“And the Barley Grew Up Out of Our Grave” was written as the 2020 coronavirus pandemic began its deadly plough the land and before the full extent of its harvest would be known. An expansion, arrangement and intervention upon Cornelius Cardew’s piano composition ‘The Croppy Boy’, it reflects on the Irish ballad of the same name.
A lament, the original tells the story of a young rebel – known as ‘croppies’ for their short-cropped hair – who stops at a church on route to battle. On seeing a cloaked figure, that he assumes to be a priest, the croppy kneels and confesses. The figure reveals himself to be a British soldier who had taken refuge in the church, and in place of absolution, the croppy is arrested. A second version continues the story, telling how the croppy boy is forced to march to his death, passing family members along the way. The title, from Seamus Heaney’s poem, ‘Requiem for the Croppies’, speaks to the promise of new life from death, a promise that is as integral to Christian doctrine as the seasonal rebirth of crops from the soil.