New Responses to the Brontës

28 October 2016

By Pete Dodd

When singer songwriter Nat Johnson was commissioned to create music in celebration of the Brontë sisters, the result was an elegant musical triptych titled The Liberty System.

The intricately delicate and haunting songs – contemplating Anne the gardner, Emily the diver and Charlotte the levitator – had their first live public airing on Friday night (October 14) as part of Sheffield's annual festival of words, Off The Shelf.

'New Responses to the Brontës', a specially commissioned evening with funding from Art Council England, was staged at the city's Upper Chapel as part of events to celebrate 200 years since the birth of Charlotte Brontë.

In a Q&A after the performance, Johnson told her audience that she had originally planned to write just one piece but it was as if “the sisters themselves were almost saying to me, 'No, I want my own song!'. It's been challenging but I've loved every second of it.”

The Sheffield chanteuse, who confessed that Emily's 'Wuthering Heights' was an all-time favourite which she has read at least ten times, was joined by acclaimed poet Andrew McMillan and celebrated playwright Zodwa Nyoni. All three made a pilgrimage together to the Brontë Parsonage in Haworth, West Yorkshire earlier in the year to draw inspiration for their contributions.

Johnson's efforts on the night were rewarded with a long queue of people lining up to buy copies of the limited edition hand-numbered CD of The Liberty System.

Before and during the concert, striking animated images by film maker Al Reffell were projected on to the front of the Chapel accompanied by Johnson's ode to Emily and one of McMillan's Brontë poems.

Click here for a video interview with Nat, Zodwa and Andrew.