SOME of the biggest names in UK folk are heading to Durham for a 40th anniversary revival of an ambitious work.

The Transports, a folk opera telling the emotive story of 18th Century exile, was originally created by Peter Bellamy and has now been reworked by some of the stars of modern folk.

The cast includes The Young’uns, twice winners of BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Best Group, alongside fellow Folk Awards winners Nancy Kerr and Greg Russell.

They will be joined by ex-Bellowhead cellist Rachael McShane and celebrated trio Faustus (Paul Sartin, Benji Kirkpatrick and Saul Rose).

Sartin, another former member of the much-missed Bellowhead, is also Musical Director of the project while author, storyteller and folk singer Matthew Crampton is once again the narrator and Tim Dalling (The New Rope String Band) is Creative Director.

The collective will take to the road in the New Year for a 14-date tour of the ground-breaking ballad opera, including the Gala Theatre on January 22.

Supported by Arts Council England, the show fuses together moving, inspirational music and spellbinding storytelling within a vital historical and contemporary tapestry.

Bellamy, a unique singer, musician and composer, took his own life in 1991 at the age of just 47, but left a treasure trove of work of which The Transports is seen as his greatest triumph.

The Transports was written after Bellamy read a story in his local Norfolk newspaper about the first transport ship to Australia. It is based on the remarkable true tale of convicts Henry Cabell and Susannah Holmes. Imprisoned for theft at Norwich Gaol prior to being transported the pair fall in love and have a son but are refused permission to marry.

As Susannah awaits transportation to Australia at the quayside her son is refused passage but a guard, taking pity on her, travels with the infant to London to appeal to Lord Sydney, Home Secretary. Sydney orders that Cabell and Holmes be reunited, allowed to marry and transported together with their son as a family.

The folk opera was released on Free Reed Records in 1977 featuring some of the biggest names from the Seventies folk revival – The Watersons, Martin Carthy, Nic Jones, A.L Lloyd, June Tabor, Cyril Tawney and Dave Swarbrick.

While Paul Sartin has composed new musical arrangements storyteller Matthew Crampton has created fresh narrative elements to tell more fully the extraordinary story behind The Transports.

He said: “This is perhaps Peter Bellamy’s greatest legacy - an immensely powerful, beautiful and haunting collection of songs and texts crafted in a traditional English idiom. Unique in its conception, it is unified by a narrative which speaks with immediacy and passion and demands both musical and human responses.”

Complementing the tour once again will be the accompanying Parallel Lives project which aims to link the show to refugee support groups in the tour towns.

Matthew Crampton has toured a show based on his latest book Human Cargo: Stories and Songs of Emigration, Slavery and Transportation. He says: “Mass migration is a defining dilemma of today.

“There’s seldom been a more vital moment to revisit The Transports - it’s not just a great musical experience but a sharp reminder of folk music’s power in portraying the way the world works.”

“In our accompanying Parallel Lives project we will work with organisations supporting refugees in Britain, gathering stories of those trafficked or transported from Britain in the past alongside the stories of those arriving in the country and showing how the ebb and flow of migration has helped shape our country.”

The Transports will be performed at the Gala Theatre in Durham on Monday, January 22 at 7.30pm. Tickets, priced £20, are available from the box office on 03000 266600.