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Interview with Alex Marchant, Ricardian Children’s Author

Cover of 'The Order of the White Boar'

There is a new Ricardian children’s author on the block: Alex Marchant. Alex kindly agreed to an interview:

Q: You’ve recently published your first novel about King Richard III for children, The Order of the White Boar. What made you write about King Richard?

Alex: I first became interested in King Richard in my teens when my eye was caught by an intriguing title among the books in the school library: ‘The Daughter of Time’ by Josephine Tey. By the time I finished reading the book I was a confirmed Ricardian (even if I didn’t know the term then). I think what piqued my interest was a sense of the enormous injustice this man had suffered after his death – along with the tragedy of that death and of the preceding two or three years of his life. I joined the Richard III Society (I think as one of its youngest members), read as much as I could about the man and visited major sites associated with his life – and death.

I’d always been interested in history and always written stories, including attempts at book-length works throughout my teens. But then life got in the way as it often does – university, career, marriage, kids, house renovation – and it was only a few years ago I returned to writing. And soon after that came the announcement of the dig to find his grave in Leicester, then the momentous press conference that revealed that King Richard had, ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, been found.

Q: It was quite a day, wasn’t it? What was your reaction to the announcement?

A: My first thought – after surprise and delight – was ‘This is a unique opportunity to restore Richard’s reputation. What can I do to help?’ I knew I wasn’t a campaigner – the sort of person who writes letters to important people or stands up to speak in support of a cause. But perhaps I could write a children’s book that could communicate Richard’s story to a new generation. At that point I was editing my previous book, ‘Time out of Time’, in hopes of publication and was also partway through a second book for children, so I was uncertain whether I should move on to something completely new. But when a little research showed that there really weren’t any books aimed at my target age group (10–13) showing Richard in a positive light, I realized this was a gap in the market that needed to be filled.

Q: Were you surprised about that?

A: To be honest, yes. I found that there were several such books for adults (a number that has increased over the past five years), but even an approach to the Richard III Society librarian only turned up a couple for children – neither of which was a straightforward story of his life. One was a timeslip book, ‘A Knight on Horseback’ by American author Ann Rabinowitz, which follows the adventures of a twentieth-century boy who gradually learns the true story of Richard III after his initial exposure to the Tudor myths and Shakespeare’s version. The other, ‘A Sprig of Broom’ by Barbara Willard, is a beautifully written evocation of early Tudor England – but Richard appears only in the prologue, which takes place on the eve of Bosworth. The rest tells the story of Richard of Eastwell – at least the interpretation that has him as Richard’s illegitimate son. And by the end, the main character decides he doesn’t want to be known to be related to King Richard….

With the nationwide excitement at the finding of Richard’s grave, I thought there were bound to be other books for children on the way – as has proved to be the case – but by that time my lead character Matthew was hammering on my door, demanding that I write his story, and it was very hard to say no. So I put my half-finished Scottish book on the back burner for the time being, and set to work researching Richard and his times while I finished editing ‘Time out of Time’.

Q: You say none of the previous books for children was a straightforward telling of Richard’s life. In ‘The Order of the White Boar’, you didn’t choose to take that course either, preferring to concentrate on his final years and viewing them through the eyes of a fictitious character. Why was that?

A: I suppose partly because Richard’s life has been brilliantly told already through adult fiction, in books that have been very influential in terms of changing people’s minds about him: Penman’s ‘Sunne in Splendour’ and Hawley Jarman’s ‘We Speak no Treason’ for example are often mentioned as having shown people the way beyond Shakespeare’s monstrous depiction towards the real history of the man. And maybe because I thought those books that were likely to be in the publishing pipeline after the rediscovery of his grave would offer the straightforward story – as has been the case with a couple that have appeared. Perhaps most importantly, I felt that a young narrator who was an outsider – as Matthew is, being just a merchant’s son, rather than a noble – would be able to offer a different perspective – a view of Richard that hasn’t been seen before.

Q: In one of the early reviews of the book, the writer says that, rather than portraying Richard as a warrior or romantic hero, as in most adult novels, ‘The Order’ shows him ‘as a master, as a father, as a family man and as a decent, kind-hearted adult . . . He feels much more human than he usually does in historical fiction.’ Is that what you were aiming for?

A: Very much so – and I’m delighted if readers think I have managed it! My intention was always to show ‘the real Richard’ – the man who served his brother in administering the north of England, did the job well, treated the people fairly, was a cultured family man as well as a soldier. And who, in the spring of 1483, when faced with the tragedy of his brother’s early death, had to deal with a difficult and dangerous situation. My aim was to use the contemporary sources as much as possible to lay the foundations for exploring his motivations and reactions when navigating the potentially explosive events of that time. The traditional histories seem to me to struggle with explaining how this loyal, steadfast brother changed into the murdering, usurping tyrant so beloved of the Tudor-created legend. I hope that seeing Richard’s character and behaviour through a child’s eyes in both domestic and more public situations allows the reader to work out for themselves who he was and what his actions mean.

Q: You mention the death of King Edward IV in the spring of 1483. While hoping not to give too much away about ‘The Order of the White Boar’, it does in fact end at that time. Do you think readers will be disappointed at that?

A: I hope not, although I can understand it if they are. But I hope they’ll take on board the note at the end, saying that a second book of Matthew and his friends’ adventures is coming soon. ‘The Order’ doesn’t end on a cliffhanger as such, rather at the start of a journey – one which represents the closing of one chapter in Matthew’s life and the opening of another. And the same can also be said for Richard – in some ways, the death of his brother was the start of a very different part of his life. The next book, ‘The King’s Man’, tells the story of the next two years or so – from a few days after the end of ‘The Order’ through to the fateful days of August 1485.

A: You say the second book is ‘coming soon’. How soon, and how does it build on the foundations laid in ‘The Order’?

