Our Chris is down from Glasgow, waiting to start command training. Gran and Grandad's anniversary yesterday, so the newly engaged happy couple, Lou and Matt, thought it would be a nice gesture to buy us all some Dominoes. Delivered as well. They had one of those half price offers, depending what you order. They don't know what to charge, do they? So we had the menu and Chris had his iPad, ready to purchase online. 'Non of the offers are coming up on screen. What's that all about?' However he massaged the thing, no offers. After five minutes the penny dropped, 'I've only gone and logged in to my local Glasgow Dominoes'. By 'eck, we would've 'ad a long time to wait. It would have been interesting tracking the order down through Gretna, past Carlisle and down the M6. Pizzas at 2am maybe, and a quick burst in the microwave.
Chris changed to the Honley Dominoes, but couldn't manage the code, so rang for help. He'd mixed 0 with o. This was still really going well. The lady took sympathy and let him order over the phone. A lot of food, great, we were cooking with gas at last. Forty minutes to wait. At thirty minutes, the phone rang. 'Dominoes pizza here. Where do you live?'
Thursday, 29 January 2015
Tuesday, 27 January 2015
I've been down to my last pair of the current batch all winter, until today. I was harvesting the last of the leeks and potatoes in bags and raised beds, when I spied a pair of lost spectacles, hanging at odd angles from the garden furniture. They have survived the winter and today, they survived my repairs.
Friday, 23 January 2015
A weekend dominated by rehearsal. In the hotel and in the flat. JRR and I were going to sing at the Highlander - my debut. Lyrics by John, based on a sketch by The Two Ronnies using three traditional Welsh tunes, unsurprisingly entitled A Welsh Trilogy - well we do an American and an African one. There’d been a session at John’s house which was really about finding the snags. Like getting the tune for All Through the Night and do we harmonise? The girls said no, so we split into two parts just for Cwm Rhondda. I downloaded the scores and a couple of videos, learned the words and got legged up with the rhythm of All Through the Night. John said it was a slow lullaby and not to get excited by dots. But you do don’t you? A couple more sessions in the flat and we were ready.
Early on Friday afternoon, the Greaves/Ray/Healey threesome were seen wandering along The Esplanade. Not simply taking in the view and the bracing Scarborough air, but trying to retrieve a wallet one of them had left behind at their lunch venue. They were successfully reunited with said wallet, but sadly, later in the weekend, that wallet or another wallet went missing once more. Good job they weren’t away for a fortnight.
I have a concern, shared with others, about messing with my choir filing system. I don’t willingly transfer scores from my master folder, so I take everything to Scarborough. Cumbersome but it safeguards the long term integrity of my system. The method of filing the came up in conversation. If the song title starts with the, do you file under t or the first letter of the second word? It’s the sort of thing that keeps you awake at night. So what about nicknames? Such as The Baker’s Song for I need thee every hour. Sadly, it could also apply to Christ is risen today.
Alan got into 6/8 time quite early on in the rehearsal and the length of a quaver, rapping and clapping it all out. I did hear the odd grump say ‘What is he talking about?’ Later there was some confusion between the tenor parts, something about writing music conventions and enharmonic. The Wiki entry is as follows - In modern musical notation and tuning, an enharmonic equivalent is a note, interval, or key signature that is equivalent to some other note, interval, or key signature but "spelled", or named differently. So put that in your pipe and smoke it. And Rupert let him get away with it.
Talking about Rupert, he put his tablet on to charge (at the hotel’s expense) and it kept ringing a bell every 20 minutes.
I do attract the odd health issue or two. We have a gout club. There are the hypertension and joint replacement clinics. What about the worried drinkers? Then there are the relaxed laid-back drinkers.
The new pieces were:
Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines is the title song of the 1965 British film which is subtitled Or How I Flew From London To Paris In 25 Hours 11 Minutes. It’s a comedy set in the early days of aviation about a race from London to Paris with a £10,000 prize. The song was written by Ron Goodwin.
Crazy Little Thing Called Love was written by Freddie Mercury in 1979 while taking a bubble bath in his room at the Munich Hilton when Queen were recording The Game in Germany. It got to No 2 in the UK and was Queen’s first chart topper in the US. We first heard it in Cornwall but the choir who sang it wouldn’t let us have their arrangement, so Alan and Ray did it their way.
