In „Songbirds“, a documentry-musical, set in Downview women’s prison in Surrey, Simon Armitage works with his friend and director Brian Hill at Century Films to give female convicts an opportunity to tell their story.
The inmates share their background and the stories of their crimes. Many share the same terrible circumstances and experienaces of sexual abuse in childhood, domestic violance, rape and addiction.
As they talk about their lives and before and in prison they suddenly break into song, exploring different genres from Pop and R’n’B over Rap to Soft Rock ballad.
Among all songs, Maggie’s lullaby stands out. Since she went to prison (convicted of burglary), she hasn’t seen her three children. She will probably never see them again, as they are being adopted by a foster family. Nevertheless, as Armitage says „to say goodnight or goodbye to them, she wanted me to write a lullaby, based on her own words and feelings“ The product is haunting –a sweet yet melancholic song, loaded with emotion. Further, it is the only song about someone else. Whereas the other songs all tell the story of the singer, this lullaby is not auto-biographical in the strict sense. It is not about Maggie, but about and for the benefit of her children: a mother’s lullaby destined to her three children.
Simon Armitage states that „since meeting her, I've wondered if she still croons her lullaby through the bars of her cell window, sending her words up into the darkening sky over south London, hoping they might find their mark.“
In a way, then, this is the only song reaching out of prison, transcending the thick walls and iron bars – it still rings in my ears.