About this Recording
NA245412 - WILLIAMS, H.: Whale Nation (Unabridged)
English 

Heathcote Williams
Whale Nation

 

‘O ye whales and all that move in the waters…’
‘Benedicite’ – The Book of Common Prayer

Actor/writer Heathcote Williams had already started work on what was later to become his poem, Sacred Elephant, when in the mid-1980s he started, inexplicably, to have vivid extended dreams about whales. Director Ken Campbell, on hearing this, encouraged him to write a piece about these mysterious creatures for his underwater theatre in Liverpool. So Whale Nation came into being, a celebratory epic portraying the history, life and habits of whales and dolphins and their exploitation at the hands of man.

It was performed many times in a stage production with pictures and whale song, initially by the author himself and then toured extensively by actor Roy Hutchens in venues as varied as The National Theatre and the Natural History Museum, London and the Steinhart Aquarium, San Francisco.

The poem was published by Jonathan Cape in 1988 and was coupled with an extraordinary anthology of facts and figures, On The Nature of Whales.

The poet Ted Hughes wrote: ‘ The poem is overwhelming…brilliant, cunning, dramatic and wonderfully moving, a steady accumulation of grandeur and dreadfulness and never any sense of exploiting the subject for poetic or literary effects, just a measured unfolding of real things from the heart of the subject.’

Undoubtedly a work of this kind has stirred consciences all over the world. In presenting the subject and its stark realities in such an uncompromising manner, it has been a catalyst both in environmental and emotional terms. Performances have inspired the creation of branches of the environmental group Greenpeace; and many people have related that the poem has directly challenged their thoughts and views on today’s society, its ever increasing materialism and ruthless greed.

More recently, the book has been described as an icon of anti-consumerism.

Whale Nation has been a best-seller world wide and has, therefore, touched many peoples but it is significant that despite strenuous efforts, the book has still not been published in Japan, Norway or Russia – the three nations which still maintain their right to whale.

In 1983, the explorer and adventurer Thor Heyerdahl wrote, ‘it is not everybody’s fortune to have had bedside company with whales in their own free playground, but those of us who have feel an urge to support the growing majority of mankind that demands that the tiny minority who threatens the remaining whale species with complete extinction for personal economic gains should be forced to leave the whales in peace until able to multiply for the benefit of future generations on this planet.’

Whale Nation was the first of a series of extended poems written by Heathcote Williams on subjects of environmental concern. The others, which have also had a considerable effect, are: Falling for a Dolphin (1988); Sacred Elephant (1989) and Autogeddon (1991).

Although they brought Williams’ work to a broad public, he had already established himself as a poet and playwright – his AC/DC was produced at London’s Royal Court and won numerous awards in the UK and the US. Other plays include Hancock’s Last Half Hour, and The Immortalist. As an actor he has been equally versatile, playing Prospero in Derek Jarman’s film of The Tempest and Dr Haggage in Little Dorrit.

Notes by Sarah Butcher

 

The music on this recording is taken from the NAXOS and MARCO POLO catalogues

MENDELSSOHN Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage
8.550222

Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra/Oliver Dohnányi

HOLST The Planets (Neptune)
8.550193

Czecho-Slovak RSO/Adrian Leaper

BACH Mass in B minor
8.550585–86

Capella Istropolitana/Christian Brembeck

MOZART Requiem
8.550235

Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus/Zdenek Kosler

BRAHMS Symphony No 1
8.550278

BRT Philharmonic, Brussels/Alexander Rahbari

DEBUSSY La Mer
8.550262

BRT Philharmonic, Brussels/Alexander Rahbari

CIURLIONIS The Sea
8.223323

Slovak Philharmonic/Juozas Domarkas

Whale Music
WSCD 00291

Les Chants de la Baleine A Bosse  by courtesy of World of Sounds, France


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