Two of our most popular and distinguished actors, Jim Carter and Imelda Staunton, have teamed up with the celebrated West Country acoustic band Show of Hands to mark the centenary of the First World War. The conflict lasted for four years, led to the deaths of over sixteen million soldiers and civilians, and transformed Britain and much of the world. But the brutal carnage and the horrors of life in the trenches inspired the War Poetry, an extraordinary artistic movement written by those who fought, and in some cases died, in the fighting.
Unique and powerful, Centenary: Words & Music Of The Great War matches the remarkable poetry of those war years against the music of the era, along with new compositions inspired by the war. This double CD release includes one disc of twenty two poems read by Jim Carter and Imelda Staunton and set to new arrangements of songs from the period. As Show Of Hands’ Steve Knightley explains “we thought of the pieces as brief scenes from a film and treated the songs as half-remembered, distant reveries that with the extraordinary voices of Jim and Imelda just came alive”.
Jim Carter (Downton Abbey, Shakespeare In Love, The Madness Of King George) and his wife Imelda Staunton (Harry Potter, Vera Drake, Gypsy) became involved after being approached by Jim’s friend and former flat-mate Steve (Knightley). “I have known Jim since the Eighties”, said Steve. “We used to share a house together in Maida Vale, London. He was in the basement and I lived upstairs. I was on the rock band scene and he was at the National Theatre”. Jim Carter later provided narration for the 1990 Show of Hands project, Tall Ships. Although he and Imelda have been married for over thirty years, Jim says this was “a very rare opportunity for us to work together”.
On the second disc Show of Hands perform distinctive versions of period favourites plus new songs from Knightley including The Gamekeeper, and his setting for AE Housman’s foreboding The Lads In Their Hundreds which, although from a slightly earlier era, fits perfectly into this selection. Show of Hands (Knightley, Phil Beer and Miranda Sykes) are joined by distinguished friends from the folk scene including Jackie Oates, Jim Causley, Phillip Henry, Geoffrey Lakeman and Andy Cutting.
The horrors of the First World War have inspired a series of powerful films, plays, novels and musical works. This project is one of the finest.