The Transports: A Ballad Opera by Peter Bellamy

Peter Bellamy

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The Transports: A Ballad Opera by Peter Bellamy Review

by Stewart Mason

Widely considered the late Peter Bellamy's masterwork, the 1977 ballad opera The Transports tells the true story of Henry Cabell and Susannah Holmes, a pair of English convicts transported to Australia in the 18th century, set to period instruments. To some, this might sound both precious and dreadfully dull; however, Bellamy was not only a musicologist but also a gifted composer, and The Transports, which consists primarily of new lyrics set to existing melodies, is a boisterous set of tunes with sympathetic lyrics and a compelling forward flow to the rather simple narrative. Most importantly, the singers (who as in a proper opera sing in character throughout) are a veritable who's who of the British folk scene, with Mike Waterson and Norma Waterson starring as the doomed couple, with Bellamy, Martin Carthy (Norma Waterson's husband), June Tabor, Nic Jones, and even the great A.L. Lloyd all providing rich, meaty vocal work. Not all experiments in the British folk style work (see Shirley & Dolly Collins' often pretentious suites for proof), but The Transports is a simply fascinating album that works on all levels, as a story, as a cohesive work, and as an excellent set of songs.

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