For samples of all the songs with pictures of the people and places go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCOJcUd9_hA
A new collection of songs written and performed by Moirai, who are Jo Frey, Sarah Matthews and Mel Biggs. The songs are about the plot to murder David Lloyd Geoge in 1917. Alice Wheeldon and her daughter Winnie Mason & son-in-law Alf Mason, were imprisoned for conspiracy to murder. Alice and her family were strong socialists, great opponents of the war and supporters of Conscientious Objectors. Their stance was considered not to be in support of the war effort and the conviction was brought at a big show trial surrounded by massive publicity. They had been set-up by two undercover agents working for MI5. The family argued that the murder plan was fabricated. A fantasy “a story so strange that it seems hardly to relate to the world of reality”.
In 1917, during WW1 Alice Wheeldon and her daughter Winnie Mason & son-in-law Alf Mason, were imprisoned for conspiracy to murder David Lloyd George, Prime Minister, and Arthur Henderson, Chairman Labour Party. Hettie Wheeldon was acquitted. Leave to appeal the convictions was refused. They had been set-up by two undercover agents working for MI5.
The family argued that the murder plan was fabricated. A fantasy “a story so strange that it seems hardly to relate to the world of reality”. Today the campaign to clear their names for this miscarriage of justice is being well supported, including by Alice’s great granddaughter Chloë Mason. This picture is of Moirai with Cloe Mason.
On Boxing Day 1916, Alice Wheeldon was at home in Derby with her husband, and daughters, Nellie and Hettie. Alexander MacDonald, a conscientious objector (CO) who was a family friend was also staying in their household. Alice’s youngest daughter, Winnie, had married Alf Mason in 1915 and had moved to Southampton; there they supported Will Wheeldon, Alice’s son, a CO due to appear again before a military tribunal.
That night, a man “Alex Gordon” came to the door, posing as a CO needing shelter. Over the next days during their conversation, Alice told him her worries about her CO son. “Alex Gordon” told her of an emigration route to the USA possible for use by COs. He raised his own problem of freeing his friends from a detention camp guarded by dogs.
Alice entered into an agreement with “Alex Gordon” – he was to help her get her ‘three boys’ to America, and in return Alice was to obtain poison for him to use on the dogs at the detention camp. At Alice’s request, Winnie and Alf sent poison (curare) for dogs. Two days later, “Alex Gordon” introduced his friend, Herbert Booth, another undercover agent, and wrote the letter of introduction for the emigration scheme, and Alice gave the poison to Gordon (on 4 January 1917). In front of press cameras, the family were arrested at the end of January 1917 – instant “tabloid villains”.
The trial was widely publicised and used as propaganda to continue the war to the bitter end, and to demonise the peace movement. ‘Alex Gordon’ was not produced in court, only Herbert Booth. Alice Wheeldon, Winnie and Alf Mason were convicted. In prison, Alice went on hunger strike protesting her innocence; she was released on licence and died in 1919.
For further reading and to follow the campaign visit: www.alicewheeldon.org
1 - Prologue
(Lyrics & Melody Sarah Matthews)
This piece tells of our connection to Alice, her family and Derby where she lived and worked in her secondhand clothes shop at 12 Pear Tree Road.
2 - I Didn’t Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier
(Original verse and chorus lyrics Alfred Bryan and original melody Al Piantadosi / Additional overlapping lyrics and melodies Jo Freya)
Based on "I Didn't Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier" an American anti-war song that was influential within the pacifist movement that existed in the USA before it entered WW1. This was the earliest anti war song to be scored and recorded as far as we are aware. Three differing sets of lyrics and melodies are laid on top of each other at the end to demonstrate the complexity of views at the time.
3 - Bottom Up!
