Girl from the North Country - meet the band

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Lead by Musical Director Alan Berry, the Girl from the North Country band are responsible for bringing Simon Hale’s stunning arrangements of Bob Dylan’s songs to life each performance. To celebrate the release of the Original Cast Recording, we caught up with them to find out what it’s like to perform on The Old Vic stage each night.

Pete Callard

Pete Callard Girl from the North Country

What’s your instrument(s) and your role in the show?

I play four instruments – a parlour guitar with a mic attached for all the onstage stuff and another small bodied acoustic for the gentler numbers, a nylon string guitar and a square neck resonator lap steel. We wanted to use instruments that would have been around in 1934, which is a central element in the sound world of Girl from the North Country.

How did you get to where you are today?

A mixture of hard work, luck and a lot of practice.

What’s the difference between playing in a standard pit and performing on stage?

You’re obviously more exposed, but you feel much more part of the production when you’re onstage.

How’s the view from the band?

We get a great view of everyone’s back! Actually it’s really good, it feels like the play is unfolding around you and despite the fact you miss some of what’s happening at the front, it’s such a privilege to watch all of these fantastic actors up close every night. It’s a strange feeling in the numbers where we join them onstage – it’s a bit like stepping into the television set!

Most challenging thing about Girl from the North Country?

Being in costume onstage and interacting with the cast was quite a departure from what I normally do, but is now quite fun.

What is your favourite moment in Girl from the North Country?

I’ve got many favourite moments, but there’s a great piece of underscore called ‘Blind Willie McTell’ in the first half under the scene where Rev Marlowe and Frank Burke are facing off which is really fun to play. It’s on the lap steel and quite sinister and swampy so we try to make it as atmospheric and unsettling as we can. I also really love the beginning and end of the final number, ‘Forever Young’. It’s sparse and harmonically simple but has a real plaintive beauty, particularly in the context of the show. I have to make sure not to look at Ciaran because I start welling up!

Tell us one thing no one else would know about the show

When I walk on stage at the start of the second act I often play classic rock tunes. AC/DC, Queen, Led Zeppelin & Metallica have all featured recently…

What’s been the best thing about working at The Old Vic so far?

Everyone’s really nice and look after us really well. It’s a beautiful theatre and a lovely place to work.

Charlie Brown

Charlie Brown Girl from the North Country

What’s your instrument(s) and your role in the show?

Violin, mandolin, parading on stage with my big ole beard.

How did you get to where you are today?

By relinquishing a great deal of control and seeing where life takes me.

What’s the difference between playing in a standard pit and performing on stage? How’s the view from the band? 

You feel more engaged on stage but unable to relax the way one does in a pit. The view is a little like spying on proceedings from behind a newspaper.

Most challenging thing about Girl from the North Country?

The second act. There’s a lot to play, all of it coming from different emotional places, and it can be hard to suddenly swap your mind-set instantly from cue to cue.

What is your favourite moment in Girl from the North Country?

The line ‘Those are some nice twigs ya stuck in his… head’.

Tell us one thing no one else would know about the show

It uncannily resembles the story of my parent’s relationship and my conception.

What’s been the best thing about working at The Old Vic so far?

Many, many small things.

Don Richardson

Don Richardson Girl from the North Country

What’s your instrument(s) and your role in the show?

Double Bass

How did you get to where you are today?

Generally playing in the London scene with bands and playing in West End shows.

What’s the difference between playing in a standard pit and performing on stage? How’s the view from the band?

It’s much more fun being onstage and being part of the action. Sitting at the back of the stage watching the play is amazing; it sometimes feels like the scenes are put on just for me.

Most challenging thing about Girl from the North Country?

The most challenging aspect for me is trying to get just the right feel for the song at the right time.

What is your favourite moment in Girl from the North Country?

‘Idiot Wind’ – it’s achingly beautiful.

Tell us one thing no one else would know about the show

There is a massive box of biscuits behind the guitarist.

What’s been the best thing about working at The Old Vic so far?

It’s hard to answer because it’s such a special place – being encouraged to be creative and everybody who works here is always smiling.

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