PUT 120 talented kids and one of the country’s top folk bands together, and what have you got?

Hopefully the makings of a great night out. And it’s all about one of Swindon’s unsung heroes.

On Sunday, March 4, the Steam railway museum in Swindon is hosting Vici, a musical celebration of the life and work of Alfred Williams, the South Marston born railway worker, writer and folk song collector who has earned a cult following over the decades.

Vici will be performed in the first half of the show by Superstrings, a Wiltshire-based organisation for young string musicians. In the second half it’s over to Bellowhead, the award-winning 11-piece folk supergroup who have gained a reputation for their lively stage act.

Vici – which is Latin for “I conquered” – was written by Pete Flood, Bellowhead’s drummer and percussionist, who has immersed himself in the world of Alfred Williams to compose his tribute to the Wiltshire poet.

Pete, like many folk musicians, was inspired by Williams’ work Folk Songs Of The Upper Thames and this, as well as the writer’s own life, gave him a basis for Vici.

“Ever since I started getting into folk music there was Folk Songs Of The Upper Thames,” he said.

“It’s a book of just words. It’s a blank slate, and for me as a composer, that’s great.”

Pete has also enjoyed the experience of working with Superstrings and is looking forward to performing with them.

“The first half will be Vici, with Superstrings and a six-piece band. Then Bellowhead will play a gig. Then hopefully there will be a collaboration.”

And is writing for such a large number of musicians in Superstrings at all daunting? “The more the merrier,” said Pete. “I have written for string ensembles before – I love doing it. One of the things that attracted me to Bellowhead was the thought of writing for such a diverse ensemble. I find it incredibly inspiring, but it is great when you can take on an even bigger ensemble. “ Pete has spent a lot of time researching Alfred Williams. Born in February 1877, as a young man Williams followed his brothers to work in Swindon’s Great Western Railway works, and it was because of his graft in the stamping shop that, once Williams established himself as a writer, he earned the epithet The Hammerman Poet.

Pete said: “What I have written is a loose, impressionist piece about Alfred Williams. It’s about the incredible breadth of his achievement.

“The man was completely self-educated and his life was essentially one long struggle.

“To overcome all those obstacles and become a published poet and author of all those books... it’s inspirational.

“One of the first things I did when I knew we would be doing this was have a day at Steam and I have had a number of days walking around the Downs, where Alfred Williams got a lot of his inspiration.

“I hope local people take to this. I was surprised when I first went to Steam that there was not a section dedicated to Alfred Williams. Otherwise it is an excellent museum.

“Swindon is such an amazing town. It gets such a bad press, but going to Steam and seeing what the town looked like back in the 1850s and the way the town grew around the railway factory is amazing. And obviously Alfred Williams was linked to that whole thing.“ Tickets for the show show cost £20 and are available from www.gigantic.com. Doors open at 6pm. – Stephen Webb

The Hammerman revisited

CAN’T get enough of musicals about Alfred Williams? Well, The Alfred Williams Heritage Society is bringing back The Hammerman for a three-night run at the Phoenix Theatre, New College, from March 15. Written by John Cullimore and John Moorhouse, the West End style musical was first performed at Steam in November 2010 as part of the Alfred Williams Heritage Festival and the two productions were seen by more than 1,000 people. Tickets, at £15, can be bought at www.wegottickets.com or by calling 07814 254269. The show starts at 7.30pm.