In The Nursery: Electric Edwardians

National Film Theatre, London - 17 February 2005

"Quite possibly In The Nursery's finest hour"

[Electric Edwardians booklet]

For around seventy years, 800 rolls of early nitrate film sat in sealed barrels in the basement of a shop. Now miraculously rediscovered and restored, the Mitchell & Kenyon Collection is an amazing visual record of everyday life in Britain at the beginning of the twentieth century. Considered by many to be the most exciting film discovery of recent times, it promises to radically transform British film history. This unique collection is now being preserved by the British Film Institute and examples of the painstaking restoration were seen recently in a three-part series on BBC2. Electric Edwardians is a special programme of selected highlights from the collection with a specially-commissioned score courtesy of DSO favourites In The Nursery. The premiere of which was held at the National Film Theatre in London in February.

ITN are an ideal choice for composers as their unique brand of 'neo-classical', mainly instrumental music has seen them provide the score to several films over a career spanning more than two decades. In 1996 they began their 'Optical Music' series of releases. Newly-composed soundtracks to films from the silent era. One of these was a score for the 1927 film Hindle Wakes - set in the Lancashire mill towns. They toured with the film, playing live accompaniment, the perfect ground work for Electric Edwardians.

[Electric Edwardians booklet]The Mitchell & Kenyon films seem to have captured the British public's imagination. The BBC2 programmes regularly pulled in more than four million viewers. And this popularity was reflected tonight. The NFTs main auditorium was packed. The event a sell-out. The Humberstone twins, clad in black, were positioned left of stage with a few keyboards, laptop and electric clarinet. No doubt many of those in the audience had never experienced ITN before and (judging by the elderly couple behind me) they'll have picked up some new, perhaps unlikely, followers as a result of their stunning work on this project.

The nature of the programme, thirty shorts running between 45 seconds and a couple of minutes each, means that the musical accompaniment is more like a collection of musical vignettes rather than a total 'soundtrack' as one normally understands it. From the cascading piano loop that introduced the evening, through the sampled sounds of children's laughter, horses hooves clip, clopping on cobbled streets, to ship fog horns and bells peeling in the distance, onto light-hearted jolly ditties, this was a strikingly varied and yet consistently compelling audio complement to the rare visuals.

The outcome: quite possibly In The Nursery's finest hour. Rarely have they seemed to connect with such emotional honesty with the subject they are scoring. The moving music supremely evocative of bygone era. The performance was the perfect marriage of video and audio. Consequently, as a stand alone album, ITN's wonderful score would have far less impact. Thankfully, the BFI will be releasing an extended DVD of this special selection complete with the ITN soundtrack, later this year. Beautiful and heartfelt music to move the very soul. And this after last year's brilliant soundtrack to A Page of Madness, In The Nursery are currently riding an all-time creative high.

Rob Dyer

See also:

In The Nursery
In The Nursery: Hindle Wakes