Cavalry of the Steppes. Music by Lev Knipper, lyrics by Viktor Gusev (1933). It’s a poem about Поэма о бойце-комсомольце, or Komsomol Soldier to non-Russian speakers, who proudly leaves his home to keep watch against his homeland's enemies.
Kings of Swing. An Alan Simmons compilation, not the well-known orchestra of that name. Begin the Beguine, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Moonlight Serenade & Chattanooga Choo Choo. Robin Ray won’t have to learn the words. Not many people know this but Robin sang duet with Ron Atkinson aka Mr Bojangles. Very popular crooners round the Sheffield Clubscene in the 80s and 90s.
The guest turns were:
Geoff Gill explained the cross-fertilisation between our NE and SW France. Apparently the old French peasant in the corner of the bar with a glass of red has a double in Whitley Bay. The flat cap and beret are not the only similarities. Apparently your average garçon is partial to pigeons, whippets and nutty slack. Geoff illustrated this with a french rendition of Wor Geordie's lost his penka. Musicologists regard this as a traditional song, composer unknown with lyrics by an unknown writer. No one knows who first performed it. So not a lot known about it then. Apparently versions are also sung in Belfast (marley) - penka alternatives in brackets, Glasgow (jaurie), Wolverhampton (glarney). It can be sung in standard English when a penka becomes merely a marble. Strangely a french version is not mentioned.
Tom Ashworth celebrated the life of a cartoon character who always bobbed back up after life’s reversals. Popeye the Sailorman, accompanied by ukulele.
Rupert Wilson started with alternative words to Begin the Beguine. Then two poems. The first, set in Africa, about ‘Smithers’, who had a stellar career in the army, sports and so on, only to be reduced to a 3ft cripple with any number of diseases. Apparently he told a witch doctor ‘to sod off’.
The second, three ha’pence a foot, previously performed by Stanley Holloway and Mike Harding, is a tribute to a stubborn Lancastrian who performed a remarkable feat of memory.
‘Ibbo’ was Ibbo, dressed in khaki shirt and shorts, rifle, Union Jack and topi. His repertoire included Soldiers of the Queen (written originally as a march to celebrate the opening of the Manchester Ship Canal), On the Road to Mandalay (an adaptation of a Kipling poem illustrating the nostalgia and longing of a soldier of the British Empire for Asia's exoticism) and Mad Dogs and Englishmen (Noel Coward).
Steve Davies. One about a fox lamenting his role with the hounds. A really resonant voice. Is it changing and maturing or is it beer?
Ged Faricy. A lovely rendition of Our Wedding Day, arranged by Ronan Hardiman for Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance. Ged accompanied himself on clarinet.
(Long) Rod, (Happy fisherman) Dave and (Johnny Depp) Graham. Hearty, vigorous, salty, and antipodean. A great shanty first heard when sung by St Buryan MVC at Christ Church, New Mill. Originally a work song for a variety of trades such as wool and wheat carried by the clipper ships between London and Australia.
Andy Johnston. Two clever poems from the Johnston genre.
Richard Green. Two adaptations, one a hymn, the other a carol. Again clever and entertaining.
We had an impromptu birthday song or two for Judith, a friend or relative of Charlie, in town for a celebration. It was going to be a big party. We finished off the staff with Just George.
Wednesday, 14 January 2015
Before Christmas three lights failed in the kitchen, not all at once, but failed nevertheless. We tried to replace them, but they were the sort that fit snugly into the kitchen unit over the work area and to us, they looked like integral units. In other words did the whole units need replacing? So we asked an electrician and he came yesterday. 'You'll need a new transformer.' Right. 'I'll have to go and get you one.' Okay. Two hours later, transformer replaced, the lights still didn't work. Out came junction boxes, off came the wall switch and in went various screwdrivers, testing for circuits and ringing bells. Nothing wrong with the electrical system. 'Did they all go off at once?' No. He dismantled the what we thought were integral units and took out the bulbs. 'The elements look alright.' He disappeared up to his van and came back with a replacement. It worked. 'Must be a fault in the bit of the bulb that goes into the socket.' Oh, that's the problem is it? It's only a small thing with prongs rather than a bayonet or a screw and it does look fragile.
Three hours or so and we have the answer. Go and buy more bulbs, stupid.
