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Thursday, 29 April 2010

Saying sorry to the Vikings (of Ridgeway Hill, Weymouth Relief Road)

With a general election next week, it should be a priority for the new government, as well as for Dorset County Council, to say sorry - and to issue an official apology- to the Scandinavian countries (or Finland), for the killing/execution of 51 or 52 Viking warriors (a raiding party, if the executions weren't a result of ethnic cleansing), and the mass burial of their decapitated skulls (46) and bodies (circa 52), discovered in a site on Ridgeway Hill near Weymouth. The mass burial pit was unearthed on the new Weymouth Relief road.

Oxford Archaeology and the NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory in Nottingham have confirmed that the beheaded young Viking warriors had their places of origin in Norway, Sweden or Finland. The remains are being analysed and have been dated to between AD970 and AD1025.

Perhaps it's also an appropriate time for the countries from which the Vikings came to issue an apology for the Viking raids, which began at Portland (Dorset) in the year 789 (first recorded raid, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; the Norwegian raiders slew the Reeve of Dorchester). Portland suffered again from Viking pirate ravages in 982.

How the Danes Came Up the Channel a Thousand Years Ago
Herbert A Bone (Russell-Cotes Museum)

For information, see

See also, St Brice's Day Massacre in Oxford

Secret Knowledge, The Art of the Vikings, BBC IPlayer, The Effect of Viking Culture on the British Isles

Poetry Out Loud

With all the gloom and doom about the economic situation in Greece and Britain, it's good to be reminded of some positive developments and events.

Have a look at this BBC report and video footage from the States

Homer, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Adrian Mitchell, the Nuyoricans: all impressive oral poets and performers (to name a few). It's great to see American teenagers performing Shakespeare out loud, with such enthusiasm and talent.

Better to read this than the latest blog on Gavin Hewitt's Europe ("The Greek Meltdown"), where Hewitt writes:

"The Germans could end up financing better pensions for the Greeks than they receive themselves".

For more:

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

In the Shadow of Jimmie Rodgers

One of my favourite blues singers!

Two Jimmy's, two Bristols.

You have to look closely.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Greek Euro Zone Crisis

Another fascinating take on this topic, by the winner (at last night's award ceremony) of the UACES-Thomson Reuters "Reporting Europe" Prize, for excellence in reporting on the EU in the English-speaking media, for high quality and informed journalism on any aspect of the EU.

(UACES:The University Association for Contemporary European Studies provides an independent forum for informed debate and discussion of European affairs. It is directly involved in promoting research and teaching in European Studies as well as bringing together academics with practitioners active in European affairs.
Since 1969, UACES has become the largest European Studies association, with members across Europe and further afield. The involvement of people whose work or research has an emphasis on Europe, from all disciplines, is actively encouraged).


Monday, 26 April 2010

Rastafarian Blues and Jazz? The Duke and the Emperor

Jazz can be enjoyed in some unexpected parts of the world (including Corfu).

Duke Ellington and his Orchestra performed before Emperor Haile Selassie in Addis Ababa in November 1973 (less than a year before the Emperor was deposed; just a month after Jonathan Dimbleby's "The Hidden Famine" was broadcast on UK TV; six months before the Duke himself died). It was a Command Performance. I enjoyed the music more when I saw Duke in concert in Bournemouth back in 1965, when he had his full band.

I was impressed by something he once said about the people of London:

“To me, the people of London are the most civilized in the world. Their civilization is based on the recognition that all people are imperfect, and that allowances should be made and are made for their imperfections. I have never experienced quite such a sense of balance elsewhere” (Duke Ellington, Music is My Mistress, New York, 1973).

I looked for, and found, his childhood home when staying in Washington, DC . There was no plaque to mark it. This is what I wrote:

"I can almost hear the clink and tinkle of Duke’s jazz piano taking shape on Ninth and R, at Louis Thomas’ cabaret. I reconstruct the place and spot, the siren songs, the playful rags, Sonny’s drums, the banjorine.

I can hear Duke and his sidemen swing, invited to the White House now, performing for the President. Not far on foot from that cabaret-site, a long, long way from where he used to play “What You Gonna Do When the Bed Breaks Down”. A suitable song for the White House.

All hail Mrs Clinkscales! Well done T Street 1212! Duke’s childhood home, but where’s the plaque? Well done 9th and R! 20th and R (and those between);Sherman Avenue 2728!

I saw him in Bournemouth, where I went backstage. (How do you find the English weather ? -“Ah feel no pain”). Again in Addis Ababa, playing for Haile Selassie.

The Duke and the Emperor: two conquering lions, about to be tamed. All hail His Imperial Majesty! A Command Performance for Ras Tafari: - we thank you, Duke.

I can almost hear their siren swan-song; now and then wilder growls from the jungle.

The writer Albert Murray (Obituary) on Duke Ellington:

'In music, he was a devotee of  Duke Ellington, "the pre-eminent embodiment of the blues musician as artist", who achieved "the most comprehensive synthesis, extension and refinement to date of all the elements of blues musicianship".'

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Peter Porter

More sad news. The outstanding Australian-born poet, Peter Porter, died on Friday, aged 81.

He was born in Brisbane, Queensland in 1929, and moved to Britain in 1951. I met him in Australia.

I have his poems back in Corfu, but I also have this selection "Poets on Record 12" here (University of Queensland Press, 1974). It contains an extended-play 45 rpm vinyl disc of Peter reading some of his best known poems such as "Your Attention Please", about a nuclear rocket strike:

"Death is the least we have to fear.
We are all in the hands of God,
Whatever happens happens by His Will.
Now go quickly to your shelters."

Amongst other great poems on the record, he reads "Sex and the Over Forties" and "Mort aux Chats", a poem more about racism than cats.

Alan Sillitoe

Very sad news that Alan Sillitoe died today, 25 April, aged 82.

I first met Alan in Thessaloniki in February 1983, and I have very fond memories of his visit and reading, with his wife, the poet Ruth Fainlight.

He generously gave me his reading copy of "Mountains and Caverns", and a World War II map of Corfu and Epirus. Alan loved maps.

I have many of his wonderful books, but it's hard to forget the impact of "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning", both the novel and the film.

He came to Gothenburg in September 2001. That's probably the last time we met.

Bonfanti & Milner

Great blues gig last night: accomplished blues and boogie pianist Paddy Milner ( with Marcus Bonfanti ( on guitar. Both have great voices and bags of energy and talent (ideal for the Aghiot Festival).

Friday, 23 April 2010

The Big Foreign Policy Debate

Another interesting view of last night's TV debate:

Cameron, Clegg and Brown on Europe/ the EU

This is Gavin Hewitt's useful summary of last night's debate in Bristol between the three major party leaders, on the topic of the EU.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The Cult of the Daisy (Chaucer in May)

Whether in Corfu or in England, it's time to get out your Chaucer, and to enjoy his prologue to "The Legend of Good Women". You don't have to wait until the first day of May!

...whan that the month of May
Is comen, and that I here the foules singe,
And that the floures ginnen for to springe,
Farwel my book and my devocioun!

Now have I than swich a condicioun,
That, of alle the floures in the mede,
Than love I most these floures whyte and rede,
Swiche as men callen daysies in our toun.
To hem have I so great affeccioun,
As I seyde erst, whan comen is the May,
That in my bed ther daweth me no day
That I nam up, and walking in the mede
To seen this flour agein the sonne sprede,
Whan hit upryseth erly by the morwe;
That blisful sighte softneth al my sorwe,
So glad am I whan that I have presence
Of hit, to doon al maner reverence,
As she, that is of alle floures flour,
Fulfilled of al vertu and honour,
And ever y-lyke fair, and fresh of hewe;
And I love hit, and ever y-lyke newe,
And ever shal, til that myn herte dye;
Al swete I nat, of this I wol nat lye,
Ther loved no wight hotter in his lyve.

And whan that hit is eve, I renne blyve,
As sone as ever the sonne ginneth weste,
To seen this flour, how it wol go to reste,
For fere of night, so hateth she derknesse!
Hir chere is pleynly sprad in the brightnesse
Of the sonne, for ther hit wol unclose.
Allas! that I ne had English, ryme or prose,
Suffisant this flour to preyse aright!
But helpeth, ye that han conning and might,
Ye lovers, that can make of sentement;
In this cas oghte ye be diligent
To forthren me somwhat in my labour,
Whether ye ben with the leef or with the flour.

Photo of white daisy - Daisy Flower by Anna Cervova

The English Daisy

Monday, 19 April 2010

Still Hooked !

West Dorset Scenes

I have been looking at a long-unopened novel,“The Treasure of Golden Cap”, by Bennet Copplestone, (John Murray, 1922).

Although neither the storyline of the adventure, nor the genre, have any particular appeal for me, Copplestone evokes the spirit of place with remarkable skill. He is a sensitive observer and a master of the “landscape of the imagination” when it comes to West Dorset scenes, on land and sea. Consider these passages:

Bridport Harbour

“There was nothing to suggest, as their little ship swung gently under the eternal swell, that the eastern half of the West Bay, when a gale blows furiously out of the south-west, is the most unfailing death-trap on the coast of England. Then from Lyme right round to the Bill of Portland the whole sweep of the Bay is a deadly lee shore, broken only by that tiny passage- no wider than a second-class country road- which has been cut through the Chesil at Bridport Harbour. Thence to Portland the high bank of the piled-up Chesil is unbroken. A ship, driven before the south-westerly gales, which fails to slip through the narrow Path of Life between the twin piers of Bridport Harbour, is lost. It will grind its bones on the Chesil and the savage undertow, which scoops deep hollows against the ridge of shingle, will take full toll of the helpless crew…”

“It was a grey morning in early September, the wind blew savagely, the south-west wind, churning the waters of the Bay and driving great rollers in to crash heavily on the shingle or to burst upon the stout short piers which guarded the entrance to the Harbour.”

Golden Cap

“Lyme was a port of call, and they proposed to disembark at the Cobb and tramp back over the serried masses of cliff. As they steamed close under the yellow wall of Golden Cap they stared up its six-hundred-foot face to the flat crown of the summit. There are many landmarks, famous in sea history, upon the south coast of England, but none which can approach Golden Cap in simple majesty. Once seen it is never to be forgotten.”

Chesil Beach

"The sun rose upon a scene unlike any other in the fair realm of England. The men sat with their backs against the vast breakwater of the Chesil, no rude mass of large pebbles, but a soft pile of gravel beans. The stones were as uniform in size as if they had been passed through a riddle. And so it is always with the Chesil, upon which the stones pass in gentle gradations from the size of peas at Bridport Harblour to that of small potatoes at the juncture with Portland. A West Bay sailor flung upon the Chesil in thick darkness can say at once from the size of the shingle upon which part of it he lies…”


“Dorchester is a very admirable town. It is a bit of unspoiled Old England, confined within its encircling avenues and stretching out its long arms of oak and elms and chestnuts upon the roads which lead into its heart…And, beyond its confines…we come to the England of the remote unrecorded past- the tremendous British settlement and fastness of Maiden Castle, the Danish Camp of Poundbury, and the Roman Amphitheatre of Maumbury Rings.”

He is less enthusiastic about Dorchester’s more modern suburbs. The book is well worth reading if only for descriptive passages such as those quoted above.

The novel was reprinted in 1982, by Serendip of Lyme Regis.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Summer in Corfu?

In fact a cover of The Potts Annual by Jim Russell (Sun News-Pictorial, Melbourne, c. 1950s).

Vaclav Havel (after the Revolution): From the archives

Photographed after a couple of beers...

And something I wrote BEFORE the Revolution:

Vaclav Havel's Trial (21.2.1989)

The Czechs don’t want a new Mandela

Within the heart of Europe.

Let's respect the brave one thousand, more,

Who've signed their names for Havel.

The police are having sleepless nights.

The politicians ? No remorse.

Vaclav and Jan, 1988, from Jan's Memoirs (1992)

Saturday, 17 April 2010

St. Wite, Whitchurch Canonicorum, and Georgi Markov (an April pilgrimage).

