Richard III - The Album

The life and times of King Richard III has inspired plays, movies, novels and now music, as the band The Legendary Ten Seconds has released an album called Tant le desiree. It portrays Richard III on the morning before the Battle of Bosworth, in which the English ruler would be killed. This album contains songs which cover the life of Richard III and include songs about some of the battles and campaigns in which he took part.

We interviewed Ian Churchward, one of the members of The Legendary Ten Seconds, to talk about this album:

Richard III has been an inspiration for a lot of art and literature, especially in recent years. What was it about his story that you wanted to put to music?

The Legendary Ten Seconds started off as a solo project back in about 2005 and then sometime in 2012 I made some recordings of my songs with a friend who has the stage name of Lord Zarquon (known to his friends as Mike). 

The first songs I recorded with Lord Zarquon contain the usual standard pop song type lyrics. Little did we know that the subject matter of my songs was due for a very dramatic change. It was at the beginning of the year in 2013 that Lord Zarquon came over to my basement recording studio with his keyboard and played me a nice melody line he had worked out. It might be that he happened upon it that evening while he was over at my house. It was a very folky sounding melody which he played using a mellotron flute sound on his Nord keyboard. I worked out the chords to go with the melody and so we had the music for an introduction and verse for a new song idea. Yet we had no idea for any lyrics and we also required a chorus. The hardest thing about trying to write a song is usually finding an interesting idea for the lyrics. Love is the most obvious one but I had grown tired of using that theme. 

A few days later I was in my basement and I had just started to play the guitar when my wife called down to me from our kitchen. “Ian, there’s a programme on TV about Richard III. Do you want to come up and watch it.” Well to be honest I wasn’t sure that I did want to watch it because I was enjoying playing the guitar and I don’t watch much TV. However I am interested in history so thank the heavens above that I did put my guitar down and I went upstairs from the basement. I thought I will just watch a few minutes of the programme and then I will go back to the guitar. I sat down to watch the most amazing documentary I had ever seen and within a few minutes any thought of going back to my guitar was abandoned until the programme had finished.

The things that I remember most from the documentary was the information relating to the Richard III Society, the first revealing of the skeleton in the car park and at the end when the reconstructed model of the head of Richard III was shown. You could see the emotion in Philippa Langley’s face when she saw the curvature of the spine in the uncovered grave. It was one of the most exciting moments I have ever seen. So there was truth in the Tudor myth that Richard had been a hunch back. That was my immediate thought. Maybe this was what Philippa had been thinking at that moment as well? Later in the documentary we learnt that Richard wasn’t  a hunch back as he had a sideways curvature of the spine. This was a condition called scoliosis which I had not heard of before.

I had vaguely known that there was a Richard III society and thought this to be rather strange. I had also had a curious interest in Richard III for many years but had never really investigated it further. One of my favourite books from my childhood was my Ladybird book about Warwick the Kingmaker. I  had never really understood that confusing period of English history when the Wars of the Roses took place but I could easily recite the list of the medieval Kings of England in the correct historical order from Edward the confessor through to Henry VII. I always thought that the style of the armour in the late 15th century looked rather superb. Anything earlier seemed half formed, anything later looked too modern. I always considered the Tudor fashions to look rather ridiculous but that of the fifteenth century quite full of style. The most well known portrait of Richard III in his doublet (before it was altered during the Tudor period to make him look mean) and that hat is truly wonderful.

When I was a young boy I must have read that ladybird book about Warwick the Kingmaker so many times. I had not realised that Richard as the Duke of Gloucester had been at the same battle that resulted in the death of Warwick. For some reason my sympathy lies with the House of York. I have a tendency to always feel sorry for the loser.  For instance I felt it was a shame that Harold had lost the battle of Hastings. I felt sorry that Richard III lost the battle of Bosworth although I could never understand why Northumberland and the Stanleys didn’t help Richard to defeat Henry Tudor. What was the matter with them for goodness sake! In my study were two history books covering English history. One was ‘The Lives Of The Kings And Queens of England’ by Antonia Fraser, and the other ‘The Story Of Britain’ by Roy Strong. In the time spent waiting for my computer to start working, which with time seemed to take longer and longer, I would always turn to the sections in those books about Richard III. I lost count of the number of times I had read the short sections covering Richard’s reign. Roy Strong is particularly harsh about Richard. “Richard III came to the English throne by way of a pathway soaked with the blood of his victims” and I believed every word of it but I wished it were not true.

In about 1995 my family had enjoyed a very memorable holiday in Yorkshire and we had visited Middleham. There was an English heritage shop at the castle and I had been tempted to buy a novel from the shop about Richard III. I could always recall the opening paragraph of the novel about Richard becoming scared as darkness fell as he was lost in a forest. Unfortunately I decided not to buy the book as I didn’t think I would like to read a novel about him murdering the Princes in the tower of London. I think this has been the perception of Richard III which has been portrayed in most of the older history books, that of the evil hunchback uncle.

