Dancing at Whitsun

(To fill a sad gap, I thought I’d revive this, which I originally published this time in 2010.  The blog was a rather different beast in those days …)

I realise that, with all the excitement of the start of the cricket season, I’ve almost allowed what are often thought of as two of the most poetical of months – April and May – to go by with hardly a poem or song.  So, as it’s Whit Sunday, here is a song which I think also works as a poem.  The lyrics to Dancing at Whitsun (or Whitsun Dance) were written by Austin John Marshall, the husband of Shirley Collins;  the tune is traditional.  The version I know best is by Silly Sisters (Maddy Prior and June Tabor), though there also recorded versions by Shirley Collins and Maddy Prior with Tim Hart.  I can’t find any of these on YouTube, so here is a version by “LiteGauge”, recorded as a tribute to Tim Hart.

The lyrics seem self-explanatory, but apparently had a slightly more specific context when they were written (the mid-1960s).  It seems that folk dancing had come to be seen as predominantly an activity for old ladies (and sometimes denigrated for that reason), and the song suggests one reason why this might have been so.

Dancing at Whitsun, by Austin John Marshall

It’s fifty-one springtimes since she was a bride
And still you may see her at each Whitsuntide
In a dress of white linen and ribbons of green
As green as her memories of loving

The feet that were nimble tread carefully now
As gentle a measure as age do allow
Through groves of white blossom, by fields of young corn
Where once she was pledged to her true love

The fields they stand empty, the hedges grow free
No young men to tend them, nor pastures to see
They have gone where the forests of oaktrees before
Had gone to be wasted in battle

Down from their green farmlands and from their loved ones
Marched husbands and brothers and fathers and sons
There’s a fine roll of honour where the Maypole once was
And the ladies go dancing at Whitsun

There’s a row of straight houses in these latter days
Are covering the Downs where the sheep used to graze
There’s a field of red poppies and a wreath from the Queen
But the ladies remember at Whitsun
And the ladies go dancing at Whitsun

(Apologies for any copyright violation.  Will remove if requested).

The Watchers : Silence At The Cricket

Caption competition, anyone?

The Watchers

The original caption to this sketch, published in “The Field” in (I think) 1939 or 1940 was “Democracy in cricket.  These two spectators, seen at Lord’s might be colonel and batman”.  “Punch”, no doubt, would have offered some similarly class-based dialogue (the man on the left, with the cloth cap and fag, would have dropped his aitches).

But that, I think, would be to miss the point, which is that neither of these men are speaking.  They are, in fact, sitting in companionable silence.

My suggestion would be the following, from the Czech writer Karel Čapek’s “Letters from England” (1924).  He is describing the silence of a Gentleman’s Club, but then, of course, that is precisely what a Cricket Club is.

“not the silence of a man in solitude, nor the silence of a Pythagorean philosopher, nor silence in the presence of God, nor the silence of death, nor a mute brooding, it is a special silence, the silence of a gentleman among gentlemen.”*

Silence in and at the cricket merits consideration at greater length, but its greatest exponent was John Arlott.  Firstly in the obvious sense that he had a Milesian grasp of the potency of the space between the notes (as opposed to the “no-one solos, everyone solos” jazz-rock frenzy of today’s TMS).  The four or five minute silences he used to employ when commentating on the JPL for the BBC were the equivalent of Davis turning his back on the audience to commune with his horn before delivering a crucial sequence of notes (not, as popularly supposed, because he’d drunk too much claret and fallen asleep).

As for the less obvious sense, the truism is that listening to TMS is like a day at the cricket with a group of friends.  Some are affable companions, some are wellsprings of useful information, some are fine in small doses and some are frankly bores.  But Arlott was the man, the ideal companion, who knew how to sit in companionable silence; what you heard when you were listening to him was not so much conversation as privileged access to his interior monologue, of a quality that most of us achieve only in dreams.

*”Gentleman”, in this sense, includes Ladies, of course, as well as those of us who smoke fags and wear cloth caps.

Long A-Growing

On this thoroughly miserable weekend (not helped by waking at 4.00 to the crowing, not of a cockerel, but Glenn McGrath) let us make a nostalgic pilgrimage to the site of the Stump.  Long time readers may be wondering whether it has somehow – hope against hope! – managed to revive, but I’m afraid the answer is that its mortal remains still slumber in the earth and the grass has begun to cover it.

Stump November 2013

I am reminded of the old song …

The trees they do grow high and the leaves they do grow green,
The day is passed and gone, my love, that you and I have seen.
It’s on a cold winter’s night that I must lie alone,
For the bonny boy is young but a-growing.

At the age of sixteen he was a married man,
And at the age of seventeen the father to a son,
And at the age of eighteen his grave it did grow green.
Cruel death had put an end to his growing.

 

LP Cover Of The Week : “… This England”

The latest addition to my impressive collection of charity shop compilations of music from the Cowpat School (my usual accompaniment to my early morning journey to London).

This England

If the sleeve designers – “Studio B : the creative people” – had wanted to take the literal route they could have chosen a cuckoo, a Summer night on a river or St. Paul’s, but instead they’ve opted for … a cow.  Believed not to be the same cow that appeared on the cover of “Atom Heart Mother”, but then they probably couldn’t have afforded her rates.

Frederick Delius : Yorkshire Cricketer

“His eyes half-open, the wonderful dome like finely chiselled marble, the sinuous and gouged neck, the loose white open-necked shirt and loosely knitted tie, perfectly creased white cricket trousers and white canvas shoes, bare legs like triangular sticks of wood – it all seemed so terribly, overwhelmingly sad.” (Felix Aprahamian, describing a meeting with Delius in 1933).

Gerhardi_-_Frederick_Delius

The question of cricket and music, and whether the two should ever be mixed, divides opinion.  Some clearly find that hearing ‘Another one bites the dust’ over the Tannoy whenever a batsman is dismissed or ‘Tom Hark‘ when a boundary is hit enhances their enjoyment of the game.  I differ on this point, but feel that a brass band (of the kind that used to play at the Scarborough Festival) would be perfectly acceptable, as would a string quartet at – say – the late lamented Oakham Festival, or perhaps at Tunbridge Wells.

Thanks to modern technology, of course, we can now choose whatever soundtrack we like to accompany our cricket.  If I had to choose the work of a single composer my first thought would be Frederick Delius.  If, in the depths of Winter (today, for instance) I close my eyes, ‘On hearing the first cuckoo in Spring‘  will take me to the first day of some Platonic early season fixture. On a wild Winter’s night  ‘A Song of Summer‘, ‘The walk to the Paradise Garden’, ‘A Summer night on the river‘ can transport me to that Ideal day at the cricket in High Summer that rarely arrives in reality but, once experienced, lingers at the back of the mind, to be summoned by music or willpower however bleak one’s surroundings.

I’ve always suspected that this was a purely personal association, but a little research reveals that Delius was, indeed, a lover of cricket and a decent cricketer in his own right.  And not only that, but a Yorkshire cricketer.  The Delius family belonged to that type of Yorkshireman almost peculiar to Bradford, as described by another Bradfordian, J.B. Priestley:

‘There was this curious leaven of intelligent aliens, chiefly German-Jews and mostly affluent.  They were so much a part of the place when I was a boy that it never occurred to me to ask why they were there.  I saw their outlandish names on office doors, knew that they lived in pleasant suburbs, and obscurely felt that they had always been with us and would always remain.  That small colony of foreign or mixed Bradfordians produced some men of great distinction, including a famous composer [Delius], two renowned painters, and a well-known poet.’

When Eric Fenby (the composer’s amanuensis in his later years of French exile, when he was blind and compelled to use a wheelchair) was first introduced to Delius, they ‘bonded’ (as we would now say, perhaps) over cricket:

“We talked about Scarborough, which he had known very well as a boy. Did I go to the Cricket Festivals as he had done? Did I know Filey ? What glorious times he had had there when his family used to take a house in the Crescent for the summer holidays ! How he loved playing cricket in the neighbouring villages of Gristhorpe and Hunmanby, and what fine fellows the farm-hands were!”

and later in Fenby’s ‘Delius as I Knew Him‘ we learn how talk of cricket seemed to release the invalid from his confinement and lighten his mood:

“That summer, Delius was particularly interested in the cricket test matches between England and Australia. Every morning, when I came down to lunch, I read to him the scores and the full account of each day’s play. The progress of each match was watched with as much keenness as that of two spectators on the ground, and Mrs. Delius used to say that she had never heard so much talk about cricket as when her ‘two Yorkshire lads’ got together. And the old ‘un used to brag how, in his prime, he had never let a loose ball go by without punishing it unmercifully, and never dropped a catch in the slips, and the young ‘un used to believe him and tell how he had once skittled a team of yokels with his googlies for seven runs.”

So well-known is this image of Delius as tetchy and imprisoned by illness that we forget the younger man.  His sister Clare, though, in her memoir ‘Memories of my brother’ relates:

“At cricket, however, both he and his brother were notable successes. It was his passion for cricket, indeed, which oddly enough helped him forward on his musical career. Coming from the playing fields one day, the boys were playing about with the wickets which they had just drawn, using them as spears. One of these missiles, thrown with great force, stuck in Fred’s head, causing a very serious wound. The illness was a lengthy one, involving a long period of convalescence. During those days of enforced idleness, Fred spent the whole of his time at the piano in one or other of the music rooms. Sir Fred Moore has told me how my brother used to waylay him in the passage, and drag him into the music room and make him sing for him. ” It didn’t matter whether I had the music or not. If I knew the words and tune, that was enough. Fred would make up the most wonderful accompaniments, full of the marvellous harmonies for which years later he was to become so celebrated.”

The precise details of Delius’s playing career are harder to track down, though, in an article in the ‘Delius Society Journal’ from Spring 2004 entitled ‘Delius, the Cricketer‘,  T. Ian Roberts has found the details of a match between Giggleswick School and Mr. W.A. Dawson’s XI (a touring side from Bradford) from May 1882 when one F. Delius scored 11 and 4 and took 1-22 off 40 balls.  In another issue of the Journal Fenby informed its readers that the portrait by Ida Gerhardi that appears at the top of this piece was probably painted when Delius was ‘playing cricket for Paris‘, so clearly he managed to carry on getting the odd game after he left England for France in 1897.

Exile and blindness were the conditions by which Delius was constrained, and perhaps it would be missing the point to load my MP3 player with music by Delius when actually watching – say – Leicestershire take on Nottinghamshire on the 3rd of April in a pre-season friendly.  If  Delius was thinking of his youthful days at Scarborough when writing some of his Summer-summoning pieces from his French retreat (and I think he may have been), he was attempting to reclaim and preserve those perfect moments, the essence of the thing; it would be unwise and unfair to expose the phenomenal reality in front of one’s eyes to such comparisons.

The perfect person to write about Delius the cricketer would have been Neville Cardus.  They did meet once, in 1929, though they do not seem to have talked cricket.  Cardus remarked on Delius’s Yorkshire accent and wrote:

“There was nothing pitiable in him, nothing inviting sympathy in this wreck of a physique. He was wrapped in a monk-like gown, and his face was strong and disdainful, every line on it graven by intrepid living.”

Cardus wrote the obituary for Delius in ‘The Manchester Guardian’. I think this passage gets to the heart of the matter:

“Nearly all of Delius’s music recollects emotion in tranquillity. The sudden climaxes of passion – and we get one of the most beautiful in all music in the “Summer Garden” – are not climaxes caused by excitement of blood or nerve. They are the climaxes of a mind moved by the poetry that comes of beauty remembered. Delius is always reminding us that beauty is what is left for us when the show of life has passed on. Experiences have all sorts of values and significances. Other composers are more human than Delius, because their music contains the dynamics of life and action felt immediately – now!

Delius seems almost always to be aloof from the life active – life which, because it is active, is transitory.

To-day Delius’s music is loved, not merely liked, because in an age when most of the arts have little to do with beauty, but have apparently been overwhelmed by the complexity, the cynicism, and even the hastiness and noise of modern civilisation in this age, Delius has made for us a music which is serene and never unbeautiful.”

Spouting Geysers And A Ground Without Women : On Tour In New Zealand

So, the England touring party has moved on to New Zealand.  But what can they expect to find there?  Let us consult the recollections of an earlier generation of tourists.

Until recently the tour of New Zealand was tacked on as a coda to the end of a tour of Australia, and generally seems to have been treated as an opportunity for a spot of rest and relaxation after the rigours of an Ashes series.  Certainly the earliest tourists seem to have come away from positive impressions of the place.

Frank Woolley was one of the party on the first tour in 1930 (a free-standing tour, in fact), as he recalls in ‘The King of Games” –

“I also have the most pleasurable recollections of playing against New Zealand teams, both here and in their most beautiful country on the tour of 1929-30; a country so lovely that in places it almost equalled my Kent!” (High praise indeed!)

“The New Zealanders play cricket as do the South Africans.  Their geysers and hot springs do not explode if New Zealand loses, and they can win as cheerfully as we can, with a handshake for the losers.  The real blood of cricket courses through the veins of New Zealanders … Everywhere enjoyable and happy though quite serious play, and open-handed hospitality … These men are saturated in sport, they are natural Games-Men.

(I think there is a slight subtext here: the next chapter opens with the words “There is no doubt that Australian cricketers not only approach Test cricket in a different spirit from that in which we do, but they play in it differently.”)

The next tour was the first of the post-Ashes variety, that being the ill-tempered “Fast leg-theory” series.  According to Cricinfo “the addition of New Zealand to the tour itinerary was not overly popular with the players“, but, once they were there, they seem to have had a fine old time.  This is Herbert Sutcliffe (from ‘For England and Yorkshire’):

“New Zealand, a jewel of a country, delighted me.  They are grand folk in New Zealand.  My cricket was a sorry failure there, but they looked after us so well that they made me forget it … In Auckland I had to be content with under 30 runs, but I got a century out there, and, as a result, had the distinction of having my name hoisted in a very exclusive spot.  I have told earlier of “The Valley of Peace” – the cricket ground to which only men are allowed to go * – which is a few miles outside Christchurch.  There I played for the local team , and, with a not-out hundred, qualified for a position on the honours board in that picturesque little pavilion with which this delightful ground is adorned.

A wonderful little country is New Zealand, with its hot lakes, spouting geysers, its west coast Fjords in the South Island, which rival those of Norway in their enchanting beauty, its magnificent snow-capped mountain-ridges and, above everything else, its glorious loyalty to the Motherland.  You cannot find a better British subject than the Briton who is a New Zealander.  I found the country something of a paradise.”

Bill Bowes (in ‘Express Deliveries‘) confirms Sutcliffe’s account (though he seems to have encountered the ‘Woman Question’ in a slightly different guise):

“By comparison [to Australia] our visit to New Zealand was restful; it had the good-natured amicability of the cricket festival.

I have travelled much around the world since those days, and though my spectacles ** may have given me a rosy vision of that charming antipodean autumn, I still hold to my first impression, that, after England, New Zealand is the finest land in the world.

At Wanganui … we found that most of the town had gathered to greet us and the Wanganui Girls’ Cricket Club members had turned up in whites, gaudy caps and blazers and formed an archway of cricket bats to walk under.

It was arranged for us that we should have a Maori reception … the head of the tribe and his wife, in full tribal dress, shook hands with us, after which we entered in procession.  Men and girls – the men stripped to the waist and the girls wearing red pullovers *** and bead skirts – danced and sang in greeting.

We went to a concert given in our honour that night, saw spectacular poi dances, and for the first time heard the tune later made famous by Gracie Fields as “Now is the Hour”.  The Maori dances are all set to the most delightful tunes and I often wonder why Gracie did not bring back more of them.

The Maori are great people, and unlike the Australian aborigines, have excellent figures as well as kindly dispositions and a great sense of humour.”

Thanks, Bill.  I think we’re getting the picture.  Perhaps a third tourist from ’32-’33, Eddie Paynter, might have a different view? (This is from ‘Cricket all the Way‘):

“We were impressed by the charm of all members of the New Zealand native race.  One must not dare to compare Maoris with the original inhabitants of Australia, that we had met earlier in the tour.  Generally speaking, Maoris, although a native race, are polite, charming and have a reasonable appreciation of the civilised way of life.

Dressed in the traditional grass skirts, the Maoris treated us to an exhibition of dancing followed by an impressive selection of Maori songs, rendered by a mixed choir.  It was here, in 1933, that I first heard a version of the song which, a decade later, Grace Fields was to make popular under the title of ‘Now is the Hour’.”

Right, OK, OK.  I think that’s quite enough of that for the moment.  But before we go to the news, there’s just time for a little music.  Having heard so much about it, I’m sure you are keen to hear ‘Now is the Hour’, so here it is.  According to Wikipedia, incidentally, this was not a traditional Maori song at all, but was originally published in 1913 as ‘Swiss Cradle Song’ and credited to an Australian: the Maoris adapted the tune to their own words.  No doubt there is room here to have an interesting debate about cross-cultural fertilisation and authenticity in popular music, but I think I’m going to leave Gracie to it and have a lie-down.

Take it away, Gracie!

Notes:

* This blog in no way endorses the attitudes implied by this remark.

** These are literal spectacles.

*** Not usually a part of traditional Maori costume. Perhaps worn for the benefit of the tourists?

The Disagreeable World of John Lydon

I’ve been catching up on my reading, and happened to be browsing through the Silver Jubilee special edition of Punch

(- ah, those eminently civilised and agreeable humourists of yesteryear – Basil Boothroyd! Sheridan Morley! Christopher Booker! – not to mention my dear old chum and quaffing partner Wallace Arnold) when I came across this –

Now, to my rheumy old eyes, this looked very much like an advertisement for that innovative recording Metal Box by Public Image Limited and, indeed, the (dread word!) logo does look very similar.

But how can this be?” – quoth I – “surely the Sex Pistols were still in full flower in Jubilee Year, and have I not just – a few pages earlier – been reading some good-natured chaff on that very subject by dear old Kenneth Robinson?”.  Closer inspection (with my reading glasses on) revealed that it was an advertisement for Metal Box Limited, the well-known manufacturers of … metal boxes.

Now there is nothing wrong with a little creative reappropriation, or as our chums sur le continong say détournement* (though who would have guessed that the young Lydon was a subscriber to Punch?)

But imagine my surprise when – coming a little more up-to-date – I read this in the latest edition of Mojo magazine –

The duo [i.e. Wobble and Levene] booked four early February dates … billed as “Metal Box in Dub” to air instrumental improv takes on PIL’s classic album from 1979.  Wobble, however, contacted MOJO to say that … he received a letter from John Lydon’s lawyers threatening legal action, and that … Lydon sought to copyright “Metal Box” in his name alone …” 

A fine kettle of worms, methinks.

(*A détournement is a technique developed in the 1950s by the Letterist International and consist in “turning expressions of the capitalist system against itself.” as Wikipedia puts it).

There Was Not One Which Knew That It Was Dying

We interrupt our coverage of the rain cricket to bring you some poetry, this time from W.H. Auden.

One of my pleasures on these long June evenings (except when it’s raining, of course) is to sit outside the back door with a glass of Lidl’s finest and observe the movements of the clouds and birds in the gloaming.

At the end of the back garden is an enormous fir.  I think it must have begun life as a Christmas tree, planted, perhaps, by the original inhabitant of the house (an old Polish sea-captain), but it is now almost the tallest tree in the neighbourhood.  You can see it here, to the right of the hot air balloon –

As such, it attracts a succession of birds who take it in turns to twitter their thoughts to the widest possible audience. 

Poets tend to the view that birdsong is, as Shelley put it the “profuse strains of unpremeditated art“. Scientists, however, believe that it – being usually the province of the male – is functional, employed to attract a mate, and, particularly, establish and defend ownership of a territory against intruders.

Perhaps, like a lot of mellifluous languages (such as Italian) it is better left untranslated.  If only we could understand the song of the blackbird, for instance, we might hear something like “‘Who you looking at you **** if anyone comes near my eggs I swear I’ll do time come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough”.  Or words to that effect.   

Here are Wystan’s thoughts.

 

As I listened from a beach-chair in the shade

To all the noises that my garden made,

It seemed to me only proper that words

Should be withheld from vegetables and birds.

 

A robin with no Christian name ran through

The Robin Anthem which was all it knew,

And rustling flowers for some third party waited

To say which pairs, if any, should get mated.

 

No one of them was capable of  lying,

There was not one which knew that it was dying,

Or could have with a rhythm or a rhyme

Assumed responsibility for time.

 

Let them leave language to their lonely betters

Who count some days and long for certain letters;

We, too, make noises when we laugh or weep,

Words are for those with promises to keep.  

“We Cannot Always Stand Upright” (and George Winston’s January Stars)

Let us say farewell to the month of January with the collect for the fourth Sunday after Epiphany –

“O God, who knowest us to be set in the midst of so many and great dangers, that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright : Grant to us such strength and protection, as may support us in all dangers and carry us through all temptation; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”

(And which of us, Brothers and Sisters, has not – at one time or another –  found ourselves unable to stand upright?  I know I have … etc.) 

and another piece of music.  You may not recognise the name, but you’ll probably know the music, as it often crops up on the soundtracks of TV documentaries and the like (often those featuring polar bears).  George Winston had the great misfortune (critically) to be signed to the Windham Hill label, which saw him consigned to the New Age bin alongside various crystal-gazing Pan Pipe merchants and was often dismissed as music for yuppies.  This was less of a misfortune commercially as his albums Autumn, December and Winter into Spring all went platinum in the U.S.A.

He prefers to describe his own music as “Rural folk piano”.  Try to banish from your mind any thought of a Californian in Gap chinos sipping a wheatgrass smoothie and aim more for a Walden vibe.  This is the first track (in old money) from Winter into Spring (1982) and is entitled January Stars.

(I’d got this far before discovering that the video couldn’t be embedded , but the link should take you there presently …)

January Stars