(Lyrics & Melody Jo Freya)
The first Clarion Cycling Club was formed in 1895 in Birmingham with clubs then springing up all over the UK. Whilst expounding the benefits of fresh air and exercise, in a time when many couldn’t afford cars, they were also hotbeds of Socialist propaganda and activism producing flyers and newspapers spreading the word as widely as possible. In Derby, Alice and her three daughters were all active members frequently running children’s clubs, soup kitchens and fundraisers. Each summer, a group of women cyclists would head off across the country in ‘caravans’ with a pony and cart full of Socialist leaflets distributing them as they saw fit - sometimes on rocks, trees or cows!
4 - My Door Is Always Open
(Lyrics & Melody Sarah Matthews)
Introducing Alice, the mother to all. Alice was a well-known and much respected character in Derby. Her son, Willie, and three daughters, Nellie, Hettie and Winnie, were all teachers in local schools. Alice fought for them to have a good life and stood up for what she believed was right. She’s known to have spoken out for others less fortunate in her community, provided food and clothing and she sent money overseas to help workers’ uprisings in Ireland.
5 - Alice
(Melody Sarah Matthews)
An eight-time waltz inspired by the complex character that was Alice Wheeldon.
6 - Proper Gander
(Lyrics Mel Biggs, Jo Freya & Sarah Matthews / The tune to the verses is based on the chorus of ‘Oh that Gorgonzola Cheese’ by Harry Champion with an additional chorus written by Moirai)
In the early 1900s, the socialist movement campaigned for workers’ rights and better standards of living. Some of their views on equality, diet and exercise, healthcare, animal welfare, women’s rational dress and appearance were regarded as outrageous and unheard of at the time. The lifestyle that Alice and her family strived for was, in their view, something that should be widely available to all for the betterment of all souls. Ironically, it is the idealistic lifestyle that many choose to lead nowadays.
7 - DORA Is Here For You
(Lyrics & Melody Sarah Matthews)
A powerful song painting the political picture at home in the UK, the introduction of the Defence Of The Realm Act (DORA), and life in 1914. This song tells us why the government felt it needed to make an example of Alice and her family and keep them quiet for the good of the War, King and country.
8 - Perfect Puppet Pt. 1 / Puppet Waltz
(Lyrics Mel Biggs & Sarah Matthews / Melodies Mel Biggs)
The introduction of ‘Alex Gordon’ (or was that his name?) a complex character working as an undercover agent for PMS2, an offshoot of MI5. Alex was sent to Derby posing as a conscientious objector (CO) to hunt down and report back on any anti-war activity he found. Initially his work centred around socialist workers at the Rolls-Royce factory which supplied most of the country’s ammunition and was a suspected hot spot for sabotage. He was referred across to Hettie Wheeldon who by then was secretary of the No-Conscription Fellowship (NCF). Alex turned up on Alice’s door step on 27th December 1916 and by the next day he reported back implicating Alice and her family in the poison plot to kill Prime Minister Lloyd George and Arthur Henderson.
9 - Pulled Strings
(Melody Jo Freya)
A complex melody in 10/8 time to represent the pre-trial turmoil of industrial unrest in munitions, opposition of conscription and the War, and the cunning guile of ‘Alex Gordon’ to infiltrate and befriend people.
10 - Poison Plot
(Lyrics Jo Freya / Melody Sarah Matthews)
The simplicity of the unaccompanied voice here tells the story, as we know it, of the manipulation and entrapment of Alice Wheeldon by government officials.
11 - Courtroom Scene
(Lyrics & Melody Jo Freya)
The Courtroom proceedings, sentencing and Alice’s disbelief of what was happening to her and her family. This was probably the first Big Show Trial by media as the story had blown up in the newspapers all over the world. Initially held in The Guildhall Derby, the trial was moved to the Old Bailey in London - a more prestigious platform - as directed by Attorney General FE Smith who prosecuted the case himself. The family’s lawyer was inexperienced and ineffectual. During the trial, one juror became ill so he was replaced and the trial re-commenced and was rushed through in three days! Alice’s exasperated silences were taken as her being guilty. Alice, Win and Hettie used language in their private letters (intercepted by police) and behaved in a way thought to be vulgar and unladylike. The cards were stacked against them from the start.
