Monday, 24 December 2018

The Artillery Ground and the long continuities of London life

The Bunhill Fields burial ground preserves the name of one of the three large fields (the others being Moorfields and Smithfield) that historically formed the Manor of Finsbury. The term field implies open land—land not used for the cultivation of crops but for the grazing of animals, the tenting of cloth (that is to say, the bleaching of linen in the sun), all kinds of sports and ball games, & so on—any activity that required space. I attribute to Peter Ackroyd the phrase “the long continuities of London life” though I can no longer trace the reference. It just may be that I heard him use the phrase in a lecture twenty or more years ago and it has resonated with me ever since.

The Finsbury fields were long a noted place for the practice of archery. A Child ballad (No 145B : “Robin Hood and Queen Katherine”), tells of an archery contest at Bunhill Fields :

          In summer time, when leaves grow green,
          It is a seemly sight to see
          How Robin Hood himself had drest,
          And all his yeomandry.

          He cloathed his men in Lincoln green,
          And himself in scarlet red,
          Black hats, white feathers, all alike ;
          Now bold Robin Hood is rid.

          And when he came at Londons court,
          Hee fell downe on his knee:
          ‘Thou art welcome, Locksly,’ said the queen,
          ‘And all thy good yeomendree.’

Thursday, 8 March 2018

A Fugs Discography

In this simple discography of The Fugs, Ed Sanders, and Tuli Kupferberg, I attempt to list each recording (LP, Single, CD, tape or cassette) that I have been able to trace, though omitting downloads and online content. Reissues are usually noted with the original publication, but I list separately reissued discs where there is variation of title or of content. There may well be inconsistencies in the coverage. With the ESP recordings in particular, there are numerous variations in the packaging and labelling of the album which I shall not attempt to enumerate here.

The Fugs themselves were formed in New York City in 1964 by Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg, with Ken Weaver on drums. Later that year they were joined by Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber of The Holy Modal Rounders. Sanders says the Fugs started out with an air of anything-goes possibility—what a show could be and how the band would progress were entirely up for grabs.
We started out in Greenwich Village, on the Lower East Side, and we were in the middle of a lot of music: the jazz clubs, the civil-rights songs, the folk movement, rock’n’roll. Everyone had guitars in their apartments, and we’d put beat poetry to music. It was a time when you could rent a store front, rent a smoke machine, have someone dancing in a bathtub full of grapes, play some songs, and you could charge admission.—SANDERS

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Blake set to music—Ed Sanders and The Fugs

The chronological sequence of musical settings of a poet provides an interesting measure of the reputation of that poet and the reception history of their oeuvre. Musicians, too, are influenced by literary fashion. The first known setting of Blake’s poetry (a setting of “The Chimney Sweeper”, in The Illustrated Book of Songs for Children) appeared in 1863 which, hardly coincidentally, was the year of publication of Gilchrist’s Life of Blake. There were a few more Blake songs in the 1870s, mostly single settings from the Songs of Innocence and of Experience, perhaps 80 or so for the rest of the nineteenth century, and then a flood of compositions from 1900 onwards that still shows no sign of stopping.

The nineteenth century established the various forms Blakean music would take: children’s songs, drawing-room ballads, art songs (the equivalent of the German Lied), and choral works. These classical forms persisted into the twentieth century, and to a lesser extent persist today. When it came to Blake, even a popular songwriter like Alec Wilder, who had worked with Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, and Tony Bennett, felt able only to compose songs for children. Not until William Bolcom completed his wildly eclectic setting of the complete Songs of Innocence and of Experience (in 1984 though not recorded until 2004) do we get, for example, “The Little Vagabond” as Broadway show-tune, or a bluegrass “Shepherd”.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

More about cricket and Blake

And what should they know of England who only England know?—KIPLING

What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?—JAMES
By the 1770s the game of cricket had reached a high level of development. It had recognized, accepted rules or—this being the eighteenth century—laws. It was played by teams sufficiently well known to attract large and enthusiastic crowds, and to arouse passionate local loyalties. In 1765 a crowd of 12,000 was reported to have attended a match of Dartford against Surrey at the Artillery Ground in Chiswell Street. The number of players was usually the same—eleven a side—though matches were sometimes played that involved fewer or more than that number. Bowling was underarm, and before the 1760s the ball came skimming at the batsman with only minimal bounce. Batting was no easy matter on the primitive, rough pitches that were the norm.

The bat was curved like a hockey stick, and it was only during the great days of the Hambledon club, in Hampshire, in the 1770s and 1780s that bowlers developed the knack of making the ball kick up at the batsman. This, as well as the addition of the third stump to the two widely spaced ones previously used, made it necessary to switch to the “straight” bat, more easily used with precision. The expression was later to become something like a metaphor for cricketing virtue.