We can’t wait to welcome The Society of Strange and Ancient Instruments to Spitalfields this December, and intrigued by their name, we thought we’d talk to their director Clare Salaman to find out more about the society and Nine Daies Wonder.
“It’s a bit of a riot at times, but there are moments of reflection too.”
The Society is new to Spitalfields Music this year, so for people who are less familiar with your work, who are The Society of Strange and Ancient Instruments?
It’s a society in that the organisation was set up as a forum for people who are interested in strange and ancient instruments, but we are also a performing group. I founded The Society in 2010 and Nine Daies Wonder is our second big project.
Your concert has an intriguing title: Nine Daies Wonder. What’s it all about?
Nine Daies Wonder is based on an extraordinary Elizabethan publicity stunt undertaken by perhaps the most famous celebrity of the day, William Kemp, who was a member of Shakespeare’s company, The Chamberlain’s Men.
Kemp was involved in building the Globe Theatre in 1599 but seems to have fallen out with Shakespeare sometime that year. I don’t know whether he was messing around too much with Shakespeare’s scripts or whether his own popularity was eclipsing that of Shakespeare but he was out on his ear and needed to do something else. So, in February 1600, he hatched this plan to dance from London to Norwich in nine days.
When he returned he published a small pamphlet which he called Nine Daies Wonder. It describes the journey and events from each day, but also contains a rant about the ‘balladeers’ of the day. These were the equivalent of today’s journalists, and they had clearly been accusing him of cheating.
As The Society of Strange and Ancient Instruments, can you tell us a bit about the instruments you’ll be bringing?
Well, we are The Society of Strange and Ancient Instruments, so there are a fair number of those in the performance. Alison McGillivray plays the violone, a large bass viol, and a viola bastarda, which is a tenor viol with sympathetic strings. It’s very resonant, very beautiful and like the nyckelharpa, which I play, makes an extraordinary other-worldly sound. The nyckleharpa is a bowed, keyed fiddle with 12 resonating strings. I also play the hurdy-gurdy which is a rather earthy sounding instrument. 6 strings which lie across a wheel vibrate as the wheel is turned by a handle on the end. You can change the pitch of some of the strings to play a melody. Cornett, pipe and tabor, whistle, pipes and a tambourine are all played by the virtuosic Ian Harrison and Jeremy Avis sings songs – some brash, some beautiful. Steven Player appears in the show in the spirit of Will Kemp dancing, acting, singing and playing the guitar.
As the creator of Nine Daies Wonder, what do you hope people will take away from it?
We’ve taken the Nine Daies Wonder journey as a source of inspiration. The lovely thing about the performance is that it’s about the whole of Elizabethan society. Will Kemp stayed in the houses of rich benefactors and stayed with corpulent landlords and he danced with country lasses along the way, so we’ve used that as an excuse to explore music from right across Elizabethan society. Back then there was a shared repertoire of tunes that absolutely everyone would have known, a shared musical culture. So I hope we can give a feel for the music that was around at that time, not just art music, not just country music, but a little bit of everything; and not just the music actually, the dance and the spirit of the age.
For us, making Nine Daies Wonder has been a really joyful experience because the character of Will Kemp is so entertaining: he’s so cheeky! It’s a bit of a riot at times, but there are moments of reflection too.
You can still book tickets for this concert: to get yours now head to our website.
Nine Daies Wonder
Wednesday 10 December, 7.00pm
Shoreditch Church (St Leonard’s)
Book tickets now