The Song Man from ‘War Horse’ is back in SA to sing Joey’s story

The Song Man from ‘War Horse’ is back in SA to sing Joey’s story

If you missed ‘War Horse’ last year, take heart – you have another chance to travel with Joey, the horse, from pastoral fields to the front line and into no-man’s land, as BOB FOX narrates and sings through the timeless story of the production at Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre & Studio.

Already a virtuoso guitarist, Fox is also showcasing his newly acquired melodeon playing skills in the production.

PETER TROMP had a chat with the artist.

Please tell us a little about yourself and your performance history. What are some of your most treasured highlights?

I have been a singer since I was a child, first in the local church choir as a boy soprano where I was often required to sing ‘Ave Maria’ solo at weddings; then at school I was a singer/performer in choirs and in musical productions where I usually got a principal part to play. I went on to study music at Durham University and trained to be a music teacher. Towards the end of my school days and during my time at university I developed a very keen interest in local songs of the working people; I am from a coal mining town and was the first in my family not to have followed the traditional pattern of leaving school at 14 and becoming a coal miner.

My interest in this local folk music led me to become well known in my home region as a folk singer/performer and eventually I turned professional in 1974, regularly touring the UK, Europe, USA and Australia and recording LP’s and later CD’s.

My highlights would be solo performances at some of the biggest and prestigious Folk Festivals, like Cambridge in UK and The National in Canberra, Australia. I have also toured as special guest with Ralph McTell, Richard Thompson and Fairport Convention and, of course, my time as Song Man with ‘War Horse’ in London’s West End and in the touring version that came to South Africa.

What do you love most about the story of ‘War Horse’?

I think the story of ‘War Horse’ teaches us many lessons in the same way that folk songs, literature and other dramatic art forms do. It shows the complexity and at the same time the simplicity of human relationships and the futility of war. I like the way that some characters develop and change as the story progresses as a result of their experiences.

What was it like being in a show as technically advanced as ‘War Horse’, playing such a traditional part?

I had very little experience of the theatre before I was offered the role of Song Man in the West End production and it was all quite overwhelming at first. I was used to standing in front of an audience and talking to them and singing songs to them without a script, often choosing which songs to sing as I went along, performing very freely. In ‘War Horse’ it was very much stricter, structured and disciplined – it has to be with 34 other actors/puppeteers involved in telling the story. There was a lot of rehearsal and research into all aspects of the story to ensure that it all looked genuine.

How have you gone about fashioning the tale you tell in your show?

In the play, Song Man would often only sing a line or two from the songs, linking scenes or showing time passing and occasionally making the impossible happen. He is invisible to the others in the story and so is able to be present in all kinds of situations to comment by singing. I always felt that the wonderful songs of John Tams deserved to be heard in their full versions and so I put them together in this presentation in almost the order that they come in the play so that I can talk about the story and the background to the songs before singing them so that the thread of the story will run through the show.

Tell us about the music in the show. What can audiences look forward to in terms of selection?

Almost all of the songs in ‘War Horse’ were written, or adapted by John Tams. I will be performing all of them and including some non ‘War Horse’ songs from my own collection built up over the years, some related to ‘War Horse’, others giving an insight into my background and home in UK.

Some are for listening to, and plenty can be joined in with. I’ll be expecting a high level of audience participation.

Why do you think the music from the World War I era of ‘War Horse’ still has appeal in our cynical and digitized age?

I think in modern life things are very quick and instant and accessible and often the chance to spend time reflecting on something is rare. The music and songs from the WW1 era takes us back to a time when life was seen as being less chaotic, simpler; communication was less sophisticated and people had more time for each other personally rather than “virtually”. The modern way of life is not necessarily better just because it’s modern. I think people appreciate the things that were good about the old days by listening to and reflecting on what was being sung about.

* Show times: Tuesdays to Fridays at 8pm; Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm; and Sundays at 3pm and 6pm. On until Sunday, September 6.

Tickets are priced between R100 and R250 and can be booked at Computicket.

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