Mary Rose Museum

I’ve been aware and conscious of the Mary Rose for most of my life. As a child, I remember quite vividly, the lead up to the raising of the Tudor warship, through regular appearances on Blue Peter and Newsround, memorably led by archaeologist Margaret Rule (here she is speaking to Sally Taylor on South Today in 2013 when the museum opened). At the very end of the museum tour, is a small sculpture of Dr Rule, who died in 2015, along with Alexander McKee, the two archeologist who ultimate made this museum a possibility.

It’s genuinely sad that Dr Rule passed away just a year before the hard work she instigated reached its current state. Only in 2016 did the remains of The Mary Rose finally unburdened itself of the conservation processes that now allows to be seen in all its glory. Having been sprayed with water and chemicals for over 20 years following its raising, it spent some years drying out in a sealed hotbox. That finally disappeared last year and the remains of the ship, still in the cradle that lifted it from the Solent seabed, can now be seen in full.

The experience for the visitor is simply stunning. The clever combination of lighting, sound effects, 3D projection and the architecture of the building itself all lend to the sense of atmosphere.

The museum itself is tucked away at the far end of Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard. It’s low profile, clamshell like appearance is hidden behind HMS Victory. The building itself is clad in dark timbers, not dissimilar to the colour of the ship timbers inside. The museum is built around the dry dock where The Mary Rose was laid to rest following its raising, and not that far from where it is believed she was originally built. As the guidebook comments, most new museums are built and then filled with artefacts. In this instance the main exhibit was already in situ and the museum had to be built around it.

The exhibition starts with some background to the origins of the ship, in a short, curved gallery space. This only gives a hint of what’s to come, with a few choice exhibits on show. From here you must wait to progress further. Eventually doors open automatically and you enter a small cinema space. Often museum videos are endless, and you never see the whole thing. However, this one is short, but ever so effective. reconstructing the sinking of the ship from the perspective of one of its crew members. As soon as has begun and you are allowed to enter the museum proper.

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This is the first of a series of small gallery spaces, depicting some of the many many finds recovered from the wreck site. The items are grouped by the original owner, be it the chef, the burser, the surgeon, the carpenter or one of the senior crew members. It’s wasn’t particularly busy on my visit, but it’s these spaces where I have the greatest criticism. Even with a smallish crowd, the space was cramped, and it was tricky to pass down some walkways and have a good look at some of the items on show.

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From here, it one of three chances you get to see the main exhibit itself, as you pass the full length of the ship at three different levels. The first is along the middle. To one side, through the glass, is the ship, lit in dim white and blue lights. It takes a while for your eyes to adjust to the lower light levels, but when they do, the view is remarkable. To make the experience even more all sensory, there is a subtle sound of a tall ship in full sail at sea, the creaking of the timbers and the strain in the ropes. It’s done subtly enough not to become ridiculous, but enough to add to the overall atmosphere. These longer galleries are also used to display some of the larger items, such as the cannons, and anchor rope. Where only part of an item exists, the museum have created frosted perspex replacements, so you can ‘see’ the object as a whole.

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The museum then repeats itself, with more exhibits at each end of the ship. The second pass is at the bottom of the boat. For the final pass of the ship, at the very top, you pass into the same airspace as The Mary Rose, something that the public have only been able to since 2016. To do so, you must pass through an airlock from the rest of the museum. You’re immediately hit by the distinct smell of the ship, but you also see her in even more clarity than was possible behind glass.

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The tour ends with a final video, this time news footage of the raising of The Mary Rose. Footage I thought I knew. Certainly the yellow cradle by which the ship was lifted from the sea bed was etched into my memory. But I’d totally forgotten that the ship slipped a little during its lifting, with the immediate dread that all the hard work had been for naught. Fortunately, nothing untoward had occurred, and this remarkable recovery from Henry VIII’s Navy is now proudly displayed for all to see.

The Mary Rose Museum is open from 10am to 5pm (November to March) and from 10am to 5.30pm (April to October). It is closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. The Museum is part of the wider Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Tickets can be purchased for the Mary Rose itself, or for the whole of the Dockyard, including HMS Victory, HMS Warrior and The National Museum of the Royal Navy.

Song 24: Idlewild

Finally in my Advent countdown for 2016 is a band I’ve long had a soft spot, even if they themselves went through numerous soft spots musically of the last decade. Travis, released a new album, Everything At Once, this year and it’s a real return to form for the Scottish indie boys. I say ‘boys’, but lead singer Fran Healey hasn’t aged well – and I’m really not sure about how well he carries off the Gunther von Hagens look!

