On armistice night 2009, an ensemble of artists from various disciplines gathered in Brockley and Ladywell cemeteries to perform 'Up the Line'.
Curated by Platform-7, this was an armistice night with a difference; the cemetery was taken over by poets, dancers, musicians and artists to perform major works in remembrance of the passing of the last two veterans of World War One – Harry Patch and Henry Allingham. CuratorJohn McKiernan had also begun his own journey of discovery looking at how war was perceived and the impact it had on soldiers and civilians alike. He was also interested in understanding more about the impact of the First World War on today's generations. All this took place five years before the rest of the nation was swept up in a wave of nostalgia surrounding the conflict.
Alarms and Excursions took the opportunity to give voice to some of the less familiar poets - those of the enemy of the time, our Allies in France and Russia, those who were conscientious objectors and the women who remained on the home front or provided back up services in the fields of Flanders. Poets taking part included David Bottomley, Graham Buchan, Jazzman John Clarke, Joe Duggan, Katherine Gallagher, Marie Maurer, Paul McGrane, Csilla Novosath, Heather Taylor and Isabel White. They performed work by American, Australian, British, Canadian, French, German, Hungarian, Russian, Irish and Welsh poets. The usual suspects – Brooke, Owen, Rosenberg and Sassoon featured alongside some surprising choices, including Welsh poet and local “resident” David Jones (he is buried in Brockley Cemetery). One of the highpoints was the wall of voices, where the audience, on entering the cemetery, walked through a grove of whispering readers who read the same piece translated into a dozen languages but who could not be seen from the dimly lit path.
The events on the night included Brahms, performed on piano by Julian Jacobson, a dance sequence by French choreographer Keren’Or Pézard, extracts from a Bach Sonata for violin by Yuka Matsumoto. The graves, chapel and memorials were imaginatively lit by acclaimed lighting designer Tom White and original footage of soldiers enlisting in 1914 projected onto evergreen trees in the cemetery. The event attracted an audience of 300 on the night and was reprised twice more in Brockley and again in Margate between 2009 and 2013. Related issues also surfaced in two subsequent works, Silent Cacophony and no mans land.
John's groundbreaking work can be viewed via his website where all the Platform-7 projects can be found.