March 28, 2017

Bread or Blood - the tour


Our corner of an Ely field that is forever England 1816

The official festival photo (thanks to Fionnuala Lennon)


singing The White Cockade

We are the Fen Ti-gers

We needed bread and he gave us beer.

Mary Martin's bad harpsichord

July 10 at Ely was a great day for us.  The last of three days of great acts. Murray won Wimbledon and the late night festival finale with Douggie McClean and Altan singing Wild Mountain Thyme was so moving (pic below). This was our mid-afternoon moment in all that, bringing a very successful tour to a well received end. 

One night of no sleep whatsoever; one very good night and a 3rd night buffeted by 40 mph winds!

Can you spot our tent in the big picture from above?
(the junk gives it away!)

And we'll all go together... a great way to end the festival

Tour blog of the non Bread or Blood dates here-



"We're names on a church wall, a cautionary tale/ Of the corrupt scales of British justice."
That's a copy of the tablet on Ely Church bearing the names of the five hanged men in front of me

"I sentence you- death by hanging" sings Andy. Acting it as close as I ever want to come.

200 years to the day of the hangings, we bear witness to the 
Georgian establishment's solution to a national crisis. Hang the poor!

Very appreciative audience and the best 'join-in' crowd on the choruses to date- probably led by members of Ely Folk Club?  We also had two returners from earlier gigs, always a good sign, and a lady from Birmingham who got interested when she saw fliers in Ely train Station in May and who has been following this website avidly ever since! (Hope to see you again Kathie at Oliver Cromwell House in November for a very different 'Doin different' gig. ) The EDP and Suffolk Norfolk Life Features (link below) might interest her and others. This was the 200th anniversary of the hangings and it was a suitably sombre and squally evening performing on the river that flows down to nearby Littleport. (3 of our 4 gigs to date have been on the side of that river - in Ely, Littleport and Lynn.) With a descendant of William Beamis in the audience, it all felt very portentous. I hope  the departed rioters also enjoyed our riotous songs and folk-musical celebration of their unquenchable spirit,  and the fun that seems to have got into the show, along with its enduring message of the need to respect all souls as equal and entitled to a living wage. Andy has been stopped in the street since by audience members saying how much they enjoyed the show.

Read EDP and Suffolk Norfolk Life Features about the riots
Hear all the songs live here

pics by Anto Morra

as we set up, the sun shone directly on the plaque:
'May their awful fate be a warning to others'

pic by Ruth Bramley
The Ballad of Bread or Blood (song) - here
BBC News story about the riots - here

World premiere in Littleport, Riot Day, 22 May. The Swan on the River.

Moving up that same river (The Ouse) to its mouth at Marriott's Warehouse, Lynn, May 27.

rehearsals rehearsals...

Eyes down for scene 1 at Lynn. Watched by an attentive and informed
Lynn audience (including the town's social and economic historian 
Dr Paul Richards bottom left, who introduced us.)

We will have blood before dinner!

The Fightin' Parson (the famously incompetent preacher but deadly 
soldier who gave the sermon which began the special assizes)

The not exactly surprise verdict

Two descendants of William Beamis who came to the Lynn show.
Beamis, a cobbler and working class radical, was one of the five men 
hanged as an example to labourers not to take action against their poverty.

Images from the excellent Riot Day in Littleport May 22

 This is where the riot started in 1816- it was the Globe pub, now (rather fittingly) it's the Co-op. Farmer Robert Martin's house (thatched) is behind.

Molly dancers menacing Farmer Martin's house. 
The 'black face' was to avoid being recognised. 

The first ever set of Bread or Blood (at the Swan on the River)

Bread Or Blood - Press Release

2016 being the bicentenary of the Ely and Littleport riots, the Ely Folk Festival organisers decided to commission a narrative commemorating the events to be performed at the festival. The result is a superb show, “Bread or Blood” - a demobbed Littleport soldier’s view in May 1816 of the Ely and Littleport riots as imagined and narrated by Gareth Calway with 3 new ballads, music written and performed by Andy Wall.
Following performances in Littleport on Riot Day (May 22) and King’s Lynn (May 27) there will be two shows in Ely prior to its final performance at the Ely Folk Festival in July. These are in the Sessions House on 17th June (the date of the special assizes where the rioters were tried and sentenced) and at the Babylon Gallery on 28th June (the date five of the rioters were hanged).
The Littleport Show is at the Function Room, Swan on the River, Littleport at 2.15 pm and the Lynn Show at 7.30 pm in Marriott's Warehouse Upstairs on the South Quay.
The Littleport show is free though spaces are limited and the Lynn show is £5 on the door or on 07582 037301
Both Ely shows start at 7.30pm and tickets, priced £5, are available in advance from and, if seats are still available, on the door.
Gareth Calway is a writer of lyrics, poems, plays, novels, press features and children’s books and educational resources based in East Anglia and more details of the show can be found on his website:
Andy Wall is a popular local folk singer and musician who also chairs the Ely Folk Festival committee and helps run the Ely Folk

EDP Double Spread Feature - here   

Lynn News feature - here


My approach was to try to write a story - based on real and tragic events and characters of 1816 - that had the elemental power of a folk ballad (as well as including three actual folk ballads sung and put to music by Andy.) Much of what happens in my story is as recorded in sources found in the British Library and in convincing polemics like A J Peacock's scholarly 'Bread and Blood'  -  documentary study of the agrarian riots of 1816 in East Anglia. There really was a Farmer Henry Martin, the principal farmer of Littleport, who said and did much of what he does in my tale. But in a folk tale like mine he also has to represent all the new breed of uppity farmers made rich and arrogant by the war and who in the process abandoned their traditional paternalistic role towards their tenants. Many such farmers had daughters like Mary. The singularly unchristian parsons and magistrates John Vachell and Reverend Sir Henry Bate Dudley (Bart) ('The Fightin' Parson') are similarly rooted in real recorded characteristics and actions but these too must symbolise all the clergymen-magistrates who oversaw the sentences and stood so solidly with the farmers and millers against the desperate labouring poor, supposedly their flocks. My narrator the demobbed soldier John Morris and his father Philip are named after real agitators who were arrested and tried and the historical ex-soldier John Morris really is quoted in the court records as warning 'these actions are like to get us all hanged.' This gave me my story - why would he say that and yet still be arrested among the rioters later? Philip, his father, developed as the story unfolded into a symbol of the reluctant and exhausted labourer driven to riot against all his instincts and long-ingrained habits of deference to parson and squire. William Beamis the cobbler is both the real man as recorded in events and speeches and a representative of the radical working class 'Philosopher' which artisans, especially cobblers, often were. John Dennis is the real pub landlord who took charge of the riot - I tried to imagine how his reported actions and character might end as they did, in a scaffold-shadowed plea for forgiveness of his sins.  Riotous women like Sarah Hobbes (the latter also based on a real woman tried for riot in Ely) and John's mother, radicalised by events and long suffering, took on a life of their own as I wrote the story but there really were fen tigresses like these in the riots. Jack the singing sailor is my own invention based on the fact of sailors returning after the war to areas like Littleport and his lost leg is an emblem of what the common people of England lost in a victory that served the farmers and millers and gentlemen of England infinitely more than they.  Though giving it to my two narrators  is an act of imagination,  the incident of a debilitated Jack and John Morris frantically rowing across the Ouse and overhauled by swimming dragoons on the far bank is a real incident.  

No comments: