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  • Writer's pictureKate Clarke

Mario Ferlito

Updated: Nov 14, 2022

Terry wrote this piece for his website in 2006 about Mario Ferlito:

The song Mario Ferlito was written shortly after my wife and I moved to Carmarthenshire in 2005. Kate discovered the story about the Italian chapel - the Church of the Sacred Heart - which stands on the site of the former prisoner of war camp at Henllan, west Wales.

I created the music for the song, the lyric was written by Kate.

I was brought up in the Catholic Church. Kate wasn't, although she was brought up in the Christian faith. I make that point because I was amazed at how she captured the essence of worship in a Catholic church in this lyric. Mind you - she does have some Italian blood in her veins.

Mario Ferlito was one of hundreds of thousands of Italian servicemen who were taken prisoner, spending years in camps around Europe after fighting the British in North Africa in World War II.

In September 2006, Kate and I were among a small group of guests invited to visit the chapel. With rain battering this little, holy place, I sang Mario Ferlito. It was a very emotional experience. When we began writing the song I had no idea that one day I would sing it on the exact spot where the original story unfolded. Fiction holds a very pale candle up to the face of truth.

Mario Ferlito was 21 years old when he was captured, in 1943, one of more than 1,200 Italians taken in Libya and Tunisia who arrived in Henllan. The internees were put to work on the land, wearing brown or wine coloured uniforms with yellow circles for easy identification.

The camp was equipped with a hospital, theatres, football pitches, a bowling green, kitchens, and around 30 Nissen huts to house the prisoners. The men were treated well, they often mixed with the locals, and, being Italian they organised an opera company.

However, needing a place to worship in their own way, they decided to commandeer one of those unprepossessing Nissen huts to build a church - which they did, from scrap, salvage and ingenuity.

I have always felt a strong affinity with the Italian people.

I went to Saint James Roman Catholic primary school in Reading, Berkshire in the late 1950's. Nearly all of my friends/peers were; Irish, part Irish, Polish and Italian.

This continued into my secondary education.

As a musician I have toured/visited Italy three times - from the Dolomites in the north to Sicily in the south - from Milan to Rimini.

During the 1990's I recorded two albums, Lucky and The Sound of the Moon for Appaloosa Records based in Milan.

I cut them in Austin, Texas with a drummer/producer called Merel Bregante.

Merel was brought up in San Pedro, Port of Los Angeles, the son of an Italian fisherman from Genoa. We toured Italy together to support the release of The Sound of the Moon, with additional Italian musicians in 2001.

Some say that everyone wants to be Irish on St Patrick's Day. I say everyone who sings wants to be Italian.

When I was at Saint James' school my best friend was a little boy called Mario Fiore.

We both collected foreign coins, along with cigarette cards and cards of film stars etc from bubble gum packs.

One Friday afternoon we finished school and arranged to swap coins on Monday morning.

I was going to give him some Irish coins my Dad had given me and he was going to bring me in some Italian coinage. That weekend he drowned in the River Thames.

I was chosen to represent the school at his funeral.

Time went on and memories faded a little, twenty years later when I started writing songs seriously, he came to mind and I tried to somehow write a song with him in mind but I never managed it. In 1990 I went to Italy for the first time, to play some shows in Rome.

I went into a cafe bar and ordered an expresso and a shot of cognac.

I tendered paper money and the barman gave me a handful of change ... lire ...

I looked at it and thought of Mario and put it in the charity bowl on the counter.

I am so glad that time hasn't let me forget him, it's over fifty years ago now and I can still see his face clear and vivid in my mind's eye. I sing these songs of Italian people and Italian lives, they're written as honestly as I can do.

And that little boy runs in the playground forever.

Recording: Terry Clarke, Wes McGhee, Ronny Elliott at Dunnet Head, Sutherland

Ti Amo photo: Terry Clarke

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