You couldn’t ask for a more fitting, iconoclastic performance than this as a finale to Mark Ball and Tim Etchells’ After A War commemorating the World War One centenary.
Martyn Jacques of the whey faced, castrati voice has found a perfect subject for his strange, compelling style in this musical homage to the WW1 poets. A roll call of names prefigures The Tiger Lilies entrance. Clouds of smoke rise and an authentic broadcast voice summons men to enlist and `do their duty’.
Jacques with darkened eyes and gash red mouth emerges, his voice grating, gravelled, repeating `Death, death’ over and over again.
If After A War was about contemporary responses to WW1 in particular and subsequent conflicts since, A Dream Turns Sour returns us to the thing itself: the horror and the mayhem and the thoughts and feelings of the young poets, many unfamiliar, driven to record it and all of them killed by it.
Jacques, with music that carries a melancholic drone, sometimes recalling Jacques Brel but often harshly satirical in its upbeat jazz rhythms finds pathos and tragedy in the words of men such as Leslie Coulson’s Our Little Hour – a lyrical lament on the brevity of lives cut short before their time; or Ewart Alan Mackintosh’s intensely moving, `Officer’, sympathising with a grieving father but contrasting the family’s memory with his own seeing `beautiful men brought low// The piteous writhing bodies// They screamed, `Don’t leave me, sir// For they were only your fathers//But I was your officer.’
Jacques typically also projects much darker emotions – anger and bitterness as in Arthur Graeme West’s `God How I Hate You’, Isaac Rosenberg’s `Dead Man’s Dump’ and Wilfred Owen’s `Nothing Ever Happens’.
Jacques has recorded these songs on a CD, accompanied by three colleagues. Last night there were two. Listening to the CD, it becomes plain that in performance, Jacques voice was sweeter, angrier, the musical settings more varied. In other words, you had to be there to get the full flavour. Last night Jacques’ A Dream Turns Sour reached into the very crevices of personal pain in respect and homage to the fallen millions. Unforgettable.