As the people of Britain embrace the partial reopening of our ‘houses of heritage’, the award-winning song and storytelling Ramsbottom trio Harp & a Monkey are making public the fruits of a new project that celebrates the value of our public museums, galleries and archives.
The Ballad of Wisbech Museum is a timely reminder (in song and imagery) of the vital role that cultural centres play in our lives as well as the pride and care involved in maintaining them. Harp & a Monkey frontman Martin Purdy says: “For many of us, places like museums provide an oasis of calm in a frantic world. As soon as you enter and the door closes behind you, the chaos of the street disappears and it’s like being embraced by a special kind of stillness. Many of us find these places totally immersive and magical – somewhere we can have a quiet thought in our own heads.
“This sector, not unlike our own in the music world, has faced – and continues to face – very tough times. We’ve done a lot of projects with museums, archives and galleries in the past and we were pleased to be asked to help celebrate the important role they play, and must continue to play, in archiving our past and providing vital lessons for our future.”
The Lancastrian trio’s commission came via the Arts Council and The Library Presents, Cambridgeshire’s arts and cultural outreach body. The challenge was to write a song inspired by the The Wisbech and Fenland Museum, one of the oldest purpose-built museums in the UK.
Harp & a Monkey’s relationship with this facility dates back to late 2019 when they launched their fourth album, The Victorians, with a live show here. In keeping with the founding history of the building, for this particular project the trio used a pre-existing song from the period of its birth (1847) for their initial inspiration. The song they chose was unearthed by their banjo player Andy Smith and is an old Victorian Broadsheet called The Electors of Cambridge, which was a reworking of an even older ballad called Fly Not Yet.
The Ballad of Wisbech Museum, which will be released digitally on July 17, is accompanied by a short art film put together by the band’s harpist Simon Jones, a recognised art photographer and animator. Like the tracks on the band’s last album, The Ballad of Wisbech Museum has been mixed by the in-demand Darren Jones whose clients include the likes of Stormzy, Tom Walker and Harry Styles.