Ruth and I have been enjoying Tony Robinson’s Channel 5 series Britain’s Great Cathedrals. We’re looking forward to the forthcoming episode on Canterbury. That’s where we met (at the University though, not the Cathedral itself.) The Cathedral was a favourite place to visit, and the experience was always awe-inspiring. When, later, I found this poem by John Ormond I was reminded how such staggering beauty was created by so many hard-working, skilful, ordinary blokes. I love the concluding line.
The Cathedral Builders
They climbed on sketchy ladders towards God,
with winch and pulley hoisted hewn rock into heaven,
inhabited the sky with hammers,
took up God’s house to meet him,
and came down to their suppers
and small beer,
every night slept, lay with their smelly wives,
quarrelled and cuffed the children,
lied, spat, sang, were happy, or unhappy,
and every day took to the ladders again,
impeded the rights of way of another summer’s swallows,
grew greyer, shakier,
became less inclined to fix a neighbour’s roof of a fine evening,
saw naves sprout arches, clerestories soar,
cursed the loud fancy glaziers for their luck,
somehow escaped the plague,
decided it was time to give it up,
to leave the spire to others,
stood in the crowd, well back from the vestments at the consecration,
envied the fat bishop his warm boots,
cocked a squint eye aloft,
and said, ‘I bloody did that.’
‘Ciné Qua Non’, as everybody knows, is Latin for ‘publish video on Youtube or not’.
In my case, as a determined late adopter, (see here for instance) the answer has been ‘not’. Until now.
So, announcing my Youtube channel, which goes under the banner of The Common Land and is here.
A Crossword War
This journey into the world of video editing is to enable me to present my current musical project, A Crossword War, as a full length DVD as well as an audio CD/download.
A Crossword War is about Bletchley Park and the code-breakers during the Second World War. It focuses not so much on the fêted central characters like Turing and the cryptographers, but on the huge supporting cast of clerks, translators, liaison officers, machine operators and so on, the vast majority of whom were women. The twelve new songs (and one old one) reflect various aspects of life at ‘BP’.
I’m lucky to have had the collaboration of good friends like Marion Hill, Brad Bradstock, Sheena Masson, Andrew King and Dorien James, as well as my sister Terry Brown. There’s also a cameo appearance from my wife Ruth. I hope to have the music finished and available for download and on CD by April. As for the video version, watch this space.
Finally, a plug for Marion Hill’s book Bletchley Park People, which has provided me with a lot of source material. You can purchase a copy here.
I recently watched The State, and was reminded of this poem, which I wrote shortly after the Westminster Bridge and Borough Market attacks.
Go To Sleep, Oh My Brother
In my helmet and Kevlar,
Watchful and waiting.
I see you brandish your kitchen knife bravely;
I see your victims still bleeding and gasping.
I dare you to hurt me.
I dare you surrender.
I dare you admit to this vile perversion-
Step into the light, oh my brother.
Your hands start to move, as if for a weapon,
Not up to the air as you have been bidden.
No response to my call,
And I see you fall-
My finger has spoken,
Resistance is broken.
Go to sleep with your young virgin brides,
Oh my brother
Let them see what a lion you are.
Song writers have to be prepared to answer these two questions ad nauseam:
“How do you go about writing songs?” and “What comes first, the words or the music?”
I recently watched a documentary about the Eagles (yes, I know, but they were good really) in which Glenn Frey, (or was it Don Henley?) spoke about sharing a house with Jackson Browne, and hearing him get up in the morning and work away for hours and hours at the same bit of a song, over and over. Don, (or Glenn?) was made to realise that song-writing is principally about hard work and perseverance. So that’s one answer to the first question. Continue reading →
A song dedicated to the beautiful North Norfolk coast and to bird watchers everywhere. Ruth and I knocked this up one holiday. The inspiration was the sight of a horse staring over the fence as we drove along; he was obviously counting the cars on the North Norfolk coast road. With apologies to Paul Simon.
This song was written for the Living Archive Band’s radio ballad The Horse and the Tractor, but was not included when the ghost story fell victim to the editorial axe- a not inappropriate metaphor! The song intertwines two stories- the murder of Lady Grace Bennet at Calverton Manor, Buckinghamshire in 1694, and the childhood fears of Richard Fountaine who was brought to live in Calverton Manor after his family had bought the farm and the house. Not surprisingly, having heard rumours of hauntings, the boy was not happy, as he recounted much later in life:-
My 19th century German workshop Maggini copy, with two bands of purfling front and back, and an extra turn in the scroll (apparently not one of Maggini’s signatures).
In thirty years together we have seen and done a lot: from Castlethorpe Village Hall to Westminster Hall, from Leicester to Leipzig, countless ceilidhs, innumerable morris stands and nearly as many pubs as there are stars in the sky. I ought to be sad, but I truly am not. Continue reading →
Today marks the centenary of the opening of the British and Canadian offensive at Arras, on the Western Front.
Hawtin Mundy of New Bradwell, Buckinghamshire, fought and was captured in the battle. His powerful memories were recorded late in life, inspiring community drama and song that ties modern Milton Keynes and its inhabitants to its past.
Here is a part of Hawtin’s moving testimony:
Hawtin’s description of the battlefield at Arras was carefully turned into song by Paul Clark for the play Days of Pride, and has never failed to move audiences each of the many times it has been sung since. Continue reading →