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The Show 

This re-working of Peter Bellamy’s 1977 folk ballads features a new generation of folk musicians, including The Young’uns, Faustus, Nancy Kerr, Rachael McShane, Greg Russell and Matthew Crampton. Their first tour in January/February 2017 brought full houses, standing ovations and remarkable reviews. A spell-binding performance before 4,000 people at Shrewsbury Folk Festival in August 2017 was followed by recording the show for BBC Radio Three, for transmission in early 2018.  Excitement is building for the January 2018 tour. This time The Transports will reach fourteen towns and cities across Britain, with fresh local stories for each venue. Shows will likely sell out again, so we advise you to book soon.

There’s nothing quite like The Transports. The music is stunning – performed by some of the best folk musicians in the land, often singing in ten-part harmony – but it’s much more than a concert. It’s a dramatic show, but without actors. It’s rooted in the past, but taps into anger and injustice today. We’re not quite sure why it works so well, but it does. Audiences are enthralled.

Watch 4,000 people at Shrewsbury rise swiftly to applaud.

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Audiences love the show

'Superb, up there with War Horse for its emotional impact, music and theatre at its best'

'If you see an advert for a performance, book it quick - a very worthwhile experience.'

'I had seen it at Wavendon but it was still a moving performance and made better by the narration being customised for Shrewsbury people who were transported.'

'The Shrewsbury Festival performance was quite the most moving drama I’ve ever seen on stage.'

'The performance moved me to tears.'

Read the actual quotes on Facebook.

Origins of The Transports 

Inspired by the true story of two petty criminals transported unjustly from Norfolk to Australia in 1787, Peter Bellamy created a cycle of folk ballads called The Transports. He released this in 1977 as an album, featuring arrangements by Dolly Collins and a glittering roster of folk musicians and singers including Dave Swarbrick, Nic Jones, June Tabor, AL Lloyd, Cyril Tawney, Vic Legg, Mike & Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy. This album became legendary in English folk music. In 2004 it was re-released, along with new versions of the songs by artists such as David Jones, Coope Boyes & Simpson, Kimber’s Men and Fairport Convention. On stage, The Transports has appeared infrequently, often with several of the original musicians. Notable performances include Norwich Castle in 1978, London’s QEH in 1983, Whitby Festival in 1992 and Sidmouth Folk Week in 2011.

Peter Bellamy 

Born in 1944, Peter Bellamy performed during the 1960s with influential folk trio The Young Tradition. Known for his distinctive singing style and deep immersion within both the folk tradition and its community of performers, he released a series of solo albums, such as Mainly Norfolk, Both Sides Then and Fair Annie. Peter was particularly drawn to the writing of Rudyard Kipling, seeing him not, like so many, as a Victorian reactionary, but a humane chronicler of the attitudes of ordinary soldiers. He notably set Kipling’s Barrack Room Ballads to music. The Transports enabled Peter to explore, further, the voice of poor folk through traditional music, and secured him his greatest fame. His obituary in The Guardian said he was ‘one of the few who could create new songs convincingly of the tradition’.

This production

In 2016 producer Michael Hughes, of The Young’uns, and musical director Paul Sartin brought in storyteller Matthew Crampton to re-work the piece. Captivated by the original story, Matthew wrote a narration to tell the tale more fully, give historical context and set up each song and character. Peter’s narratory Ballad of Henry and Susannah was removed. Roll Down became the show’s climax.

Paul, Michael and The Young’uns had already taken part in the Sidmouth production of The Transports in 2011. Paul went on to create new arrangements for the songs, drawing on the musical strengths of the company, with special emphasis on broadening the ballads with more harmony singing. He also developed a theme, based on Sean Cooney’s song Dark Water, and musical sections to support the narration.

The musical engine room of this production is the trio Faustus (PaulBenji Kirkpatrick and Saul Rose) with Nancy Kerr on fiddle, Rachael McShane on cello and Greg Russell on guitar. The Young’uns (MichaelSean Cooney and David Eagle) provide vocals, as do all the performers.

Aside from the music, much of the production’s success comes from its surprising effectiveness as drama. Tim Dalling worked with the company to dramatise the production, with all the cast on stage throughout, stepping into character to perform their solos, and combining to create simple tableaux. Emma Thompson created striking lighting and backdrops. Sound engineer Andy Bell enabled the cast of ten to perform fluidly. 

This production toured Britain in January/February 2017, performed at the 2017 Shrewsbury Folk Festival, recorded the show for BBC Radio 3 and tours again in January 2018.

Tour Dates

Relevance to today

Keen to respond to the crisis of modern refugees, Matthew’s narration emphasises the themes of exile and migration, making contrast between the 1780s and today. An accompanying project, Parallel Lives, re-inforces the notion that migration has long been part of life and not, necessarily, to be feared. Each performance of The Transports features stories local to the venue, contrasting migrants transported from the area in past centuries with those who have arrived in recent decades. Local refugee and migrant support groups attend each show. You can read the many stories collected by Parallel Lives elsewhere on this website.

Sean’s song Dark Water was introduced to start the second half of the show and draw links with contemporary migration. This song tells the true story of Hesham Modamani. On the run from government thugs in Damascus, his path westwards was blocked by the sea in Turkey, so Hesham and his friend Feras decided to swim to freedom across a dangerous five mile strait.