A Time and Place: Musical Meditations on the First World War

A Time and Place is a World War One themed live event incorporating uniquely original folk music with both existing and new poetry; so the fantastic storytelling, in other words, is channeled through music and songs. The live projection is the work of Birmingham’s Matt Watkins (Gorillaz – Plastic Beach Tour).

In his intro Mercury prize nominee, Sam Lee – folk artist and singer, explained how he and his project collaborators, while down in South West England, had met with some of those who had been close to people who had passed on their firsthand accounts of their own experiences of World War One. The voice of a woman is heard recalling a conversation she held with an ex WW1 soldier. This recollection inspired the first song that is performed called Bideford Bridge.

I have seen a few fine examples of this kind of insightful approach taken with the transference of thought and the transformation of traditional pre-existing material being fused with new writing, singing and instrument playing, as well as technical input providing stimulus in both an aural and visual sense; but anything I have seen to date, following this kind of vein, has not been anywhere near as movingly beautiful as this work.

The poetry and writing from those war years, by poets Jessie Pope and Seigfried Sassoon for example, and the words Vera Brittain exchanged with her lover Roland Leighton who tragically never lived to read them, is still as raw, but respectively re-encapsulated and re-embodied.

The Unthanks
Rachel & Becky Unthank (The Unthanks)

Sam Lee has a soulful visual persona, and along with his co singers Rachel and Becky Unthank (The Unthanks), delivers gentle, harmonious vocals. Musically speaking the composition is a vital contribution to all that is beholden, as is the performance by the musicians. The words and the message may be sombre but the music is rolling and sometimes repetitive; the backing is “quite restrained and intimate” just as pianist Adrian McNally describes. The visual work does not juxtapose with what is going on particularly, but it definitely enhances nevertheless.

I have only reviewed music a handful of times, and last night was my second visit ever to Birmingham’s Town Hall building. I felt privileged to engage in this experience.

Reviewer, Debra Hall attended a performance of A Time and Place at Town Hall, Birmingham on Wednesday 17 September.

Black and White photography featuring Sam Lee and ‘The Unthanks’ by Sarah Mason


Becky & Rachel Unthank – Voice
Sam Lee – Voice
Adrian McNally – Piano
Nico Brown – Recorder, Mandolin, Concertina, Harmonica, Bodhran
Kath Ord – First Violin
Niopha Keegan – Second Violin
Becca Spencer – Viola
Francesca Ter Berg – Cello
Lizzie Jones – Trumpet
David Belshaw – Euphonium
Matthew Watkins – Visual Design


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