October 12, 2014

The Siege of Lynn and Cromwell's Talking Head Autumn Tour 2014


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Hello Mum! Pic by Tony Rafferty
That headline was originally for the Huntingdon leg of the tour but it occurred to me that as I was en route to Wales down the A14 with all the stuff in the Astra tour bus, I could add a gig at the Maridon Theatre, Penygarn, for my mum. Which I did. At this, Mum was a high octane revelation in the audience participation lead role of triangle caller under her stage name of Fanny (it was my dad's choice of stage name) and three generations of Calways and their partners helped me bring the show alive in Wales. Cromwell's original family name of Williams and his little publicised Welsh antecedents - included in the Cromwell coat of arms - all came to the fore here. And so, on its 14th public performance, this autumn tour of 4 dates ended.


'Cromwell's Talking Head' at the All Saints Church, Huntingdon the town of Cromwell's birth and education up to Cambridge. The 50 strong audience included members and executives of the Cromwell Society and the chair of the trustees of the Cromwell Museum : no pressure there then. Pic by John Goldsmith.

'Cromwell's Talking Head' (hear a  full radio production here) came home to  The Oliver Cromwell Museum, Huntingdon (performed in nearby All Saint's Church) on October 24. 7.30.  Elegantly sandwiched between two sets of veteran period musicians Spirit of the Ayre's ravishing  Cromwell-related airs, I sent the show out onto the hallowed air through a field of blinding theatrical light at the great and good of Huntingdon. (The cannonball provided gravitas passing from hand to audience hand.) A splinter of light from the vision Cromwell had of his future mission in 1630 perhaps? The vote of thanks was a work of art in itself.  The gentleman who introduced me lived in the house associated with the Huntingdon lecture responsible for its enduring legacy of witch hunting via the annual lecture against witches heard, but not believed, by Cromwell as referenced in Christopher Hill's classic study  'God's Englishman'. It felt good to be at the heart of Cromwell's England.

Shockingly, the only Cromwell Museum in existence * has had its funding withdrawn (effective from 2016) - this performance was a protest against that. Unless you think Charles III is likely to equal Cromwell's achievements in building Parliamentary democracy or national prestige (the greatest between Agincourt and Trafalgar) maybe think about funding this rather than some of the other relics that pass for our national heritage?

*Oliver Cromwell House in Ely, the show's HQ,  is not a museum as it contains no artefacts - with the invincible exception of the house itself and its unique historic site in the Cathedral city centre.

It was a night to remember at BINHAM LOCAL HISTORY GROUP, NORFOLK on Oct 23.

 Gareth showing the Binham audience the Siege of Lynn cannonball presented on the night by Veronica Lane
Hosted by Penny Alford who runs the BLHG - ably assisted by David Frost chair of the PDC and Geoff the excellent soundman/ Priory warden this is a lovely group of interested people. It's said you should never go back (I did a show called From The Bronze Age to the Ballad Age at Binham in July 2012) - well I have and in Binham it's even better the second time. At the start of the evening, I was also presented by a 350 year old cannonball from the Siege of Lynn to take on my tour with me by Veronica Lane, an item which belonged to her late husband Nic Lane who found it on his farm near Lynn, and that doesn't happen every gig. I regard myself as a steward - not a Stuart - of this highly appreciated - and appallingly heavy - weapon of mass destruction - and when I finally hang up my Cromwell tour or in 2043, the four hundredth anniversary of the siege (whichever is earlier) I will present it to Marriott's Warehouse Trust an an exhibit. (It flew over the very room inn which it would be placed.) Meanwhile, I will be displaying it around the country. It's going abroad - to Royalist Wales - very soon.     

Tom arrived in a sports car and shabby chic slippers to premiere our Binham ballads          

At Binham, the local angle was provided by Norwich composer/ guitar virtuoso Tom Conway who premiered our ballads about Binham Priory and the nearby Bronze Age barrow. (the site now graced with an archaeological information board abut the legend and the history.) I hope to post these splendid folk ballads online on sound cloud in due course. The lyrics are already here
See poster below for details.

Gareth voicing the two severed heads:
Cromwell's had an unusually large brain; Charles Stuart's just a royally big head
All Binham pictures by ace rock photographer Al Pulford. Al also helped with the best post-performance celebration (in the Chequers) since the last time the Familiars met Gaz and Maz in post-show celebration at Oliver Cromwell House in Ely on Apr 24 - six months to the (next) day.
Audience reviews of Binham - see comments at end of this post.