I heard on the radio this morning that it was on today's date that the Canterbury pilgrims set out from the Tabard in Southwark.

"Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote.."

or, in Nevill Coghill's translation of Chaucer's Prologue to The Canterbury Tales:

"When in April the sweet showers fall
And pierce the drought of March to the root, and all
The veins are bathed in liquor of such power
As brings about the engendering of the flower...
Then people long to go on pilgrimages
And palmers long to see the stranger strands
Of far-off saints, hallowed in sundry lands..."

The shrine of St. Wite, in Whitchurch Canonicorum, was one such place of pilgrimage, one of only two in England which survived the Reformation.

No one seems quite sure who she was. Christine Waters (in her booklet "Who was St. Wite?") seems to support the local tradition that she was a local hermit, "a Saxon holy woman, martyred by Danish pirates during a 9th Century raid on neighbouring Charmouth". As a hermit, Waters speculates that she may have acted as a coastguard, responsible for keeping alight a beacon or lantern on Golden Cap.

A raid did occur in 831.

The shrine of St. Wite, in the North transept of the Church, is of immense interest.

Of even greater interest, to some, is the grave of Georgi Markov, buried in the churchyard at Whitchurch Canonicorum. We know a lot more about him.

Markov was the 49 year-old Bulgarian dissident novelist, playwright, opposition activist/BBC broadcaster in political exile, who was attacked on 7 September 1978 by an assassin on Waterloo bridge, allegedly with a pellet of ricin (the famous poison-tip umbrella case; the alleged assassin, working for the Bulgarian Secret Service, has since been named). Markov died four days later, on 11 September.

As Annabel Markov, his widow, writes in her introduction to "Georgi Markov, The Truth that Killed" (London, 1983),

"My husband Georgi Markov is buried in an ancient and beautiful country churchyard in the West of England...he died, as his stone says, 'in the cause of freedom.'".

From Alexander Gretcheninov, Liturgia Domestica, op. 79

Two good reasons for an April pilgrimage to Whitchurch Canonicorum, and to Golden Cap. It was amazingly beautiful up there yesterday. I was also reminded of something I wrote in 1992:

St Wite and the Writer: Strange Pilgrimage

If Markov had had

The luck of Havel,

I wouldn't be here

In this Dorset churchyard

In Whitchurch Canonicorum,

Sensing that I'm not alone

Searching for a stranger's gravestone,

For the writer they murdered on Waterloo Bridge,

Who died for a Europe

Reunited, freed,

In seventy-eight, not eighty-nine.

I say thanks to the Saint,

St. Wite, in her shrine.

Whitchurch Canonicorum,

May Day Bank Holiday, 1992.

In Memoriam Georgi Ivanov Markov, born Sofia, Bulgaria 1.3.1929, died London, England, 11.9.1978.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Eddie Cochran, Still Rocking the West Country 50 Years Later

I was recently reminded that Eddie Cochran died in Bath, at St. Martin's Hospital, 50 years ago, following a car accident near Chippenham, Wiltshire. His last show was at the Bristol Hippodrome. He died on 17 April 1960.

I still rate "Somethin' Else" (Earl Palmer on drums), "C'mon Everybody", "Summertime Blues" and "Twenty Flight Rock" as some of the greatest rock 'n' roll records. Eddie was also a superb blues guitarist. He played a Gretsch, with thin-gauge strings and a Gibson pick-up. Both B. B. King and Jimi Hendrix admired his skill and feeling for the blues.

He had a big infuence on early British rockers. Joe Brown (headliner in this summer's Aghiot Festival in Corfu) learnt a lot from him: "When I was on the road with him, we used to sit around for hours and hours just with the guitars".

Joe also pointed out that in those days British guitarists never had (or even knew about) different gauges of strings, "we just had guitar strings...then all of a sudden Eddie explained it to us." Eddie Cochran "took the time to sit and show us."

(Source, "Don't Forget Me, The Eddie Cochran Story" by Julie Mundy and Darrel Higham.)