12 - Twisted Round
(Melody by Jo Freya)
This uneven piece in seven time represents the discomfort, confusion and unsettled feelings of Alice and her family as the unbelievable became reality.
13 - Letter From Hettie To Aunt Lid
(Lyrics & Melody Sarah Matthews)
Lyrics drawn from the words of a letter from Hettie Wheeldon to Aunt Lid (a close family friend) in Derby on 16th February 1917. She indicates her disgust at her treatment and the establishment in general and tells Aunt Lid not to come and visit her in prison as “even walls and keyholes they have ears”. You will be drawn in by Hettie’s strength, eloquence and wit.
14 - Perfect Puppet Pt. 2 / Puppet Waltz
(Lyrics Mel Biggs & Sarah Matthews / Melodies Mel Biggs)
This second part of the Perfect Puppet explores who was this man ‘Alex Gordon’? How did the government manage to manipulate him to behave in this way? Our initial research about him lead us to believe he was the ‘baddie’ in this story. But upon talking further about him to Chloë Mason (Alice’s Great Granddaughter) she came forth with information that shed light on his troubled and turbulent past. Including embargoed documents and explanations that Gordon and others were paid bonuses for reporting exciting scoops. This gave us new perspectives on his character reflected here in this song.
15 - Win To Hett
(Melody by Mel Biggs)
Charm and sensitivity; this is a sentimental piece from sister to sister as if written from within the confines of prison. Win was incredibly worried about her Mother’s health during their time together at Aylesbury Prison. To start with they were rostered to share breaks together in the yard, but later this changed and Alice was moved to Holloway without Win knowing. The pain and anguish Win must have suffered not knowing what had happened to her Mam is unthinkable.
16 - Alice The Soldier
(Lyrics & Melody Sarah Matthews inspired by “I Didn’t Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier” original score by Bryan & Piantadosi)
Alice takes a quiet moment on her own in the dead of night to reflect on her situation in prison and her worries for her boy, Will, and others left ‘out there’.
17 - What Am I Here For?
(Lyrics & Melody Mel Biggs & Sarah Matthews)
Inspired by Alice Wheeldon’s own words from letters and detailed accounts of her behaviour in prison. This song shows Alice’s anger and frustration by day and uses some of her own feisty words and phrases, but her vulnerability and sadness become more evident as night falls. She didn’t give up the fight and rallied round for better prison conditions for all even from within the prison walls. The time signature of this piece is complex to reflect Alice’s experience in prison.
18 - Round Up
(Lyrics & Melody Jo Freya)
This piece completes the story of the key players of the Wheeldon and Mason family members from 1919 onwards. Alice, Win and Alf (Win’s husband) were sentenced to 10, 5 and 7 years penal servitude, respectively. Alice was released on license due to her deteriorating health from hunger striking. Win and Alf were released in April 1919. Will, who was imprisoned as a CO, was released along with other COs at the amnesty. Nell, who did not play a large part in this story and isn’t mentioned in this song, took a boat to America and became an organiser for the Laundresses Union.
19 - Hettie’s Now With Mam
(Lyrics & Melody Jo Freya)
Verses based on the words of a letter by Winnie Mason to Aunt Lid on 14th Nov 1920. An emotional outpouring for the loss of this wonderful woman, Hettie.
20 - Ivy And Tulips
(Lyrics Sarah Matthews / Melody Mel Biggs)
Inspired by the words of John S. Clarke spoken at Alice Wheeldon’s funeral including a quote from P.B. Shelley’s poem about John Keats, printed in the Derby Mercury on Wednesday 26th February 1919. Despite being written about Alice’s funeral, this is a celebration song of Alice’s life and legacy. Through the words of Shelley and Clarke, and Alice’s own attitude to life, we find the strength to continue to fight for what we believe in today.
If you’ve not encountered them before, Moirai, named for the Greek goddesses of destiny, the Derby trio comprise Jo Freya, Mel Biggs and Sarah Matthews and this is their third album and the story it tells is well worth exploring.
