Lighting The Dark – This evening’s unexpectedly movingly melodic exploration of winter traditions at Falmer’s The Attenborough Centre, Brighton was a skilled, funny and thought-provoking show.
Arriving with a hefty dose of humbug, the interesting array of artisan/handmade characters and puppets on the stage (including a light up Three Kings, a Father Christmas, unusual looking snowman, and something approximating to the Nutcracker) to greet the audience improved my mood, setting the stage for an irreverent, musical soiree celebrating folk music traditions, Morris music and festive folklore from across the country.
This bespoke show from award-winning musician and composer Martin Green is a musical exploration of winter. Beginning the show with a solo bagpipe march on his chromatic accordion and influenced by his move to Scotland, this was a magical, calm and warming tune, just right for the dark of winter.
Martin Green is a multi-award-winning musician and Ivor Novello Award-winning composer. As a member of Lau he has won four BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards for Best Group, and in recent years his solo work has taken in writing for orchestra and chorus, brass bands, helming documentaries, and co-writing two acclaimed audio dramas. In 2015 he was nominated in the Best Musician category, followed by a Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award for Artists in recognition of his talent as a composer. In 2019 he won the Ivor Novello award for his sound walk “Aeons” that was part of The Great Exhibition of the North.
Introducing himself as the spawn of a Morris dancer, Martin recounted how every Boxing day, this involved standing in temperatures of minus 2 celsius to watch the Morris dancers and becoming youthfully accustomed to enjoy standing still in the cold with no snacks. This amusing memory provoked a couple of Morris tunes on the accordion accompanied by the arrival of Irish composer and fiddler Ultan O’Brien.
These were followed by a tune called the Butchers March. A perfect musical pairing teamed with Martin’s dry, laconic verbal delivery to welcome in a Christmas tune from the Shetland Isles with a tradition on Christmas morning of wandering from house to house playing music. The arrival on stage of alongside trumpeter Laura Jurd (of Mercury Prize-shortlisted jazz quartet Dinosaur) brought in an echo on trumpet sparking an evocative dip into Christmas past. The trio created a tuneful mash up before returning to central theme of tune.
Bringing in long standing traditional Christmas tunes alongside more whimsical musical accompaniment to Martin’s storytelling (and occasional amusing slide show), Laura’s keyboard, Ultan’s fiddle and the switching on of the scenery offered up what was termed a “cacophony of light”.
Meanwhile, to the wistful strains of Once in Royal David’s City, a story of an unorthodox Christmas eve in years past with all its consumerist complications.
With the musical tone moving between light and dark, this event with its exploration of festive traditions showed that Christmas is an undeniably musically potent time of year as well as being cosy, kitchen music providing the warmth of the hearth. To the phrase “there’s nae wee drams in this house son”, a turbo 12 days of Christmas turbo carol, and an unravelling of the St Stephens day (aka Boxing Day) rituals in Ireland, a recounting of a fable also known as Wren day symbolising the old year, offered up a tale of Oliver Cromwell and battles lost.
I adored this show. The musical talent was impressive, but the homely and intimate delivery, clearly reflective and insightful, really added a layer of meaning to this strange and consumerist time of year. I found it profound, magical and meaningful and I urge you to go and see it. Lucky to be able to enjoy this exquisite, magical yet funny performance perfectly designed to usher in the festive season – Five stars from me!
This very unique composer also has a new album out Split the Air which you can grab online. Alongside this is a separate venture Keli – a story told in sound. This is an audio drama written and composed by Martin Green and co-created and directed by Wils Wilson. Have a listen here.
- 16th December 2023: Oxford – https://www.ocmevents.org/whats-on/martin-green-lighting-dark
- 20th December 2023: Bristol – https://bristolbeacon.org/whats-on/lighting-the-dark-martin-green/