MOST of the interviews I conduct are designed to promote…
a song/album/E.P. - but that is where I will leave it. There is, rarely, a sociological or political importance to the release. We are seeing a lot of reports on the news about wars around the world: the turmoil and daily horror many people face. We, here, cannot get a tangible sense of what that would be like. World War 1 was, in full flight, one of the most harrowing and destructive events to happen to our people. We often assume it was a man-made and fought affair: neglecting the role of women and the importance they played. Louise Jordan is preparing an autumn tour of the U.K. for her album, No Petticoats Here – in the form of a one-woman show.
The album is a collection of songs that concentrate on characters - real-life characters – from the War and what they contributed. Jordan talks about her research process and getting funding from Arts Council England; some of the songs and stories behind it and what her one-woman show of the album/concept possess – it has been performed in over fifty venues so far and is building up a lot of attention and acclaim.
Ensure you check out the No Petticoats Here website and keep up-to-date through Twitter - as it is an extraordinary show/album from a talented young performer/songwriter keen to highlight the fantastic and invaluable contribution women made in the War effort.
Hi, Louise. How are you? How has your week been?
Hello, Sam. I am feeling creative!
It’s been an incredibly busy couple of weeks bringing everything together ready to start rehearsals for No Petticoats Here stage two – in-between gigs and workshops!
For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?
Of course – hello, lovely to meet you!
I am a singer, musician and composer whose writing focuses on storytelling and forging connections between people.
No Petticoats Here is your portrayal and representation of real-life women from the First World War. What compelled you to get the project started?
On a visit to the Somme area in France during November 2014, I saw few references to the ways that women experienced this remarkable period of history. I returned determined to find out more about the women whose images I had seen in museums and chapels and to explore the experiences of those I had not yet learned about.
What kind of things can one expect? Is it a series of songs or is there dialogue and theatre-type acts?
No Petticoats Here started with one song which I hoped to place alongside my other material at gigs.
It quickly developed into an album which I released in September 2016 and toured during the autumn 2016 and spring 2017. I have always been keen to talk about songs when I perform and to give some context about where the songs come from – for example, why they were written. No Petticoats Here is a concept album and it comes with an illustrated booklet containing images of the women whose stories are shared - and some explanation of their connection to the First World War.
When performing the songs from No Petticoats Here live, I have always taken time to give the context of the women’s’ remarkable achievements – in what way were they involved in the conflict? How did they come to find themselves in that situation and what happened to them afterwards?
No Petticoats Here gained Arts Council England funding after an album in September 2016. How important was that funding and did it allow you to explore more ground than you would ordinarily?
I am now at a really exciting stage of developing No Petticoats Here.
Throughout the two previous tours, I have been speaking with members of the audience as well as promoters and venue managers - to identify ways in which the performance could be brought more to life. I personally want to find ways to connect people more deeply with the extraordinary lives of these women who lived during the First World War. The development of No Petticoats Here is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.
This has given me the opportunity to work with innovative theatre professionals so that we can re-create the sound worlds which the women themselves experienced. With the addition of a soundscape of recorded actors and sound effects (and images of the women on stage), I hope the audience will become much closer to imagining for themselves how these women lived and experienced the war.
How much research went into the project? Did you talk to relatives of anyone involved in World War I?
The research began when I returned from my visit to the Somme in November 2014 - and is ongoing.
It stems from a personal interest and determination to keep learning about the events of the First World War and their ongoing impact and resonance. I have been in touch with a number of relatives of the women whose stories are shared by No Petticoats Here - and these have been amongst the most moving experiences whilst developing the project. Finding out information through a family’s oral history – passed down through generations – and through relatives’ memories is precious and can also reveal details which aren’t available in books, journals; museums, history centres and cemeteries.
I have also benefited from speaking with biographers such as Patrick Vanleene and Gail Newsham who have collected extensive material over years of research in their respective fields: Patrick with regards women who worked in Belgium on the Western Front and Gail with regards women footballers - and the Dick, Kerr’s Ladies football team, in particular.
There are songs about women football players (Shoulder to Shoulder) and women workers (Toil, Women, Toil). Is there a particular song that was tough to write? Is there one that stands out in your mind?
The final song, Who Will Remember, was, perhaps, the most difficult to write as it deals with issues of mental health, unpublished records and touches on issues of sexual abuse.