Anyway, this is a cracking song, from the back-end of the album. From my recollection, it’s probably also the first Travis song with female vocals, but please correct me if I’m wrong. The voice of Josephine Oniyama works really well with Healey’s.

I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas, and a hope 2017 is an improvement on 2016! At least the music and musicians kept us going and in good spirits.

Song 20: Hirta

Sticking with the theme of island music from yesterday, and a contemporary classical interpretation of place, this is a track from the stunning album The Lost Music of St Kilda, a project that brings together music recorded in 2012 an elderly resident of a care home, with a leading Scottish music ensemble and a renowned contemporary Scottish composer.

Trevor Morrison was the care home resident in question, who, roughly ten years ago, sat down at a piano at the Silverlea Care Home in Edinburgh and began to play. But the story goes back further, to the Second World War and the Isle of Bute, where the 10 year old Trevor was living at the time. He was learning to play piano, and his teacher was one of the evacuees from St Kilda, the remote islands off the west coast of Scotland. Trevor was taught the traditional tunes that had been sung and played on St Kilda. Skip forward to the 2000s, and from the deep recesses of Trevor’s memory came those tunes once more.

The uniqueness of the music was quickly spotted by one of the care home volunteers, who offered to record the music for Trevor – a critical decision because Trevor died in 2012, and if these tunes had not been recorded, then the sounds of generations long gone would have been lost forever.

After Trevor’s death the recordings eventually found their way to Decca Records, who saw huge potential in them. They commission a number of composers, including Sir James Macmillan to develop the tunes to work with the Scottish Festival Orchestra. The end result is an album featured the mix orchestral pieces, alongside the solo recordings of Trevor Morrison himself. From the album I’ve selected the haunting track, Hirta, one of the solo Morrison pieces.

 

Song 19: Particles

For such a small country, Iceland packs a punch when it comes to musical talent, particularly more esoteric and experimental music. From that tradition comes Ólafur Arnalds, who takes traditional instrumentation (piano, strings) and applies a little of the DJ’s electronic wizardry to the sound, with some experimental looping thrown in.

He’s features on the Erased Tapes label, who specialise in the otherworldly sounds where music meets art. Other stable mates include A Winged Victory For The Sullen and Nils Frahm (who’s track Say I nearly featured on a previous Advent list).

However, for this album, Island Songs, the sound is much more stripped back. Indeed, this has been described as a project, rather than an album. The project was a joint effort with director Baldvin Z and involved travelling to seven different locations on Iceland over seven weeks to record seven different tracks with seven different collaborating artists. Each week a new audio and video was released to the Island Songs website, where the whole project is now to be found for posterity.

Particles, is the sixth of the seven tracks, and features to voice of Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir from the band Of Monsters And Men, another wonderful Icelandic export.

Song 18: Stars

Here’s some dance music that I heard early on this autumn, although for the life of me I can no longer remember where. It may have been another song of the day from KCRW.

The artist is Valida, but beyond that I’m struggling to find out more. The website valida.com proclaims “I like to daydream…a lot”, and there’s a smattering of other quotes on there, such as “we’ll be stars together”, which comes direct from this song. There’s a link to a site called buzzbands.la, which at first I guessed might be Latvian, but in fact is a site from music from Los Angeles (and the .la domain name is actually for Laos!).

But then, slowly the stars are aligning. Valida’s full name is Valida Carroll. She’s a radio host on KCRW and late night DJ playing worldwide, but heading up Desert Nights at The Standard, Hollywood. Originally she’s from Bosnia, so there is an Eastern European link, but more with the Balkans and the Baltic. She’s quoted as saying: “Stars is about letting go” and really it’s hard not to disagree with that summary.

 

Song 17: If I Ever Was A Child

Another artist that I’ve long followed was back in 2016, this time US alt-country band Wilco. I first encountered Wilco on their collaboration with Billy Bragg, putting Woody Guthrie poems to music on the Mermaid Avenue albums. That led to a voyage of discovery of Wilco’s own work.

This track, If I Ever Was A Child, from the new album Schmilco reminds me of some of the early Wilco discoveries I made from albums such as Being There, Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and track such as Forget The Flowers, Say You Miss Me, She’s A Jar, Nothing’severgonnastandinmyway (Again) and Jesus etc.