Turning Britain’s ring roads and flyovers into musical poetry

Live premiere of The Driver
Live premiere of The Driver

Students and staff from the University of Southampton’s Hartley Loop Orchestra joined renowned poet Luke Wright and composer Benjamin Oliver to premiere their musical poem about driving around the UK’s ring roads.

The Driver is a 45-minute-long poem set to music, told in the first-person from a man who spends his life on the road. It was world-premiered at Turner Sims, University of Southampton, on Monday 5 February 2024, narrated by Luke and accompanied by the orchestra featuring student and staff musicians.

Commenting on the mundanity of leisure parks, ’This could be anywhere in England’, and the loneliness of a life on the road, the narrator also explores the story of a break-up.

Outlining the inspiration for The Driver, Dr Benjamin Oliver , Associate Professor in Composition, said: "Luke spends a lot of time on tour. The Driver came from his experiences of being on the road. There is a whole culture that, unless you’re involved in it, you don’t really know about - whether that’s lorry drivers, or salespeople, or anyone who needs to be on the road for what they do, being away from home and away from family.

"Several themes emerge in The Driver around this topic of being on the road, and grow into a love story that underpins the whole piece. The piece also explores Englishness and the pain and repression of male middle-age. It’s funny in parts, but also poignant and melancholic."

The Driver was written collaboratively, with Luke developing the narrative and writing the words, and Benjamin setting Luke’s recordings to music. The music references, sometimes parodying, a range of historical English music including Parry’s Jerusalem.

Luke Wright has created 16 solo stage shows, won a Stage Award and a Fringe First Award. He is a regular at festivals such as Glastonbury, Reading/Leeds and Latitude, regularly supports poet John Cooper Clarke, and opens shows for The Libertines. He said: "I kept finding myself on motorways and bypasses with the sense that life was carrying on beyond that row of trees, but I was forever cast adrift from it. Roads like that are blank canvasses and the mind begins to roam the past. The Driver comes from those ideas of being detached from everyday life, venturing off the road and into the past."

Luke and Benjamin have previously worked together - in 2015 they created The National Loneliness, which they performed at the Queen Elizabeth Hall with the London Sinfonietta.

The duo are planning a Kickstarter campaign this spring to fund a professional recording of The Driver for digital and vinyl release. For more information and to be added to the project mailing list, .