Q: If all goes to plan, ‘The King’s Man’ will be published in spring 2018 – so not too long to wait (although it may well seem ages to my younger readers!) It’s finished, but needs some final editing before production starts. As I say, it takes up the story again as Richard and Matthew travel south to meet with the new boy king, Edward V, and catapults them into the political intrigues and manoeuvrings on the road, in court and in the cities of London and Westminster. We meet again some of the characters (historical and fictional) encountered perhaps only briefly in the first book and see the effects and influences they have on the lives of both Richard and Matthew.

Of course readers, both adults and children, who have a knowledge of the history of the time will know where the story ultimately leads, and the challenges and heartbreaks along the way. ‘The King’s Man’ is overall a much darker book than ‘The Order’. But I hope it offers not only a flavour of the times, but also a worthwhile exploration of how and why events played out as they did.

Q: Where will you go next? Back to your half-finished Scottish book? Or, as many of us who write about him find, will you be drawn back to Richard?

A: I’m not sure Drew – the main character of the other book – will be pleased to hear this, but no, I’m not finished with Richard yet! (Poor Drew – I’d already abandoned him once before, to write ‘Time out of Time’…) I’ve already started preparing a third book in the ‘White Boar’ sequence that takes the characters (at least those who remain) beyond the events of August 1485. There are events that stretch years beyond that date which, to me, are still part of Richard’s story. In some ways, of course, that story continues to today – to the many people around the world who are still fighting for a reassessment of his life and reputation in light of what we now know about him and the lies that were told in the decades and centuries after his death. But the story I’ll tell will be that of people who knew him personally and sought to defend him in living memory.

Q: It sounds like we’ll have to wait a little more than six months for the third book in the series.

A: I’m afraid so. My track record isn’t great on finishing books quickly! My first took three and a half years, my second two and a half – although I suppose you could say it was just over a year as I wrote both ‘White Boar’ books one after the other in that time, treating them as a single story at first. But I plan to self-publish ‘Time out of Time’ while working on the third ‘White Boar’ book. I hope that readers who enjoy ‘The Order of the White Boar’ will similarly enjoy it, although it’s rather a different beast. It’s a mixture of timeslip and ghost story, drawing on my former career as an archaeologist. The Scottish book is also a sort of ghost story based around an archaeological dig – that was one of the main reasons I decided to write straightforward historical fiction when it came to Richard’s story. Although at first I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to immerse myself properly in the fifteenth century in order to write from the point of view of a fifteenth-century boy!

Q: But you did manage it?

A: Perhaps too well. For months after I finished the book I missed my characters enormously, they’d accompanied me for so long on my dog walks over the local moors! I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with them – well, some of them anyway – over the next few months as I make a start on the new project.

Q: I very much look forward to reading it when it’s finished – and of course ‘The King’s Man’ in the new year. Thank you, Alex, for speaking to us today.

A: Thank you.

 

 

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Sunnes And Roses – A New Release by The Legendary Ten Seconds

Review by Elke Paxson

Sunnes And Roses – it’s finally here, the new album by The Legendary Ten Seconds. This new one focuses on the history and some of the events and people during the War of The Roses. Like the music of the 3 CDs about Richard  III, this is a unique and quite excellent mix of English Folk with a touch of Medieval music and a hint of Rock.

Album cover of Sunnes and Roses

The new album starts off with a song commemorating the battle of Towton, the biggest battle ever fought on English soil and the battle that brought Edward IV to the throne. Quite fitting – the song has a powerful intro with the sound of cannons. It moves on with a forceful rhythm and it has a really rich sound to it.

List of the Dead – this one has a foot tapping rhythm and it’s needed as the lyrics tell of the many battles, the long list of the dead through the many years of the “Cousins’ War”. Quite superbly done.

The Jewel – is a really pretty song. It tells the story of the stunning “Jewel of Middleham” found in 1985 by Ted Seaton. There is a beautiful trumpet intro before a number of other instruments are added – acoustic guitar, percussion, strings and tambourine.

Good King Richard – this is a very nice and rousing duet with Camilla Joyce and Violet Sheer. It’s going back and forth between accusations and King Richard’s side – very well done with great musical sound and sound effects! Love the song.

Sunnes And Roses – an excellent instrumental. The guitar picking is just outstanding!! It has a very memorable sound!

Battle In The Mist – is a haunting an engaging song about the Battle of Barnet. It’s a good story and its instrumentation and the rhythm come together quite nicely.

Richard of York – this song is about the pretender Perkin Warbeck or was he…. Love the beautiful guitar intro of this song. The harmonies, strings and the guitar sound make it so very beautiful.

King’s Daughter – the second instrumental on this album. This is a really pretty combination of a love song with a fine medieval touch to it.

Middleham Castle on Christmas Eve – one of my all-time favourite songs. It brings everything together – beautiful lyrics that combine the past with the present, the instruments, the sound of the percussions, the harmonies. Fantastic.

A Warwick – the title tells the colourful story of the Kingmaker, the powerful Earl of Warwick. The song moves along nicely and has a swift beat to it.

Souvente Me Souvene – Remember me often, is another instrumental and also the motto of Harry Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham.

Autumn Rain – and speaking of Buckingham….this one is also about him or rather about the “washed out” October rebellion of 1483 that he was subsequently beheaded for. The song is pretty neat and the sound effects are quite fitting.

A Herald’s Lament – a sad song for sure, but it’s not a slow song as you might expect. It tells the story of a herald’s return to an unknown place – perhaps the city elders of York or King Richard’s mother Cecily.

Tewkesbury Medieval Fair – Time to go back in time yet again. This is a really nice song about the annual medieval fair in Tewkesbury. The way it presented it’s easy to imagine yourself being there.

Ian Churchward and The Legendary Ten Seconds have produced another tremendous album full of expertly written songs, fabulous music with a rich sound that brings history to life in a very profound way. ENJOY!

For anyone who might be interested in this fabulous new album, it is available on Amazon.com, at CDbaby.com for download and it should be available in CD format from the Richard III Society by the 31st of January 2017.