Eddie Cochran in Australia 1957 (Whole Lotta Shakin') 

Somethin' Else (again)

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Suliots (Souliots) in Corfu

I'm working on a paper and presentation about the Suliots (Souliots) in Corfu. Update: Now published as a chapter in this book.

I hope to go to Suli over the weekend of 29-30 May. Each year I've missed the gathering and re-enactment of events.

Some images to show how much impact the Suliot saga had on the imagination of artists in the nineteenth century.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Ionian Islands and Epirus Book Review

If anyone wants to read the full Athens News review of "The Ionian Islands and Epirus",
it's now online at the Athens News website:

Monday, 5 April 2010


Here's some information about an important seminar, from the website of The Durrell School of Corfu:

The History and Culture of the Ionian Islands
16-21 May, 2010

THE DURRELL SCHOOL OF CORFU will host a six-day seminar, 16–21 May 2010, on the History and Culture of the Ionian Islands. The Academic Director of the seminar will be Dr Anthony Hirst (Institute of Byzantine Studies, Queen’s University Belfast), a member of the Board of the Durrell School. The Moderator and keynote speaker will be Professor Peter Mackridge, Professor Emeritus in the University of Oxford. The seminar will take place in the Library and research centre of the Durrell School at 11 Filellinon in the historic centre of Corfu Town.

The seminar aims to bring together experts in all aspects of the history and culture of the Ionian Islands in what is, we believe, a unique attempt to take an interdisciplinary overview of the history and culture of this group of islands whose development, at least in medieval and modern times, is quite distinct from that of the rest of Greece.

THE SEMINAR WILL FOCUS ON CORFU — though by no means to the exclusion of the other Ionian Islands — and not simply because Corfu is where the Durrell School is located, but also to enable us to link presentations with visits to archaeological sites, historic buildings and museum collections. We hope that many of the experts on Ionian history and culture who live in Corfu or other Ionian Islands, including, especially, members of the academic staff of the Ionian University, will welcome this opportunity to present their history and culture to the mainly non-Greek participants in the Durrell School seminars. Both ‘history’ and ‘culture’ will be taken in their widest sense, and without any restriction of period. We hope that the call for papers will elicit presentations on all of the periods, covering most of the topics suggested below.

The Islands in Prehistory and the Ancient World
Prehistoric archaeology; the earliest Greek settlements; Homeric connections; Eritrean settlement in Corfu; Corinthian colonists in Corfu, their conflict with Corinth and alliance with Athens (Peloponnesian War); the islands under Macedonian and Roman rule; trading connections; the sculpture and architecture of these periods.

The Islands in the Byzantine Empire
The establishment of Christianity in the Islands; political unification of the Islands as a Byzantine Province in the 10th century; Byzantine religious art and architecture in the Islands (especially what can be seen in Corfu).

The Venetian period
The long period of Italian — and mainly Venetian — rule, from the 13th to the late 18th century, is likely to loom large in our seminar because of its effect on the character and culture of the Islands in the modern period. Italian rule prevented the Ionian Islands from being absorbed into the Ottoman Empire, making the Islands the only part of Greece never to come under Ottoman rule. The Greeks of the Ionian Islands looked to Italy for education (especially at the universities of Padua and Genoa); and, unlike the rest of Greece (apart from Venetian Crete until its fall to the Ottomans in 1669), the Ionian Islands remained a part of European intellectual life, in contact with and contributing to the flowering of art, literature and music in the Renaissance and afterwards, and developments in banking, commerce, science and technology. The history of the period is well documented compared with earlier periods; but we would also hope for contributions on the stratification of the indigenous society and the role of the Greek-Italian nobility. In terms of what is visible in Corfu today we could explore (in both senses) the fortification of the town by Schulenberg, and discuss, in relation to this and later periods, the strategic importance of Corfu. We hope that an expert on the Venetian architecture, domestic and municipal as well as military, will come forward both to inform us and to show us around.

