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Let's Get This Show on the Road. Songs of the Dambusters. Goxhill Memorial Hall. 21 May 2022.

Updated: Apr 8, 2023

I have tried to see this show to review it for, what seems like, an age. I have a boyhood obsession with all things related to The Dambusters. I grew up in house that was about a quarter of a mile from the family home of Guy Gibson's wife in Penarth, South Wales and heard tell of how our hometown was bombed in revenge for the attack on the dams because Gibson got married there.

I began writing a radio play about the real Guy Gibson in 2012, but sadly never finished it due to a family bereavement. As a result, I went to this concert well-informed of the history of 617 Squadron and was hoping for something special. I feel I got it. Performed by Dick Appleton who had composed this wonderful evening of song and ably assisted by Paul Bellamy, these songs paid tribute to the men of Bomber Command who, perhaps, got short shrift at war's end and unlike the fighter pilots of the Battle of Britain, never received the recognition or due praise for their heroism and only had their efforts marked in very recent years.

Upon entering Goxhill Memorial Hall, I was reminded of scenes I have seen a thousand times before in movies and television programmes. The Union Flag was flying overhead along with the flag of Ukraine and a lot of red, white and blue bunting in anticipation of the Queen's Jubilee.

It could almost have been a WW2 dance hall ready for the Brylcreme Boys to sweep the girls off their feet as described in a song featured tonight To Dance WIth Ruby Raithby. On stage were number of period props that were given greater significance later. But a little teddy in a flying scarf and goggles sat next to a sheepskin-lined flying jacket designed to combat the extreme cold experienced by bomber crews as they flew nightime raids over Germany. From each microphone stand hung an RAF tunic. From one stand, an ominous-looking gas mask was suspended.

With the scene set, Appleton and Bellamy took to the stage and picked up their weapons of choice. For Bellamy it was a semi-acoustic fiddle and for Bellamy a guitar, supplemented by a banjo, a bouzouki and a mouth organ at various points. They kicked off proceedings with the titular song Let's Get This Show on the Road and followed it up with A Family at War. Each song throughout the show was accompanied by a string of images projected onto a screen to one side of the stage, often reminding the audience just how chillinga task flying as the crew of a Lancaster bomber really was. The life expectancy of a Rear Gunner in a Lancaster was just two weeks and recounted in Tail-End Charlie, and The Elbow Song, about a former rear gunner who Dick had met in his later years.

Song after song evoked memories of wartime Britain, and especially life in Lincolnshire known as Bomber County and given its own song. It is clear how deeply inspired Appleton must have been because he wrote 43 songs inspired by the work of 617 Squadron, or Squadron X as they were originally known. The songs were written for anniversary commemoration in 2013 for BBC Radio Lincolnshire. Only 8 were used, and that is why this concert provides a perfect themed basis to share some of the remaining songs with audiences. They are too good not to share.

The two musicians, both very well know to Folks Lincs audiences sparked off each other naturally and with ease. Their onstage ribbing and banter went down well, as did the many terrible jokes they shared with the audience in between the more serious content of the songs and the inspiration behind each.

My personal highlight during the first half of the show was the beautifully, haunting Silence Over Scampton which somehow touched a nerve within me. It told the tale of the ground crew left behind, as the airmen flew towards their destiny and explored the feelings of those at home in Scampton who knew so many would never return. They never did say a real goodbye. The sacrifice was real. Then the show quite literally went from the sublime to the ridiculous as Dick and Paul performed Make Do and Mend to open the second half of their show. And to do so, they both popped on a wig and headscarf to portray the women of WW2 and this wonderful piece of nonsense brought a smile to the audience. They did NOT make attractive women though it has to be said.

We learned how the teddy at the front of the satge had been crafted from a genuine RAF flyer's flying jacket and was wearing his actual flying scarf.

Interestingly, though the concert is intended as a tribute to the men of Bomber Command, it does not seek to glorify the act of war, or of using bombs from above to kill people. Dick Appleton reminded us all through Mothers' Day, that they day the dams were broken was Germany's Mothers' Day. The futility of war also featured in the song Norman, which was about an airman who died on the attack on the dams in Z for Zebra, leaving a young wife grieving. "One more young man doing his duty, One more family torn apart" the song said and you felt every word's truth.

We learned of the guilt felt by Barnes Wallis, the inventor of the bouncing bomb employed on the raid in Commoners and Kings. Once again, I was reminded of the duo's earlier song Ten Tall Men that outlined the fact that the Lancasters were flown at sixty feet over water at night. That is the height of ten tall men standing on each otehr's shoulders. The whole exercise was sheer madness; the fact that the crews agreed to even attempt such a feat is tribute to their determination "to do the right thing" to try to shorten the war in the long run. This, despite the hideous death toll of those who never came home.

The songs were not all doom and gloom by any means, and the mood was kept light by these two masterful musicians and entertainers. In the first half I enjoyed Rosie the Riveter and To Dance WIth Ruby Raithby, both far more light-hearted. So too was Dick's rendition of The Elsan Incident, even Paul's solo acapella rendition of Coming Up to Meet Me, about a succesful bailout and parachute descent from a stricken Lancaster. But the reason for the show was perfectly encapsulated in the final song of the show, We Will Remember Them.

A deeply touching reminder that it is only in the twenty-first century that the men of Bomber Command have been properly honoured witha memorial to those who gave their lives in service. The bombing of Germany was brutal, there is no escaping the fact and to glamourise it is wrong. But it is right to remember the men who sacrificed everything in order to oppose those who chose to march against freedom across Europe and wanted to destroy those who stood against them by any means necessary. That is what Dick Appleton and Paul Bellamy have done here, and I applaud them. I hope that they get the chance to perform this show again, and that it will continue to attract appreciative audiences across Bomber County, Lincolnshire.

Andy Evans 22 May 2022

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