My attention has just been brought to Jeff Gillett’s setting to music of the forty-six poems from Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience (including “A Divine Image”). The Songs have, of course, been a popular source for many musicians, and you can read about a few versions in articles by Keri Davies on Benjamin Britten and John Sykes, as well as a more recent entry by me on Fernand Péna. These particular versions offer renditions accompanied by guitar, cello and other stringed instruments that draw strongly on folk traditions.
Jeff Gillett himself has performed in folk clubs around the UK, working in particular with Ron Taylor on releases such as Take Off Your Old Coat (1992), Fair Length and Share (1995) and Both Shine as One (2006). Some of Jeff’s work has also provided inspiration for the ceilidh group The Downfielders. Performers on William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience include violinist Cathy Brown, pianist/cellist Alison Gregory, and Jeff’s partner Elaine.
The starting point for this particular CD was initially an educational one (as a teacher, Jeff wanted to help his students prepare for an examination and so use music to help them remember the poems). As such, the project is as much a pedagogical one as musical, but plenty of the tracks that be heard at www.myspace.com/blakesettings demonstrate the sensitivity of accompaniment for which he is best known. Jeff’s voice in particular is especially suited for creating sympathetic renditions, his version of “The Sick Rose” being a favourite of mine.
You can buy the CD, as well as read Jeff’s comments on the poems, view videos (and even book him for a performance) at www.blakesongsettings.co.uk.