REVIEW: A Brief History of Music at the Georgian Theatre Royal

Chris Green and Sophie Matthews.

At the beginning of their show, Chris Green and Sophie Matthews promised 600 years of music in 90 minutes. This is no mean feat for anyone but it quickly became apparent that we were in good hands. Even for someone with only rudimentary musical knowledge, it was clear that they were both accomplished musicians.

We started in the Middle Ages with the earliest surviving song in the English language based on the 13th century verse Sumer is Icumen. It was followed by the second oldest surviving song in English (obviously!) which was basically a five-line complaint about how horrible the weather is. Good to know that nothing much has changed over the centuries!

It was also good to find out that the English had a form of bagpipe some 400 to 500 years before the Scots. It was a much quieter instrument, more suited to dance tunes than the well-known Highland pipes that were designed to lead the troops into battle, but a bagpipe nevertheless.

The evening was full of such fun-filled facts. For instance, in the 16th century all the dances seemed to have the word ‘maggot’ in the title. This may sound odd but then it was explained that it described a tune that burrows into your head like an earworm. Makes sense!

The 20-minute interval represented the 20-year gap when Oliver Cromwell passed a law forbidding music and entertainment, but the second half plunged straight into the ‘anything goes’ Restoration period. And it does seem that ‘anything went’, with a plethora of really filthy songs. We were introduced to Thomas D’Urfey – a friend of Charles II – who specialised in the worst (or best?) of these. Ninety-five per cent of his output was considered too ‘bad’ to perform and if the ditty that we did hear was one of the cleaner ones then it must have been very bad indeed.

The debauchery theme continued as we eased into the 19th century with a broadside ballad about a girl called Sally who had fallen by the wayside. The mirth was tempered somewhat by a sombre rendition of the famous World War I song Keep the Home Fires Burning, which is where the musical journey ended.

If I had a criticism, it was that we stopped just as we reached the 20th century. What about The Beatles for instance – surely they wrote a good few ballads?