The Tale of The Transports
The Transports Live
Norfolk Chronicle

1977 The Original
- Cast List
- Track List

2004 Peters Friends
- Cast List
- Track List

Track Notes

The first fleet
- The Saga of The First Fleet
- The First Fleet Lists
- Websites

The Tale of The Transports

In 1975, Peter Bellamy was introduced to some historical investigations made by Norfolk historian Eric Fowler, and was particularly captivated by the story of Henry Cabell and Susannah Holmes. Within the story were many of the elements of the Big Ballads - a definable historical reference, human tragedy, romance, myth (Henry’s carrying ashore of the Captain), unlikelihood, death and a conclusive (in this case, happy) ending. Peter himself gave two varying accounts of what happened next: one account suggested that he thought of creating a ballad based around the story - this may have been the root of The Ballad with which The Street-singer links the opera; the other claimed the concept of the opera sprang from his imagination fully formed.

Certainly Peter liked to narrate how the whole opera was written in one mammoth sitting lasting around four days. And as he wrote, Peter cast the opera. This last may have been one of the reasons why he found record companies reluctant to finance the recording and release of the work, for it was clear that the process was guaranteed to be both costly and complex.

He’d tried other record companies before eventually approaching Free Reed, with whom he had been indirectly involved when the label had licensed Barrack Room Ballads for UK release.

“Doing the Deal”
Neil Wayne relates - “It was at that summer’s Poynton Folk Festival when Peter finally agreed that Free Reed should produce his Transports project: I felt that, although our label was neither long-established, nor London-based, nor associated with major companies, Peter had been impressed by our output, which mixed traditional performers (Seamus Ennis, Eddie Butcher) with left-field revival characters (Roaring Jelly, Les Barker), and included a strong instrumental and concertina-based roster, spearheaded by John K’s Plain Capers, and including Old Swan Band, Flowers & Frolics and his own Barrack-Room Ballads”.

“The Recording Sessions”
Peter had maintained close contact with all of the artists for whom he had created roles in the Opera, and now alerted them all that recording sessions were due to get underway in early autumn: a block of time to record the project was set aside at Livingston Studios, in Barnet, north London, with the legendary Nic Kinsey at the desk, but with Peter firmly wearing the ‘producer’ hat!

It should be remembered that this was in the days when the normal process for a folk album was virtually a live recording of an established set, within very strict studio time and budget constraints - Neil recalls that The Old Swan Band’s first LP “No Reels” was recorded with all seven band members sitting in a semi-circle around a crossed pair of microphones, recording straight to stereo on quarter-inch tape! Most tunes were first takes, and the session was barely a day long.

But with Transports, Nic, Peter and Neil were faced with a detailed and complex score, created by Dolly Collins, and orchestrated for a hand-picked consort of musicians from the Early Music movement, and to be played on ‘early’ and Baroque instruments - the Crumhorn, the Serpent, the ‘Garklein-Flötlein’ etc. Plans were for the Consort, under the supervision of Dolly, to record both their Overture, and each ‘backing track for every song in the Opera, and for each artist to then attend Livingston to sing their performance to the orchestral backing.

So, artists’ availabilities were confirmed (Peter had obviously discussed their involvement on a provisional basis already): arrangements were transcribed and the Consort’s musicians engaged. Rehearsals were scheduled. It is often overlooked that, while many of the performers on The Transports were used to accompanying themselves, here they appear purely as singers - a remarkable feat to impose on some of the finest self-accompanists of the folk revival!!

Though Nic and Neil had worked closely together on many previous Free Reed projects recorded at Livingston, Peter and Nic informed him that on this one, “we’ll call you to come down when we need your cheque book”! So, with the nervous support of a virtually blank Free Reed chequebook, the project got under way.

“Consorting with early music”
The British folk revival had entertained several dalliances with the closed and elitist world of “Early Music”: the lively “mediæval” Folk Gryphon had released several Transatlantic LPs - remember “Midnight Mushrumps”? - and their leader Richard Harvey has several solo CDs available of his recorder work. Gryphon’s website is at: www.gaudela.net/gryphon

Others on the folk and folk-rock fringes who wandered into early music included Amazing Blondel, Magna Carta (for a period) and even Donovan in his ‘Flower to a Garden’ period.

The “real” epicentre of the Early Music genre was David Munrow and his Early Music Consort of London, and although he sadly passed away in 1976, his work and his musical collaborators were well-known to Dolly Collins: when Dolly advised Peter about likely musicians that could deliver the sound he wanted for the Transports Consort, she suggested several from the Early Music Consort and its spin-offs, and gathered a group of leading baroque and early music specialists at Livingston to prepare the ground for the singers to come.

“The Swarbrick Saga”
It was during the very early stages of the Consort’s sessions that Neil received a crisis-call from Nic Kinsey with the abrupt message “the fiddler can’t play the solos”. It seemed that the problem lay in the inherent incongruity between the fiddle as played in early music - sedate, un-decorated and ‘off-the-dots’, and that of the folk-based sound that Peter meant the lead fiddle to provide for both the Consort and for the solo song accompaniments - lively, decorated, improvisational and with a nod to the Tradition. Neil made an emergency trip to Barnet, informed the violinist that she could not continue - and faced Peter and Nic with a Milligan-esque ‘What are we gonna do now??’ Quick as a flash, Peter responded “Get Me Swarbrick!”

Peter and Neil made the necessary ‘phone call to Dave Swarbrick, ‘dosh’ arrangements were confirmed, and Neil was despatched that very afternoon on a frantic rescue mission to engage the services of “Folk-Rock’s Finest Fiddler” (already quite familiar with folk opera thanks to his Babbacombe Lee project with Fairport Convention).

Neil recollects “I was to collect Swarb from his home in a back-of-beyond place in deepest Oxfordshire called Cropredy (how times have changed.. Ed) and have distinct memories of driving him back to the studios in London, Swarb with Dolly’s score across his knees as he learned the parts, and with the car’s window wound down to give him elbow-room - or in this case bow-room!”

As can be heard from his contributions, including some very special accompaniments to Peter and others, Swarb very much saved the day.

“Mr Livingston, I presume?” - Recording with Nic
Although Nic Kinsey’s Livingston Studios were most decidedly state-of-the-art (a near replica of Eastlake’s finest..), they were somewhat in a state too - John Renbourn, who considers that some of his finest material came from the skills of Nic, his producer/studio man of choice, recollected in 2001:

“The studio building in East Barnet was a long-deconsecrated Victorian chapel of uncertain denomination, dangerously close to several Abbott Ale pubs and pie shops. The control room had a folk-art quality, for although Nic had recreated the up-market Eastlake design, he’d used objets trouvées and whatever materials came to hand, with elements of church architecture still poking through into the faux hi-tech environment. Later, when his fame spread, and artists came from far and wide to work with him at Livingston Studios - the ‘holy of holies’ - they were usually taken aback by the complete ‘Heath Robinson-ness’ of the studio, and were inevitably thrown for a loop by Nic himself. Of course, it’s to Nic’s engineering skills, and innate good judgment in all matters musical, that we all owe a huge debt. The central part he played in documenting the folk and folk rock phenomena of our time is without doubt - and nobody thought to question “how does he do it?” - It was simply taken for granted that he could.”

“Bert and the 16-track”
Peter’s astute choice of Bert Lloyd to sing the Abe Carman role, threw up a small clash between a founding father’s swaggering, time-slipping singing style, and the electronic rigours of performing to a ghostly Consort on 16-track tape! The early music Consort were long departed, and Bert duly arrived to sing to their Carman backing track; really getting into the piece, he slipped ahead of the track by a couple of beats for a verse or two - the then exhausted desk engineers must have thought he was perchance Balkan-ising the rhythm, for they missed it, and it was only when Peter and Nic returned to hear the recordings that the error was caught! Bert was by then unavailable, and since these were the days before SaDie Digital Disc editors, digital on-screen cut & paste of tracks and other such jiggery-trackery, Nic was called on to ‘fix it’!

He brought out his elderly Revox quarter-inch recorder, and transferred the two voice tracks bearing Bert’s slight slippage from off the 2-inch 16-track tape to a long length of quarter inch tape; this was haphazardly strung around the control room, with the start lined up on the Revox, and then with Nic spread-eagled between the control buttons of both machines, the voice of Bert was dropped into precisely the right spot back on the 16-Track amidst the Serpents and strings of the backing track. Just brilliant.

“Peter’s Pieces”
Although Peter gave himself the largest part in the opera, it was by no means the starring role, since it was both fragmentary and low profile. The part of The Street-singer is effectively that of a continuity announcer, and these sections have neither the starkness of the acapella performances nor the musical complexity of those enhanced by Dolly Collins’ arrangements. They are also brief in comparison to the songs they punctuate, and in many ways feel almost like a breathing space between the set pieces. Not that this is to deny their importance, for it is these ballad excerpts which ensure clarity of narrative, something lacking in almost all similar popular “operas” of the time.
“Snapping it and Packing it”
Free Reed’s Derbyshire HQ was behind a village shop in Duffield, Derbyshire, and one of its regular customers was a rising young artist and photographer Tony Fisher, from nearby Riddings village, Alfreton. On learning from Neil about the impending epic sessions - involving ‘the who’s who of the Revival’ as the buzz put it - he got the OK to spend several weeks at the Livingston sessions, and with a canny sense of their historical significance, Tony photographed the whole series of sessions as a permanent record of the creation of The Transports. Some of his photos were used to create the large poster that was given away with the album, which is much prized today. Only a year or so ago, when a 25th Anniversary re-issue was mooted, did we realise the true permanence of his work, for when Neil contacted Tony at his new Matlock home, he found that every picture and negative had been carefully archived and preserved - all the well-known photos from the poster and the 1977 publicity campaign - and a vast amount of further photographs here appearing for the first time.

Sleeve design and packaging had always been important to both Peter, since his days spent packing records to make ends meet at Transatlantic’s shipping plant, and to Neil, whose growing Mail Order service showed him that some LP packaging could be great as well as grim.

Peter often recalled how some LP sleeves made him want to hear the album immediately, while others, often unfairly, put him off the record unheard, and he was determined that this major work would be packaged properly. He set out some ideas of sleeve design, assisted and guided by long-time Free Reed LP designer Sue Dransfield, and also suggested enhancing the usual gatefold required by a double album to include a libretto book actually bound-in to the centre-fold: here again he was supported by Free Reed in this additional expense; other labels at the time would have simply included an insert featuring the lyrics, often in an almost unreadably-small typeface. Think of Topic albums with their inserted booklet, (following the model of Broadside Records in the U.S.); or of Babbacombe Lee with the lyrics on the inner sleeve; or of the flimsy single sheet which accompanied the Incredible String Band’s U. Even in these cases, the vagaries of distributors and record shops often resulted in the lyric section being separated from its intended album. This was not going to happen with The Transports!

Finally came the marketing of the album - extensive advertising, a poster campaign at point-of-sale and elsewhere (there are still folk clubs with Transports posters on display), t-shirts and the live Premiere of the work. All this, of course, was co-ordinated with a proper release date.

One critic at the time remarked, “At last, a folk release which has received the same care and attention to detail which is afforded to hundreds of less worthy rock albums.”

Neil recalls a few early influences on LP design which still shine through in the ethos of Free Reed’s Revival Masters Box-Sets: “I remember buying the Who’s “Live at Leeds” LP on day of release; not your usual LP sleeve, but a folder of rough heavy duty card, with a ragged Rubber-Stamped title. Then I opened it out, and all sorts of treasures showered out: A Marquee poster! The group’s Woodstock Contract! A few Who concert tickets! Set-lists and more! - I thought I had somehow been sold a special, private issue, with all these rare goodies just for ME!!”

“Later, when I was preparing the first batch of Free Reed releases, I consciously tried to give their potential buyers that similar sort of thrill on opening their purchases: firstly, those LPs were professionally cut & mastered at Porky Peckham’s Master Room studios, enabling running times approaching 55 minutes rather than the 35 minutes common at the time. And the extras? - Plain Capers had a large 6-page booklet on how to dance and play The Morris: Tony Hall’s Fieldvole Music had an article on sea songs by Stan Hugill, and melodeon hints from Tony: Micho Russell’s LP had a learned paper on the traditional music of County Clare, and Micho’s marvellous recollections of his life and music in his own words. - and the Tale of Ale had a gatefold, with posters, Beer Guide, Brewery plans as well as Vic Gammon’s scholarly treatise on the history of Ale & Beer!

“We have tried to continue this with the Revival Masters Box-set series - bags of music, books worthy of their subjects, tune-books, CD-ROMs - and as many ‘bells and whistles’ that we can get in the box!”

“with love from Peter’s friends - the new edition”
When Free Reed had the opportunity to create this Transports silver anniversary edition, the same care was taken with both production and packaging. Artists were given the opportunity to select their favoured recording facilities: they could make use of producers and arrangers of choice, and several opted to self-produce. Significantly, everyone approached was keen to be involved, including some who for various personal or professional reasons were not able to submit tracks on schedule and sadly are therefore not included.

As with previous Revival Masters sets, a book as definitive as possible was planned for this set, to tell several tales: firstly - The History - expanding on the history both of our two Transports, on transportation in general, and on the full story of the First Fleet; secondly, the full tale of Peter’s great creation, from its smoky birth in that Barnet Chapel, its impact on the English folk scene, to its artistic progress around the world; and thirdly, to tell of the love and admiration shown by all of Peter’s friends and colleagues during their collaboration on the new edition CD.

For anyone who enjoys precise background trivia, the story behind the track from the first guests artists to be approached is typical: Helen, Lynda and Maggie - Grace Notes - were close friends of Peter, and of Free Reed’s Nigel Schofield. It was in fact Peter who first encouraged them to sing as a trio. As their debut album included a superb version of Black Bitter Night - an obvious candidate for inclusion - they were a natural choice for an initial discussion about the artistic viability of the concept. They were immediately eager to be involved and suggested instead of reissuing an already available track that they work on a different song (the one included here). After several weeks of rehearsal, they tried out the song as part of a floor spot at Bacca Pipes Folk Club in Keighley - Peter’s home club in the final years of his life and the place where Grace Notes had made their debut. A few weeks later they sang it again in the same venue as the most recent addition to their repertoire at their sell-out 10th anniversary concert. After the arrangement had been sung out a few more times, they recorded the song at Mike Hockenhull’s Oakworth studio - the first new track to be completed for the project.

Throughout the country - from Barford, Banbury, Chesterfield, and particularly from around Keighley where Peter spent the final years of his life, the process was being repeated and one by one the master tapes (or CD-Rs) of each track arrived.