tue 22/05/2018

Kings of The South Seas, Cutty Sark review - folly and tragedy resurrected | reviews, news & interviews

Kings of The South Seas, Cutty Sark review - folly and tragedy resurrected

Kings of The South Seas, Cutty Sark review - folly and tragedy resurrected

John Franklin returns in Kings of the South Seas' album launch on board the Cutty Sark


Kings of the South Seas first set sail back in 2014, with their debut album drawing on songs about South Pacific whalers. They are Ben Nicholls on concertina, banjo and fine, sonorous vocals, Spiritualized guitarist Richard Warren and drummer with the Neil Cowley Trio, Evan Jenkins. On a polar vortex of a midwinter night they launched their second album in the theatre aboard the Cutty Sark in Greenwich, where endurance and engulfment took centre stage as the harsh Victorian tale of maritime derring-do unfolded with the story of John Franklin’s doomed 1845 expedition to discover the North West Passage on the Erebus and Terror.

Aboard the Cutty Sark, polar archaeologist Peter Wilson introduced the music with a compelling, funny and informative account of the whole debacle, before the performance of the album itself, bringing to life the traditional and written music left behind by these events. So there are Canadian Voyageur paddling songs, collected from fur-trappers (who were famous for their singing) as well as songs printed onboard ice-bound wintering ships to keep crews entertained. Aside from the broadside ballad “Lady Franklin’s Lament” none of these source songs are “about” Franklin”, but come from the kinds of ships he sailed in, and from fellow polar expeditionaries.

The music opens with “Reason’s Voyage”, drawn from Canadian Airs, a book of songs collected by Lieutenant Back, who was fortunate to survive a deadly, disorganised overland mission with Franklin. “Death of a Gull” as well as “Song of the Sledge” draws its lyrics from The North Georgia Gazette, printed on-board the ship Resolute during the first search fruitless for the Franklin Expedition. More died in search of Franklin than on Franklin’s expedition itself. The Resolute was abandoned in winter ice, discovered by an American whaler the following spring, and towed back to the US, gifted to Queen Victoria, and eventually broken up. Its timbers make up the table at the Oval Office. That’s where Donald Trump puts his hands.

On the cramped stage Nichols moves between concertina, organ, guitar and banjo, drummer Evan Jenkins is in masterful control of time, cracking out pin-sharp rhythm patterns in front of Adam Clitheroe’s excellent polar film projections, while Richard Warren’s guitar voyages between the two poles of reverb and tremolo, teasing an icy, epic range of tones. For the set closers, the famous broadside ballad “Lady Franklin’s Lament” - a key inspiration for a young Bob Dylan – is given a driven, urgent treatment, and there’s a poignant closer in "Wild Wild Wanderer", from The North Georgia Gazette once again, in which a ship’s dog runs off with wolves. Most likely to be eaten, as some of Franklin’s crew were – by each other. That’s the price you pay for derring-do.


More died in search of Franklin than on Franklin’s expedition itself


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Great review of a great evening - What's more the band's new release 'Franklin' is a remarkable album!

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