The French occupations, and the Septinsular Republic
The many changes in the status of the Islands in the period of the Napoleonic Wars; the architectural and other legacies of French rule; the brief period of partial self government (1800–1807) after the Russian Admiral Ushakov evicted the French; the rise of Ioannis Capodistrias to the position of Chief Minister in the Republic; relations between the Septinsular Republic and the Ottoman Sultan.

The British Protectorate, the United States of the Ionian Islands
This period (1815–1864) saw the Greek Revolution (or War of Independence) and the establishment of the modern Greek state (1821–1830), and although the Ionian Islands were not directly involved in these developments, the names of at least two Ionian Islanders are for ever associated with the Revolution: the statesmen Ioannis Capodistrias (from Corfu) who became the first Greek head of state in 1827; and the poet Dionysisos Solomos (from Zakynthos, but later resident in Corfu), whose Hymn to Liberty, written to further the cause of the Revolution, later provided the words of the Greek national anthem. Topics in this period could include the strong contrast with Greece on the eve of the Revolution which Corfu in particular presented, being already a long-stablished centre of learning, culture, science and commerce; the intellectual and cultural institutions of the period (e.g. the Ionian Academy, the Reading Society); the British administration and its relations with Greek population (and with the Kingdom of Greece after 1830); the British departure and the destruction of the fortifications; the British legacy.

Union with Greece, and the Ionian Islands since 1864
The terms of the Union and its variable impact on the life of the islands; the islands in the two world wars and the Greek Civil War; the postwar politics of the Islands; the impact of EU membership.

Globalization and the Ionian Islands
THERE ARE VARIOUS CULTURAL THEMES which cannot be confined to just one of the post- Byzantine periods listed. Among cultural topics we would hope to see addressed are the following: Modern painters of the Ionian Islands, combined with a gallery visit.

The musical traditions of Corfu
The Ionian Islands in the vanguard of the development of art music in Greece, with the first opera performance in Greece at the Teatro San Giacomo in Corfu in 1733, and the first opera by a Greek composer in the same theatre in 1791, by when opera was a regular feature; the many Ionian composers of the 19th and 20th centuries, linked hopefully to a performance of examples of their works; the Corfu Philharmonic Society; musical competitions and the traditional wind bands; opposition of Ionian Music from mainland Greece and the Greek Church.

The literature of the Ionian Islands
Poetry and prose 15th–18th centuries and the links with Crete; Ionian folksongs (δημοτικά τραγούδια); the Ionian School of poetry which grew up around Solomos, its use of demotic defining the future of Greek poetry; the work of Ionian novelists such as Konstantinos Theotokis and Spyros Plaskovitis.

Science and Industry in the Ionian Islands, including industrial archaeology.

The folklore of the Ionian Islands
The material culture of the Islands (crafts, agriculture, costume, cuisine etc.)
Lord Guilford and the Ionian Academy; Byron and Napier in Kephalonia; Gladstone’s dilemma as commissioner; Edward Lear’s lengthy visits and their pictorial results — and of course Lawrence and Gerald Durrell, whose books introduced so many outsiders to Corfu.

Cultural representations of the Ionian Islands
The islands as they appear in art, literature, film etc. produced within or outside Greece.

BIOGRAPHICAL PRESENTATIONS OF INDIVIDUAL CORFIOTS or other Heptanesians, distinguished in politics or any of the fields of culture mentioned above, would also be welcome: Solomos, Kalvos, Capodistria, the composes Mantzaros and Carrer, members of the Theotokis family, etc.

As well as presentations looking closely at events, movements, individuals and material and cultural production, we would hope to include expert overviews of each of the historical periods. We will invite the presenters to suggest relevant sites or collections we might visit. We envisage two or three half- day tours in Corfu, each taking in a number of sites, and perhaps a day trip to another Ionian Island, with opportunities for the experts to guide us around the sites of their choice. Guided walks in Corfu town and cultural performances in the evenings will round out the experience.


