Recorded live at the Ilkley Literature Festival, Michael Morpurgo reads eight excerpts from his novel interspersed with songs from Coope, Boyes and Simpson and three bagpipe pieces, composed and played by Lester Simpson, which open and close and the performance. Most of the audience reaction has been edited out so the `action' is more or less continuous.
At the risk of giving too much away, Thomas Peaceful was a young soldier from the West Country whose experiences in 1916 lead inexorably to a firing squad. He tells his story in a series of flashbacks while waiting for the dawn, beginning with his first day at school. Each chapter begins with a time check as Peaceful looks at his watch and the passing of the hours echoes the passage of his life. Morpurgo's performance goes from strength to strength and the listener is quickly drawn into the story. The songs are mostly familiar pieces from the Coope Boyes & Simpson repertoire including `Standing In Line', `Down Upon The Dugout Floor' and `Only Remembered', each chosen for its relevance to the story at a particular point. In turn, the context of the story gives added resonance to the songs.
Private Peaceful is compelling listening, not easy for all our familiarity with the songs and stories of the Great War. Although nominally a book for children its prose doesn't patronise nor does it pull any punches - the description of the execution together with Barry Coope's solo of `Oranges And Lemons' will bring tears to your eyes.