Soliloquies of the people
The traditional folk music in the play is an absolutely essential element - a lead character, if you like. However, 'The Plant' is NOT a musical. It's a play with music. The difference is crucial.
In 'The Plant', the songs and tunes don't come from the characters as such (except on one or two occasions). Rather, they come from 'outside the action'. From the air. They are the voices of the community, past, present, future - retellings of their lives, stories and experiences, which are as relevant now as they were at the times the music evolved.
Think of a Shakespearean character like Hamlet. When he steps to the front of the stage and says 'To be or not to be', we're happy to buy into the idea that he is not addressing anyone in particular. Rather, we're witnessing what's going on inside his head - he's thinking aloud, begging for someone to listen. The music in 'The Plant' works in a similar way. These songs and tunes are the soliloquies of the people.
What follows here is a brief history of the songs and tunes, as far as we can find out. There are also videos - of members of the cast performing the music, and of other seminal interpretations by other artists. We'll be adding more bit by bit as we approach the first perormances in October, so please do check back for updates and keep an eye on our Twitter feed (button on the left).
Hard Times of Old England
Bushes and Briars
'Hard Times of Old England' is an 18th century song collected from the repertoire of The Copper Family of Rottindean, Sussex. The famous song collector Peter Kennedy made a recording of Ron Copper singing the song in 1955, and it appeared in 1963 on their English Folk Dance and Song Society (EDFSS) LP 'Traditional Songs from Rottingdean'.
This is a song of protest against the Europe-wide economic depression which followed the end of the Napoleonic Wars, and its effects on the English countryside and its communities. The melody and form are taken from 'The Roast Beef of Old England', written by Richard Leveridge, a popular composer and bass singer on the London stage during the first half of the eighteenth century.
Versions of this song have been performed and recorded by a diverse range of artists, including Martin Carthy, Billy Bragg, Steeleye Span and Chumbawamba.
The first video features 'Plant' actors and collaborators Grant Stimpson and David Robert on walkabout in Whitstable. The second is a live performance by Jon Boden and the Remnant Kings at Cecil Sharp House
A version of 'Bushes and Briars' sung by a Mrs Humphries was recorded by song collector Lucy Broadwood in 1904 in Ingrave, Essex (near Brentwood). The song was later arranged for four-part choir by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Another version, collected at Piddlehinton, Dorset, in 1905 was printed in James Reeves's collection of English folk song 'The Everlasting Circle' (1960).
The first video version here was recorded by Lauren Mills (who plays Gemma) at home during lockdown. The second is a performance by actor Julie Christie in John Schlesinger's 1967 film adaptation of Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd.