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Pair bring tales of emigration and slavery to St Albans

PUBLISHED: 07:00 01 May 2018 | UPDATED: 16:20 02 May 2018

Matthew Crampton and Jeff Warner present Human Cargo, Songs & Stores of Emigration, Slavery & Transportation at the Maltings Arts Theatre in St Albans

Matthew Crampton and Jeff Warner present Human Cargo, Songs & Stores of Emigration, Slavery & Transportation at the Maltings Arts Theatre in St Albans

Supplied by James H Soars Media Services

An acclaimed storyteller and an American folk music legend bring their new show based on stories of emigration and slavery to St Albans next week.

Matthew Crampton unites with musician Jeff Warner for Human Cargo: Stories and Songs of Emigration, Slavery and Transportation in St Albans on Friday, May 11.

The show, based on Crampton’s Human Cargo book, is a spellbinding look at migration through historic story and folksong.

Together, the pair cast fresh light on human migration, giving voice to the people actually aboard the slave ships and emigrant boats and, crucially, framing today’s heated issue with history and humanity.

The Maltings Arts Theatre date is the first night of a 16-date national tour leading into UK Refugee Week, which runs from June 18-24.

Matthew Crampton, right, and Jeff Warner present Human Cargo, Songs & Stores of Emigration, Slavery & Transportation at the Maltings Arts Theatre in St AlbansMatthew Crampton, right, and Jeff Warner present Human Cargo, Songs & Stores of Emigration, Slavery & Transportation at the Maltings Arts Theatre in St Albans

Through the accompanying Parallel Lives project, it includes – wherever it performs – local stories of migration and partnership with local refugee and migrant support groups.

In an evening of story and song, Crampton tells true tales of individuals forced into exile in the 18th and 19th centuries.

He weaves these stories through a tapestry of traditional folksong from the time performed by American traditional music legend Warner.

Crampton said: “History usually tells of the rich, the famous and the lucky.

“But what of ordinary people? Folksong helps give them a voice.”

Parallels with today are clear. Crampton added: “Mass migration is a defining dilemma for the world.

“Giving it an historic perspective can detoxify the debate.

“Adding local stories helps people find their own place in the story.”

For example, in 1811 Mary Wilmot was convicted in St Albans of stealing a wooden box and two books, together worth two shillings.

This earned her seven years transportation to New South Wales.

She was then 35 years old, much older than most single women transported to the colony.

But like them, she was soon married – in her case, to convict Daniel Brown, who arrived in the same year. They had six children.

In St Albans, Crampton and Warner will be partnering with Herts Welcomes Syrian Families and St Albans for Refugees, who will be at the event to talk about their work.

Human Cargo is an epic night of story and song, featuring two masters of the craft.

In 2017, Crampton stirred the folk scene with his co-adaptation of Peter Bellamy’s folk ballads The Transports.

Securing full houses and standing ovations in venues across Britain, and again during a second tour in January 2018, critics agreed Matthew’s re-imagining helped lift Bellamy’s brilliant concept to new levels.

Formerly a leading speechwriter, and teacher of rhetoric at places like London’s Globe Theatre, Matthew is now known as a storyteller, author and folk singer, with a growing sideline in music hall.

Jeff Warner is one of America’s foremost interpreters of traditional music.

He has long made Britain his second musical home, arriving each year to tour folk clubs and festivals, where he is well loved for connecting 21st century audiences with the everyday lives of people from past centuries.

Born to one of America’s most eminent families of folksong collectors, Jeff grew up listening to the songs and stories of his father, Frank Warner, and the traditional singers his parents met during their collecting trips through rural America.

A founding officer of Folk Alliance International, and past president of the Country Dance and Song Society, Jeff’s pedigree is matched by his remarkable ability to entertain people from both within and outside the world of folk music.

The performance will also feature stories researched locally, as part of the Parallel Lives project.

Through this, Crampton has formed links with 45 different refugee and migrant support groups.

He said: “There’s an incredible array of local initiatives across Britain – individuals who get together and say, ‘we must help refugees who arrive in our town’.”

Crampton will also research and tell local stories at each tour venue.

“I hunt through original passenger lists from 18th and 19th century ships to find people who’ve migrated from that very town.

“In parallel, I talk of people who have come to live there in recent decades.”

The show’s St Albans partners, Herts Welcomes Syrian Families and St Albans for Refugees, are also working with St Albans Folk Music to organise a follow up benefit event in Refugee Week, involving contributions from Syrian refugees, local historians and musicians plus Syrian food.

Details will be available at the event on May 11.

• Tickets for Human Cargo at the Maltings cost £14, £13 students and concessions, and £10 under-18s.

They are available from St Albans Central Library, by booking online via the Maltings website or at www.ticketsource.co.uk/ovo

You can also call 0333 666 3366 or buy them on the door.

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