29 May 2024

Alison Cotton brings 'Engelchen' to London






Alison Cotton will present a multimedia production on Saturday 22 June (2pm) in the beautiful music room of The Bedford, Balham as part of Wandsworth Arts Fringe.

The production is inspired by the lives of local residents and opera fans, Ida and Louise Cook, who used their love of music to help 29 Jews escape Nazi Germany.


“Heartrending storytelling by deeply poetic folk spirit”  Uncut

“Alison Cotton’s moving rendition of the Cook sisters’ story serves as a timely reminder of the radical, even life-saving potential of the profound social bonds forged through a shared love of music.”  The Quietus

“Spellbinding" Shindig!

Alison Cotton has announced details of an event encompassing performance, talk, poetry and music devoted to, and inspired by the lives of Ida and Louise Cook, two sisters who used their love of music to assist 29 Jews to escape Nazi-occupied Germany. The sisters, who were born in Sunderland, lived for 60 years in the Borough of Wandsworth, and the event is presented in association with Wandsworth Arts Fringe.

Engelchen (“Little Angels”) was the term used to address the sisters in letters from people requesting their help. Alison Cotton’s music (from her recently released album Engelchen on Rocket Recordings) portrays their dangerous journeys, the lives of those they saved, those they failed to save, as well as the voices of refugees of today – given the times we live in, this story which highlights the plight of refugees feels particularly relevant and poignant.

Alison Cotton has curated an event that will include a performance of Engelchen (with Chloe Herington). Alongside the performance, refugees (currently living in Wandsworth and members of CARAS - Community Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers), will read letters that they've written to loved ones back home. Professor Angela Smith (University of Sunderland), who has researched Ida and Louise, will give a short talk about the Cook sisters' life and work, and poets Hilaire and Joolz Sparkes will perform a reading of local poet Hilaire's poem 'The Cook Sisters Contemplate a Final Visit to Nazi Germany', a poem from their joint poetry project ‘London Undercurrents’.

The sisters themselves were opera fanatics. Their obsession, which saw them travelling the world to attend performances and meet and befriend their favourite female opera stars, led directly to their rescue work. They held gramophone record listening parties at home when they weren’t travelling, and to bring those parties back to life, audiences arriving and departing the event 22 June will be able to enjoy a gramophone playing the music of Ida and Louise’s favourite opera singers.

There will be also be a display of artefacts relevant to the time from Wandsworth Council’s Heritage Collection, plus photographs and letters from refugees who Ida and Louise saved. Inspired by the sisters’ incredible acts of kindness, there will be stamped envelopes around the venue where the audience will be invited to write a letter or note to themselves or to someone else, with their own promise.

Alison Cotton explains, “I hope to create a moving experience though my event by performing music inspired by the lives of Ida and Louise Cook, a story of such bravery and kindness which is so relevant to the times we live in today. As the event premiered in Sunderland, where they spent their early years, it means a lot to me that this should be followed by a production in the area they lived in for over 60 years of their lives.”

Tickets for the event are available here - Alison Cotton (wandsworthfringe.com)

Alison Cotton’s album inspired by the sisters, Engelchen, is out now via Rocket Recordings. The 7-track album relays the sisters’ story, whether acapella or by means of richly emotive string arrangements, with a deftness of touch, sensitivity and intensity that matches the feverish nature of the experiences and the unforgiving environs in which they took place. Summoning foley work to sum up the atmospheres of their journeys (from train noises to the sound of gulls on the English coast, to the ominous military drumbeat) Engelchen is a transporting work whose spirit is situated in a very specific time and place.

Ida Cook sums up their utilitarian attitudes, which took them not only to Europe but on scarcely conceivable journeys to the US in the 1920s, here; “you never know what you can do until you refuse to take no for an answer. In this very amateur way, we did manage to rescue 29 people and set them on new lives. The same mentality that had made us reckon the expenses of our first American adventure to the final penny now enabled us to think in terms of adding shilling to shilling, week to week and effort to effort"

This is more than merely an inspirational tribute to two mavericks who beat the odds in an unforgettable feat of altruism. It’s a celebration of the human spirit, one that reflects a universality in its narrative which transcends the boundaries of history and impacts very urgently on our daily lives. Whatever attempts may be made to tell this story, it’s hard to imagine one that resonates deeper than Engelchen.


Buy the album 'Engelchen'


See Alison live: 

22 June London / The Bedford
06 July 
London / The Idler Festival
09 July 
Barrow-in-Furness / Full of Noises, Piel View House
12 July 
Hebden Bridge The Trades Club
27 July 
Fano / Folk Festival (DK)
29 July 
Colchester Arts Centre
14 Nov / Norwich / UEA (w/ GOAT)
15 Nov / Oxford / 02 Academy (w/ GOAT)
16 Nov / Nottingham / Rock City (w/ GOAT)