In March 1917, Wheeldon, a Derby-born supporter of suffrage, daughter Winnie Mason and son-in-law Alf Mason, were convicted of conspiracy to murder the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, and Arthur Henderson, the Labour Party chairman and refused leave to appeal.
Much of the evidence was fabricated by Alexander Gordon and Herbert Booth, undercover government agents respectively posing as conscientious objector and deserter, who set them up in an attempt to undermine the anti-war movement. Wheeldon was released on licence that December and died of ill-heath in 1919, with the campaign to clear their names still ongoing.
This fascinating album tells of events from the perspectives of different characters through the contemporary lens of the three musicians.
Accompanied by drone and bodhran, Matthews starts things off establishing the family and political background in the Prologue before the voices join in harmony for a version of I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier. An adaptation of the 1915 anti-war song by Canadian writer Alfred Bryan, here overlapping with two further differing sets of lyrics and melodies by Freya to underscore the debates of the period, the song also inspiring Matthews’ brief unaccompanied Alive The Soldier as she reflects on her situation.
A jaunty contrast is presented with Bottom Up! a melodeon driven music hall style nod to the Clarion Cycling Club, first established in Birmingham, which proliferated to become a hotbed of socialist activism. Wheeldon and her three daughters all being members. From here, My Door Is Always Open introduces Wheeldon, a well-respected member of the Derby community who sold second-hand clothes from her shop on Pear Tree Road, followed by instrumental fiddle waltz Alice.
Her political activities campaigning for women’s rights are the basis of Proper Gander, a lively wheezing tune based around Harry Champion’s music hall favourite Oh That Gorgonzola Cheese moving on to DORA Is Here For You, a clarinet-coloured number noting the 1914 introduction of the Defence of the Realm Act intended to suppress the supposedly ’destabilising’ work of such as Wheeldon.
This leads on to Perfect Puppet Part 1 and the acapella Poison Plot which, interpolated by the clarinet-led instrumental Pulled Strings, unfold the conspiracy and her entrapment, followed by the trial in the Freya-penned Courtroom Scene and seven time fiddle instrumental Twisted Round. Part 2 of Perfect Puppet, which arrives later, explores ’Alex Gordon’ from a new perspective.
The sombre drone setting of Letter From Hettie to Aunt Lid draws on a letter by Wheeldon’s daughter to a family friend about her abhorrent treatment while in Holloway prison (she was subsequently acquitted) and, sustaining the framework, the unaccompanied Win To Hett imagines a letter between the sisters. It then moves into the final stretch with What Am I Here For? a musically complex number inspired by Wheeldon’s own defiant letters from prison before the fiddle-backed Round Up details what happened next to the key players with Hettie’s Now With Mam again based on a letter to Aunt Lid as Winnie laments her sister’s death in 1920.
It ends with fluttering melodeon on Ivy and Tulips, a number by Matthews and Biggs inspired by the words spoken at Wheeldon’s funeral and quoting Shelley’s poem about Keats in celebration of her legacy and in tribute to those who continue the fight for what is right.
To complete the picture, while not part of the story here, it should also be noted that Alice had another daughter, Nellie, who wasn’t involved in events and moved to America where she became a Laundresses Union organiser, and a son, Willie, who emigrated to Russia in 1921, took citizenship and was executed on Christmas Day 1937 during the Stalinist purges.
This is an important and compelling album that tells a powerful and very human story of establishment injustice without hectoring and, drawing on music hall and folk traditions, with memorable tunes and lyrics that are as accessible as they are resonant with today.
I’m sometimes amazed at the historical material that musicians succeed in writing about, from Gary Miller’s epic Mad Martins to Amy Goddard’s poignant ‘Remembering Aberfan’. I think that Moirai have outdone them all with Framed. It tells how Alice Wheeldon and members of her family were imprisoned for plotting to poison David Lloyd George and Labour party chairman Arthur Henderson. Now, Lloyd George was a somewhat controversial figure but thankfully Moirai spare us a chorus of ‘Lloyd George Knew My Father’, allegedly referring to his sexual activities. Alice and her family were pacifists, socialists and anti-conscription and the feeling now is that they were, indeed, framed. There is an on-going campaign to clear their names and you can read more about the story by following the link below.
