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Alexander the Great : a Folk Operetta

Welcome to the wonderful world of Humphrey 'Huck' Astley - a multitalented musician and writer who is currently touring his mini Folk Operetta...

Written by Amelia Gregory

Alexander The Great by Amelia Grace

Alexander The Great by Amelia Grace.

Humphrey ‘Huck’ Astley is a poet-singer-songwriter and author of the three-part album and stage show ‘Alexander the Great: a Folk Operetta‘ – here he describes the process of embarking on such an ambitious project…

How did you get involved in a Folk Operetta?
Alexander the Great is essentially a concept album, but I was wary of calling it that. I did however want to hint to people that it was more than just a bunch of songs, and I toyed with calling it a ‘narrative album’ before settling on ‘folk operetta‘, which is a term I found on Wikipedia! (I later discovered Anais Mitchell‘s folk opera Hadestown and almost died of embarrassment, though I’m not a big fan of the album.) To be honest, I’m using the term fairly liberally – I’m not a folk singer, and I don’t know anything about opera! But I like to think that I borrow a penchant for story from one, and a penchant for drama from the other. Little did I know, when I conceived the thing, that the title would be a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy and land the work on stage!

Alexander the Great - a Folk Operetta

What was the process of creation, how many people are involved and how long did it all take?
The album took about a year to write, on and off, after some false starts and a brush with extinction, and was finished in late 2012. Literally weeks after I’d written the last song, my friend and colleague Sebastian Reynolds got in touch saying he’d been selected for The PRS for Music Foundation‘s development scheme New Music Plus UK and that he needed a music/theatre crossover project to pitch, and that hadn’t I written an opera or something? So we applied, and got the funding! We’ve since formed The Xander Band, recorded the first two acts of the operetta in EP form, and been working on the stage show with The Cambridge Junction, with whom we were partnered.

huck and the xander band by Sangita Kumari

Huck and The Xander Band by Sangita Kumari.

What can the audience expect? What are the highlights?
They should expect to be taken on a journey – sonically, visually, thematically, geographically. I should point out that it’s not about the historical Alexander – it’s actually a kind of queer runaway myth of two young friends and their fall from grace in Dixie – though it does reference the Ancient Greeks. The story is a classic rites of passage about a young man’s transition through innocence and experience and finally independence, and it’s partly based on my own adventures in the South with my old band The Handsome Fee, so it’s not a complete fantasy!

Alexander the Great - a Folk Operetta live

Where can people see Alexander the Great?
It made its debut at The Cambridge Junction last weekend, then plays at the Rosemary Branch Theatre London on Tuesday 3 June and The Old Fire Station Oxford on Thursday 12 June.

What next for Huck and co?
We’ll be recording the third and final act as soon as possible, then grouping it with the first two and releasing all 12 tracks as a complete album with some kind of illustrated lyricbook – which will probably be a whole other project in itself! Then we’ll be going on tour…

You can hear music from the first 2 acts on band camp here, or if you like what you hear why not see the operetta for yourself on its final two tour dates.


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