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Friday, 2 May 2014

Saul Rose: 'Firing the War Horse band was shit. They shouldn't have done it'

Saul Rose knows a thing or two about War Horse. He played Songman in the West End show for a year starting in 2011, which was the year it came out as a movie. But more than that... As a folk musician he's known and much loved as one-third of Faustus, for Whapweasel, as Eliza Carthy's musical foil in the Kings of Calicutt and now as James Delarre's other half, kind of.

For ages I thought he was in Bellowhead because the first time I saw them live he was depping for John Spiers.

"He was off being a daddy," nods Rose, referring to Spiers' paternity leave.

It's a Tube-stricken evening in Camden and Rose & Delarre are playing at The Green Note to a handful of delighted diehards who are blase about their chances of getting home. What I want to know is what Rose thinks about events at the National Theatre, whose management recently, somewhat thuggishly, sacked the entire band from War Horse

"I think the problem ultimately was that they were musicians, rather than actors," said Rose. "They have the Musicians Union and their pay scale is different. When War Horse was originally commissioned it was only supposed to run for a short while. But then it went to the West End and is still running six or seven years later.

"The cast's deal was worked out on the basis that it was a three month run. But the same five musicians are still there after all that time later and their wages... It's why I'm a member of the Musicians' Union and not Equity."

When Rose was in War Horse he was a member of the cast who played music, rather than a member of the band. Do you have any idea how the musicians are, I ask?

"I should think they are feeling ever so slightly relieved," he said thoughtfully. "I'm just saying it's possible... because to play the same thing eight times a week for seven years takes some doing. I couldn't do it.

"What really appalls me, though, is that" whatever that judge said "those musicians are an integral part of the play. I sometimes worry about the idea of authenticity, but they had been in the show from the beginning and there was an authenticity to that. Audiences that see it with recorded music are being short changed and I think the play will suffer as a result...

"I'm not expecting to go back into War Horse," he grinned.

Probably just as well...

"I did a year and that's fine for me, that's plenty. It's not because I wouldn't do theatre again. I might. But I really had to put everything on hold as a musician for that year and it was hard.

"Maybe the audience numbers are dwindling now, finally?" he suggested

Well, it doesn't really matter, does it? War Horse has been the biggest financial success the National Theatre has ever had. There can't be any excuse for this kind of behaviour over money, can there? So what was it like, being in that show?

"It was amazing. One of the best years of my life. You know when you get a group of ten people there is always likely to be someone who is idiot?"


"Well, we had a cast of 35 and everyone was amazing. No idiots. They were all so generous to me, as someone who didn't really know anything about acting. I got to dress up as a colonel in one of the roles they had me play, and bark orders. And there was one scene"...

There may have been some ordnance going off like nostalgia at the back of Rose's mind...

"... where every time I did a back flip Malcolm, one of the other guys in the cast, would give me a fiver. I tell you what I missed though... There are certain parts of that show when the Songman is allowed to interact with the audience. And in that role you get to do it more than anyone else. But even so... it wasn't much. It was like there was a wall up between the actors and audience most of the time."

And I guess having recorded music can only exacerbate that. What about John Tams (who wrote the original music for War Horse)? I tried to get in touch with him about this business with the band and the union but he appears, uncharacteristically and despite his apparent political views, to have gone to ground on the subject. He didn't return my messages.

"Ah, Tams... Being the Songman in War Horse was a little bit like depping for him on a permanent basis. Ordinarily I like to mould a song to my way of speaking but Tams came in one day to the theatre and told me 'They've been through enough sieves already'."

That made me laugh because it reminded me very much of the story Tams tells about Richard Curtis on the set of War Horse. It's true, then, that what goes around comes around...

There was a bit more chatter. Rose and Delarre's CD wasn't out in time for their tour, which is a shame though you can pre-order one here. As well as the Tube strike they were also in competition that evening with an album launch at Cecil Sharp House, although judging by the tide of people sweeping down Parkway at 9.25pm (the strike was due to start at 9.30) they weren't quite so blase about getting home. Rose and Delarre had the cooler audience. Just saying... The gig was fantastic. And apparently they haven't got much lined up festival-wise this summer, so are open to suggestions.

At the end of the evening Rose had had a good long time to think about the subject under discussion, and summed it up thus: "Firing the War Horse band was shit. They shouldn't have done it."

There is a Musicians Union petition here that you can sign if you agree with him, asking for the musicians to be reinstated. There are about 6,500 signatures so far.

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