Mikey Kirkpatrick, performing under his Bird Radio persona, used his Aldeburgh Residency to write his new album Oh, Happy England.
The album is a selection of 17 poems by British writer Walter de la Mare, set to music and performed by Bird Radio with voice, piano, flutes, loops and an ensemble of cello, bass/guitar and Japanese taiko percussion.
“Oh, Happy England is a collaboration across time and space between Bird Radio and Walter de la Mare that explores the important role of the imagination at times of great trauma and change, developed and recorded during an Open Space residency at Snape Maltings in 2014.
Bird Radio first reached Walter de la Mare’s “Peacock Pie” collection down from the bookshelf in 2010 and was immediately captivated. His ideas and imagery seemed timeless, it was magiceal realism ahead of its time. The subject of de la Mare’s rich and atmospheric poetry revolved around the inner and outer landscapes of time, space, memory, the seasons, nature, dream, fear, loss and, of course, war.
In 2014 Bird Radio applied for and was awarded the Open Space residency at Snape Maltings in Suffolk where he was finally able to develop and record a selection of Walter de la Mare’s poems in the form of a song-cycle with an ensemble of voices, flutes, organ, piano, cello (Laura Moody), bass, guitar (Tobion) and percussion (Akinori Fujimoto). He spent January cycling through the woods on the Sailor’s Path between Aldeburgh and Snape Maltings, working in the stand-alone Dovecote that Snape Maltings furnished with an upright piano, coffee and biscuits. He met other residency artists while he was there, including string quartets from the UK and the US, and the Society of Strange and Ancient Instruments. The dramatic skies and beautiful landscape of Snape Maltings had a huge impact on the compositions.
The connections between Snape Maltings and Walter de la Mare became stronger as Mikey discovered that Britten himself had set five of de la Mare’s poems, dedicating them to Walter’s son Richard who was chairman of Faber at the time, Britten’s publisher.
After returning to London for a few months and developing the arrangements and having voice coaching with Rachel Bennett, funded by Open Space, Mikey came back to Snape Maltings in July 2014 with producer Rick Campion and the ensemble, recording for five days in the Britten Studio. Filmmaker and photographer Chiara Ambrosio also came to document the process. Mixing and mastering took place in London over the summer. Photos, footage and much more detail can all be found on his residency blog.
Oh, Happy England is an album and stage show that hopes to raise awareness of de la Mare’s world of enchantment, perched between reality and dream, treating the poems as incantations that bring all time and space into the present moment, if only for a short while, as an occasion to celebrate the crucial diversity, poetry and magic of our urban and rural landscapes, stimulating the imagination of the thoughtful child in all of us through difficult times of growth and change. It will be released and toured with SFE/Cherry Red Records and Peter Conway Management in spring 2015. This project could not have been realised without this residency, and Mikey hopes to bring Oh, Happy England to Snape Maltings for the festival or proms in summer 2015.