Premiere of Captain Swing for Free Range Orchestra at Winter Sound Festival, Canterbury
Captain Swing is a work that has been especially composed for the Free Range Orchestra (FRO). The Free Range Orchestra is an ensemble of free improvisers based in Canterbury. They are closely associated with the Free Range concert series which is devoted to experimental and improvised music, poetry, and film, and is coordinated and run by pianist and composer: Sam Bailey.
As an ensemble that meets regularly to rehearse and perform the FRO (as its come to be known) is still a quite recent addition to the Canterbury experimental music scene.
Since mid-2018 I have been thinking about how the events and history of the 1830 Swing riots could be worked into a musical work, all of which was instigated by my reading Eric Hobsbawm & Gerard Rudé’s book Captain Swing. The opportunity to create a work for a large orchestra of improvisers presented itself as a means to kickstart this project as I envisage that this may take on several different forms (i.e. a work for smaller forces, an installation, or a radio play, etc). This project doesn’t not only focus on the riots but onto the larger questions of precarity in work which has made itself prevalent in the current workplace. While researching for manifesto (composed and performed last year), I came across Karl Marx’ set of questions entitled Enquête Ouvrière (A Worker’s Inquiry), written in 1880, and made some considerations as to how Marx’ long list of questions could be used, if at all.
Captain Swing is a mixture of activism, experimental cabaret performance, and an elaborate and dramatic performance of free improvisation. As mentioned the title relates to the Swing riots of 1830 that began in Kent (in Lower Hardres, near Canterbury) where threshing machines were destroyed by the farm labourers they were meant to replace.
The ensemble consists of a narrator, a vocal trio, a group of instruments, and live electronics. The narrator does not relate a story as such, but retells the perspective of the Swing rioters through their anonymous letters (but signed ‘Captain Swing’) sent to their employers and heads of council. The Swing letters contain threats to burn and destroy the newly installed threshing machines unless work security, pay, and conditions were rapidly improved. These readings alternate with open questions Karl Marx posed as to the nature of the conditions of work.
Captain Swing will be performed on Friday 25th January at the Winter Sound Festival at the Sidney Cooper Gallery, along with work by Ben Horner and Sophie Stone, and Juan Parra Cancino. The concert evening begins at 6pm.