack?
Jack was just like you in so many ways. Even his turn of phrase sometimes has a modern twist. I was very surprised to come across the phrase, “’nuff said”! As a likeable, funny and popular young man he was carefree when he signed up looking for adventure and the “chance to see France”. He died at the age of 20 and maybe as a fellow young person you can in some small way carry forward in hope some of the life that Jack displays but lost at such a young age.
You have links to Yorkshire as you attended the University of York, and you have northern roots in Lancashire, but your career is international – do you have a sense of coming home when you return?
It is always wonderful to return ‘home’ to perform and I began my career singing for choral societies in Yorkshire. I always look forward to the wonderful familiarities of these stalwart towns and the warmth of the welcome here – even for the Lancastrian that I am!
To book tickets please click here