UUֱ

Former Cold War weapons testing site which inspired artists to host live gigs

A remote shingle spit that was once a Cold War weapons testing site is to host a series of readings by an author who was inspired by its landscape, together with performances from a singer-songwriter influenced by his work.

Orford Ness on the Suffolk coast was used as a military test site during both world wars and into the nuclear age, before the Ministry of Defence sold it to the National Trust in 1993.

It has been left to nature and is home to an abundance of wildlife, including nesting and wading birds, hares, Chinese water deer and precious vegetated shingle.

All of this is subject to the shifts brought by climate and coastal change.

Orford Ness on the Suffolk coast was used as a military test site during both world wars and into the nuclear age, before the Ministry of Defence sold it to the National Trust in 1993. (Justin Minns/ National Trust/ PA)
Orford Ness on the Suffolk coast was used as a military test site during both world wars and into the nuclear age (Justin Minns/National Trust/PA)

Singer-songwriter Hayden Thorpe, best known as the frontman of indie pop band Wild Beasts, was inspired by Macfarlane’s book and was moved to make an album, also called Ness, that is due to be released on September 27.

Macfarlane and Thorpe will both perform at Orford Ness in a series of gigs called Ness Speaks: Words And Music on Saturday September 28 and Sunday September 29.

The event will feature an intimate, acoustic performance by Thorpe, joined by the cross-genre musical ensemble Propellor.

Writer Robert Macfarlane at Orford Ness. (Bryan Appleyard/ PA)
Writer Robert Macfarlane will give readings at Orford Ness (Bryan Appleyard/ PA)

The author said: “Orford Ness has long been a place of transformation and mutation, so it makes perfect and exciting sense to me to see my own words about the site taken up and transfigured into music by Hayden Thorpe.

“Working with Jack McNeill and Kerry Andrew, he has created something deeply strange and wildly original: a nuclear epic, a desert-music dream vision.
I can’t wait to hear it performed in full, in situ.”

Thorpe said: “Visiting Orford Ness with Robert Macfarlane is like being guided through his Graceland.

“The same life-force on Ness that possessed him to write his visionary book carried forward into me like an electrical current.

Singer-songwriter Hayden Thorpe will perform his new album, Ness, at Orford Ness. (Eeva Rinne/ PA)
Singer-songwriter Hayden Thorpe will perform his new album, Ness, at Orford Ness (Eeva Rinne/ PA)

“Ness Speaks represents the sum total of our collective fever dream.

“It is not often that you can actually live inside a song, but for these special shows it couldn’t be more true.”

Ness Speaks: Words And Music builds on previous artistic collaborations at Orford Ness.

In 2021, the National Trust teamed up with Artangel to produce Afterness, an exhibition which featured work by a collection of international artists.

Orford Ness property operations manager Glen Pearce, said: “The unique landscape and fascinating, often secretive history of Orford Ness has inspired countless artists and writers across many different genres, and we’re delighted to bring so many of them together in the same space this September.

Pagodas at Orford Ness National Nature Reserve, Suffolk. (John Millar/ PA)
Orford Ness National Nature Reserve is owned by the National Trust (John Millar/ PA)

“We hope Orford Ness fascinates our visitors whenever they visit, but we’re sure this will be something unique and offer something different, even for those who may have visited before.”

Visitors will be able to book a ticket and a ferry crossing for one of four timed performances across the weekend, and enjoy exploring a reduced visitor route to get a feel for the place which has inspired so many artists and writers over the decades.

Tickets cost £35 and will include the ferry crossing, performance and a self-guided walk.

Orford Ness is open to the public on set days between March 29 and October 27, with access permitted only by the National Trust ferry, Octavia.

For more information, visit the website at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/orfordness

– Advertisement –
– Advertisement –