The Man in the Straw Hat

Concert details

Sunday 22 March at 7pm at St Anne's Church, Highgate West Hill (where Betjeman was christened) - come and hear the church bells at 6.30pm - admission free, donations accepted. Refreshments will served.

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The Man in the Straw Hat

"Deeply I loved thee, 31 West Hill", wrote Sir John Betjeman about his childhood home. He was born in Lissenden Mansions and baptised in St Anne's, and later vividly and wittily evoked North London in his poems. More than a century later, he and North London are celebrated in a new cantata: The Man in the Straw Hat, written on the 30th anniversary of his death, and performed in the same church.

Fleet Singers have commissioned this delightful piece with the support of an Arts Council grant. Local composer Benjamin Till, recipient of numerous awards in music and film, has set to music a selection of Betjeman’s best-loved poems about North London, as well as poems composed by choir members and local residents, including the well-known poets John Hegley and Cicely Herbert. Many of these were inspired by a poetry workshop at St Anne's itself. The four-part cantata interweaves different musical styles that echo the themes of the chosen poems, through evocation of place (Parliament Hill, St Pancras) or mood (times past, lost love, the outsider).

The Man in the Straw Hat will bring together the choir with soloist Nathan Taylor and a string quintet, conducted by James Davey. A special art installation created by local artist Nathalie Frost and reflecting the poetry of John Betjeman will enhance the performance. And at 6.30 pm, the church bells, rarely heard nowadays, will be rung as a prelude to the performance and in memory of the man who was "summoned by bells".

In the first half of the concert, Diana Aubrey and Roy Batt will read additional Betjeman poems, and Camden Youth Choir, conducted by Rosamond Savournin and Naomi Roper, will perform a selection of pieces, before joining in the premiere of this unique work.

The event is ticketless, but donations will be taken at the end towards the choir's production costs.

Fleet Singers gratefully thank the Estate of John Betjeman for permission to use his poems, and Hampstead Wells and Campden Trust for their support for the art installation.