Sunday, 21 July 2019

Singer’s radio ballad tells of days gone by

Singer’s radio ballad tells of days gone by

FOLK singer-songwriter Jackie Oates will be bringing history to life on Monday (July 8) when she presents a pilot performance of her new radio ballad at Nettlebed village club.

“Lace Tellings” is billed as a musical exploration of the previously hidden songs and music of the lace-making children of the southern Midlands.

Nettlebed Folk Club organiser Mike Sanderson said: “At one time it was very commonplace that children of working families would be sent to ‘lace schools’ in order to learn the intricate skill of lace-making.

“Here they would spend hours and hours sat in dark and rather harsh conditions with only songs and music to cheer them. These songs were once so common that nobody ever thought to record the tunes and thus preserve them.

“As the culmination of an
18-month residency at the Museum of English Rural Life at the University of Reading, Jackie Oates has endeavoured to bring back to life these lost songs through spoken word, songs and music.

“She will be joined on stage by acclaimed English folk musicians Jack Rutter, John Spiers, Megan Henwood, Mike Cosgrave and John Parker.”

Jackie, who lives in Wallingford, said: “I was initially drawn to lace-making because I recognised the collection of lace bobbins on display in the museum and realised that my mum had owned some bobbins and I’d mistakenly taken them to a charity shop whilst clearing my parents’ house.

“I have also been aware that the folk singing repertoire of women has been very under-represented in folk song collections from southern England. Women do not come across well in the sort of songs collected from men! I wanted to find out where these songs were hiding.

“I was also aware that Scotland has a very rich tradition of ‘waulking songs’ and that therefore England must have an equivalent repertoire from its piecework-type industry — songs of glovers, textile workers, basket weavers.

“The answer to this came after I met Oxford professor David Hopkin. He explained that lace telling and textile songs were so commonplace that the tunes were never recorded — only the lyrics and the titles.

“Around this area, children of labourers would often go to ‘lace schools’ instead of normal schools from the age of five or so and they would be taught to make lace through song.

“They would also sing to each other while making lace and they had a repertoire of special Cattern Day songs. The most obvious example of this is ‘Jack Be Nimble, Jack Be Quick’.

“I have set about bringing these lace tells back to life through writing new melodies or matching the words to Victorian Flemish lace-telling tunes.

“The concept for this piece is that it takes the form of a ‘story tape’ inspired by the old story cassettes we all had as children.

“I wanted to create a piece of audio art that was the sequel to my Lullabies album of 2012 — imagining that the babies who were brought up with my lullabies are now about seven years old.

“I want to bring the stories of the lace-making children to life through spoken word, the poetry of the 18th century lace-maker advocate William Cowper, and through the songs that the children sang.

“The piece is aimed at children and adults — I realised while writing it that it is the natural sequel to my Joy of Living album [from last year] and that there are reasons that I found myself very drawn to bobbin lace-making. This is explained within the play.

“The live show will consist of spoken word, music and song. The museum are going to have a little bit of input on the night and I would like there to be samples of traditional Cattern Day refreshments.”

The traditional lace-makers’ annual holiday, Cattern Day — or Cattern’s Day — this year falls on Monday, November 25.

It is said that while exiled in Ampthill, Bedfordshire, Henry VIII’s first wife Catherine of Aragon supported the lace makers there by burning all her existing lace and commissioning new pieces.

It is this gesture that is believed to have given rise to the Cattern Day tradition, which is traditionally celebrated by eating small dough cakes made with caraway seeds, known as Cattern cakes.

Though a date has not yet been fixed, Jackie is planning a second performance of “Lace Tellings” in Reading around the time of Cattern Day to mark the end of her Museum of English Rural Life residency.

Looking ahead to Monday’s concert, which start at 8pm, Mr Sanderson said the 40-minute radio ballad would account for the first half of the evening.

“The other half will be Jackie and the other musicians playing in various shapes and forms. So people are going to get a bit of everything,” he said.

“Megan Henwood’s going to be there, so Jackie will be doing stuff with her and Megan as a duo, but also with John Spiers as a duo, and with Jack Rutter, who’s an award-winning guitarist in his own right. It’s very different and it’s unique.

“The performance is costumed, so two of them are wearing costumes and what they do is they tell a story and they illustrate the story with songs and readings. That’s the heart of the show. And then the other half of the show is pure music.”

Tickets are £15 in advance or £16 on the door. Doors open at 7.45pm. To book, call 01628 636620 or visit

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