A Lynn Double header
Out of this head: a dramatic monologue 'Cromwell's Talking Head'
- the horrible but true history of Old Noll's posthumously severed head

Dr Paul Richards - whose 'passion and common touch shines through everything he writes' (EDP) - described how besieged Lynn was a place of fishermen and merchants rather than holy warriors or politicals. The dissidents had mostly left Lynn for the New World in the 1630s, he explained.
And a splendid time was had by all under sunny September skies; rather different from the cannon fire of a September 3 in 1643. It was a very hot evening in that historic roof-space for the sell out crowd of 69, the biggest of the tour exceeding both Binham and Huntingdon by 19 heads, not counting the two on the pole, the biggest of all my Cromwell tour dates with the exception of the Ely Folk Festival. Dr Paul's erudite, scholarly chat focused on the people and the local economy and something else beyond - a sheer love of Lynn and its uniqueness as a port - and I've since pinched some key points to my touring lecture. It was very well received. Like him, I then stood in the 1643 firing line and voiced the conflict as Cromwell and Charles went into their severed double header.  If the chuckles and glowing reviews are anything to go by, this too was very well received. Read 2 reviews here.

The next engagement for Paul and I is A Hanse Christ Mess, our Christmas show on St Nicholas's Day Dec 6 in the Hamburg Suite at Hanse House. £5 and includes a mince pie and mulled wine. Book early!

The Cromwell tour poster with all the details

Original Press Release

Double Header: The Siege of Lynn by Dr Paul Richards and Cromwell’s Talking Head by Gareth Calway

Sep 3 Marriott’s Warehouse Upstairs, South Quay, King’s Lynn
September 3 was the date of the three decisive military victories of Cromwell’s life (1649, 1650 and 1651) and his own final victory over life (as he would see it)- his death in 1658.  And long before all this, in 1643, it was the day he arrived with a bang of cannon shot at the Siege of Lynn, a siege that arguably decided the course of the English Civil War. An eighteen pound cannonball interrupted divine service smashing through a window and clearing worshippers out of St Margaret’s Church on Sunday September 3.

Gareth Calway’s tour of Cromwell’s Talking Head has been successfully entertaining audiences at folk festivals (like Ely in 2013) and storytelling venues all over East Anglia since it began its bi-annual residency at Oliver Cromwell House in Ely in 2011. In it, Cromwell’s severed head tells the true but horrible history of the Great Roundhead’s afterlife – including his posthumous hanging and beheading for ‘treason’ at the Restoration in 1661 and eventual secret burial three centuries later in Cambridge University – and also of his radical life. The radio production was described as ‘a triumph of narration and verbal colouring.’ Last winter, Gareth added a separate talk about the Siege of Lynn for local audiences and for its King’s Lynn premiere this spot has been handed to Lynn’s very own historian, Dr Paul Richards.

Dr Richards has recently published ‘King’s Lynn In Pictures’ ‘Paul’s passion and common touch shines through everything he writes’ (Trevor Heaton) the only English-authored chapter in ‘Hanse und Stadt’ a German history of the Hanseatic League (Lynn was a key member) and author of the town’s only modern history survey ‘King’s Lynn’ a complete history, packed full of information, intriguing anecdote and informed analysis. For once the term ‘expert’ may be used modestly. Dr Richards is a town guide on luminaries from Margery Kempe to Walpole to Burney; on its historic buildings, waterfront and pubs and can hold an audience entranced on any period or aspect of the town’s colourful past. This chance to hear him describe the besieged port’s month at the front line of English history in September 1643 should not be missed.

The double event takes place at 7.30 pm on September 3 in Marriott’s Warehouse Upstairs, (squeaky floor recently corrected!) at a bargain basement price of £5. Refreshments including wine- for donations only – will be provided during the interval.
Tickets are available in advance at the Custom House. It may be advisable to book early! Calway’s Cromwell tour continues solo to Binham History Group (Oct 23) and The Oliver Cromwell Museum in Huntingdon (Oct 24)



Joanna Swan said...

Top night in Binham courtesy @bardonthewire, Maz, Tom Conway and a 350-year old-cannon ball!

Pennie Alford, BLHG said...

A BIG thank to you and Tom for providing a very diverse and entertaining evening. I know our audience enjoyed it very much...who said history is dry and dusty !

We wish you every success for the future and hope you are pleased with your new touring acquisition

Thanks also to Melanie ...the all important back up and support person.

Linda Upham, Huntingdon said...

Everyone has said how much they enjoyed your performance.
Thank you for doing this for us.