Almost all of the album is written by Melanie Biggs, Jo Freya and Sarah Matthews. After Sarah’s ‘Prologue’ they further set the scene with ‘I Didn’t Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier’, a popular American anti-war song. They succeed in subtle ways to evoke the musical styles of the period – a brief borrowing from Harry Champion sets up ‘Proper Gander’, a description of the lifestyle pursued by Alice and her associates. That is followed by ‘DORA Is Here For You’; DORA being the Defence Of The Realm Act which was the blunt instrument used to bring the charges.
The songs are interspersed with instrumentals written to reinforce the changing moods of the album – do I need to tell you that the story doesn’t end well? ‘Twisted Round’, a piece in seven time by Jo, represents the confusion of the trial and ‘Win To Hett’ by Mel, is a melancholy tune representing their time in prison. There is defiance in ‘What Am I Here For?’, based on words taken from Alice’s letters and prison records but the story does end in sadness and Alice’s funeral.
I can’t help thinking that politics haven’t changed much over the last century. The government strengthens its grip on power and socialists are reviled, it all sounds so familiar. Framed may be a story from history but it’s also an album for our times.
I have to say that I first approached this album with slight trepidation - I'm not always very fond of "project" albums where I find the undoubted worthiness of the subject matter sometimes overpowers the musical enjoyment.
I needn't have worried! This is not only a project that tells a fascinating and very relevant story, it is also an album of fine songwriting and beautiful instrumental performances by the three women that make up Moirai: Jo Freya, Mel Biggs and Sarah Matthews.
As the story unfolds, it is told from different viewpoints of characters within the story, and also from the contemporary viewpoints of the musicians. It tells the story of the terrible injustice and conspiracy inflicted by the Establishment against Alice Wheeldon and her family during and after WW1. She was set up and framed for the attempted assassination of David Lloyd George, in order to silence her anti-war peace activism. Alice's steadfastness and bravery in standing up to a corrupt system is what inspired this album, and it infuses the music throughout.
The prologue, beautifully sung by Sarah Matthews, explains how she came across and was inspired by Alice's story. Sarah's lovely voice begins a cappella but is soon joined by instruments and other voices in a stirring, rhythmic piece that sets the tone perfectly.
Background to the story is laid out by the inventive arrangement of "I didn't raise my Boy to be a Soldier", in which three conflicting opinions about participation in military action are woven together into a fascinating harmonic structure that parallels the debates of the time.
"Bottom Up" is a catchy tune about the popular cycling social groups that became the bedrock of working class socialist and pacifist activism, especially for women who could not be full participants in the political world. We are then introduced to Alice herself in "My Door is Always Open". She is portrayed as a warm, generous woman deeply committed to her community and to helping those who need it. The following instrumental piece "Alice" builds from a gorgeous melody line into a complex inter-weaving of instruments that is composed to reflect Alice's complex character. "Proper Gander" continues the theme of women getting involved as activists in opposition to the then prevailing view of how women should behave.
In "DORA" we learn about how socialists and activists like Alice and her family were seen as a serious threat to the stability of the British state, against whom it was deemed necessary to take action. It tells how Alice was entrapped in the spurious assassination conspiracy. The story is continued in "Poison Plot" which has some of my favourite lines of lyrics for ages:
"Like a flea borne by rats,
she carries the plague
of words that are falling on ears.
Ears that so far like to reason and think
That she might have the truth, as they stand on the brink
Of supporting - or hating - this War."
- Brilliant writing by Jo Freya!
The next couple of songs set out the sequence of injustices inflicted on the Wheeldons spiral as they are imprisoned and scapegoated to deter others from protesting against the War. The appalling treatment in prison and emotional torture as they are kept isolated from other family members is movingly told in the setting to music of a defiant letter from Alice to a relative on the outside.
