The Hex Project
The Wiltshire Council website has an amazing archive of folk songs collected from around Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, and Oxfordshire (see the archive here), mostly collected by a fellow called Alfred Williams about one hundred years ago. But the best thing about this archive from a songwriter's perspective is that Williams, being a poet and not a musician, didn't collect any of the tunes. So the archive consists of over a thousand sets of lyrics without music. (The tunes to some lyrics are in the repertoire, but others have been lost entirely.)
Bob Berry at Devizes Folk Club let me know about the archive, and also suggested the possibility of writing tunes to go with the words. That suggestion was the genesis of the Hex Project.
I'm not sure quite why, but I decided to combine the attempt to write tunes for some of these lyrics with developing my interest in modal music, and so I conceived of the idea of writing tunes in each of the seven modes. This idea didn't survive my first encounter with the Locrian mode. Having crossed that one off the list, the number six crept into the project and it attained its current form (and aquired its name).
In December 2014, I wrote a set of thirty six songs using lyrics from the Williams collection, in six modes, starting from six tones of the C major scale (C-A), on six (fairly broadly drawn) themes - love, drinking, soldiers and sailors, nature, death, and work. The structure of the set is rigidly defined and each mode is strictly followed (there are no notes in melody or harmony that are out of mode). I blogged about the process here. Since then, I have written a number of other songs to other texts in the Williams archive outside of the structure described above.
I have been playing these songs live since 2014 on my own and with various collaborators, including John Wipple on melodeon, Greig Stewart on percussion, Ben Mowat on violin, and Josie Webber on cello. We are currently (January 2018) recording some of the songs - you can hear a rough mix of one of them below. For news and updates, and details of upcoming gigs, visit the project's website, www.thehexproject.co.uk.