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Programme Notes

i. How to escape from fire
ii. A state of siege
iii. Goodbye, dear old London Town
iv. His curious tune
v. Wholesome counsels

For Wholesome Counsels, I created texts out of material in the Oxford Bodleian Library’s John Johnson collection of ‘Ephemera’ – printed material mostly from the 19th and early 20th century that never expected to end up in a library, never mind be set to music and sung. I took sentences, phrases, or longer passages and created poems out of them – sometimes preserving their original sense, but often altering their implications through juxtapositions, selective quotation and creative misreadings.

The ‘Annual mentor, or Cottager’s Companion’ is a pamphlet from an ointment manufacturer, with various articles offering advice. One such article is entitled How to escape from fire, and encourages anyone whose house is on fire to think first before acting. Sound advice maybe, but it is pressed home so repeatedly that its lack of urgency becomes comic.

A state of siege uses text in the same document about animals sensing weather events, and combines this with a passage from a wartime essay by entertainer Harry Lauder, on cutting bread thinner to help the war effort. When combined, they suggest some cataclysmic event, as if the animals are preparing an attack.

One document I found was a list of lyrics to songs sung by Miss Maud Esmond, a music hall star. The music to many of these songs, including Goodbye, dear old London Town, is no longer known, so I have written my own, in the style of the period, and inserted testimonials printed in a pill manufacturer’s pamphlet.

The last two songs combine texts from a number of sources. His curious tune simply discusses a man’s various qualities and skills, and finishes with the soprano remembering the tune he plays on his trumpet. The last song, Wholesome counsels, is a melancholic lament, the soprano alluding to undisclosed past events.

Tom Coult