A British musician is about to embark on an
extraordinary expedition - to perform his songs in the hut in
the Antarctic where Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his team
lived and worked before they set out for the South Pole. Shane
Folk musician Jake Wilson practises in a commercial chiller
for his gig on the ice. Photo supplied.
Jake Wilson has been going to some lengths to complete his
latest musical project.
In tribute to the doomed 1912 South Pole expedition of
Captain Robert Falcon Scott, the English folk guitarist
recently released a five-song mini-album that involved many
months of meticulous research.
All's Well is told from the points of view of the men who
died on their return journey from the South Pole 100 years
ago: Edgar Evans, Lawrence Oates, Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers
and Scott himself. The songs aim to capture the different
responses of the five men as they realised their deaths were
Not content with merely recording a tribute to Scott and
company, Wilson is now about to embark on his own
extraordinary expedition, performing his songs at Scott's Hut
on Cape Evans, in the Antarctic. To cope with the extreme
conditions, Wilson has been visiting some unusual places of
''I've been practising in a storage fridge which is kept at a
temperature just above freezing,'' the 34-year-old explains
via phone from his home in Peckham, South London.
''In fact, this weekend I am going to practise in a freezer.
A chain of frozen-food stores have given me permission to do
so. That will be a test. I am going to see if I can get by
using a form of fingerless glove,'' says Wilson, who will
leave behind his usual wooden guitar in favour of a graphite
model likely (though not certain) to be more acoustically
stable in the cool of Ross Island.
Wilson has secured a place on one of the few ships travelling
to Scott Hut this season for himself and a cameraman with
whom he has worked on projects for the BBC, the Open
University and the Roald Dahl Estate.
''The cruise itself is 30 days long. I start in Invercargill
and finish in Ushaia, Argentina. The ship will be in the Ross
Sea, near Scott's Hut, for only four or five days, one day of
which will be at the hut.
''This particular operator offers a day trip to Scott's Hut.
But in order for me to do this I will need more time than the
typical tourist is allowed, so they are arranging that for
me,'' he explains.
Weather permitting, Wilson hopes to perform his songs at
Scott's Hut on March 2. In the meantime, he has arranged a
series of performances in Otago and Southland this month.
Wilson's interest in Scott's final Antarctic expedition was
triggered when he discovered an edition of Scott's journals
in his parents' house.
''That was several years ago,'' he recalls.
''The kind of work I had done before this also played a
part,'' he says, referring to his role as a researcher for
the BBC art history series, The Private Life of a
Masterpiece, for several years.
''At university I studied ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. That
required me to look as hard as I could at material, to get to
the core of what people thought a very long time ago.
''It was a similar experience when I read Scott's journals.
When I realised that the other party members' journals also
existed then suddenly I could look very deeply into the
''I think it took me about a year to write a song after first
reading the journals. To start off, I was just reading the
journals for interest. I suppose lurking in the back of my
mind was the idea that something could be made from this. The
songs took me by surprise.
''I wanted to make it as authentic as possible. I really did
read everything I could lay my hands on. I wanted to know how
each of those five men wrote and spoke, what their characters
were,'' Wilson says.
''I also wanted a musical authenticity as well, so each song
had to evoke something of each man. And I didn't want any
showmanship in terms of production. I recorded it live and
played as hard as I could. There is no cheating.
''Given the men themselves did what they did - they pulled
all this gear and worked hard - I owed it to their memories
to also work honestly.
''I also wanted to explore the versatility of hybrid
fingerstyle,'' Wilson says, referring to a guitar technique
in which the player uses a plectrum held between thumb and
index finger while employing the remaining fingers to pluck
strings as well. As many guitarists will attest, it is not
the easiest technique to master.
Still, it seems Wilson is no ordinary musician. After
training as a classical violinist and piano player, he
travelled to India to study the sitar before focusing his
attention on the guitar, inspired particularly by the playing
of British folk-rock pioneer Richard Thompson. Wilson now
performs with ex-Fairport Convention fiddler Dave Swarbrick,
who spotted him at an English folk club.
Wilson's tribute to Scott's party also has a personal note.
He composed them in the wake of his mother's sudden death
from cancer and recorded them shortly after the death of a
close friend, English cult novelist and children's writer
''There is an authenticity of research. But what I didn't
expect was an emotional authenticity. That came by observing
what my mother experienced in the last few months of her
''Suddenly, I was faced with the brutal reality of what Scott
and his men must have gone through.
''My mother was also in a race against time, battling against
her own body as it failed her. And her response was extremely
similar - organising her affairs, writing letters to people
who she felt needed to have heard from her, and facing death
with dignity and courage.''
By the time Wilson had penned three of his songs, he summoned
the courage to inform the Scott Polar Research Institute,
which endorsed the project. It has also been supported by
descendants of the original team-members. As a result, Wilson
has performed at official events in the United Kingdom as
part of the centenary commemorations.
''Up until the decision to go to Antarctica, everything has
been self-funded. However, Antarctica is off the scale,
financially, so an individual has donated some money, but I
have also had to take out a loan.
''Until a few months ago, I had no intention of going to
Antarctica. I don't know what happened but recently I thought
I had to go. First, I had to ask permission from the New
Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust. Once they said yes, I had
to find out how I could get there.''
See him, hear him
Jake Wilson performs All's Well at the following venues in
Oamaru Opera House (The Chambers), tomorrow, 3pm; Otago
Museum (Barclay Theatre), Tuesday, 6pm; Port Chalmers
Library, Thursday, February 14, 6.30pm; Dunedin Public
Library, Friday, February 15, 12.30pm; Southland Museum and
Art Gallery (Gallery 3), Invercargill, Saturday, February 16,
On Thursday January 18, 1912, a British team led by Captain
Robert Falcon Scott arrived at the South Pole, travelling on
foot and dragging their equipment and provisions behind them
on a sledge. There they discovered a Norwegian team headed by
Roald Amundsen had reached the pole one month earlier, using
sledges pulled by teams of dogs.
None of the British team survived the gruelling 900-mile
(1448km) journey back from the pole: Evans collapsed on
February 17; Oates walked to his death on March 17 to avoid
slowing his companions down as his condition deteriorated;
and Wilson, Bowers and Scott died in their tent at the end of
March, after being trapped by a blizzard for several days
without food and fuel, just 18km from their next depot.
A search party found this tent eight months later. Rather
than disturbing the three bodies inside it, the tent was
collapsed and a large snow cairn was built over it, topped
with a cross and flanked by a pair of upright sledges. The
bodies of Evans and Oates could not be found.