 

A Richard III concert in Denver Colorado – at the GM meeting of the American Branch – the evening of the 24th of Sep. 2016

By Elke Paxson

With Ian Churchward (photo)

Having been interested in Richard III for a number of years it took me a long time to decide to become a member of the R III Society and it was my very first attendance of a “General Membership Meeting”. Living in the States is wonderful and exciting, but it also means everything is a bit farther away and there is nothing historically connected to Richard the 3rd, the Wars of the Roses or places with a medieval feel. However, if you put together an enthusiastic group of true Ricardians you will end up learning and experiencing about a long ago time that can be as fascinating and different from ours as you can imagine. There were talks about armour as demonstrated and explained by Dominic Smee, who is affected by scoliosis as Richard was, but proved through his training that it doesn’t diminish much what could be accomplished on the battlefield of medieval England. He brought along some of his armour pieces and padded garment. We were also treated to an interesting account of what a re-enactment group like the “Les Routier De Rouen” is all about and how much interest, pride and fun they have during those re-enactment weekends. The insight was given by Christina Smee – Dominic’s mother, who has been a member for many years.

Photo of Ian Churchward

We were also treated to a copy of the “Jewel of Middleham” by its owner Susan Troxell – a most beautiful and artful piece of jewellery.  Sally Keil gave an interesting look into “Heraldry, Blazonry and (not Coat of) Arms”. It is a pretty complex, yet intriguing subject.

 Photo of Ian and Robert

Saturday evening was very special all around as many of the attending members dressed up for Cocktail hour in a variety of beautiful medieval garb some of which were pretty elaborate. After dinner we were treated to the evening’s highlight – the performance of the Legendary Ten Seconds. The group is headed by Ian Churchward who also composed most of the songs. He was accompanied by his lovely wife Elaine who sang harmony and some solos. His excellent lead guitar player Robert Bright supported Ian’s rhythm guitar with a flawless performance and a special “sound effect”. Jackie Hudson also sang harmony and accompanied some songs with a harp.

The Legendary Ten Seconds

When they took the stage they started off with a short intro and then a song called “Written at Rising”, a song based on an actual letter written by Richard III. This song was followed by a most beautiful and melodious “Ambion Hill” – about an unexpected appearance of a knight. One of the intriguing things about the music of “The Legendary Ten Seconds” is that it is so diverse – in speed, rhythm, in what the songs portray and reflect as well as the sound and instrumentation. Not having the full back up and support available so far from their home base it was truly excellent what they were able to convey. The next songs were “Fellowship of the White Boar” – a song about the R III Society’s history and goals, “The King In The Car Park” –  I always thought the title a bit strange, but it’s a fantastic song that moves rapidly and tells the story put into excellent lyrics by Elaine Churchward: King Richard of England, he of the White Boar.  This one was followed by “How Do you Rebury A King” – not only a good question, but an outstanding song that talks about the thousands attending and watching and it also highlights the significance of the soil from 3 places connected to Richard that was put into his tomb. Ian filled the time between songs with introducing his fellow performers as well as telling us a bit about the songs he has created. The tale of a “Yorkist Archer” was followed by an instrumental about the “Ragged Staff” of Lord Warwick. Then we were treated to a song about Edward’s French campaign in 1475 and the disappointment Richard must have gone through. After that came the lively “The Year Of Three Kings” – a perfect song to sway to and sing along – something we all seemed to enjoy doing.  The next song was about the beauty of King Richard’s court and it’s indeed a beautiful song. Sooner or later one is confronted with Shakespeare’s treatment of Richard III. Ian does so in 2 songs – one about the way he turns Tudor’s rewritten history into a play that so many people over the centuries unfortunately have taken as history and not as entertainment. ”Act III, Scene IV” is actually a song straight from the bard’s mouth put into a very smart song of that play. The harmonies are really beautiful and so is the instrumentation. There was a rather sad song about Richard’s role as Lord Protector and all the intrigues that arose. The evening ended with one of Ian’s best songs called “White Surrey”. While he acknowledges that this is legend and we really have no way of knowing what kind of horse took him into his last battle, it is a fabulous song about Richard’s last charge. It is exciting as the listener is taken along the unfolding courageous charge.

It was a wonderful and enjoyable evening. The audience showed their appreciation for a great performance with a well-deserved standing ovation. Personally, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this evening, it was such a treat to hear them. Thank you to all who made this possible and Thank you for coming to Denver, Colorado.

Richard III stained glass window in Exeter (by Ian Churchward)

exetercathedralI thought I was very well acquainted with the local history of Exeter where I was born and where I have been working on and off for the last seventeen or so years. I also thought I had found out everything I could about the places of interest relating to Richard III in Exeter. I was therefore amazed and exceedingly pleased to discover earlier this year that there is a beautiful stained glass window of Richard III in a hotel in Exeter that is only a few minutes walk from my office where I work. I recently mentioned this window to one of the founding members of the Devon & Cornwall branch of the Richard III society who also had not known about this Ricardian item of interest.

 

I happened to find out about this window by accident when I stumbled across a reference to it on an obscure web page which had been posted by the USA branch of the Richard III society. The window is located in the Mercure Exeter Southgate Hotel and depicts Richard III visiting Rougemont Castle in Exeter in November 1483. The hotel was originally the Rougemont Hotel and the window was designed by Frederick Drake. There is an inscription under the window which recalls a scene from Shakespeare’s Act 4, Scene 2 which reads as follows “When last I was at Exeter the mayor in courtesy show’d me the castle and call’d it Rougemont at which name I started because a bard of Ireland told me once I should not live long after I saw Richmond”

 

During the Second World War the window was removed and placed in a cellar for safety. This was a wise precaution because the centre of Exeter suffered considerable damage due to German air raids in the 1940’s. It can be found on the first floor level at the top of a central staircase. The hotel is in Queen Street just off the main shopping high street and opposite Exeter Central railway station.

