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Programme CoverKes! the Musical

adapted from Barry Hines' classic novel A Kestrel For A Knave.

Music & lyrics by Terry Davies; Book and additional lyrics by Lawrence Till

Bolton Octagon - September 14, 1995 (season)


The musical, set in a northern industrial town, follows the story Billy Southworth and his learning of life from the fate of his pet bird.

Terry Davies writes:

Darren Southworth as Billy Casper
Darren Southworth as Billy Casper flying Kes (photo by Ian T. Tilton)

When writing the music for any type of project a great deal of the work involved is done long before a note hits the page. And when the music has a dramatic role to play the same inevitable questions are always immediately waiting. Firstly, what dramatic and emotional effects should the music have? And secondly, within the forces available what style of writing would best suit the subject matter and deliver the goods? With these questions addressed, the way forward hopefully becomes clear. At least that's the theory.

With Kes! Lawrence and I wanted the music's dramatic and emotional range to be as broad as that of Barry Hines' book. The music would need to depict the pressures of much of Billy's world and against them to highlight the intimacy and exhilaration of his moments with the kestrel hawk he loves. Another essential ingredient would be periods of lightness and humour. Beyond this, whenever Billy is on stage I was keen for the music to describe events from his point of view, so that an audience would undertake the journey at his side rather than follow it with any perspective. Later, a few exceptions evolved when other characters are allowed to indulge their own specific fantasies.

Style is always a tricky one. We had always intended that the songs should be lyrical and accessible but with an edge that could be sharpened up as required. Amongst the stylistic possibilities for Kes! were a cocktail of late 60s pastiches (The Beatles, The Rolling Stones. Jethro Tull, Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. etc) and folk-based melodies that might have been sung locally along with a flavour of colliery band music.

Jud and the Librarian
Jud (Chris Garner) and the Librarian (Julie Jupp) strut their stuff! (Photo by Ian T. Tilton)

Happily. very soon after our initial work began the solution, for once, provided itself. I remembered writing a provisional song for Jim Cartwright's play The Rise and Fall of Little Voice a couple of years earlier which had been intended for an epilogue in which Jane Horrocks found herself "flying". Adjustments during rehearsals had resulted in alterations to the ending. Jane no longer flew and the song was cut. No lyric had been written for it. When I played the piece to Lawrence he was immediately very positive and the style question was solved at a stroke. The song now forms the core of the finale of Kes!

This bit of luck occurred whilst we were settling on a provisional structure for the musical and taking decisions such as using the device of a girl's voice to represent Kes herself. Settling upon the make-up of the cast and band were also part of this process.

We knew there would be five musicians and wanted them to be clearly visible in the auditorium. There can be balance problems between actors and musicians if not using an orchestra pit and if drums are involved, so it was the ideal chance to try something I've wanted to do for some time - write for an entirely non-acoustic band in a theatre.

The MIDI technology involved has been around for some time but has seen little creative use in theatre work. MIDI is the system via which musicians send signals from otherwise silent instruments to the various samplers and synthesiser-type boxes that produce the sounds. Samplers produce digital recordings of natural (or unnatural) sounds so that in addition to any number of musical instruments they can also play sound effects which can be incorporated into the music score. For example, the samples in Kes! turned out to include a mill (which plays the bass of the milkman's song) and the cartoon sound effects used when Billy reads a "Desperate Dan" story. Joining a standard fretless bass the instruments decided upon to play the samplers and synthesisers were two keyboards, a wind controller (a MIDI saxophone) and a percussion set-up (MIDI drum kit and MIDI vibraphone).

Now. happy with the instrumentation and a provisional list of characters, with a structure in place and decisions about style taken, we took a deep breath and started to write.
Terry Davies - Composer

Musical Numbers:


The Cinema - Billy
Always Fleeing - Company
Mum's Lament - Mum
New Every Morning Is the Love (Can't Wait To Get Out) - School
You and Me - Mr Gryce
Fact and Fiction - Anderson and English Class
A Lifetime Of Saturday Nights - Company
Escape With Kes - Billy and Kes


Team Spirit - Sugden and Boys
Can't Wait To Get Out (Reprise) - School
Kes - Billy and Kes
My Dad, He'd Say - Billy and Mr Farthing
A Lifetime Of Saturday Nights (Reprise) - Betting Shop Punters
You and Me (Reprise) - Mr Gryce
Surviving the Day - The Teachers
No-one Can Catch Billy Now - Company


Youth Employment Officer
Jud, Billy's half brother
Mr Gryce, Headmaster
Billy's Mother
Mr Sugden, Games Teacher
Billy Casper
Mr Farthing, English Teacher

plus chorus of school children