Three hours or so and we have the answer. Go and buy more bulbs, stupid.
Tuesday, 6 January 2015
Put simply history is a study of the past, warts and all. Heritage is a selection of history which people feel they have inherited and for which they feel a responsibility to pass down to their descendants.
In the 19th century, certain democratic groups thought that there was a body of property and historical goods which, though privately owned, belonged to the people in common, and as early as the 1830s people were visiting places like the Tower of London. Heritage itself is a new word which first appeared in the 1920s, in common use by the 1960s. Whilst it can be abstract, it tends to be about tangible things like stately homes and steam railways.
Some say that heritage presents a distorted view of national life. The past is represented by artefacts, stately homes for example, which were owned by a small ruling elite and come from an era when the aristocracy was more powerful than it is now. Access within the site can be restricted to places the elite family allow, chaperoned by an elderly retainer who describes how the family are doing wonderful work. This is not the past of most of the population. Heritage works where there is engaging intellectual content in a brilliant setting which tries to connect with the truth of everyday lives. Today’s heritage sites are diverse in content and presentation. The countryside and industrial sites can be added to stately homes. As well as written and visual material, there are games, interactive exhibits and enactments. Whilst they are commercial, they are more than simply somewhere to take the kids on a rainy day.
As for history, the Victorians were interested in the formation of the Nation State and hence national identity. Historians wrote about the big long term political, social and economic forces that explain and drive history forward. Inevitably it was selective, often because of the specific interest of the historian. Similarly, English success at Trafalgar and Waterloo is not prominent in French history and the large biographies of people such as Disraeli and Gladstone paint pictures of the great politicians whose lives are to be emulated.
Today, three generations away from from World War II, history has many more voices and a large and varied audience. Globalisation, women and gender, multiculturalism, family and local community are some of the influences. Biographies are now about tortured lives. Today’s history is cultural history. Using disciplines such as psychology and anthropology, the interest is in how people made sense of their lives and created their identities? How did they perceive politics and economics, monarchy and the church from the viewpoint of their personal local life? How can we get to these individual experiences - through writing, art, literature and music.
Music and History
Pieces of music, novels and paintings are created in the past. They have been listened to, looked at and read many times since then and they are still enjoyed today. Whilst they are part of our heritage, how do we make sense of them as history?
One way is to think of the composer and his or her musical ‘work’, who performs and who listens. Then try and place them in a historical context, as in the following examples. Pieces of high art music composed in 17th century have been played and appreciated in lots of different ways. Many satisfy accepted style and quality criteria and some gradually achieve the status of masterwork, granted by powerful members of a cultural elite. Stereotypically, in both the 17th century and today, performances occurred in prestigious venues, played and sung by professional musicians in front of audiences from a social elite.
In contrast, in rural pre-industrial life, an old traditional ‘folk’ song, sung by local amateurs, would have been enjoyed mostly by ordinary people in the fields, streets and taverns. Apart from broadsheet ballads, these songs were not written down and many have been lost. In the newly growing towns of the early 1800s, publicans set aside singing rooms, mostly for men, to sing and listen to traditional music. These rooms evolved into the 1850s music hall which, by the 1870s, had became an all-professional thriving industry, until TV came along in the 1950s. Whilst music hall moved away from folk songs to ‘Home Sweet Home’ and others, traditional music continued as music of the streets, pubs and clubs, undergoing revivals and ensuring something tangible had been handed down.
Similar pigeon-holes apply to sacred music, brass bands and choral societies. Such distinctions make the point, but in reality there would have been some overlap even in traditional rural society.
A second related approach to music history is the chart its development in the context of wider British history. Change was not part of pre-industrial life. The journey to the 21st century began slowly toward the end of the 17th century, gathering pace in the 18th, when the food supply improved and technical innovations occurred. Then the increased machine power and mass production of industrialisation which continued into Victorian England. This was a period of social upheaval which resulted in more and more formal leisure pursuits. Brass bands and choral societies started their lives here. The price of instruments decreased, sheet music was cheaper, hire purchase was easier to come by and railways allowed previously unheard of travel. Technological advance in ways of listening began in the late 19th century continuing into the 20th: gramophone, radio, cinema, TV, CD, video and the internet. Two world wars, industrial decline, reduced church membership and the increasing volume of competing leisure attractions summarises where we are today.
