Updated: Oct 18, 2021
Traditional folk songs and tunes play a massive part in 'The Plant'. When we first spoke about writing this together, Jeremy and I came at the music differently but ultimately reached very similar decisions. I am from a musical background, many of my family have been involved in musical in one way or another, and I have always wanted to write a musical. Sadly, I have no musical talent, even though I have a huge grand piano in my house; my wife Helen Caddick is an amazing composer.
Jeremy, on the other hand… Well, Jeremy plays and sings in folk bands (and others). He is fluent in folk music - its chords, its lyrics and its significance.
There is a scene in the film Pride that inspired me: a young woman from the mining community stands up in a working man’s club and begins to sing. Soon everyone is joining in. They knew the song. And they knew what that song meant to that particular community and its shared history.
I also remembered being at a funeral for a dear uncle and as we sat in the crematorium a spontaneous ripple of Flannigan and Allen’s 'Underneath the Arches' began and soon the entire congregation were singing it, humming it, whistling. They knew the song. We all knew the song and I could remember many of the song’s lyrics. It was ingrained, deep in our DNA somewhere: it was our past: the smoky parties, Auntie Dolly’s beehive, the glasses of light and bitter, the piano in the saloon bar, having a sing-song.
The choice of traditional folk music was deliberate because it is part of the fabric of communities and the stories, characters, legends and beliefs that are handed down, believed in. It was used to articulate the emotions of a scene and as part of the wider narrative in the story: the sense of fragility within communities, the struggles, the shared (and often contested) identities.
Jeremy played songs to me in our writing sessions; some I knew, some I’d heard of, some were part of my education. When I heard Billy Bragg and Eliza Carthy do 'Hard Times of Old England Retold' on the album 'The Imagined Village', I wept. When we manged to secure the rights to 'Nobody Knew She was There' by Ewan MacColl it felt as if our play, our story and its importance were being acknowledged by the very people who wrote the songs driving our story, a story we believe is apposite for our own hard times.
Folk traditions are passed down through the generations. Culturally, they are very much part of our language, our hopes and ambitions, our guides - whether or not we realise it. Intimately connected to regions, places and populations, folk music, I feel, especially at a time when national identity is being questioned, contested and used negatively, becomes a way of seeing – and hearing - how inclusivity, tolerance and the drive for equality are at the heart of who we are. It is, by definition, the music of the people.
At our script in hand preview in April 2019. we asked for written feedback from the audience. One of them wrote this:
What really made me think was the way the songs and music intertwined with the narrative and connected the story to the broader context of the past and the folk tradition.