I don't want to give away the end of the story, but I think it very important to say how well this album works as a collection of songs and tunes that work together to draw the listener in. It feels like watching a powerful drama on BBC2. There is nothing obvious or cliched in the writing. The songs and tunes are lyrically inventive and musically complex, but throughout, there is a sense of strong melody and rhythm that makes many of these pieces really stick in the mind and resonate well after listening has finished.
The instrumentation is always understated, but always beautifully arranged and expertly performed is styles that blend Music Hall, traditional folk and contemporary forms with real skill. The vocals are consistently clear and strong. The whole album is a beautifully thoughtful and thought-out composition that deserves to be heard by as many people as possible, not least because so many of its themes and observations are as relevant to our social and political situation today as they were a century ago.
Moirai – literally, “spinners of destiny” – comprises Jo Freya, Mel Biggs and Sarah Matthews, three very talented women with a considerable reputation in the folk world. And exceptional singers each one, while instrumentally Jo is a woodwind specialist (clarinet/sax/whistle) best known for her membership of Blowzabella; Melanie is an exceptional melodeonist and is considered a leading light in the world of melodeon teaching, and Sarah is a superb violin player teamed up with Doug Eunson and the band Cupola. Together they are a (refreshingly guitar-less) force to be reckoned with, delivering a very special and distinctive blend of timbres.
Following in the wake of a pair of eminently satisfying CDs – Sideways (2015) and Here And Now (2017) – their latest project might be regarded as a full-blown concept album, in that its songs together tell a particular story. This concerns the plot to murder the then-Prime-Minister David Lloyd George and the Labour Party chairman Arthur Henderson, in 1917: a fantastical plot for which Alice Wheeldon, a strong socialist and staunch peace activist, was framed – both to demonise the peace movement generally and in an attempt to silence any anti-war sentiments considered detrimental to the war effort. A big show trial was held, surrounded by massive publicity, and as a result, Alice and her daughter and son-in-law were imprisoned for conspiracy. Alice went on hunger strike to protest her innocence, was released on licence and died in 1919. And today the campaign to clear the names of Alice and her relatives for this miscarriage of justice is being well supported, and this new Moirai CD will help greatly in raising awareness of Alice’s story.
The impetus for this project came from Sarah, who initially discovered Alice’s story and was inspired to put together this collection of songs. It tells Alice’s story from the viewpoints of various characters as well as presenting a contemporary perspective on the events and issues raised by the injustice, all of which amounts to a conspiracy by the Establishment that seems never to have been acknowledged let alone atoned for.
The vast majority of the album’s songs are original compositions by Moirai members and are suitably idiomatically crafted, predominantly within the area that straddles folk and popular/music-hall-style song and invariably with a keen sense of melody and rhythm with lyrics that combine nostalgia and realism with a thoroughly genuine feeling for, and understanding of, the plight of the protagonists. The Prologue explains the circumstances in which Sarah came across and became inspired by Alice, a common connection having been identified with her family and Derby where she lived and worked. This leads swiftly on to the historical and political context into which Alice stepped, a depiction of the complex range of views that abounded at the time, by means of an inventive conflagration by Jo Freya of three differing sets of lyrics and melodies for the American anti-war song I Didn’t Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier (this was an influential ditty within the pacifist movement that existed in the USA before it entered WW1). Jo then takes on board the involvement of Alice and her three daughters in this movement through the Clarion Cycling Club (the breezy Bottom Up!), before Sarah returns for My Door Is Always Open, a character sketch of Alice herself, a lady of true compassion and principle, which is succeeded by a delectable, if not entirely simple, eight-time waltz tune. A Harry Champion music-hall song forms part of the melodic basis for Proper Gander, an expression of the idealistic lifestyle that Alice and her family (quite reasonably) strived for.
