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COOPE, BOYES & SIMPSON - In Flanders Fields

COOPE, BOYES & SIMPSON - In Flanders Fields
No Masters NMCD42

Ypres - better known to the troops as Wipers - is infamous for the bitter trench warfare that lasted from 1914 to 1918. Piet Chielens, coordinator of the museum In Flanders Fields, made it the home of his Peace Concerts and in 1994 he enlisted Coope, Boyes and Simpson. Commissions for future shows followed, including two extraordinary tours of the battlefield by bus. Concerts in conjunction with the museum continue today, alongside performances of Private Peaceful with author Michael Morpurgo.

Now, a double CD brings together their songs and tunes from these shows. Individually and collectively, Barry, Jim and Lester remember those whose lives were interrupted - or ended - by the Great War. There are marching songs set to the tramp of boots, popular songs and verses of the day and laments played by Lester on bagpipes. And the cruelty of war proved to be the inspiration for the beauty in the original songs of Jim and Lester.

Barry, movingly, sings Kipling’s Soldier, Soldier alone, and Robin’s Song over a bare harmonium backing. Lester performs a simple and affecting When This Blasted War Is Over to matching fiddle and guitar. Jim brings a series of penetrating songs; Along The Menin Road, with Belinda O’Hooley playing piano, recalls his grandfather’s active service, while Flanders is a song that even Jacques Brel would have envied.

Then there are, of course, the songs sung in irresistible harmony. Down Upon The Dugout Floor and Standing In Line retain all their initial impact. In contrasting mood, Spring 1919 looks forward to life after the war. The humour of two music hall songs is matched in Living It Up, a song written by Lester. New recordings include the vivid Hill 60 and an extended version of Carol For Carmen, written by John Tams for the show War Horse and dedicated to the memory of the wife of Piet Chielens.

We know all too well that the Great War did not bring war to an end; today, war correspondents are as busy as ever. But we can - and must - shape the future of our world. As Coope Boyes and Simpson sing in the haunting Tyne Cot At Night; “Here the seeds of peace are sown.”

Henry Peacock

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This album was reviewed in Issue 104 of The Living Tradition magazine.