In Autumn 2016, we received an Arts Council grant to deliver an intergenerational project in the Forest of Dean, capturing stories from the local area to create a performance.
12 months on, 14 shows later and over 650 audience members reached, Passing the Baton became a very special journey and exploration of the place I’m very proud to call home, Lydbrook.
When we moved from Bristol in 2015, we had no idea that we were moving to a village with an internationally renowned brass band. Earlier this year, I met Robert Morgan. Robert has been the Lydbrook Band Secretary for the past 35 years. He’s been in the band since he was 10 years old. He was 70 earlier this month. His father was in the band. His grandfather started the band and at one point 5 of his uncles played in the band!
His grandfather, Augustus, started the band in Lydbrook in 1900, bringing the local villagers and fellow miners together in brass music. Augustus was killed in a mining accident at the Trafalgar Square Colliery near Cinderford in 1917 but his legacy lives on through his grandson, Robert. The band has been playing on Christmas morning around the village for the past 50 years and is engrained within the local area. So, when we started to compose and shape a play about the local area – the Lydbrook band seemed an obvious choice.
Mike Akers beautifully crafted Robert’s stories into a unique, heart-warming and funny piece, managing to capture the generations of music legacy, the nuances of the brass band world, along with the bitter-sweet nature of life.
Chez Dunford, a Forest born musician-performer, Katie Storer, a Bristol based performer and director, and Pat Moran, who was just coming to the end of his Tristan + Yseult tour with Kneehigh, became our very talented cast and the Passing The Baton band was formed.
With the cast in place, we shaped and choreographed the show in 9 days, with each performer adding their strengths to the piece. Pat acted as Musical Director for the play, arranging the music for the trombone and two cornets, Katie added her expertise in physical theatre and knowledge of brass music, with Chez underscoring scenes magically with the accordion.
The tour started at the Dean Heritage Centre in the heart of the Forest – an apt setting for a subject which lies at the core of the Forest people. We then toured Dora Matthews House in Coleford, the West Dean Centre in Bream, Artspace in Cinderford, Taurus Crafts, The Orchard Trust, Sling Club, care homes, schools and village halls – it’s been a real journey, literally across the Forest. It’s been inspiring to hear all of the feedback and comments. People came to see the show multiple times – bringing their family members and instruments along!
Along the way we asked audience members what baton they would pass on and have been moved by the responses. Some audience members wanted to pass on a sense of community spirit, whilst others wanted to pass on the ability to love and believe in yourself. The response to the show was touching, with audience members saying they were both intrigued and moved by learning the history of the band and community.
One final, magical ingredient was the last performance with the Lydbrook Training Band to close the tour. It was held a week to the day after the 100th year anniversary of Augustus’ death, at Lydbrook Memorial Hall. Robert played a solo on his father’s cornet which left not a dry-eye in the packed-out house.
It was a touching end to a wonderful project, which has reached far beyond our initial expectations. I am hugely thankful to Mike Akers for writing such a beautiful play, our cast of 3 who devised and brought the play to life, Cam Adams, whose creative vision never fails to inspire me and Robert Morgan for being so generous with his memories, time and the band. And lastly, I think, Augustus Morgan for starting the band – without whom this story would never have been created.
Written by Rachel Adams, Director of Passing The Baton, Creative Producer of Wyldwood Arts
Photo credits: Camilla Adams