But I must go back to the inspiration I had been given after watching that documentary about Richard III. I now realised that the new song idea could be a song about Richard III. I went back to the history books I owned to read through the sections about Richard and quickly came up with the words for the verse sections of a song. Now all I needed was a chorus. A few days later while I was ironing some shirts a chorus tune and the words came to me. I called the song ‘The House Of York’ and I recorded myself singing it, and also playing my acoustic guitar and then I gave the recording to Lord Zarquon. The next time he came over to my house he played me what he had done to my very basic recording. He had added mellotron keyboard sounds, including that wonderful flute melody line on the introduction, an amazing over the top church organ sound, and drums. In my humble opinion he had produced a masterpiece.

There is always a challenge in creating music that wants to echo past styles but also works for a modern audience. How did you approach this challenge? 

After we had written and recorded one song about Richard III I suggested to Lord Zarquon that perhaps we could consider producing a concept album about Richard III. Lord Z is a huge fan of concept albums and in some ways our music has a similar style to the late 1960’s concept albums of The Moody Blues. Those albums by The Moody Blues are probably Lord Z’s favourites.  Lord Zarquon uses the Mellotronics MTron Pro and the Nord Viking mellotron samples which can produce truly ethereal organic sounds and are very similar to the sounds used by The Moody Blues in the late 1960’s.

I decided to have a look on the internet to see if there were any books I could buy about Richard III to give me some ideas for words for songs and a much more in depth knowledge so that I could try to make the history in the lyrics accurate. I immediately discovered that there seem to be more books about this much maligned monarch than anyone else. Not just history books but also novels. My initial dilemma was trying to decide which books to buy out of such a huge choice. It began to dawn on me that if there was a Richard III society and so many books about Richard III then recording a whole album of songs about this King, once finished, might prove to be quite popular and fairly easy to sell. At last I could find an audience who might be interested in my songs. After all there seemed to be lots of people interested in Richard III but not that many songs about him. 

I have been composing my own songs ever since I first started to play the guitar when I was 18 and I felt confident in  my ability to be able to compose lots of songs about Richard III with decent melodies and interesting lyrics. I felt that the songs would need to have a strong English folk rock feel to them and I also knew that I had the ability to add a medieval flavour to the music.

I played in a Ceilidh band for nearly 10 years. It was originally called Storm Force Ten and later Phoenix (rising from the ashes of the previous band Storm Force Ten!). The band played instrumentals of  tunes such as ‘A Hundred Pipers’. This became a major influence on my attempts at writing songs. I started to use folk music chord changes in my songs. But combined with this was an album that I borrowed from Nigel Howells, the melodeon player. This album was ‘The Bones Of All Men.’ It consisted of medieval/Tudor sounding instrumentals with catchy tunes played with a mixture of modern and older traditional instruments. I was in heaven listening to it.  I remember there was a song called ‘How Does It Feel,’ that I had come across in about 1982, by a relatively unknown band called Grim Noel which had a a medieval feel to it. I instinctively knew I wanted to hear lots more songs like this but had never found any.  What joy to have finally found a whole album with catchy medieval/Tudor tunes. I felt inspired to compose my own Tudor sounding instrumentals.  The first one I composed was called ‘Medieval Garage,’ after my friend Andy England, said it sounded like medieval garage music. The next one that I composed, I called ‘The Field Of Cloth Of Gold.’ I read about the field of cloth of gold in the section covering the reign of Henry VIII, in a history book by Roy Strong. By the time I decided to start my Richard III music project I had already written several medieval sounding instrumentals. 

The songs on the Richard III albums are a bit like historical novels that have been written in the modern era. For instance the Sunne In Splendour novel by Sharon Penman takes you back in time so that you feel like you are in late 15th century England but the characters in the novel speak using modern English so that we can understand the story.  I have tried to make my music about Richard III sound like it is  taking you back in time by giving it a medieval flavour but to make it accessible I have incorporated modern sounds and musical instruments. 

You also mentioned that an album also contains fictional narratives written and read by a Ricardian author called Sandra Heath Wilson which help to tell the story of Richard III. Why did you want to include this element into the musical work?

The ‘Loyaulté Me Lie’ album was reviewed by a Ricardian novelist, Sandra Heath Wilson, for the Richard III society quarterly magazine and the Murrey and Blue blog. Sandra made contact with me via facebook and I asked her if she would be interested in writing an audio Ricardian novel which would also include my music.  My initial idea was that this would be a novel written by Sandra in audio format with my music at the beginning of each Chapter. I then came up with another idea and suggested to Sandra that perhaps she could write some short fictional narratives from the perspective of Richard’s mother Cecilly Neville which might introduce each song. We used this idea on the second album which is called Tant Le Desiree. I just thought that it was a really original idea that no one had done before. It is a similar idea to War Of The Worlds by Jeff Wayne and although the narratives on Tant Le Desiree are fictional they are based on what we know about the life and times of Richard III. It is very difficult to come up with something new and completely original these days, it has all been done before in music, but I feel that I have come up with something that is as original as you can get in this day and age.

You can buy the album from the band’s website or through CD Baby. A portion of sales revenue is being donated to the charity S.A.U.K. Scoliosis - already they have donated about £750 to the charity from the Richard III music project.

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