Musical memorial to WW1 soldier

January 30 2017

HE was an unlikely hero - a pacifist who was to become the last surviving soldier in the country who had witnessed the horrors of the trenches during the First World War.

hard and betty

HE was an unlikely hero - a pacifist who was to become the last surviving soldier in the country who had witnessed the horrors of the trenches during the First World War.

Harry Patch famously said "War is not worth one life" and it was this stance which was to have a profound effect on Downend musician Mike Isaacs who has just released an album as a tribute to the man he knew personally.

Mike came up with the idea of a World War One concept album after meeting the war veteran when he started a relationship with his grandmother Betty Isaacs.

Released under the project name for Mike's collection of songs, The Fable, the Imperial Plan addresses the futility of war and the personal tragedy of so many millions of people in the Great War of 1914 -1918.

Mike, 59, said: "Harry lived next door to my grandparents and after my grandfather died, he started looking after my grandmother Betty by cutting her grass and taking her to the shops. They became a couple and moved into a home in Wells, Somerset until she passed away in 2002.

"My father David kept on visiting him until Harry passed away at the age of 111. I met him quite a lot of times when my grandmother was alive and quite a few times afterwards."

When Harry died on July 25, 2009, Mike was unable to attend his funeral, having moved to France to run a busy bed and breakfast. This feeling of regret was the trigger for the album.

"I felt I'd missed out and didn't get to express my respects to him," Mike said.

Struck by Harry's views and the impact he had on him, Mike was inspired to come up with a collection of songs, including one specifically about Harry, around the subject of war.

After he started writing in 2014, Mike soon realised he had enough for a whole album so has spend the past two and a half years producing what was to become The Imperial Plan.

Various local artists are featured on the 15-track offering, thanks to Mike's contacts through his position as director of the Bristol Music Industry Network.

Although the album is widely available to download, the physical CD version comes with a 16-page booklet providing lyrics and the background story to the making of the album.

Already it has received some rave reviews, including one from Harry's grandson Roger Patch who said his grandad would have very proud.

"People are giving me really fantastic feedback about the album," Mike said.

You could be forgiven for thinking the tracks are all set in 1914 but there are influences from Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Roger Waters, Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (one of Mike's favourite bands) and the Kinks.

"There's all sorts of stuff on there! I didn't write music as it would have been back in the First World War because that would have relatively limited in style - I wanted something more modern that younger people would be able to get into as well. Some parts sound very 70s and some are more modern. There is some jazz, a couple of waltzes, some very sad songs and even some classical music. One song called The Spark sounds like something you would hear at the theatre."

In fact, the whole album is very theatrical which has led to Mike meeting with a theatre producer to discuss using the album as a basis for a play or production of some kind.

"If we can put a group of people together who can get funding and get the ideas going then we could put on some sort of stage play," Mike said.

"I'm not imagining I could produce something like Les Mis, but something a bit more contemporary would be a possibility with a narrative, dance, video footage and a band playing some of the songs. We've got lots of ideas but at the moment all I've had is one conversation with a theatre producer."

Mike said the album provided a fitting tribute to the man he knew and admired.

"Harry was absolutely amazing. He was on the ball and always cracking jokes; he was a really witty man and was always surprised about all the fuss made of him. 

"Harry was very strong in his views about war; he was generally very anti-war. He thought war was something the generals and the colonels should fight out, not the troops. Harry felt if war ends by sitting around a table filling in paperwork, why didn't they do that in the first place?

"The track In Memoriam HJP is very much about what I knew about Harry. He was very quiet about the war until he reached his late 90s and early 100s when he understood the importance of his position because he was one of the few soldiers left alive. He realised that people should hear what he had to say."

 

The Imperial Plan has been released across over 150 online stores for download and streaming on sites such as Amazon, iTunes, Deezer and Spotify. It is also available as a physical CD (digipak) at https://www.musicglue.com