What of a class based analysis of music history? As industrialisation progressed the new middle classes became established. Some aspired to be landowners and aristocrats. Others didn’t. Hence the class boundaries between who listens to what in one sense became more rigid and yet in others have become blurred. High art music can still be elitist, yet is also performed by local amateur orchestras. Whilst sacred music is still integral to the liturgy and available for church celebrations and festivals, secular concerts also take place in church today. The performers and the audience now come from all sections of society. New music genres are continually springing up. Jazz in the 1930s, pop music in the 1950s and 1960s and a host of others since, each with their own devotees but also having wider appeal.
Finally, can we begin to answer the question ‘What role does music play in people’s lives?’ What are the emotional and practical benefits from being involved in music writing, performing and listening? How are these questions relevant to the population of the Holme Valley?
Some people make a living from composing, performing, conducting and teaching. Similarly, instrument makers and music publishers, concert promoters and recording companies.
Music is communication. From composer to audience via the band, choir or orchestra. To be part of this trio is a strong component of personal identity. Even entering competitions says a lot for how individuals tick. Civic pride is competitive, the best choir, the best venue.
Performance and rehearsal bring fellowship. To support one form of music over another is a big personal statement, often political and class-related. Little is known about how audiences feel other than when the performance has a clear purpose, such as for a funeral or a marriage, when the feelings should also be clear. It is important to explore these ideas, with special reference to the ordinary people of the Holme Valley, where majority of the music is produced by amateurs, in churches, schools and other public venues, listened to by workers and bosses alike.
We have been to Southern Ireland several times, usually for short breaks. We’ve enjoyed each visit, all different from different perspectives. Big towns and cities like Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Galway and Limerick for rugby (Thomond Park, home of Munster and The Aviva Stadium, Dublin), a bit of culture, history, eating and drinking. Cleggan, Dingle and Killibegs are coastal places. Ennis for the music festival and Croke Park, Dublin, for The Gaelic Athletic Association.
In September 2014 we went with friends for two whole weeks. A comparative overdose, but never dull. I wondered ‘What is it that attracts me to Ireland?’
Is it the history and the relationship with the English? Is being downtrodden by the London elite for several hundred years still valid? It strikes a chord with someone of my background; a socially challenged Yorkshire grammar school boy who joined the officer class for a short time.
Or, is it part of my nature to see other ways of life and cultures as more attractive than my own?
I do admire their humorous and musical acceptance of who they are.
It is not particularly relevant that our great grandmother and father came to Huddersfield in the 1850s from the west of Ireland. Everyone in England seems to be part Irish these days. Indeed a lot of the people we met this time either lived in England and were back home for the festival, or had returned to live here after several years working in England. Their kids were English.
We began in Dublin, staying in the prosperous suburb of Ballsbridge. They say Ireland is out of recession, but I’m not clear whether Ballsbridge ever went into recession. Big houses and cars, close to the classier city centre areas down by the docks. Posh pubs and restaurants. Croke Park and surrounding districts this isn’t. The city centre resembles any city centre and the Irish accent was conspicuous by its rarity. The shops and pubs are geared to the tourist. Only on the hop-on-hop-off bus do you get the history and culture, and if you hop off and on a lot you get too much history. And the same jokes. We spent Sunday afternoon in an excellent ‘french’ jazz cafe bar, the only features distinguishing it from a London or Manchester ‘french’ cafe bar being the prevalence of Guinness and the singer’s pretty Irish lilt. That evening we listened to Clannad at the Olympia theatre which was excellent and felt a bit like a genuine Irish night out, but in fairness we could have been at the St George’s Hall in Bradford.
Kilmainham Gaol is on the tourist trail, a model prison initially which gained its repute by hosting the executions of the 1916 Easter uprising ringleaders. A tad grim. The Garden of Remembrance in Dublin centre has the same disapproving tone, but at least the Queen paid her respects there. I felt anger, as I do at all injustice meted out by the powerful who assume they are right. Dublin museum, the Guinness factory, the statues of Wilde, Joyce and Molly Malone were light relief by comparison.
