'...suddenly it begins: the strangest and most wonderful concert'
- The Observer
You are invited not just to listen to these birds in ear-tinglingly close proximity, but to share an evening around the fire, delving into your hosts’ and guest musicians' own funds of rare songs and stories.
Each night features a carefully chosen host - an ornithological expert and fund of knowledge on the ways of the woods - plus a very special guest musician. After a filling supper and fine drinking round the fire, the group of around 20 will walk in silence and darkness into the nightingale’s habitat, not only to listen to these majestic birds, but to share in an improvised collaboration; to experience what happens when bird and human virtuosi converge in musical collaboration.
"If you have never heard a nightingale before this will bring magic into your life"
- Alan Davey (Controller, BBC Radio 3)
Each year, for a few months from mid April, a few thousand nightingales fly to the southern UK from Africa. They can be heard in just a small number of special locations taking up songful residence after dusk. The territorial males serenade loyally each night for no more than six weeks among the blackthorn and forest margins, giving unbelievable privilege to those who know where to go.
In 2014, folk singer, song collector and nature lover Sam Lee began these reverent celebrations of this endangered bird through a BBC Radio 4 documentary. It won huge admiration, became ‘Pick of the Year’, and prompted a live reconnection of Sam’s fund of folk songs with this much admired but little heard songster. As the project grew, invited stars of the classical, world music and jazz communities came to play and by 2016, with BBC Radio 3 broadcasting the experience nightly, it had developed into an annual sell out excursion.
In 2017 the project expanded beyond our original camp in Sussex to include three new sites in Cambridgeshire, Kent and Essex, and bring together some of the country's finest musicians and singers - many returning for another ‘dose’.
"It enabled me to step outside the stress and completely immerse myself into the calm of the woods. Just standing totally still, breathing in the night air, and letting that glorious song wash over me allowed me to stop and think. I handed in my notice the next week."
- Jill L B (SWN 2016 attendee)