By Jo Henshaw

The Gathering Wave concert this year was, yet again, a treat for ears, eyes and emotions. The choice of songs and readings in Remember 1914-1918 was beautifully balanced, tugging at the heartstrings one moment and sweeping us along with a chuckle or a sigh the next. The songs by the massed community choirs were interspersed with thoughtful, informative and wide-ranging readings.

Conceived 18 years ago by Hilary Smallwood, led on Friday by Jon Watson and expertly compered by Dennis Schiavon of The Music Pool, Remember 1914-1918 combined the singing talents of The Fire Choir, The Kindle Singers, The Garrick Singers, and The Singing Tree, joined by guest choir The Gracenotes and baritone soloist Joe Wong, who elicited a poignant and emotional response to Jon’s original and engaging work, Passchendaele Sunshine.

‘The Green Fields of France’, one of two hard-hitting WWI songs by Scottish-born Australian songwriter Eric Bogle (the other being ‘The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’) contrasted a melodic lilt with uncompromising lyrics depicting the reflection by a stranger at the graveside of 19-year Willie MacBride, asking how he had died and what it was all for.

Of local significance were Kath Hey’s reading about the tragedy at the Garrick Theatre at the 1916 benefit concert for local regiments, and ‘O Valiant Hearts’, whose lyrics are taken from a poem by Sir John Stanhope Arkwright, pre-war Herefordshire MP and some-time owner of Hampton Court Castle. Sir John wrote to Edward Elgar asking if he would provide music for the song, which was declined. In the event, the Revd Dr Charles Harris, Vicar of Colwall, composed the tune sung beautifully by the massed Gathering Wave Choirs. The Garrick Theatre catastrophe chills the heart still: as a group of 13 children, in costumes made of cotton-wool, left the stage, one costume caught fire, and within moments all 13 were alight. Six children died that night, and two more died later of their injuries.

Taking on the voice of American intelligence officer Colonel Thomas Gowenlock, Tim Bannerman’s reading of ‘The Announcement of the Armistice’, giving the view from the front line on the November morning when the news of the Armistice came through, stood out for me: along with Elizabeth Semper-O’Keefe’s reading of ‘The Canary Girls’, about the women whose skin and hair turned canary-yellow because of their poisonous working conditions making munitions at the Royal Ordnance Factory in Rotherwas, and Dennis Schiavon’s entertaining reading of an advertisement by Gurney’s of High Town entreating readers to purchase edible treats that could be posted to the front to ‘Tickle Tommy’s Palate’.

The souvenir programme researched by Elizabeth Semper-O’Keefe, and collated by Hilary Smallwood, deserves a recommendation for being a fascinating miniature history book, packed full of interest, illustrations and explanations at every turn of the page.

The huge sports hall of the Point4 in Hereford, an unconventional setting for the occasion, was a successful choice, its potential starkness forgotten as the audience chatted in anticipation, and even more so once the concert was underway. The Point4 staff, augmented by a team of the ever-excellent volunteer stewards from The Courtyard, were helpful and welcoming to all who attended. Sound production in this vast space was beautifully managed by the team from Broadoak Studio.

The whole was produced by The Music Pool, Herefordshire’s community music charity whose remit is ‘music for all’: for all of us, including those who are disadvantaged in some way, for whom music can transform lives.