The specifics of the UK political situation then come into focus on the hard-hitting DORA Is Here For You (DORA being the Defence Of The Realm Act, the introduction of which in 1914 had provided a convenient excuse for the government’s persecution of Alice and her family). The mechanism by which this was done, the deployment of an undercover agent working for MI5 for the purpose of manipulation, is related in Perfect Puppet and, after an instrumental interlude, Poison Plot. The latter, by being sung a cappella, enables a bitter, emotionally edgy expression of the entrapment (to especially powerful lyrics here by Jo). Then follows Courtroom Scene, an animated account of the judicial proceedings where it was immediately obvious that the cards were stacked against Alice, and an instrumental piece in an uneven seven-time signature (an ingenious use of an eastern-European-flavoured dance mode) representing Alice’s discomfort, confusion and unsettled feelings.
Sarah then gives us Letter From Hettie to Aunt Lid, based on the words written by Alice’s daughter Hettie (from within prison) to a close family friend; sung to a bleak viola drone, this is an emotional highpoint of the sequence. A subsequent letter from Alice’s youngest daughter Win then forms the inspiration for Win To Hett, a charming and sensitive melodic interlude, before Alice The Soldier (reminiscing on the above-referenced WW1 song) reflects on her situation in prison and her worries for her boy Will and others left “out there”. Her emotions finally rise to anger and frustration on the feisty, defiant What Am I Here For?.
The family’s post-1919 events are chronicled in Round Up, after which we experience Win’s emotional outpouring at Hettie’s death through Jo’s piece Hettie’s Now With Mam. The album’s final song, Ivy And Tulips, though ostensibly written about Alice’s funeral, serves as a fitting celebration of Alice’s life and legacy.
Moirai’s three singers are ideally appointed to convey the range of emotions for this story; the unjustly-maligned Alice herself is especially sympathetically portrayed and characterised both in the performances and the fine original songwriting. The impeccably judged instrumental backdrops – principally fiddle, melodeon and clarinet/sax – provide a gentle texturing and “period” ambience that’s just right too. And Doug Bailey’s excellent house-standard WildGoose production demonstrates a high degree of intuitive rapport between artists and producer/engineer. The album’s presentation is also worthy of special mention – the booklet (design by Mel herself) includes much essential background information as well as a plethora of photographs.
Framed is a fascinating, moving and extremely well-researched insight into a little-known chapter in the history of the peace movement in the UK, the continuing relevance of which in today’s political climate cannot be denied. A very impressive achievement.
As might be deduced from the title, this is a themed CD from Moirai who are Jo Freya (vocals, saxaphone, clarinet, whistle and bicycle bell!), Sarah Matthews (vocals, fiddle, viola, octave fiddle and bodhran) and Melanie Briggs (vocals, melodian and cow toy (sic)! ). I first encountered them as a group last year at Broadstairs Folk Week where they did a super concert set.
This album is a collection of songs and tunes written by the members of Moirai which tells the story of how, in 1917, Alice Wheeldon, her daughter Winnie Mason and son-in-law Alf Mason were imprisoned for conspiracy to murder the then Prime Minister David Lloyd George and Arthur Henderson the chairman of the Labour Party. Alice and her family were supporters of the Conscientious Objectors which probably explains why they were 'set-up' by two undercover agents working for MI5 and prosecuted. This fascinating and tragic story is what inspired the group to write their songs. Obviously there is a left-wing political bias to the songs but they actually make the point of the story more fitting.
So, what about the songs? As is always the case in a themed album most of them are not necessarily 'transferable' but certain ones like the anti-war song I Didn't Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier, or Proper Gander which appropriately mentions 'feisty women' (yes, they are!) and Ivy and Tulips which would need to be briefly explained before a performance it terms of the context.
There are four tunes which are the mournful Alice, the gently paced (but short) Pulled Strings, the lively Twisted Round and the melancholy Win to Hett. The latter title is a musical expression of Winnie's anguish when her mother Alice was moved away to Holloway Prison having shared time previously together at Aylesbury Prison.
The performances on all of the tracks are truly professionally with perfectly clear diction in all the songs and well thought out arrangements and accompaniments and superb cohesion in all of the tunes. This is an album that will appeal on the musicianship alone but the comprehensive sleeve notes will also act as a useful reference to anyone researching the story.
