Stony Broke in No Man's Land
The Hotwells Howlers were commissioned by the Friends of Bristol Museum to create a piece to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War, for November 2014. At first we were unsure whether to accept the commission, as it felt outside our comfort zone and the music we were interested in performing, but we eventually decided to pursue it further, guided by the twin principles that we would explore the impact of the war on local people in Bristol and the surrounding counties, and we would avoid using the "standard" World War One songs and poems as far as possible. Months of researching archives, including newspapers, reading books and websites, and debating and hammering out a storyline ensued. We ended up with far more material than we could use, and a great interest in and respect for the experiences of ordinary people, both in the trenches and on the Home Front. One of our group, Geoff Woolfe, researched extensively the life and death of Alfred Jefferies, a Bristol man who was one of the few to be actually shot (and later pardoned) for desertion- Geoff has since produced a booklet about him. Another group member, Olga Shotton,(who died on October 13 2106) was the daughter of a socialist who suffered as a Conscientious Objector, and was able to share some of his reminiscences with us. Angela Shaw read hundreds of contemporary news items about life during the war, and also trawled several collections of women's poems and writings. Harry Langston and Dave Byrne read extensively, and visited archive records and libraries; Harry found some fascinating information about a specifically Australian connection with Bristol and Dave also did his usual amazing job of finding relevant images to illustrate our songs and readings. We all learned about aspects of the war, especially on the Home Front, which we had never considered, and we can guarantee you will too!
Although we have inevitably drawn on some familiar songs, (mainly as used in "OH What a Lovely War!), to illustrate the soldiers' lives, we have kept these to a minimum, and have also drawn on contemporary music hall and folk material. We can guarantee that at least 3 songs are unique to our presentation, and we do not know of anyone else singing the eponymous and wonderful "Stony Broke in No Man's Land" - a deeply moving song written in the aftermath of the war, which deserves to be much better known.
We are very glad we accepted this commission, and the show has been warmly acclaimed wherever we have performed it. It is informative, funny and very moving. We are only able to perform it occasionally, so keep an eye on our calendar for upcoming public productions. Better still, it you know of an organisation which can provide a venue, let us know.
ALL HOTWELLS HOWLERS PROFITS WILL GO THE BRITISH RED CROSS. Below. Mark Flower, Senior Community Fundraiser, accepts £1000 cheque for the British Red Cross, November 11 2016.