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Mike and Kate Westbrook: London Bridge is Broken Down

London Bridge is Broken Down is a reflection on the contrast between the heights achieved by European culture and the barbarism of its periodic internecine wars.

WITH CONSUMMATE TIMING, at 11pm on Monday 4th August, BBC Radio 3’s Jazz on 3 marks the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War with a broadcast of Mike and Kate Westbrook’s “Picardie” from their masterpiece London Bridge is Broken Down.

London Bridge was recorded in 1987 following its commission and premiere in Amiens in May of that year. Using texts chosen and sung by Kate Westbrook, the work is a reflection on the contrast between the heights achieved by European culture and the barbarism of its periodic internecine wars.

Interviewed in 2008, Mike Westbrook noted that the vision for London Bridge had arisen during “a rather unique period with the trio with Kate, Chris (Biscoe) and I, when we were criss-crossing from Vienna to Berlin to Athens to wherever and just got this kind of snapshot of Europe in all its suffering, its history, its culture.” It should not surprise, then, that Westbrook - one of the most articulate and literary composers in jazz – has in London Bridge shaped music to match the vastness of his and Kate’s subject matter.

Remarkably for a jazz recording, on this occasion, Mike had at his disposal a nine piece jazz orchestra with voice and the strings and woodwinds of the Sinfonietta de Picardie. At nearly forty minutes in length, “Picardie” forms the sixth and final movement of London Bridge.

Described as a ‘composition for voice, jazz orchestra and chamber orchestra’, London Bridge also revealed Westbrook as a musical poet, not just of landscape or of human folly or of the nature of art and experience but, of human history in all its brightest and darkest moments as well. “Picardie” itself is a meditation on war and its impact on this area of France, which on so many occasions – not least between 1914-1918 – saw such devastation and loss of life.

Using poems by writers such as Siegfried Sassoon, René Arcos, Andrée Chedid and an anonymous 12th century Picardian text, “Aucassin et Nicolette” with its almost humanistic and heretical themes, “Picardie” is by any standards an astonishing, multi-faceted piece of music. It neither shrinks from the horror but nor does it dwell upon it. As always in Mike and Kate Westbrook’s work, a faith in our capacity and potential for transformation, transcendence and regeneration lies at its heart. Through art, through music and words, it says simply and powerfully, “This is what we can achieve - it does not have to be this way.”

London Bridge is Broken Down is available on BGO Records.

Source: No Glory in War