Home » Performances » Bringing the past to life

Bringing the past to life

Last week the Canal & River Trust uploaded a video of the piece they commissioned from me, Idle Women and Judies, about the women who operated the working canal boats during WW2. Do take a look http://youtu.be/Q1W-FetEHcE  See below for more information about the piece.

I performed a live version at the Waterways Museum in Gloucester on Saturday and was really pleased with this BBC Radio Gloucestershire interview I recorded to promote the event. There are 5 days left to listen to it by clicking the link http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02b4j0y. I’m on after about 2:40.

My Comments book now has some new entries from people in the audiences at Gloucester:

Thank you for a very informative performance. Ollie aged 4 thoroughly enjoyed it. Les Abbott

Thank you for an excellent and inspiring performance. I’ve learned a lot about a lost world. Edward Elgar (honest!)

Thank you for joining us for such a wonderful performance. You really brought the museum alive.
Cathy Jones, Assistant Manager, Gloucester Waterways Museum

Idle Women and Judies by Heather Wastie is an audio piece based on the wartime memories of 3 women: Emma Smith, Nancy Ridgway and Daphne March (Daffy). Emma is the author of Maidens’ Trip, A Wartime Adventure on the Grand Union Canal and Nancy worked on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal; their voices can both be heard in extracts from interviews recorded by the Canal & River Trust. The two voices contrast in such a way as to demonstrate the range of women who took over the working boats while the men went off to war. Snippets from Emma’s book are also woven into the piece, as are some of Daphne’s words taken from an article she wrote after the war (shared online by her niece, Kathryn Dodington).

The 6-minute recording broadly tells the women’s story, from recruitment to redundancy, using their own descriptions, condensed into the form of a poem performed by the author. Because of the war, these women had “crossed a line” into a completely new world and the piece takes the listener into that world, enhanced by the sound of narrow boat engines. The engines were recorded at the 2014 Etruria Canals Festival. I am grateful to Martin Fuller (Clematis) and David Lowe (Swallow) for running their engines so that these recordings could be made and also to Glyn & Rosemary Phillips and Teresa & Roger Fuller for advice as to which were the most appropriate engines!

I have been involved with canals for most of my life, cruising on ex-coal-carrying narrow boat Laurel and, in the early days, getting involved in campaigns to save them from extinction with my father, Alan T Smith, who received an MBE for his services to the inland waterways. As a writer and musician, I particularly enjoy sharing other people’s stories through my writing and I am grateful to the Canal and River Trust for commissioning me to undertake this fascinating and rewarding project.



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