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crossing the simeto

2020 - violin, cello, narrator/tape c. 20'

I - Crossing the Simeto - Part 1

II - Crossing the Simeto - Part 2

III - Crossing the Simeto - Part 3

IV - So Long

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In my early twenties I stumbled upon the work of Hamish Henderson. Henderson was a folklorist, poet and intellectual who was involved in the establishment of the School of Scottish Studies in Edinburgh in the 1951 where he carried out vital work alongside the likes of Margaret Bennett, Calum MacLean and Alan Lomax in the documentation of folk music and folk culture, much of which might have otherwise been lost. He was a key figure in the Scottish folk revival of the 1960s, was a political activist campaigning extensively against nuclear armament in the 1960s and campaigned throughout his life for the establishment of a devolved Scottish government.


Before all this, he was a soldier in the Second World War. He was in his early twenties when he found himself fighting in the north African desert. Henderson was an orphan yet through various scholarships was studying at Cambridge at the outbreak of the war. He could speak six European languages with fluent German and therefore was quickly working within the Intelligence Corp interrogating captured German soldiers. He fought in the vital Battle of Alamein, fought his way across Sicily with the 51st Highland Division and eventually marched into Rome. It was the 26 year old Henderson who wrote the Italian order of surrender in 1945, marking the fall of the first Axis power during the war.


Throughout the war, he documented his experiences through poetry. He wrote of the common soldier, Allied and Axis, intertwined with references to Classical history, the landscape of which he had found himself in. He acknowledges the need to fight against fascism in Europe but also the tragedy of the common man caught up in the violence in the name of King and Country and British Imperialism. 


In the Summer of 2018 I undertook independent research in the archives of the School of Scottish Studies. I came across a cassette tape on which a much older Hamish Henderson recited some of his poetry including some written while fighting in Africa and Southern Europe. I had wanted to create work with Henderson poetry and now had the opportunity to work with his voice. The completion of the project also happened to coincide with the centenary of Henderson’s birth in 1919. 


The piece makes use of four poems. The first three are parts of his long poem Ballad of the Simeto which documents the 51st Highland Division’s crossing to Sicily and their eventual crossing of the Simeto River. The piece ends with So Long, a reflection of the long, bloody conflict of the North African campaign. 

This piece is dedicated to Hamish Henderson in his centenary year. Some things come along in life that grab you and will not let go. For me this was the life, work and poetry of Hamish Henderson. My thanks to his widow, Kätzel Henderson and daughterJanet Henderson for their support and allowing me to undertake this project. 

This piece was recorded by Sequoia (Sonia Cromarty and Alice Rickards) as part of the ISOLA album project with narration by Hamish Henderson. 



Sequoia Duo (Sonia Cromarty and Alice Rickards) with archival recordings of Hamish Henderson - Recorded as part of the Isola recording project. 

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