We then hired a car, from a company staffed by polish men, and drove to a basic but adequate end-of-terrace cottage in Ennis, market town and capital of Clare. It is also a centre for Irish music, and the annual traditional music festival was the reason for our visit. In addition it was base from which to explore coastal gems such as Dingle, Doolin and Lahinch, the Burren limestone country and Killaloe and Balina on the river Shannon.
The western coast is wild and rugged. Some of it gradually rises out of the sea, dotted by a haphazard pattern of houses and farms. Some of it, such as the Cliffs of Moher, erupts violently as high as 700 feet straight out of the water. To be even-handed, The Scottish Highlands, N Wales and the Lake District have similar breathtaking land and seascapes. At Doolin and Lahinch, on one of our windy days, the surf was stunning. Tourist traps were few and we avoided the tacky centre at the Cliffs. The Burren is 250 square kilometres of karst limestone country and a temperate climate which supports a number of rare plants. Within the Burren is the spa town Lisdoonvarna, well known for its brewery and salmon smokehouse in addition to matchmaking events. During our first week, we crossed the Shannon estuary by ferry on our way to Dingle and, later, explored around Lough Derg down to O’Brian’s bridge. It’s a big river and inland, the banks and hillsides are pretty, green and fertile.
The festival comprised groups of players taking up a corner of a pub or more formally performing to rows of seated followers. The informal gigs are not for an audience as the fiddlers, accordionists, pipers and others face each other in a circle. At least we could talk to each other. The music is for dancing: reels, jigs and hornpipes (waltzes and polkas too) or for singing (ballads). The dance music is repetitious and the tunes all sound a bit the same. Nevertheless they soon get your fingers and toes tapping. There is a structure and each group had a leader whose main function appeared to indicate when they should stop. Drinking is also integrated into the structure. Fag breaks as well. In fact between tunes there was much coming and going. And, as many women as men performed. We tried the dancing which had a simple step but a harder series of moves as you built up the steps into the dance. They had to be simple if you were doing it in the kitchen.
So there is history if you want it, illustrated by the heritage shows for the tourists. In addition to the Dublin hop-on-hop-off bus we visited Banratty Castle and Folk Park which contains many preserved cottages, churches and pubs from Clare. Most of the residential properties we saw out in the countryside have however been built within the last 10 years, fuelled by the boom in consumer spending and lax planning. The fisherman’s cottage and farm labourer’s hovel rightly belong in museums. There’s culture if you want it. Ennis has Glor, a modern theatre for music, drama and film, as well as traditional music. In Doolin and every village and town, or so it seems, the pubs are full in the evenings and weekends of locals enjoying an Irish band or two. Literary history is around every Dublin street corner: Beckett, Yates, Joyce, Swift, Behan and Wilde. And there is pretty countryside and the wild Irish west coast.
So what preoccupies Irish people? The same as any other western country. The corrupt banking system, inept politicians, how much debt or wealth they have and currently, the government’s water charge. Personal wealth has yoyoed somewhat, following property values, but on average it appears that most people are financially comfortable. There’s no talk of the IRA or terrorism. No bare feet and crapping out in the undergrowth. In 2005 The Economist rated Ireland as having the best quality of life in the world. The trad festival pub session was the time for meeting people. Invariably they would say ‘Where are you from?’ and after the answer they would then say ‘I lived in so-and-so.’ Even the recent recession was accompanied by emigration. There was one 85 years old Ennis guy who came from Birmingham. Still with the Irish accent, but very worried about Muslims. Yet another from Southampton who was going back to Belfast and none too sure about it. So their stories are of emigration within living memory, gratitude for the opportunity and concern for the conditions now where they found themselves.
So it’s the way the Southern Irish seem to have come to terms with their struggles that attracts me the most. As A A Gill wrote recently in the Telegraph magazine, Irish people are ‘unnervingly, irrationally, precipitously chummy’. There will be some of the older generation with long memories. Sure the English did lots of bad things, but they are history. Youngsters don’t appear to know about them or if they do, they don’t bear grudges. The music is unique and Gaelic games are wonderfully inclusive.
Maybe you get a superficial view when you are on holiday, but it’s pretty much the only view I have.
Friday, 2 January 2015
I took my wife, Sheila, to buy her Christmas box at a local outdoor shop. Lovely gear and she easily selected a coat she wanted. 'Yes, I'll have that one. Wrap it up please, but where's the one I came in?' The sales assistant had only hung it on a hanger and put it on show.