A COMMEMORATION IN WELLS

Recently, for this year’s anniversary of Bosworth Field, I had the pleasure of joining the Somerset branch of the Richard III society in a commemoration service held in the Bishop’s private chapel. King Richard’s personal prayer was recited, and the beautiful ‘In Memoriam: Ricardus Rex’ by Graham Keitch was sung to great effect by the talented choir. White roses were then laid before a candlelit portrait of Richard on a banner bearing the Arms of England.

Before the service, a tour of the ruins of the medieval Bishop’s s palace was also included. The palace was begun in about 1210 by Bishop Joscelin, with further  structures added down to the 15th c. Thomas Beckington, who became Bishop in 1443, ordered these last features. These later buildings include the imposing Bishop’s Eye, a tall tower that still stands today within the beautiful gardens.

From the exterior of the palace, some of the structure has a slightly martial feel, with its deep moat, crenellations, and portcullis. The unpopular Bishop, Ralph of Shrewsbury, added this particular design in the 1300’s. Ralph imposed heavy taxation on the locals of the town, hence he feared potential retaliation from the mob.

For Ricardians, Bishop Stillington, who revealed Edward IV’s pre-contract with Eleanor Talbot, is the best known Bishop of Bath and Wells. However, like many churchmen of the day, Stillington  spent relatively little time in his diocese; in his case, it is thought he lived in Wells only a few months if as long as that!

However,  John Gunthorpe, Dean of Wells from 1472, did, in fact, live for some time in Wells from 1485 onwards.  Gunthorpe, who had a long and eminent career, served three Kings, Edward, Richard and then Henry Tudor,and was, for a time, Edward IV’s chaplain, and a Cambridge scholar (he obtained a Batchelor’s degree in theology). During Edward’s reign, Gunthorpe was also almoner, clerk, councilor and ambassador, and served as secretary to Elizabeth Woodville.

Despite Dean Gunthorpe’s  close connection with the Woodvilles, Richard seemed to trust him, and during the King’s short reign,  Gunthorpe became keeper of the Privy Seal. He assisted with the completion of various treaties, including that with Scotland, and in 1484, Richard wrote a letter to Gunthorpe in which the King spoke out against bribery: “…discharge Richard Bele from his place in the office of the said Privy Seal, to which he had been admitted contrary to the old rule and due order, by means of giving great gifts and other sinister and ungodly ways in great discouraging of the under-clerks, which have long continued therein, to have the experience of the same – to see a stranger, never brought up in the said office, to put them by of their promotion“.

Gunthorpe’s loyalty to the new King must have been in no question, for apparently in 1485 he gave the Dean a gift of the ‘swans of Somerset.’ Some have imagined this might relate to the famous  bell-ringing swans that have tenanted the Bishop’s Palace moat for many centuries, but I think it more likely that it is a general appointment to look after the King’s birds (swans had been ‘royal’ birds for centuries but obtained protected ‘royal status’ legally in  the ‘Act of Swans’ in 1482) or even a gift of a swan or two for the table, which only Richard would have had permission to grant.

Gunthorpe seems to have definitely taken up residence at Wells by 1485, and was later visited there by Henry Tudor, who came to the town on several occasions. His house still stands in the cathedral close and it marked by a plaque.

Wells is also well worth visiting for its attractive cathedral and other medieval buildings, including ‘Vicar’s Close,’ thought to be Britain’s only complete surviving medieval street.

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The Bard’s Richard or the real man….?

 

 

Richard-Tower-Facebook

Here is a very interesting piece of comparison between Shakespeare’s Richard and the real man.

http://www.palgrave-journals.com/articles/palcomms201646

 

The lady whose existence led Richard to the throne…

Lady Eleanor...maybe

This is all so exciting! Wouldn’t it be marvellous if the remains did indeed turn out to be Lady Eleanor? The woman whose status and existence made a king of  Richard of Gloucester. And to think, it’s not that long ago that we didn’t even know her name for certain. Now John Ashdown-Hill knows even more than he did ten years ago and has a reconstruction of her face:
http://tinyurl.com/j6oy32c

Concert by The Legendary Ten Seconds, in York House, Stony Stratford February 20th 2016

Having enjoyed the three CD albums of songs about Richard III by The Legendary Ten Seconds (which can be bought here), I was very keen to attend when I heard there was to be a live concert by the group, who comprise Ian Churchward on lead vocals and acoustic guitar (and writer of almost all of the songs), Lord Zarquon on keyboards and Rob Bright on lead guitar. The lyrics of the songs all deal with various aspects of Richard’s life and reputation and the music is a combination of folk-rock and medieval – a perfectly unique sound. The concert was organised by the Bucks and Beds branch of the Richard III Society, so all who attended were pro-Richard. I have given links to the tracks that I could find on You Tube.

Photo of The Legendary Ten Seconds

(L-R): Lord Zarquon, Ian Churchward and Rob Bright

 

There was a modest but very appreciative audience at York House (appropriate name) in Stony Stratford (appropriate location). The performance began with the lovely song, ‘Ambion Hill’ which was inspired by a ghostly encounter experienced by Susan Lamb, one of the audience. It described someone searching for the site of the Battle of Bosworth and being ‘guided’ by a ghostly knight. This was followed by ‘Loyalty Binds Me’ which refers to the motto of Richard III and how he was true to it during his life. It has a nice rhythm and inspiring lyrics.

Pic of Ian Churchward and Susan Lamb

Susan Lamb and Ian Churchward

 

The third song, ‘A Herald’s Lament’, is a newer song and its lyrics were written by Sandra Heath Wilson, a Ricardian author who was also present at the gig. The words of this one are poignant and very sad and the tune is dramatic and moving. This was followed by a song I hadn’t heard before, Francis Cranley, which was inspired by the main character of The Woodville Connection, a medieval mystery novel written by another Ricardian author, Kathy Martin, also attending the evening.

