I have just taken a walk, or possibly an extreme hike, down memory lane, by attending the recording of Thread! a 20-minute piece for narrator and ensemble written in early 1981. This musical illustration of the Bayeux Tapestry (including its text, visible in the upper border) was written for the New Music Group of Scotland, and played by them a few times in the early years. But thereafter it slipped out of view, and it’s only thanks to my Boston-based friend Rodney Lister, who has directed the piece a few times over the succeding decades mostly with student groups, that I hadn’t completely forgotten the sound of the music.
Thanks to another generous colleague, composer Bernard Hughes, 'Thread!' was suggested as an extra track for a forthcoming CD which will feature Alexander Armstrong as narrator. It seemed to me a key factor in my piece’s reappearance that its publisher, Novello, had in the 1980s issued a facsimile score of my (particularly scrawled and in-a-hurry) handwriting, thus giving Bernard an actual object to rediscover several decades later. The Orchestra of the Swan, under Tom Hammond, navigated the quite considerable difficulties of the score in a most gracious way; and I must also thank publishers Music Sales for making a new, readable, digital edition for this recording.
After all that, my feeling was mostly of relief – that the music didn’t seem weird and outlandish (except in the acceptable ways) after all those years, and that the performers didn’t consider it to be impractical and out of the question for one 4-hour recording session. Thirty-eight years is nevertheless quite a long time to wait for reassurance.
Picture – In our original, 1981, performances (conducted by wonderful Edward Harper, and with marvellous narration by Roger Savage) quite a bit of the percussion was actually objects we’d found lying around – I remember some metal lumps from a beach in Fife, and some old wooden bits off a heap in Glasgow. In the spirit of musical authenticity, OOTS percussionist Tim Farmer kindly reconstructed these ‘aluminium can chimes’; the originals I recall being Tennent’s Lager empties.