The curious case of the Henry V-quoting toddler who saved Shakespeare Magazine from certain and ignominious doom (as recounted by his proud and admiring father, the Editor)

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My abiding memory of the very first issue of Shakespeare Magazine, published five years ago this week, is that it very nearly didn’t happen at all. I remember rising at about 5am feeling frazzled, fearful and sleep-deprived, and tweeting something like “Right, let’s go to work” to convey a bravado I didn’t feel.

I’d taken redundancy only 19 days earlier, and although I’d been thinking non-stop about Shakespeare Magazine for over a year, this was surely one of the swiftest launches in media history, and I was overwhelmed. I had always intended to get the first issue out on 23 April 2014, which would have been Shakespeare’s 450th birthday. But there was just too much still to do, and my hopes were fading fast.

Originally I’d been working from the kitchen of my Bristol home. But I’d had to move into the spare bedroom because the WiFi signal was stronger. I’d fallen into a cycle of working late into the night and then crashing out on the bed right next to the desk where my ancient Russian computer hummed and spluttered. And on this particular day I had company. My young son was running a fever, so instead of taking him to nursery I’d installed him in the bed beside me. This way I could keep an eye on him while I worked.

By the early afternoon I was firmly ensconced in a slough of despond. The mag wasn’t going to come out today, it simply couldn’t be done. Maybe it would happen tomorrow, maybe it wouldn’t happen at all.

And then something remarkable occurred. My son woke up, having shrugged off his illness and now looking as fit as the proverbial butcher’s dog. He gave me a cheeky grin and said, in what I can only describe as a mischievous tone, these words:

“Once more [pause] unto the breach [pause], dear friends.” [pause, chuckle]

I was flabbergasted. Of course, my son was used to hearing me spouting plenty of Shakespeare lines (and trying to get him to repeat them), but these words, from one of Henry V’s most stirring speeches, just stopped me dead in my tracks. He’d even remembered to say ‘unto’ instead of ‘into’.

And yes, in my semi-delirious state, I did take it as a sign that today of all days I must persevere. A phone call from my freelance Art Editor did the rest: “Right, where’s these final pages, then? Get yer finger out and we can still do this”. Well, that’s not all he said, but the language was more Anglo-Saxon than Shakespearean, if you catch my drift.

And so it was that Issue One of Shakespeare Magazine was published at around nine o’ clock that evening. To be honest, it’s always been a struggle, but I’m currently working on Issue 16, and I still love it.

Oh, and when this happened my estimable offspring was a couple of weeks shy of his third birthday. So this is really a story about how a two-year-old saved Shakespeare Magazine. Thanks, son.

North West music outfit The Nearlys release haunting new version of Shakespeare’s ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’ in time for the Bard’s birthday this week

The Nearlys_UnderTheGreenwoodTree_Everday Records

Here’s a musical treat to celebrate the week of Shakespeare’s birthday. Based in the North West of England, musical outfit The Nearlys, comprising vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Helen Walker and her drummer husband Mike, have recorded a mellow and haunting folk and jazz-tinged new version of the song ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’ from Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

Can you tell us why you chose this Shakespeare lyric and how you constructed the musical track?

Helen Walker: “It was initially written for a choir competition, the rules of which required that I wrote to a lyric that is in the public domain. I usually write my own lyrics, although I have also set ‘The Skylark’ by James Hogg to music. After a lot of research I chose ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’ because it inspired me. I compose at the piano and then arrange as it’s recorded in the studio. I sang and played all the instruments on the song except for the drums, which were played by my husband Mike Walker.”

Would you consider doing a whole album of Shakespeare songs? I’d like to hear your take on ‘The Rain it Raineth Every Day’, for instance…

“I’ve never thought of it – but it’s a great idea and I’ll never work with a better lyricist! I’m just in the process of completing The Nearlys’ LP, due out later this year. But I’ll have a try at composing for ‘The Rain it Raineth Every Day’ and let you know how I get on. It would be nice to release something further to mark Shakespeare’s 400th [anniversary of death] next year.”

Go here to listen to ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’ by The Nearlys (released by Everyday Records)

Coincidentally, London-based actor Josh Neesby has just won a Royal Shakespeare Company competition with an electronic version of the same song, recorded as ‘Come Hither.

Go here to listen to ‘Come Hither’ by Josh Neesby.