News and Reviews
Review: Oh How That Valley Did Change - Derbyshire Tales from a Cotton Mill
Derby Assembly Rooms - Wednesday 13th June 2012
This year's summer schools residency project from Sinfonia Viva looked at the industrial heritage of Derbyshire's Derwent Valley, and mill-owner Richard Arkwright's legacy in particular.
Oh How That Valley Did Change began when six-piece folk band Mills and Chimneys came together to write and perform a series of songs as part of the Derbyshire Literature Festival in 2010, working with Derbyshire poet laureate Matt Black. The band includes a number of local folk-scene luminaries, among them fiddle player Sarah Matthews and singer-songwriter Lucy Ward, winner of the Horizon Award for best newcomer at the 2012 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.
Musicians from Sinfonia Viva came on board for a performance at Derby Folk Festival in October 2011. The latest phase of the project also involved pupils from Cromford Primary School, founded in 1832 by the Arkwright family to educate the children of mill workers. Other schools taking part were Crich Carr Primary School, and Beckett and Griffe Field primary schools in Derby, together with music students from Belper and Murray Park secondary schools. After visiting Masson and Cromford Mills, they wrote poems about Derbyshire's industrial history, which became the basis for a series of songs – some by the children themselves, some by Matt Black and composer Jack Ross.
As in previous years conductor David Lawrence was in genial, relaxed charge of the evening. Jack Ross's own newly-composed music and his accompaniments to the songs were always full of interesting detail and colour, such as the rather creepy bass clarinet solo introducing Mills and Chimneys' Cotton Dust and the laid-back jazz feel to Griffe Field Primary School's I am the Mill.
In Life of the Working River, Belper Community School produced a fascinating instrumental tone-poem full of clicking, knocking and whirring machinery. Matt Black and Jack Ross gave Mrs Arkwright the chance to tell her tale of marital neglect in They Called him a Hero, providing a moment of wry humour.
Everyone gave committed performances and individual songs were fine (though one or two were a touch over-long), but the evening as a whole didn't quite scale the heights of previous years. The lack of a firm story-line told against it, and it occasionally lost focus as our attention was diverted to Bonnie Prince Charlie and the coming of the railways, in the Mills and Chimneys songs Dancing in Old Derby and Wheel Tapper - excellent in their own right but rather off-topic in spite of the strong local connections.
The show didn't belong to the kids to the same extent as in previous years, and the final impression was of more attention being given to the individual numbers than the shape of the evening as a whole, and of a slightly awkward fitting together of what might have worked better as two separate projects.
Review by Mike Wheeler