A special concert featuring Hessle Ceilidh Band’s Quentin Budworth on hurdy gurdy and occasional guest caller Amanda Lowe premiered the other night featuring ongs telling folk tales of a journey to a new land, of love and loss, and a new beginning. Inspired by the small Alpine Primula Auricula and its 16th century journey to England with the Huguenot refugees. Here is the review.
Google Swanland Village Hall and some links would send you to Willerby, and while that’s hardly the other side of the world the hassle of unexpectedly having to get from one place to the other might put you ever so slightly in the right mindset to hear the story related by The Auricula Suite.
It’s a tale, told with music and a bit of spoken word, of how the Huguenots fled religious persecution in mainland Europe and came to the UK. Granted, some of them travelled thousands of miles, over land and sea, in the days when it was even less comfortable to get around than on Northern Rail today.
The Theatre, the Stage and Lou But at least they were able to take their time, whereas anyone making the mistake of going to Willerby would have been up against the clock to get across the bypass in time for the start of the show..
Especially as the show started early; a sign of its success.
Appropriately enough for a “bring-your-own-picnic” gig there were more than 120 people squeezed in like the sausage rolls in supermarket packaging being enjoyed by the folk on a table near me, but thankfully not like sardines in a tin, because it was far too warm and intimate for that sort of cuisine.
“Unusual” would be one word, but it’s probably not strong enough to describe the variety of sights and sounds in and around the lovingly-restored venue.
The black duck-goose-swan-like creations that hopped out of the adjacent pond and patrolled the car park are unusual. The hurdy gurdy and hammer dulcimer on the makeshift stage are seldom seen and heard. And you don’t often witness women of a certain seniority sporting tattoos and knocking back Stella in a bottle. Not in Swanland anyway.
So “bizarre” is the word we’re looking for to capture the whole combination, as admitted by Lou Duffy-Howard as she introduced the show which she created with flower-fancying husband Rich.
And when Rich spoke about sitting at home with friends, smelling the Primula auricula flowers and discussing the scent, he did so with the passion of Oz Clarke sticking his nose into a decent red wine or of Michael Jackson (no, not that one) sniffing a selection of finest malt whisky.
Songs about flowers then, and there have been a few. Tulips From Amsterdam, Where Have All The Flowers Gone, English Rose, Ramblin’ Rose, Build Me Up Buttercup.
We could go on, but what Rich did was research the history of his flowers to make the connection to the Huguenots and to the history of their journey to provide the inspiration for Lou’s compositions. So these songs are about love and loss; the experiences of companions and lovers separated forever by the exodus which followed religious persecution.
Thoughtfully, the lyrics and stories behind each song were posted on display boards at one side of the stage. At the other were Robin and Annabel Graham of Drointon Nurseries, internationally-renowned Primula auricula specialists based near Ripon, with a display of their blooms in traditional auricula theatre style.
Amanda Lowe and Quentin Budworth, Auricula Première, Swanland Village Hall In the middle of the set was an interlude, during which Amanda Lowe and Quentin Budworth lifted some of the mystery surrounding their instruments, a sort of medieval masterclass. .
Amanda admitted she didn’t know what a hammer dulcimer was when she first came across one in the United States about 30 years ago. Which is comforting because I didn’t know what one was either. Lou and Rich mentioned the instrument when we started promoting the gig a couple of months ago and, after nodding unconvincingly I went home, Googled hammer dulcimer and found out it’s a hall at Willerby. But really it’s a board with a load of strings that Amanda taps expertly with small hammers to create some very pleasant sounds.
The physical commitment required to get the right noises out of a hurdy gurdy would appear to be on a par with the effort exerted by some drummers. And sure enough Quentin confirmed afterwards that his right shoulder has just about had it from years of turning the handle on the instrument. It’s not the sort of thing you can easily even-out by alternating between left and right -handed.
As instruments which date back to the Middle Ages the hammer dulcimer and hurdy gurdy are in the right era for Lou’s stories. As Loudhailer, Lou and Rich often perform the songs using only their guitars, but Amanda and Quentin add real depth and the result is an often enthralling balance of sounds from the various instruments.
The style takes a bit of getting used to, and there would have been very few connoisseurs in an audience that ranged from probable JLS fans sitting on parents’ knees right up to a few folk who are a bit more Vera Lynn.
But the strength of the songs is such that it’s easy to imagine them being performed by other bands with more modern instruments. Amanda and Quentin both demonstrated that the hammer dulcimer and hurdy gurdy can rock, and there will be plenty of 1970s-influenced combos who would fancy incorporating these tales of epic voyages, lost loved ones and sweet-smelling blooms into a medievally-fuelled set if they haven’t done so already.
In my favourite, My Ancestors Were French, the spoken word of Lou Duffy-Howard sounded at times uncannily like Lou Reed.
The initial bemused looks across the fold-away tables and picnic plates made way for smiles and nods of appreciation and even a bit of foot-tapping and knee-slapping. By the time of the grand finale any barriers were long gone and Amanda and Quentin had the audience eating out of their hands. And doing bear impressions.
Apparently it was the first complete sell-out at Swanland Village Hall, and that was great news for the Matthew Good Foundation which was set up in memory of the former joint managing director of Hull-based John Good & Sons, specialists in international freight management and logistics. Matthew, who was 32, died last summer while running the Humber Half Marathon for charity. The charity helps to fund research and education surrounding sport-induced heat stroke and you can find it here: http://www.matthewgoodfoundation.org
6 May 2012
Phil Ascough is a writer and media/PR consultant who specialises in general business, sport and music. He has worked in the media for more than 30 years and has recently published two books with Bloomsbury, Kissing The Badge – about 20 years of the Premier League – and The Armchair Olympian
– about the Olympic Games.