Here’s the second of the new texts especially written by Ian McMillan for our opera (see below). This one is a lament about not being able to sing. Except the character can sing, he just thinks he can’t. I’ve already set this one.


(A song for the Dad)

Am blutherin and blubberin

Me soul-case art.

As’ll nivver be a singer.

Ah’ll be silent as a stick in’t

Bucket in’t coil oil.

As’ll nivver catch fire.

That’s why ah’m roooarin.


Tears like a bust pipe.

Tears like a bust pipe.


It’s all reyt singin’ in’t lav

Or singin on’t bus on’t way to’t pit.

Lads expect it:

‘Come on George, giz a tune.

Come on Caruso, giz a song.

Come on lad, mek them nooats fly

Like homing pigeons flappin’ back to’t loft!’

Till’t bus stops.

And we climb in’t cage.

And drop darn to ‘ell.



Tears like a bust pipe

Tears like a bust pipe


As’ll nivver be a singer

And it breaks me chuffin ‘eart;

As’ll nivver be a singer.

As’ll nivver hold that nooat

Like a promise

Till’t clappin starts

And’t cheerin.


Tears like a bust pipe

Tears like a bust pipe


I should stay on’t bus

Gu back through Plevna

ride through Slosh,

Ovver’t Wesh

End up in Jump

And when I get to Jump

Just Jump. Jump in’t air

And sing as ah’m Jumpin

Jump in’t air

And sing as ah’m jumpin

Jump in’t air

And sing as I’m jumpin…

Until then, I’m roaring


Tears like a bust pipe

Tears like a bust pipe





and here’s Ian reading it


After the last time we met, the singers asked Ian to record the texts as the basis for their interpretation. I met Ian this morning in the appropriate location of Huddersfield railway station and he recorded these texts, which I’m in the process of setting.

The first one is called Bow Tie, and is for two singers – we imagined a female voice singing the lines in italics, and a male voice – a tenor  – singing the other lines. It’s partly about our slight discomfort with the trappings of opera – as a ‘posh’ artform.



Tricky, those

Dicky bows

To tie


I would stand by the bedroom door and watch him


Round your throat

A bow-tie

The tight lie


I would stand by the bedroom door and watch him

I would stand at the door and see him struggling


Fussy, those

Bow ties

To fasten


I would stand at the bedroom door and imagine

Posh folk in suits and frocks talking too loud


Over and across 

In a mirror

Wrong way round


I would stand at the bedroom door and imagine

Voices strangled in the clinking light of glasses


Face knitted


Veins like drainpipes


I would stand at the bedroom door and imagine

Arias of braying nobodies saying nothing loudly


 Neck wrapped

 In black



I would stand at the bedroom door and watch him

Neck wrapped in black punctuation

…and here’s Ian reading it

Northern Voices: Like Me Dad

Why are there so few regional accents in opera? And of those regional accents, why is a vanishingly small proportion of them from the North? The North of England linguistically extends from Nottinghamshire and Shropshire up to the Scottish borders, and encompasses a population of around 14.5 million. If it were a country it would be bigger than Sweden and Austria in population. It would have its own orthography and linguistic tradition. It would have its own opera. There is opera in the north, of course, but why does one never hear a Northern accent in it? If a given set of vowels are the markers by which – linguistically – a northern identity is marked, why are those vowels never (or virtually never) heard in opera, the art-form which has traditionally defined a state’s cultural maturity. That’s why there’s an opera house in Manaos in the Amazon. That’s why there’s an opera house in Bratislava, and a new opera house in Oslo. Northern Voices is an ACE-funded project which seeks to redress the balance, and to ask if the absence of Northern accents from opera in English results from northern accents’ lack of “singability” or from other causes.

On May 27th, singer Richard Strivens and I worked on a song with the poet Ian McMillan, whose rich South Yorkshire tones are familiar to listeners of BBC Radio 3, and with University of Salford socio-phoneticist PhilipTipton. Ian wrote this beautiful, poignant text about a man who loves opera, but is afraid to sing it because of his accent, and I set it to music. Almost immediately we were faced with questions: is “mouth” pronounced as in Leeds, or as in Sheffield (‘mahth’). Philip Tipton, who works on vowel merger in Lancashire (which is why ‘fur’ rhymes with ‘square’ in Burnley), acted as a phorensic voice coach, taking every dipthong and every monophthong (not a place name near Upperthong) apart, until we had several lines of the song as close to Ian’s natural pronunciation as possible.

You can hear edited audio of the session here. I asked Richard Strivens, a bass-baritone originally from Kent, to prepare a song (which he got in score only, less than 24 hours before the session). I asked him to prepare it as he normally would, not worrying too much about trying for a Northern accent, and it was this initial version you will hear mostly on the recording, intercut with our initial discussions, and with our attempts to “Northern-ify” his pronunciation.