Huw Stephens, Paul Sng, Patrick Jones, James Adrian Brown – Ghosts of ’39

Huw Stephens, Paul Sng, Patrick Jones, James Adrian Brown – Ghosts of ’39

Huw Stephens (radio presenter), Paul Sng (filmmaker), Patrick Jones (poet) and James Adrian Brown (Pulled Apart By Horses) join forces in haunting cine-poem Ghosts of ’39.

Ghosts of '39 valley landscape with statue rising from the trees in distance

Artists: Huw Stephens, Paul Sng, Patrick Jones, James Aiden Brown
Track: Ghosts of ’39
Label: self-released
Find it: YouTube | Spotify

“When I was asked by Paul (Sng) earlier this year if I was interested in scoring a piece for a cine-poem in collaboration with Patrick Jones, I bit his hand off instantly!” James Adrian Brown, perhaps best known as guitarist with Pulled Apart By Horses, is just one of the collaborators around a new cine-poem commemorating the lives of the Chartists who lost their lives protesting against tyranny in the Newport Rising of 1839.

In a poem penned by Patrick Jones, read by radio presenter Huw Stephens, edited by Claire Blundell-Jones, and directed by Paul Sng (Dispossession, Sleaford Mods: Invisible Britain, Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliche) Ghosts of ’39 visually follows in the weary footsteps of the Chartists march of nearly 200 years ago while bearing witness to the inequality still obvious along the route today.

Brown continued: “Patrick is an incredibly talented wordsmith and when Huw Stephens jumped onboard to narrate his poem over Paul’s visuals, every piece of the jigsaw appeared and slotted perfectly into place. It’s a moving and thought-provoking piece and I’m buzzing to have been a part of it.”

Ghosts of '39 - black and white composite portrait of contributors Huw Stephens, Paul Sng, Patrick Jones, and James Adrian BrownSng, whose work focuses on people who challenge the status quo and so viscerally captures the moments of extraordinary in every day life explained his role in the project. He said, “Ghosts of ’39 was born from a recce trip I made with Patrick Jones of the footage to review and he responded with a brilliant poem retracing the Chartists’ steps on their fateful walk to Newport.

“The footage is raw and wasn’t intended for public view, but Patrick’s words resonated and we decided to combine the two in a cine-poem, made during lockdown. James Adrian Brown composed and recorded a blistering original score and we’re blessed to have Huw Stephens narrating.”

Slow-moving scenes of grey-cloud embraced valleys set the natural landscape of the place against the struggle seen in every boarded up pub window, and the bargain stores now occupying the frontage of the Westgate Hotel in Newport. The setting for the battle which ended the Newport Rising, a bitter blow for Chartists hoping to signal for a national uprising with their action which would lead to political and societal reform through working class male suffrage. Instead, they were over-powered and left in disarray – 20 killed and more than 50 wounded, with leaders receiving harsh sentences.

It was not an end to the movement which founded itself on fighting for democracy in an industrial society and fairer conditions for those who gave their labour at such cost. Now, the back-breaking work has disappeared and the working class have a different battle to fight, but they are no less disenfranchised than their forefathers. Poet Patrick Jones, older brother of Manic Street Preachers’ Nicky Wire, said of Ghosts of ’39, “This is dedicated to my father, John Allen Jones, without whose knowledge, discussion and vast collection of Chartist history books I wouldn’t have such a passion and awareness of. We are all wrapped in the arms of ghosts.”

Ghosts of ’39 is a striking piece through its subtle delivery, allowing the viewer / listener to draw their own comparisons between the words reflecting the events of the past and the imagery showing the modern day. The soft composition of Brown rises with the hope of possibility, before stepping back to resonate with simmering tension and a pending sadness which will flow through generations.

Read by Huw Stephens he said, “I believe we need to know more of Wales’ history. Patrick Jones writes beautifully, and so it was a pleasure to read and be part of this moving piece.”

The fight for political reform in industrial revolution era Britain is one which most people have little knowledge of, and if taught at all is only lightly touched upon in the curriculum. Focus, as ever, is kept on progress of things, rather than the people who made the progress possible through their graft. Chartists, Luddites, Peterloo, and the Pentrich Uprising are working class flashpoints of protest and rebellion which far from being consigned to a past on which we can only look with studied curiosity bear vivid and vital commonality with society and politics today. One only has to look at recent exam results debacle to realise the technological revolution is bringing as many opportunities for the political class to try to keep the working class downtrodden as the industrial revolution did 200 years ago.

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Sarah Lay

Sarah Lay is editor of Popoptica.
A long-standing music journalist she's also co-founder of independent record label Reckless Yes, an author of novels, and when not messing around with words and music, a digital strategist.
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