 

Pic of Ian Churchward with Joanne Larner and Kathy Martin

(L-R):Joanne Larner, Ian Churchward and Kathy Martin

‘Written At Rising’ was the next offering, based on a surviving letter from Richard to Sir John Say, requesting a loan of £100 – it is another of my favourites, maybe because it includes the line ‘right trusty and well-beloved’. ‘Tis a pity we don’t begin our letters like that any more!

The next two songs were about two other important characters from Richard’s life – ‘Lord Anthony Woodville’ and the ‘Lady Anne Neville’. The former is interesting as it uses the theory that Anthony might have had a hand in poisoning King Edward IV and the tune is fast moving and dramatic and the latter, in contrast, is very sad, dealing with the tragedies in the life of Richard’s wife and referencing the eclipse which occurred when she died.

‘The House of York’, following these, was originally titled ‘Richard of York’, and was the first ‘Richard III’ song that Ian Churchward wrote with the help of Lord Zarquon, who plays a hauntingly beautiful part on the electronic keyboard. I find the lyrics (‘Long gone to his death, long gone his dying breath, long gone the House of York…) extremely moving and the melody is lovely. Another favourite.

Then followed three songs with a more modern twist, dealing with events after Richard’s death. ‘Fellowship of the White Boar’ was the original name of the Richard III Society and tells of the principles of the Society and the struggle to counter Tudor propaganda. ‘King in the Car Park’ is about the King’s remains lying under the feet of the monks who buried him and then the modern workers who were all unaware that he was beneath them in the car park. The lyrics were written by Ian’s wife and they are brilliant (‘Car doors slamming, wet feet splashing, running across to the office door, Silent beneath them, unheeded underneath them, King Richard of England, he of the white boar.’) They bring such a vivid picture into the mind’s eye – everything normal and yet a King is right there just feet away as if waiting for the right time to return, and the music is perfect to complement the words. The third song in this modern trilogy is called ‘How Do You Rebury a King?’ and is about Richard’s re-interment and the different emotions and attitudes of the people attending.

Photo of The Legendary Ten Seconds

Ian and Rob

Then there was an instrumental, ‘The Ragged Staff’ (it refers to the cognizance of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick). It is an uplifting and upbeat melody and the three musicians’ contributions complement each other well, Lord Zarquon like a wizard of the electronic keyboards, Rob contributing skillful guitar solos and Ian himself providing the rhythm guitar part that gives the song its framework and holds it all together.

Next came a song which relates how Edward IV’s French campaign ended without a fight, as he allowed himself to be bought off by French gold. Richard was not happy about this and hence the song title ‘The Gold It Feels So Cold.’ The tune is quite fast and the lyrics move the story on at a cracking pace. I am sure Richard was, indeed, ‘thinking of Agincourt’ when they set off for France.

‘The Year of Three Kings’ recalled 1483 and each of the kings has a verse, with the chorus being suitable for audience participation, and we obliged with gusto.

The next idea was inspired by the report of a foreign courtier who visited Richard’s Court and gave a favourable report on it: ‘The Court of King Richard III’ is another great tune and the CD version has great harmonies with a female singer, Camilla Joyce.

‘Shakespeare’s Richard’ questions the portrayal of Richard that we know from the Bard, a ‘Plantagenet tragedy’.

The next one has a solemn and portentous feel, taking place on the deathbed of Edward IV, where he names Richard as ‘The Lord Protector’ and refers to Elizabeth Woodville thinking she was unable to trust him.

Photo of The Legendary Ten Seconds

Lord Zarquon, Ian and Rob

The lyrics of the penultimate song were not written by Ian, but Shakespeare! There are not many composers who can say they co-wrote a song with Shakespeare, so good for you, Ian! ‘Act III, Scene IV’ is the scene where there is a council meeting to arrange the King’s coronation and it has a very catchy chorus.

Last, but definitely not least, was the wonderful ‘White Surrey’ which is my absolute favourite track, and I was honoured that Ian dedicated it to me, as he knows I love it. It tells of Richard’s final heroic charge at Bosworth and the tune gradually builds the tension through the verses, ‘The medieval cannons blast at Henry Tudor’s men, Richard upon White Surrey, facing death again’, releasing it during the chorus ‘My horse, my horse, my White Surrey, for York and England my White Surrey’. The best thing is that it ends before Richard is betrayed and murdered and we are left seeing him magnificent, courageous and heroic on his noble white steed.

After the concert we had refreshments in the form of hot drinks and a wonderful cake made to the design of the white rose of York.

Photo of cake decorated with rose of York

The magnificent cake!

Kathy Martin and I had copies of our novels to sign and there was some keen interest. There was also time to catch up with old friends and meet new ones and lots of photographs were taken, some of which are reproduced here.

Collage of photos from Legendary Ten Seconds concert

Collage of the concert

 

All in all it was a fantastic day and if anyone has the chance to catch The Legendary Ten Seconds in concert, I urge you to do so – you won’t be disappointed.

Review by Joanne Larner

From the Heart: Geoff Davidson’s “Middleham Requiem”

“Music,” according to Victor Hugo, “expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” While many profound words were spoken during the reinterment ceremonies for Richard III, one of the more memorable experiences from the week was the vast array of music interwoven with them. There were traditional hymns, medieval carols, military bands, chanting monks – even a gospel choir. The week witnessed performances of new “Ricardian” compositions including Graham Keitch’s Ricardus Rex, performed during a March 23rd memorial service attended by Society members, and Judith Bingham’s specially-commissioned choral anthem Ghostly Grace, performed at the pivotal moment when the king’s coffin was lowered into his tomb and blessed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The abundance of music seemed so appropriate for a king who, himself, was a patron of music, and whose choirs sang with such beauty that Niclas von Papplau wrote in 1484 it was like hearing the voices of angels.

Richardburial

For me, the highlight of all the musical events was the performance of Geoff Davidson’s Middleham Requiem, a “dramatic cantata” which tells the story of Richard’s life using a narrator, three vocal soloists depicting Richard, Queen Anne, and King Edward IV, two choirs (adults and children), a twenty-piece orchestral ensemble and pipe organ. The March 26th concert was sponsored by the Richard III Society, and was attended by its patron, the current Duke of Gloucester, amongst an audience of rapt Ricardians who packed the Venetian-inspired basilica of St. James the Greater church in Leicester.

