10 Questions with Nicola Harrison.
Nicola Harrison Presents The Becoming & other Tales of the Sea. An innovative musical experience combining poetry, music, percussion and song with musical improvisation and interludes to represent the sea in all its guises. We spoke to Nicola about the show and the challenged faced.
1. Thanks for your time Nicola, how is life treating you at the moment?
ALL EXCELLENT thank you, busy preparing for the Tour and liaising all the different elements, the singers, musicians and the Brixham shanty band Missin’ Tackle who will be leading the shanty singing in all the different areas.
2. We’re here to talk about the tour in October, even though events have now returned, what challenges have you faced putting it together?
It has been tricky, of course, nd like many people we have had to put the tour back a year as all venues had to be closed. We were restricted on rehearsal but managed to get together on Zoom and mark out some of the music. With a show like this, however, its bing physically together as a band and trying out/discussing new music and the shape of the whole show, bouncing off ideas and trying things out with different instruments. This was not possible. So our lead in time is much shorter than we would have planned.
3. Can you tell our readers briefly about the show and what they can expect from it?
This is a new piece of writing and all new music (apart from 3 songs from folk and theatre repertoire – which we arranged with different instrumentation)
It’s a musical of sorts, with poetic storytelling intermingled with long sea interludes, dance, song. The band are there to represent the sound and swell of the sea, with intriguing percussion effects – ocean drums, sea pods, aquaplanes and all manner of brilliant and beguiling sound effects. Gerard, our guitarist, represents the shore, the coast, the deep sea in his playing of different interludes, with thunderous percussion and a deep swell from Pete, our accordionist. I have written all the words – all in poetry or ballad form – and each tells the story of a different sea character. They each have their own music and rhythm…a dancing crab, a selfie in love, a starfish singing of the stars in outer space, a Pirate Girl who wants to be a lady, a Maid on the Shore who is supernatural and stranded by the tide from her ocean home. The main piece in the show – a long sea odyssey poem, is where the show gets its name, and this piece is told as a whole musical narrative, with all four performers working together in an ensemble, using the voice as an instrument.
The Becoming refers to all these creatures and how they find a way of ‘becoming’ who they truly are. The sea unites them all.
Sailors are represented by shanty singers from across the venues with audience participation – led by Brixham shanty group Missin’ Tackle with different singers joining at each venue.
4. You’ve pulled together a team of world-class musicians for the show, what was your criteria for picking them?
The soundscape I was looking for is what determined this. Looking for an authentic sound you might find on board ship, with all the noises you could make on different objects, led by an accordion for that authentic sound. There’s a strong folk element to this mysterious and compelling event – and the shanties sound great when accompanied by accordion and drum. Join a renowned folk percussionist with huge experience, Gerard I have worked with on different shows for many years – a creative and intuitive guitar player, and Pete Watson, well he’s a accordionist at the international top and a great improviser, which is what we needed here.
5. The sea and tales of the sea play a huge part of the story, where does this inspiration come from?
I come from a Cornish family – based in SE Cornwall for several hundred years, but with branches in all directions – down into Cornwall, and further back into Devon.We were a maritime family – a fishing dynasty and naval as well as smugglers of course and – further back in the 1600s – a legacy of piracy. The sea has enveloped my whole life and moving away from the sea, living in landlocked Oxford, for example, brings on this incredible longing for the sea, and what the Welsh call HIRATH – its a kind of love sickness always with me and only alleviated when I am in sight of the ocean. I think of the sea most of the time. I even decked out the interior of my van like a view from a boat, with portholes and stars in the sky and a whole frieze of the ocean along one wall. I love sleeping in there because I feel to be out at sea.
6. Tell us about how you wrote the story, was there a particular place you went to in order to get the creative juices flowing?
The Becoming, which is the big main piece of the show, began in Oxford, with an overwhelming sense of longing, then a section was written in Llantwit Major, South Wales, on that big bouldery beach there, and then the actual voyage was written in a bar overlooking the sea at Cadiz and on a boat from Algeciras to Tangier! These places are mapped into the sea journey that the mermaid has to take once she has ‘become’ on the beach at Llantwit Major!!
7. There appears to be an element of fantasy in the story as well with mermaids and sea creatures, was this something that fascinated you as a child?
Very much so – and more, I believed it – and quite a large part of me still believes in the fables and myths that surround the sea. In addition, the sea is a goddess – who could not admire her?
8. The tour is just around Devon, what was the reason for that and are there any plans to take it nationally?
The original tour also went through Cornwall but this was postponed to May next year because of Covid and restricted seating. There is just one Cornish venue on this tour – Calstock, which is not far from the area my family are from.
9. Just for fun, if you could be any sea creature, which would you be and why?
Now that’s an impossible question! I like the most improbable and intriguing creatures – seahorses, starfish, manatees, kraken, and of course the myth matches – Seals to selkies, manatee to mermaid, octopus to Cecaelia, and strange sea maidens who are never what they seem. I am also intrigued by the danger that goes hand in hand with these hybrids – they are monsters, remember, and they bring destruction!
10. Thanks for your time Nicola, do you have any last words to people who are looking at coming to the show?
Oh, do come, you’ll have an extraordinary time – and talk about it for days afterwards. Also you can join in the shanty singing from the floor – AND – big bonus, we have a dance party at the end of the night. Many thanks Jo x
You can catch this captivating show at the following venues..
Taunton CIC; October 8th tickets https://www.creativeinnovationcentre.co.uk
Crediton Arts Centre; October 9th www.ticketsource.co.uk/creditonartscentre
Ashburton – Arts Centre; October 10th [email protected]
Calstock – Calstock Arts; October 13th Tickets via Event listing at http://calstockarts.org
Brixham – Brixham Theatre – October 15th
Teignmouth – Teignmouth Pavilions; October 16th [email protected]