I had originally intended to focus on the strength of the women’s characters - and yet, there is extraordinary strength and resilience in all of these women’s experiences; whether these are classified as positive of negative. I was entirely driven by a passion to preserve these women’s experiences and make them better known a- nd this helped me to overcome any perception of difficulty along the way.
Given sexism in society today – and the music industry – was there a personal desire to put this project out there – to celebrate how inspirational and pioneering women have always been?
I have drawn strength from these women’s experiences and I continue to be grateful for the experience of writing and performing No Petticoats Here.
I believe there is great relevance in sharing these stories now; not least because we are commemorating the one-hundred-year-anniversary of the First World War. It was an extraordinary set of circumstances and a time when women not only experienced change but pursued it too.
That recourse to action and the taking of power for oneself is something I believe and hope anyone who seeks equality can identify with.
You worked with producer Lizzie Crarer and sound designer Jules Bushell. What did they bring to the project and how important were people like Ellie Rogers (videographer) to visualising your music?
Lizzie and Jules both possess wide-ranging skills in bringing stories to life - and both were on board with my vision for No Petticoats Here from the start.
Lizzie has extensive experience of developing pieces of theatre around female perspectives (through her theatre company, The Heroine Project Presents, and, also, of interpreting the First World War (she worked on the critically-acclaimed project, We’re Here Because We’re Here and produced a piece called Over the Top: The True-Life Tale of Dorothy Lawrence).
Lizzie and I have gone back to my research of the women’s stories in order to devise ways through script and dialogue of invigorating the performance. Jules is a maestro and understands the world of sound like no other! - a musician, sound designer and noise manipulator.
Jules specialises in creating sound for theatre and events – from atmospheric underscoring to layered effects. From simple to conceptual; Jules captures a range of scenes and emotions - which help to immerse the audience in the piece.
A trailer video is out now. What can you reveal what the trailer is designed for and how it came together?
Film-maker Ellie Rogers is putting the trailer together using footage from the development and rehearsals process - as well as interviews with the creative artists involved.
I am confident the trailer will offer an insight showing the audience what to expect at a live performance on this autumn’s tour.
I believe there is an autumn tour. Where will you be heading and how can one book tickets?
The tour will take me from Falmouth to Farnham on the South Coast; from Sale to Stirling further north. There’s a mixture of rural village venues and cities and the tour takes in libraries, museums; arts centres, theatres and house concerts.
You can find a full list of tour dates my website - with links to venues and box office details.
No Petticoats Here has already been shared with dozens of audiences. What has the reaction been like and do a lot of people come up to you after the show to express praise/feedback?
I have been fortunate to enjoy some really interesting conversations with audience members after performances of No Petticoats Here. It is fascinating to hear the many and varied ways that the themes and songs resonate with other people – from self-styled ‘sod-it spinsters’ to people who have written their own songs about relatives who served in The Great War.
After No Petticoats Here’s completion, what comes next? Can we expect a new album in the future?
No Petticoats Here will tour throughout 2018 as we continue to commemorate the centenary of the First World War - and as we celebrate one hundred years since the Representation of the People Act brought the vote to a number of women in the U.K.
In addition, I have received a commission from Vote100 to write about the impact of women’s experiences of the First World War on suffrage.
There will almost certainly be a release in 2018 as I have had a number of requests to record First World War-related material which is not part of No Petticoats Here - such as What Will You Leave Behind (about a kilt I saw in a museum in France).
How easy has it been transitioning from your normal song themes and focusing on something unique like this? Was it a challenge getting into a different headspace?
No Petticoats Here has drawn on a number of song themes which I have visited before; however, the project has focused on how these human themes – such as resilience, determination and using the resources you have to make the best of a situation; presented themselves within women’s experiences of the First World War.
The writing period was certainly intense. The project involved inhabiting the worlds of these extraordinary women to understand as best I could how they experienced barriers and obstacles: it was a constant reminder of the experiences I have found difficult and yet it was worth it. I felt a connection with the women through the fact of these barriers.
What advice would you give to people who want to create a similar project?
Thorough research is very rewarding; be prepared to persist and persevere.
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
I read about two brilliant musicians this week who have written a song about a veteran of the Great War. I was truly moved to hear about their research...
The song, Home, Lads, Home (words Cecily Fox Smith: adapted by Sarah Morgan) also has great meaning to me. If you can’t find a version of Sarah singing this; Belshazzar’s Feast do a great version.
Thank you for your time!
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