Shakespeare claimed a portion of my heart the second I walked into Shakespeare’s Globe when I was 22 years old. I was lucky that I had a lot of mentors around me at the time who helped to shape the view and appreciation of Shakespeare’s work that I have today. I will never truly let go of the love and magic that sprung up and took root in my core from that time, and whenever I am in the area, I will pop into the globe, or sit by the river outside the theatre and write a song to take home.
Photos of TA Shakespeare
Peter Oswald’s ‘Augustine’s Oak’ was the first play to be commissioned for Shakespeare’s new Globe theatre and was first performed at the Globe on 6 August 1999. It tells the story of St Augustine’s mission in 597 AD to reconcile the Christians of the Celtic church with the authority of Rome. Beneath an oak tree on the Welsh border the two traditions collide. Political intrigue, civil war, the individual’s quest for truth and God: Augustine’s Oak charts the beginning of a struggle that has shaped the course of British history.
I remember exactly where I was when I found out I had been chosen to compose the music for Augustine’s Oak. I was in a black cab crossing Waterloo Bridge, during the Indian Summer of 1998, when my newly purchased Ericsson mobile phone began to ring with the good news.
In my childhood, I had been obsessed with early English history, even going so far as to enrol in an ancient Order of Druids at the tender age of 13. However, in 1998, I had come to the end of a 5 year ride in indie rock music with my band Jocasta. My life had been a rollercoaster of sweaty beer soaked venues full of teenagers who I would entertain by stamping on distortion pedals as I attacked my electric guitar with anarchic gusto and sang songs full of angst on a wave of Britpop fury.
So, to be welcomed into the fold of Shakespeare’s Globe was something that I would never have expected. And I could never have imagined what a magical journey it would be. This was my first professional contract as a composer and also the first time I would work with actors. Being stretched creatively was a gift, and although I was terrified at the thought of not meeting the expectations of the company, I dived headfirst into the project, fuelled by the excitement and the honour that I felt at having been asked to undertake such a task. When director Tim Carroll explained that the first piece of music needed would underscore a scene symbolizing the first crucifix in England being raised from the ground (All 18 feet of it as I recall from the production!), I found out how different a process it would be compared to writing 4 minute pop songs. I still get goose bumps when I recall researching the play’s background in the British Library as I discovered the actual Gregorian chant that Augustine’s monks brought to Britain in 597AD (which we would use in the production). It was nothing short of inspiring and I remain grateful to Tim, Peter, Mark, Claire, Bill and all the extraordinary people working at the Globe during that time.
Still only 23, I had not begun to catalogue my work as I do today. Consequently, we never made a recording of the music, live or in the studio. The music has stayed very close to my heart these past 12 years, so, with the help of the phenomenal musicians who performed the show at The Globe, I feel blessed to have finally been able to commit this music to disc (or Waveform Audio File Format as it’s known today).
Peter Oswald is arguably one of the finest poets and playwrights in England and it was my privilege to put music to his words on this project.
Only nine lines into the play, Aneirin says: “Where is the Holy Grail?”