A JOINT project by Grassington actor John Anderson and Yorkshire band The Tenmours has bridged the gap between the old and the new in a fresh take on the romantic poem first published in 1906, The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes.

After the loss of his mother, who suffered from dementia, John has regularly given his time to entertaining residents in care homes in the area with a selection of songs by Noel Coward, Gilbert and Sullivan and others, along with poetry and readings from familiar childhood favourites such as Winnie the Pooh.

Recognised by care staff for their value in improving lives of residents, John’s sessions have gained popularity, with poetry proving especially powerful in unlocking memories.

In one case, says John: “I was reading Gus the Theatre Cat by T S Eliot and stumbled over some words; a gentleman who was listening quietly prompted me correctly. When I had finished, he recited the whole of Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat, word for word, despite his dementia.”

In March 2018, John was asked by the family of Barbara Ayton to read her favourite poem, The Highwayman, at her funeral in Hellifield.

Barbara had been a resident at Threshfield Court nursing home and during her time there had recorded a reading of The Highwayman with her daughter, Joanne.

Touched by the recording personally, John was then taken aback by the effect his rendition of the poem had on the funeral congregation. “The atmosphere was electric and I realised the poem had a deep dramatic power,” he said.

With the advent of Covid-19, care home managers were keen for John to continue to deliver his entertaining and therapeutic sessions digitally instead of face to face due to the restrictions, so he began recording some of the poems and songs for the homes and the residents to be enjoyed at any time.

Revisiting The Highwayman for the project, John wanted music to add some added texture and drama behind the spoken word, and having enjoyed the music of The Tenmours when the band performed at Grassington Festival last year, he approached them to see if they would be interested in joining him in a a project.

The three-piece described as a ‘British alternative band’, The Tenmours were keen to get involved in the project for its artistic and community merit.

Singer and guitarist Alex Johnston-Seymour spent a week arranging the piece which was then further developed by violinist Osian Gruffydd and drummer Adam Hopkins as the recording process evolved.

Bridging the generation gap, their combined age is lower than the residents for who the project was conceived.

And, the musical texture that The Tenmours offered was a fitting match for the “passion and danger” of the poem.

In the same way that John’s readings unlock beautiful memories for those suffering with dementia, the physicality and raw emotion of the Tenmours gives the Edwardian poem a new lease of life as a “short piece of drama.”

Celebrated poet Alfred Noyes first published The Highwayman in 1906 and his dark, epic tale soon became recognised as one of Britain’s favourite poems.

Not only taught in schools, it has also featured in novels, been set to music by American folk singer Phil Ochs in the 1960s and referenced in Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Everyman’ in 1987.

The poem tells the story of an unnamed highwayman in love, sacrifice, and betrayal, reunited at death with his lover, the 'landlord's black-eyed daughter' “when the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor.”

It is, a powerful image for those separated by the pandemic to share in the experience of this beautiful poem.

The Tenmours treatment of The Highwayman features a music-video shot in black and white, as a supra-diegetic narration in the mind of John, as he sits at home reading the poem.

It has been released on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ssln04t7EZg&feature=share&fbclid=IwAR3CJ-zVtJz_F5-F5mHgoGcAQmcThdILXpclW3Z_E7Ag7X1f78cPO_jm_z8