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Norfolk journey inspires new music

PUBLISHED: 17:33 29 August 2019 | UPDATED: 09:44 03 September 2019

Kevin Flanagan has written a piece of music based on his walk along Peddars Way   Picture: Denise Bradley

Kevin Flanagan has written a piece of music based on his walk along Peddars Way Picture: Denise Bradley

©Archant Photographic 2010

Each church has a new tune as part of music created by a composer who has worked with some of the biggest names in the industry

Kevin Flanagan  Picture: Cat MunroeKevin Flanagan Picture: Cat Munroe

For five days musician Kevin Flanagan walked the Peddars Way, playing his saxophone in each church he passed, and camping each night beneath the stars or the forest canopy.

This autumn he returns to the path for three performances of the music he composed for it.

The Peddars Way is a piece for a violin, cello, voice and keyboard, inspired by the ancient route through Norfolk. It incorporates music for 13 of the churches Kevin passed, as well as the chants of monks, and the words of Boudicca's final speech to the Iceni people.

Kevin, of Hundon, near Clare in Suffolk, has played and recorded with artists including Ben E King, BB King, Pink Floyd, the Sex Pistols, and Led Zeppelin, and at festivals across the UK and Europe. He grew up in the USA, moving to Britain in the 1980s, and said: "One of the things that has never ceased to excite me since living in Europe is the visible overlay of older cultures. Ancient trackways, drove roads, lost villages existing as nothing but grass hummocks, Roman roads - thousands of years of history at any given point."

Wall paintings at St Mary the Virgin Church in Houghton on the Hill . Picture: Matthew Usher.Wall paintings at St Mary the Virgin Church in Houghton on the Hill . Picture: Matthew Usher.

He walked Peddars Way last summer, in a week of scorching heat and torrential downpours,

"Although I've done a lot of composing and playing, this is the first combining the locality and history in such a direct way," said Kevin, who

also lectures in musical composition, history and jazz at Anglia Ruskin University.

He particularly loved setting out in the cool of the morning. "And just being outside all day in the wind and the birdsong, and then stepping into a church and blowing the first note. Each space has a unique resonant signature; the day-long quiet sensitises you, and some are quirkier than others. For instance, John Ward, the sound engineer who returned with me later in the autumn to analyse some of the churches' natural reverberation kept insisting we return to the ancient Saxon church at Newton, near Castle Acre, as he found it so interesting. And everyone in all the churches I came in o contact with was wonderful - all those wardens and vicars deserve medals for their day-to-day hospitality. I suppose I was pilgrim of sorts, after all."

Kevin's luggage for his Peddars Way walkKevin's luggage for his Peddars Way walk

Kevin used the map co-ordinates of each church within his music - counting up a scale in half-steps to translate the numbers into a group of notes. So tunes for each church, pitched perfectly for each interior, are woven into The Peddars Way.

He began his walk at the ruined church of Stanton, near Ixworth, in Suffolk, and finished beside the sea at Holme, near Hunstanton, stopping to play and record his saxophone at the churches of Brettenham, East Wretham, Threxton, Houghton St Mary, North Pickenham, Sporle, Castle Acre, Newton, Little Massingham and Fring. At Tottington he caught just a glimpse of the church, in the Ministry of Defence training area, to a soundtrack of gunfire. "I realised later, to my horror, that Ringstead also fell within my criteria of being within one Roman mile of the way," said Kevin. "Whoops - next time!

The project is one of a series Kevin is creating, inspired by landscape artists such as Richard Long and Andy Goldsworthy, but using contemporary music to link communities with their geography and history. The 13 sections of The Peddars Way, each based on a tune derived from the longitude and latitude coordinates of a church, are layered with Boudicca's speech as reported by Roman historian Tacitus, and some early church plainchant.

It will be performed at Brettenham, near Thetford, Sporle, near Swaffham, and Fring, near Snettisham, this autumn by Kevin, with violinists Brenda Stewart, who is vicar of Wells, Holkham, Warham and Wighton, and her husband Steve Bingham, plus cellist Jon Fistein, pianist Paul Jackson and singer Jessica Lawrence-Hares.

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"In order to fund the performances, I was lucky enough to get a grant from the excellent PRS Foundation, to bring contemporary music into places where it doesn't usually go," said Kevin.

Brettenham church secretary and treasurer Mary Wright said: "This is a very special concert for the church. We were closed for many, many years. Now to have had a visitor play in the church, and then a subsequent concert commissioned, which it is to host, is just amazing and rather exciting for us." She said the ancient church, which has a Norman doorway and is known for two particularly fine restorations in the 19th and early 20th centuries, was only been rededicated two years ago, after being closed for major repairs for around 15 years.

Now there are Sunday services once a month, plus celebrations for events such as harvest. Last summer Kevin walked through the hamlet, stopping to borrow the key from Mary to visit to the church and play his saxophone. It was the start of a journey which brings him back to Peddars Way next Saturday September 7 for the first performance of his The Peddars Way suite.

Next Saturday, September 7, he returns to St Andrew's again, for the first performance of his The Peddars Way suite.

The Peddars Way will be performed at St Andrew's, Brettenham, on Saturday September 7; St Mary's, Sporle, near Swaffham, on September 14; Stapleford Granary Arts Centre, Cambridge, on October 4; All Saints, Fring, near Snettisham, on October 19; and at the King's Lynn Festival Too next summer.

Tickets for the Brettenham concert, at 7pm on Saturday September 7, are £7.50, including home-cooked refreshments, with proceeds going to the church. Contact Mary Wright for tickets or more details at marywright@brettenhammanor.co.uk or 01842 755319.

Tickets for the Sporle concert at 7pm on September 14 are £6, including light refreshments, from June Palmer on 01760 721841 or on the door.

Tickets for the Fring concert are available from Avril Wright on 07932 105145 or on the door.

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