A very special moment happened on Saturday when, 100 years to the hour when he was lost at the Battle of the Somme, Coventry violinist Montague Johnson’s Memorial Plaque (colloquially known as a Dead Man’s Penny) was re-united with his city. The medal had been discovered in 1963 by Kim Kenny, as a 5 year old girl, in a shed in the garden of her then home in Allesley. She looked after it over those intervening years, long since having moved away from Coventry – and it was her who brought it to the premiere of Montague’s Song at St John the Baptist Church (where Montague’s name is recorded on a stained glass window). It was revealed part way through the performance, to the surprise of Ray Hammond, a relative of Montague’s, who was in the audience.
The medal will go on display later this month at the Visitor’s Centre in War Memorial Park, on a cushion specially created by textile artist Julia O’Connell of Theatre Absolute, (co-producer of Montague’s Song). This completes the circle, as it was the picture of Montague there in the ‘Missing Faces’ exhibition that began the search for his story, nearly 3 years ago.
The church was full on Saturday so by popular demand we’re doing a reprise performance (with a collection in aid of St John’s) this Sunday 11th Sept at 1pm. No booking needed (it’s part of the church Heritage Open Day events) but early arrival advised!
I’m in Glasgow working as composer and musician for a new show called Guide Gods. I worked with Claire (Cunningham) some years back in two aerial dance shows she performed in with Blue Eyed Soul Dance Company, directed by Jess Curtis. Featuring prominently in the soundtracks for both those shows were voices – speaking, not singing, but woven into the musical fabric of the sound scores.
You will hear voices in this show too – the voices of people Claire has interviewed over recent weeks and months, as they described to her their relationship to disability and their relationship to, well, God, or gods, or indeed no god. It was a journey of enquiry that began for Claire in Cambodia, chatting to a Buddhist monk – but she’ll tell you about that, in her voice.
You’ll also hear her sing, and me play a harmonium – Ivor Cutler fans will be familiar with the model, a “missionary” instrument, used to take musical worship to places ordinary organs could not reach… I’m reliably informed they were deployed on the beaches not far from Glasgow. When they reached the Indian sub-continent, Indian musicians appropriated them, put the bellows on the back, to be played sitting on the floor, and in this form they are used to accompany prayer and song in both Sikh and Hindu temples. I like the way instruments and musical styles evolve like this, crossing borders and cultures, without going through Passport Control.
Several other voices have joined us in the rehearsal room so far – Tom, voice of the audience, helping unlock the humour and visual counterpoint to the words and music, Karen, Designer, Chris, Audio Describer, who is cast, not entirely frivolously, as the Voice of God, and Captioner, Louisa, who will give a simultaneous transcription for deaf and hearing-impaired audience members. Making the show accessible to anyone who wants to experience it is a central part of Claire’s vision – and involving these voices from an early stage ensures that the access solutions, far from being a bolt-on, will be integral and will become a beneficial part of every audience member’s experience.
So, back to work on the show – Guide Gods is part of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games 2014 cultural programme, and will then travel to London’s South Bank Centre and on to Belfast Festival. Hope you can join us on its journey.