It's available directly from Moirai at their many gigs and through the Wild Goose web site.
Moirai are a trio whose members were already well-established performers before they came together and in 2014 and released their first album two years later. This is their third album and the three are all very different. The three are Jo Freya, Mel Biggs and Sarah Matthews.
This time they have written all the music and songs (apart from one) around the story of this anti-war campaigner. She was convicted in 1917, along with her daughter and son-in-law of conspiracy to murder the Prime Minister. David Lloyd George. Many felt at the time that this was a show trial at the time used to discredit the peace movement.
In this very inspired album they tackle the answered questions of how much this was a propaganda exercise and how much was truth. There are some fine hard-hitting songs, all well sung, accompanied, played and arranged. A particular strength of the performance is when they are singing in unaccompanied harmony. The story in sing is broken up by instrumentals in a variety of British and European dance rhythms. All three contribute to the compositions. sometimes worked in individually and at other times made in various combinations.
Clearly, a lot of research has gone into this project and this is reflected in the full and fascinating booklet notes backed up quite a number of contemporary photographs.
Though the album has a strong impact, the impression remains that this show would be best appreciated live and a number of performances have already been arranged for the summer of 2020. www.wildgoose.co.uk
Take a deep breath there's a lot to get through here. This is a left field project par excellence; a story album of a relatively obscure event that took place more than a hundred years ago. And what a story! Alice Wheeldon, her daughter Winnie and son in law Alf were imprisoned for conspiring to murder Prime Minister Lloyd George and Arthur Henderson, the Chairman of the Labour Party. It turned out to be a fabricated set up designed to name and shame these conscientious objectors and socialists. Interestingly, there are echoes here of the better known Sacco & Vanzetti story from the USA of the same era that also produced a number of folk songs.
Three well known musicians, Jo Freya, Sarah Matthews and Melanie Biggs, unwrap the narrative piece by piece in songs and tunes, using some of the words spoken and written during the trial and subsequent imprisonment. There are surprising twists and turns in the tale. Alex Gordon, the MI5 agent who infiltrated the family and framed the conspiracy was the 'Perfect Puppet' in the story, but was himself from a troubled background, so you begin to feel a degree of sympathy for the 'baddie'.
I had to listen and read the detailed booklet carefully to get my head around all this, but it was worth the effort. Mini folk opera is coming into vogue; Louise Jordan does similar projects. Musically, most of the material here is new, and the overall musical motif is very 1920s, with each song moving the narrative along step by step. A labour of love, it's very nicely done.
The spinners of destiny, Moirai is a group with an apt name, whose members lend their considerable talents and impressive pedigree to the subject matter of Framed. Drawn from a number of iconic groups including Blowzabella, All Blacked Up and Cupola to name but three, Jo Freya, Melanie Biggs and Sarah Matthews weave their combined musical talents to tell, in song, the little known story of Alice Wheeldon, her daughter Winnie Mason and son in law Alf Mason, who were convicted and imprisoned back in 1917 for a fabricated plot to assassinate Lloyd George and Arthur Henderson. There is not enough room to elaborate on the story in this short review, suffice it to say that I am not qualified to stand judge and jury, but it certainly seems to be the case that they became propaganda scapegoats for the sake of the war effort.
There are 20 tracks on the CD that trace in song the social background, the trial, the aftermath and consequences of the story. The original music has been crafted and collectively honed by the talented trio. The tunes are supported by fiddle, melodeon, saxophone, clarinet etc, and there are two more unusual sound bites a bicycle bell and a cow toy!
This work is an interesting foray into the sociopolitical world of WW1, one of many such projects that explore and use the backdrop of the war to develop all manner of angles from jingoism to the conscientious objector and the wasteful human carnage of the 'war to end all wars'.
In my view, work of this nature, much in the style of a Mick Ryan folk opera, cries out for a theatrical performance to accompany the musical element. And the final track on the CD, Ivy And Tulips, is a delight, and a song that might have legs beyond the CD itself.
John Oke Bartlett