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The Requiem began with actor Sir Timothy Ackroyd giving a spirited narration of the words of Peter of Brixen, Carmelite monk, describing Richard as king: “If we look first of all for religious devotion, which of our princes shows a more genuine piety? If for justice, who can reckon above him throughout the world? If we contemplate the prudence of his service, both in peace, and in waging war, who shall we judge his equal?” The intention to tell a very different tale from the ones told by Thomas More and William Shakespeare was thus announced from the very opening lines. Moreover, unlike Shakespeare’s play, which is one of his longest in duration, Davidson’s Requiem was a model of brevity — taking us from Richard’s founding of a College at Middleham, to the battle of Barnet, his coronation, the death of his son and queen, and the battle of Bosworth – all within a mere 90 minutes, divided into two parts.

Using a colorful variety of orchestration and vocal textures reminiscent of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, the Requiem alternated between sacred and secular musical forms. There was high drama in the martial music accompanying the battle scenes, the chorus singing a resounding and triumphant Rex tremendae when Richard is crowned, the tender Verdi-like love duet between Richard and Anne, and their deeply mournful duet (“Hollin, green hollin”) following the loss of their son accompanied by harp and recorder. The composition concluded with the choir solemnly singing the Latin text: Requiem aeternam dona ei domine, et lux perpetua, luceat ei, Sempiternam requiem [Grant him eternal rest, O Lord, and let everlasting light shine upon him. Rest everlasting]. There were very few dry eyes in the audience as it burst into sustained applause.

The composer and conductor of the Requiem was kind enough to grant me an interview about his composition, its performance on March 26, as well as the challenges and opportunities presented when writing a piece about Richard III.

geoffdavidson

An Interview with Geoff Davidson

Q: What motivated you to write a piece about Richard III? You obviously don’t employ the “traditional” Shakespeare narrative, but rather wrote a libretto based on contemporary 15th century texts, while weaving elements of a requiem mass into it. What was it about Richard III’s life that captured your interest and inspired you?

I didn’t actually write a libretto. All the texts were gleaned from various contemporary accounts of Richard’s life including Hollinshed and other historical accounts of (for example) Bosworth. All I had to do was compile and place them into a narrative that told the story. That took twelve months. I ignored Shakespeare totally. My motivation stemmed from my wife’s enthusiasm for the Ricardian story which she had in copious amounts before I met her. In 1985 I took her on her first visit to Bosworth for the 500th anniversary and became drawn in to the dramatic tale of a man made into a monster whose bad luck was too bad to be true. As a composer I found the tale irresistible and first thoughts were to create an opera. Opera is notoriously expensive to produce and if I wanted a piece to tell Richard’s story that could be performed frequently then a choral work with soloists and narrator would be better and cheaper. I decided to create a work that uses virtually the same forces as Handel’s Messiah. For military reasons there would be a French horn added but this cost would be offset by the absence of a solo alto voice. The only extras would then be a few percussive instruments.

I’ve had experience of countless stage works over the years and believe that all stage works, even comedies, must have tension. Each scene must have its own tension. A play sags and longueurs develop if there is no tension. Richard’s story has tension to spare. From the beginning I had the narrator declaim Peter of Brixen’s commentary that here was a worthy, honest, religious and fair man and the response from those who don’t know should be – “Wait a minute, you mean he wasn’t the hunch-backed monster we all know?” There’s a tension of sorts here already.

Then there follows the battle of Barnet and victory but shortly after, there follows the episode with Clarence’s murder. Other tensions that follow are Edward’s death and the illegitimacy of the princes. With part two and the landing of Henry Tudor, tension is cranked up considerably leading to the tragedy of Bosworth and the moving letter from the people of York. At the height of the battle Richard is struck down and the orchestra is cut dead leaving a solo recorder recalling the happiest time of his life at Middleham. What does one think about when facing death? The only release comes with the final “Requiem Aeternam” at the end. I tried where possible to punctuate the narrative with movements from the Latin Requiem Mass and tried to comment on the narrative with an appropriate choice of Latin text. Hence the “Dies Irae, Dies Illa” (Day of wrath, Day of judgement – which is normally the second movement in Requiems by Mozart and Verdi and all other composers) does not appear in my Requiem until the final scene – the battle of Bosworth.

Q: I’m aware of very few musical settings of the life of Richard III. The first one I’m aware of is a very rarely-performed symphonic poem by Bedřich Smetana written in 1858. And, of course, there is William Walton’s cinematic music for Olivier’s 1955 movie. Did you do any research into past compositions such as these when developing your own conceptualization?

Unlike Beethoven I was not intent on breaking new ground with my music. I wanted to compose a piece that could be approached and appreciated by musicians and non-musicians alike. I was aware that the first performance in Fotheringhay would be attended largely by Ricardian academics and historians who would not necessarily be interested in music of this kind. I had to write with melody and harmony that conveyed the action precisely and whose meaning was easy to grasp. I made no reference to Smetana, Walton or anyone else – they were all based on Shakespeare’s character. My Requiem was described in the Yorkshire Post as a “hybrid”. Indeed it is a mixture of elements including Walton, Britten, Shostakovitch and Carl Orff (especially his rhythms) and sometimes downright romanticism. John Rutter has said he composes music that his mum and dad would like. I feel the same. I have the power to make people weep with my music and my wife, singing in the choir, was very lucky to get through the performance without dissolving into tears (though not at rehearsal!). I wrote from my heart and used devices well tried by the greatest composers. I insist on melodies and harmonies that naturally strike the heart.

Q: Although you title the piece “Middleham Requiem”, you’ve described it in the vein of a “dramatic cantata”. What is the difference between a requiem and a cantata in musical literature?

