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Parallel Lives - The Transports at the Junction.

posted 28 Jan 2017, 11:25 by Tony King

Folk music speaks of our shared experience with those who have lived before us.  People don’t change, and the struggle to build a life against all odds is a story that echoes over the centuries.  In 2017, refugees desperate to escape war and  persecution undergo the perilous journey from  the Middle East to the West.  They are ordinary men, women and children forced by circumstances out of their control  to  make an extraordinary journey into the unknown.  Just as, back in 1787, people convicted for petty crimes were forced onto transport ships for a 12,000 mile journey, in an old and overcrowded vessel, over dangerous and uncharted seas, to an unknown fate in the new world.

The Transports is a ballad opera which tells the true story of farm worker Henry Cabell and servant girl Susannah Holmes from Norfolk who were in the first fleet of convicts despatched to Australia.  Written and originally produced by Peter Bellamy in 1977, this new production assembles the cream of British folk music - Nancy Kerr, the Young’uns, and members of Bellowhead, to  make a show with a stunning emotional punch.

As you’d expect from an all-star cast of Radio 2 folk award winners, the music was sublime and Matthew Crampton, as narrator, skilfully wove together the stories of migration past and present, including those who escaped from the coup in Chile and found refuge and welcome in  Cambridge.  He wove in, too, the story of our own CRRC who are working with refugees in Cambridge right now.

There were many high points - some humorous, some terribly poignant - but one in particular deserves mention.  ‘Dark Water’  is a song written and sung by Sean Cooney of the Young’uns which tells the story of two refugees from the Syrian War, Hesham Modamani and Feras Abukhalil, who swam from Turkey to Greece in search of a new life and safety.  The entire audience seemed to be holding its collective breath until the final verse which told of the arms of their rescuers that lifted the two men from the water.

And, in this story of migration, at least, there is a happy ending. Susannah and Henry were the first people to be married in Botany Bay and had ten children. Henry became the Colony’s first Chief Constable and Susannah one of the most influential women in the history of Australia.  Not long ago over 500 of their descendants met up in Sydney to celebrate the achievements of this amazing couple.

All that is left to say is: if this production comes around again do try and see it.  Many thanks to Matthew Crampton for contacting Cambridge City of Sanctuary about the event, to the Cambridge Junction for their help and cooperation in setting up our information stand, and to Dona and Ed from CamCRAG, and Joel from CRRC for their help in running it.  We had a great reception from the audience and lots of interest in all our various activities.