‘Now Wolverton’s a place with an easy gentle pace…’
The community musical documentary play Sheltered Lives focused on life in Wolverton and New Bradwell in the 1930s – a nostalgic view of a community with a lifestyle dominated by the Railway Works.
Interviews with residents inspired an evocative picture of life: with the great wall of Wolverton Works stretching from the station to the far end of the town, their stories told of a close-knit community, its customs and practices, the spirit of the place in the ‘30s and ‘40s – ‘sheltered’ for some, ‘narrow-minded’ for others.
Paul Clark said of Sheltered Lives: ‘This song, with which the play begins, gives an idealised version of life before the Second World War - but what was happening on the stage was much more truthful and less pleasant, so it was a tremendous contrast between the two… If you listen to songs from the thirties and forties, they don’t tell you about life as it really happened. They tell you the romanticised version of it – they had very inventive tunes, but words that didn’t really come to grips with life…
‘For this tune, I set myself a task of writing in a 1940s jazz idiom - and created for myself a rhyme scheme which was murder! It had so many internal rhymes because of the way it had to follow the music. So I set myself the task of getting the lyrics to fit the tune by the time my bus had travelled from Galley Hill to the city centre! It took me a verse a day, four days, to write the complete song.’
(Radio interview with Anthea Sharpe for CRMK, 1980s).
‘Just look across the square, the War Memorial’s there…’
Roger Kitchen remembers: ‘Sheltered Lives had 98 in the cast and backstage! They were fantastic – two, three generations all working together, collaborating, a joyous celebration of community… We don’t live in villages any more, but I think we’ve got something here other people haven’t got. It is special.’
Roy Nevitt comments: ‘The roots of our documentary theatre work lie in the Radio Ballads created for the BBC by Charles Parker, Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger; and Peter Cheeseman’s musical documentary plays performed in Stoke-on-Trent… Charged with the present-tense immediacy of theatre, in scenes and songs, we told stories that celebrated our past and embraced our future. The plays gave to the community a shared experience which engendered a sense of place and an identity for a new city.’
Images and material from the LAMK archive
The song is featured on the Living Archive Band’s album All That’s Changed Vol 2 (LAMK)