“Cantata” simply means a piece that is to be sung unlike a “sonata” that is to be sounded or played. So a cantata can be written on any subject (Bach wrote one about coffee!) and Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana is described as a “scenic cantata” – a series of pictures in the mind brought to life by music. This last description is particularly applicable to my piece. A “requiem” on the other hand is a solemn setting of the words of the Latin requiem mass used by the Catholic Church at funeral services. No additions are made to it and the movements are always recited or sung in the order they appear in Catholic liturgy. Brahms’ Requiem (described as a “German” requiem) is a collection of German texts that refer to death, hope and the life hereafter. No Latin is used so the title “requiem” is loosely applied.

Q: With the exception of a recorder, I noticed that you do not employ original instruments, e.g., those from the 15th century, in your orchestration. What led you to choose modern over period instruments?

My only concession to mediaeval musical instrumentation was using the recorder to give a certain ancient feel to the music. Once Richard has ascended the throne I used an authentic mediaeval dance called “Danse Royale” for the celebration. Here I used the recorder and percussion mainly but also used harp, horn and solo violin to “represent” ancient instruments. I felt that to use proper mediaeval instruments would have been a gimmick. The raw sound of mediaeval instruments is such
a shock to the system after the beauty of modern ones. For the romantic almost Verdian duets (not something you find in mediaeval music!) I needed a full-blooded string sound. Similarly for the dramatic battle scenes the full pipe organ lent a huge and sinister sound to the mix. I believe that where Beethoven had an excellent Broadwood piano gifted to him, were he to return and play a modern Steinway, he would find his Hammerklavier Sonata sounding as it really should!

Q: I was particularly captivated by the “Hollin, green hollin” duet of Richard and Anne in Part Two, following the loss of their son. It was very melancholy but extraordinarily melodic too. It reminded me of some modern settings of traditional English folk songs, but I’m not familiar with this particular text. Can you provide some background information about its text and your approach to that particular duet?

I’m flattered that you liked “Hollin, green hollin”. In fact it was the very first thing I wrote but not as part of the Requiem. I once did a BBC Scotland recital with a soprano colleague and wrote this for us to sing with guitar. It appeared as part of three “Scottish lyrics” which were all based on children’s nursery rhymes from a book published in 1946 by the Hogarth Press. I cannot for the life of me remember where the preceding text for the narrator came from but my response to the lines — “On hearing the news of this (the death of their son) at Nottingham where they were residing, you might have seen his mother and father in a state almost bordering on madness by reason of their sudden grief” — was immediate, soulful and sympathetic. I began to search my shelves for appropriate poetry and the book of Scottish nursery rhymes fell out on to the floor jogging my memory about the duet I’d written.

I saw the sad young couple in my mind, distracted, grief-stricken and heart-broken that they had not been there at the death of their son. “Madness” was the key word. Distraction brought about by severe shock. It needed something simple and child-like to reflect their numbness. I thought they might consider happier times at Middleham. “A shade of green leaves is my home, where nought is seen but boundless green and spots of far blue sky between”. The poem itself has nothing to do with anything in the Richard III story but, for me, captured the sad moment perfectly. The poem is very old and I had no qualms about using it.

Q: I understand that the “Middleham Requiem” had its première at Fotheringhay Church in 1993. Can you describe the circumstances that led to its première at Richard’s birthplace, and your experience from that event?

The first performances were given in Fotheringhay and Hitchin and the following year two performances were given at Middleham church during the Swaledale festival. Having written the piece I approached the Richard III Society to see if they could contribute to costs but (and I can understand why) they felt unable at the time to do so. So I had to approach a fixed unit like Hitchin Thespians to see if they might be interested. By sheer luck a colleague of mine in the BBC Singers (Roger Heath) was also one of the musical directors of the Hitchin Thespians. He and Justin Thomas were the two musical directors for that year. Hitchin Thespians is a very large and enterprising company who perform choral works, musicals and operas to great acclaim in Hertfordshire. I invited the two gentlemen to my London flat and over a few whiskies talked it through. It was decided through an alcoholic haze to go ahead. Justin conducted the premiere with a sure hand and a full heart. It was really moving. The Richard III Society however was able to provide first-class advertising through their Bulletin and we had a sell-out concert.

Like Leicester, there was the task of getting a big choir (of 100 singers) with an orchestra to a venue associated with Richard that really meant something. Fotheringhay was the choice. After a sell-out performance in the Thespians own town of Hitchin, the company agreed to make an assault on Middleham the following year. I cannot tell you how wonderful these people were with their tents and caravans parked all around Middleham for the two performances over two days. They squeezed into meagre space in the Middleham Church and delivered wonderful performances. The Thespians paid for everything otherwise it would not have happened. Justin and some Thespians who sang then were present at the Leicester performance. They wouldn’t have missed it for the world…I had some musical friends present at the premiere who don’t mince their words. Their faces can’t lie. They described themselves as “impressed”. What more could I ask?

Q: Can you tell me the process that you underwent in order to put on the performance on March 26th at St. James Church in Leicester?

My wife was instrumental in the colossal organisation of singers (advertising around the best choirs in Norwich), and the Broadland Youth Choir. I fixed the Orchestra from players in Norwich Pops Orchestra which I founded and conducted for 10 years. My wife also dealt with coaches, rehearsal venue, pick-up points, seating, delivery of scores etc. etc. She even organised tea and biscuits for the rehearsals! I had to retrieve all the scores from my dusty, musty boiler house where they’d gathered dust for 22 years. Some were faded and useless, others had pages missing and some were so heavily marked in ink they were unusable. Some singers who’d agreed to do it then pulled out. Sir Timothy the narrator said he wanted to wear a cassock (I persuaded him to wear a dinner-jacket) and brought his dog to rehearsals. Other people had last-minute crises that prevented their taking part. The conductor of the Children’s choir lost her score. Some people refused to park in Norwich for a whole day and demanded they be picked up somewhere else. At times I felt I was preparing for Bosworth. But all in all it was worth it and we had an exciting performance that peaked just at the right time.

