Show of Hands, Jim Carter, Imelda Staunton, Centenary:

Words and Music of the Great War


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Most of the music of the First World War was belted out in music halls, or sung in the trenches, or played by pipers in no man's land, so at first it seems an odd fit to combine some of the famous tunes of the Great War with the West Country folk band Show of Hands. Does it work? Partly. The band's new compositions, The Gamekeeper, and a musical version of the A E Housman poem The Lads in Their Hundreds, are subtle and wistful; versions of anthems such It's A Long Way to Tipperary, which uses beatbox and harmonica, are more awkward.

A second CD, which features Jim Carter and Imelda Staunton performing First World War poetry, is more successful. Show of Hands provide the musical backdrop, but it's the words that jab and thrust. Siegfried Sassoon's The General, for instance, still has astonishing power in its seven, short lines ("he did for them both by his plan of attack") and the other highlights - especially Lamplight by May Wedderburn Cannan and Sassoon's To Victory - are just as good.

But it's the tone of the readings that's right: celebratory, not mournful and occasionally hopeful.