Marsden Jazz Festival honours local poet Simon Armitage with world premiere commission

Marsden Jazz Festival (12-14 October) has commissioned a new work based on the work of local poet Simon Armitage.

On Marsden Moor (Saturday 13 October, Marsden Mechanics Hall) is a new suite composed by Shepley musician Jonny Mansfield setting five different poems by the Marsden-born poet in a combination of song form and spoken word.

Jonny Mansfield is a veteran of Marsden Jazz Festival, having grown up in the region and played with his school and music centre ensembles at the festival from an early age. His father also used to direct Shelley Music Centre big band. He also plays in Jam Experiment who played at the festival as a “Jazz North Introduces” band in 2014.

Mansfield’s Elftet was formed in 2015 and has performed around the UK and been broadcast on BBC Radio 3. Its sound comes from a mutual admiration between the members, creating endless new approaches and a wide palette of textures and colours, from traditional four horn writing to more contemporary classical music with the use of strings and vibraphone. The group is also planning a studio recording of the suite in spring 2019 for inclusion on its second album, with a launch tour in early 2020.

Armitage is one of the UK’s best-loved poets. A professor of poetry at the University of Leeds and part-time Oxford professor of poetry, he’s won a BAFTA, an Ivor Novello Award for songwriting and he’s a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Mansfield (who says he read some of Simon’s poetry at school but came to properly love it in later life) wrote much of the piece on a second-hand Hammond organ, given to him by his girlfriend for Christmas. He says, “the poems were an endless supply of ideas, from looking into the syntax and how that can be represented in rhythm or how it’s possible to present lines in iambic pentameter in duple and triple time meters. There are so many possibilities.”

The pieces set the poetry in different ways. Mansfield explains, “Sometimes the poetry is set as lyrics, sometimes spoken within the composition and sometimes read before the start of the composition. The suite features all members of Elftet through written material and improvisation. The rest is a surprise…”

The premiere couldn’t take place in a more appropriate setting either. The magnificently restored nineteenth century Mechanics Institute hall is one of the festival’s main concert venues and the perfect backdrop for a piece which celebrates a place where, Armitage says, “The hills stand far taller than the architecture.” For Mansfield it’s something of a homecoming: “I love the festival. It’s the best – the people, the music, the venues, the beautiful surroundings. It’s really so exciting to be a headline event and I can’t wait to play in the Mechanics hall. I have a very vivid memory of seeing Tim Garland’s Dean Street Orchestra there, playing a tune called Mr Magic. I must have been around 10 …”

Tickets for On Marsden Moor start at £14 for adults (£1 for 16-and-unders and half-price tickets for 17-29-year-olds).

For more information or to arrange an interview with Jonny Mansfield please contact


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