Sings Harry, Bill and Mick:
A Celebration of Douglas Lilburn and Denis Glover
A Recital programme featured in the 2015 Australia and New Zealand Festival of Literature and Arts.
To celebrate the centenary of the birth of Douglas Lilburn Christopher Bowen and Lindy Tennent Brown performed his songcycle Sings Harry ~ New Zealand’s most enduring collection of songs. The recital premiered two new works inspired by Sings Harry and based on Denis Glover’s other man-alone characters Arawata Bill and Old Mick.
Denis Glover is one New Zealand’s greatest poets. In his poetry, three characters loom large: Harry, Arawata Bill and Old Mick. Each character inhabits a different New Zealand landscape. Harry the back country farm; Bill the mountains of South Westland and Mick the coast of Banks Peninsula. Glover’s poetry conjures their environment and their individual struggles. Denis Glover’s biographer Gordon Ogilvie writes “Harry, Arawata Bill, and Mick Stimpson, with their brooding, lyric, restless souls and crusty self-reliance are now key man-alone figures in our literature. They are also versions of Glover himself.”
Listen here to an interview with Eva Radich
These songs will not stand -
The wind and the sand will smother.
Not I but another
Will make songs worth the bother:
Denis Glover (pictured here) wrote Sings Harry after returning to New Zealand from naval service in World War II. Often autobiographical, Sings Harry is set in the South Island back country. Harry is by turn defiant, regretful and nostalgic.
Douglas Lilburn wrote his Sings Harry songcycle in 1953 in what Jack Body described as his “search for a New Zealand voice, music that belongs to this place.” Reminiscent of his tutor in London, Vaughan Williams, it is simple and folky at times yet always well-crafted and evocative.
Some people shave in the mountains
But not so
Arawata Bill, who let his whiskers grow
William O’Leary spent years prospecting for gold in the mountains of South Westland but found none. Enticed into the hills in a quest for riches Glover’s Arawata Bill blusters, protests and ends up deranged and cared for by the Little Sisters of the Poor. Glover finds the gold on the mountain tops at dawn and “in your own questing soul, rich in faith and a wild surmise.”
Patrick Shepherd’s Arawata Bill is a lyrical journey through spoken poetry, unaccompanied recitative, some quirky songs and a smattering of grandeur.
You were these hills and the sea.
In calm, or the winter wave and snow.
Lie then peaceful among them,
The hills iron, the quiet tides below.
Mick Stimpson was an Irish fisherman on Banks Peninsula and he appears in Towards Banks Peninsula compiled and published a year before Denis Glover’s death. Mick was Denis Glover’s sailing and drinking companion and the poems are a memorial to Mick and a contemplation of death.
Lyell Cresswell’s Old Mick is a dark and brooding soundscape sometimes calm and often turbulent.