The Unpublished Writings of Dr. Mike Brocken: Cheshire Souling

This small introductory essay concerning the significance of the soul play in Cheshire was in fact published by Chester-based Minerva Arts in 2018 as a recognisable Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) output following the end of the project; however, it was only a limited-edition booklet designated almost entirely for school libraries.

As stated within the essay, the entire project had been inspired by the discovery of a short monograph entitled Cheshire Folk Drama written by the folklorist and collector Alex Helm back in 1968. This historically valuable text had come to me as part of, my old pal and colleague, Fred McCormick’s folk and blues collection following Fred’s passing. Most of the information in the book was actually extracted from the ‘Ritual Drama’ section of the Geographical Index of Traditional Ritual Custom which was, at that time, being compiled by Dr EC Cawte, Dr N Peacock and the aforementioned Alex Helm; I have not yet come across that larger volume (but keep searching!).

The ‘Cheshire Souling 2017’ project was funded by the HLF and it proved to be a great success across the county (also lots of fun for all involved). I was able to interview those who remembered soul plays being enacted1, sing and play guitar for many young people in schools and at festivals, and present the souling tradition to various groups across east Cheshire, while encouraging locals to re-invent the tradition via performing and/or writing.

During the course of the project I also presented a handful of dedicated shows on my BBC Radio Merseyside Folkscene radio programme. We, as Minerva Arts even performed a little street theatre concerning soul play authenticities in Knutsford (which was interesting!).

Minerva Arts were aided by Virginia Kettle from the great folk-rock band Merry Hell (Virginia composed a new soul play song with the children from Bunbury Primary School) and Runcorn electroacoustic composer Wendy Smith. Wendy’s composition was premiered at Congleton Town Hall on the last night of the project.

By the end of it all, I think we all felt that we would have liked to continue; but also perhaps realised (or hoped) that many young people might just recall their soul play experiences and perhaps even help to keep the tradition alive across those Cheshire towns and villages where the play had long since ceased to be performed.

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Thank You !

1 i.e. other than the Antrobus Soul Play, which still takes place to this very day.

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This research is made available for public access and peer review, but Dr Mike Brocken retains full ownership of any and all intellectual property, media resources and text, and should be formally accredited for any references to, or use of, these materials.

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