St James the Greater Leicester was a fabulous venue. The people at the church were absolutely, amazingly helpful. The church is a popular city venue and a recognised Leicester concert venue. It had everything the first performances didn’t have – tiered seating, a marvelous organ, splendid lighting, great acoustics, parking facilities and backstage rooms to accommodate everyone.

Q: Understandably, you wrote this piece long before Richard’s remains were discovered in 2012, but would any of the recent archeological information gleaned about Richard have caused you to change anything about your composition? For instance, you cast the role of Richard as a baritone, but the scientists describe his physique as gracile and that perhaps he might have experienced some breathing limitations with his scoliosis. Would you have cast Richard as a tenor, if you had known that when you originally wrote it? Why the choice of Edward IV as a tenor? Would you have addressed the manner of Richard’s death at Bosworth, his burial at Greyfriars, or the discovery of his skeleton, if you were writing the piece today? Why or why not?

The finding of the remains made no difference to my Requiem in any way whatsoever. I made Richard a baritone because I think it gave him a deeper more authoritative gravitas (especially in his oration to his troops) than his flighty and erratic brother Edward who was, to me, more obviously a brash and excitable tenor.

My wife and I by sheer chance bumped into Dominic Smee in a street in Leicester (he was the young lad with the scoliosis similar to Richard’s who made a recent film about Richard’s ability to wield a sword and ride a horse). It struck me he was a gentle baritone, not a tenor. Knowing what I do now I still would not have changed a note. Curiously, a very low, dark, descending phrase sung by the men to “Ah” which follows the letter of grief from the people of York, seemed somehow to evoke perfectly the bleak and secret scene at Richard’s first burial, almost like a De Profundis. It was a section I considered cutting but I’m glad it’s there now!

Q: I understand that there are some projects now underway for setting the life of Richard III into full stage productions, even a rock-and-roll version more suitable for the West End or Broadway. Given the complexity of the Wars of the Roses, and the numerous personalities and back stories, what kinds of challenges or opportunities are presented to a composer like yourself when you’re faced with such a wide canvas of characters and relationships to explore? Could your “Middleham Requiem” be turned into a full stage production?

I believe Richard’s story could be inspirational to many kinds of composers of all kinds of music, but I would hope they would research their subject thoroughly and not make of it a sensational saga of falsehoods for theatrical effect. It is enough to tell his story plainly. The drama and tension is palpable. With reference to all the characters in the story – it’s always best to keep it simple. Don’t confuse people like with a cast list as big as “Gone with the Wind”. Thus I have three characters that speak but all the rest are mentioned in passing. It is enough. Richard was my subject and he filled the bulk of my composition.

Like Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana with its characters, dancers, gambling monks, lovers and hedonists, my Requiem, because of its dramatic nature could be fully staged. In recent years there have been some wonderful modern fully-staged productions of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion (and his St. John Passion). With appropriate costuming, lighting and movement, it would work here too to great effect, but again money would raise its ugly head! I saw a wonderful production of The Magic Flute at English National Opera recently which used gauzes, and projected film and amazing light effects. You could show film of battles, Middleham and you could have an image of the grave at the Leicester exhibition at the beginning of the piece and another of the gravestone now placed in the cathedral at the end of the Requiem. The possibilities are endless.

Q: Do you have any plans to perform – or record – the Middleham Requiem in the future?

Despite the joy of the latest performance, there are no plans for further outings. I have tried to interest various bodies including the BBC but no-one has bitten yet. Recording companies won’t pay for a recording process. They will happily record it if you pay for it yourself. The performance at Leicester was recorded on a small Sony machine. It is a quite good record of the event but my usual recording engineer was having a hip operation and couldn’t do it. I will make copies available to the Richard III Society so that members may borrow (and not copy!) but I cannot sell the recording because I would have to pay large sums to the soloists, orchestra and narrator first. If I win the lottery I shall hire the Studios at EMI and pay for the best singers and the London Symphony orchestra to take part.

Q: Given all the interest in Richard III, do you have any plans to incorporate “Ricardian” concepts or themes into your future compositional output?

I visited the Society hospitality room in Leicester during the week of the interment. Over a coffee I spoke off the top of my head about doing a memorial service next year. There was a sudden silence as committee members took this in and suddenly realised it was a feasible idea. They are now considering this seriously and I offered to write a short piece for the service. So that will be my next Ricardian composition and hopefully it will come to pass.

Q: What did it mean to you to have the Middleham Requiem performed the same day as the re-interment of Richard?

To have the Requiem performed in such circumstances was what I can only describe as a curious dream. I was somewhat inured to the thrill of it all by the sheer weight of anxiety in order to get it performed well. I was proud and thankful for a good performance and delighted to meet the Duke of Gloucester but most of all I was hopeful that people would understand where I was coming from with the musical presentation of the story of a man who is deserving of further research and who was
wronged by historical commentators.

It was huge thrill afterwards to meet my friends and colleagues who had come long distances to support me. To receive their accolades over a wee drink was pure contentment. For my dear wife too the Requiem was a vast and thrilling epic and for both of us it was an unforgettable week where we both “did our bit” for Richard III’s final farewell.

statue at sunset or sunrise

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Mr. Davidson may be contacted at geoff.davidson5@btinternet.com for further inquiries regarding the “Middleham Requiem”. The Richard III Society (UK) has a recording of the 1993 Fortheringhay première of the Requiem available for loan to Society members from its audiotape library. Photographs taken from the Richard III Society’s Programme of the 26 March 2015 concert; permission pending.

Readers may listen to a performance of Graham Keitch’s “Ricardus Rex” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBt0EUJG7oc, and read more about it on the Richard III Society webpage at http://www.richardiii.net/8_9_gallery.php.

Judith Bingham blogged about her “Ghostly Grace” composition on the Gramophone music review site. See http://www.gramophone.co.uk and search under the “Blog” tab.

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