PETER MACKRIDGE, Professor Emeritus in the University of Oxford and recent recipient of an honorary doctorate from the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, is widely recognized as an authority on medieval and modern Greek language and literature, including the Ionian (and National) poet Dionysios Solomos, has agreed to be a moderator for the seminar and a keynote speaker. We hope that a member of the Ionian University or other local expert will agree to play a key role alongside Professor Mackridge. Professor Mackridge’s books include The Modern Greek Language (1985) and Dionysios Solomos (1989). He is co-author of Greek: A Comprehensive Grammar of the Modern Language (1997). All these books have also been published in Greek; a collection of his essays on Greek poets Εκμάγεια της ποίησης appeared in 2008; and Peter Mackridge contributes regularly to Greek as well as anglophone academic literary journals. He has edited Greek editions of works by Kosmas Politis: Eroica (1982) and Στου Χατζηφράγκου (1988); and edited both the Greek text and the English translations in The Free Besieged and Other Poems by Dionysios Solomos (2000). His most recent book Language and National Identity in Greece, 1766-1976 was published in April 2009.

ANTHONY HIRST, until recently Lecturer in Modern Greek (and now honorary research fellow) in the Institute of Byzantine Studies, Queen's University Belfast, is a member of the Board of the Durrell School. Dr Hirst has published God and the Poetic Ego (2004), a critical study of the religious elements in the poetry of Palamas, Sikelianos and Elytis, and has restored Cavafy’s Greek text (to conform to the author's own printings) for the Oxford World’s Classics dual-language edition of The Collected Poems of C. P. Cavafy (2007), a volume to which Peter Mackridge contributed a long introductory essay. Apart from his work on Angelos Sikelianos (from Lefkada), Dr Hirst has done as yet unpublished research on two other Ionian poets, Dionysios Solomos and Andreas Kalvos.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Fred McDowell

It's really back to the blues, this Easter Sunday.

Mississippi Fred McDowell, one of the greatest bottleneck guitarists. He once recorded a haunting version of "Amazing Grace".

(Signed by Fred in 1969).

Lightnin' Hopkins

Lightnin' Hopkins! I've been listening to his music for fifty years, a thousand permutations of the same slow blues and fast boogies. A great blues-poet, who was over-recorded, but what a voice and incredible ability to improvise new lyrics.

My guitar-style, if I can call it that, seems to be a distant echo and combination of the way he and John Lee Hooker played, ie difficult for a band to follow, with irregular bars and idiosynchratic timings, with odd jabs, pulls and bent notes. It suits me fine. It's the blues.

Lightnin' signed the photo, way back then.

Howlin' Wolf: "Where the soul of man never dies".

Although I didn't play a Howlin' Wolf recording in the recent Radio Kima programme I did (featuring some of my favourite songs) I have to admit that the most influential and expressive vocalist of all time (for me) was Chester Burnett, better known as Howlin' Wolf. I met this legendary figure once upon a time (see his autographs above as evidence), and I recorded a tribute "medley" in his honour on my "On the Memphis Road!" CD, recorded at the Sun Studio in Memphis (the CD is still available).

Back in the seventies, I wrote a poem about his passing. I was working in Kenya and I never knew he'd died.

The Late Howlin' Wolf and the World Information Order

"This is where the soul of man never dies" Sam Phillips (on Howlin' Wolf).

Being abroad, I didn't know they'd died -

Bukka White and Howlin' Wolf,

T-Bone Walker and Big Boy Crudup.

Jimmy Reed I read about....

There was an obituary in The Times.

Hard to believe. They must have been

Very short of copy. Insufficient famous men

Had died the previous day.

Of course Elvis' death was the talk of the town.

I heard about it on the radio,

Whilst having a bath in Nairobi.

Frankly I didn't believe

The Voice of Kenya.

But then I tuned to the BBC -

The World Service (Voice of Objective Truth) -

And the man also said "Elvis is dead".

I was shocked. His voice carried no note of regret.

But if the BBC said he was dead

He was well and truly dead

And wouldn't be rocking again...

Though this wasn't entirely the truth,

Because he suddenly burst into song.

Later they cried, when Lennon died;

The Media went mad.

But what I really want to know

Is why they never told us

When the Wolf was going down slow.

Some years ago, I sent a copy for exhibition at the Howlin' Wolf Museum in West Point, Mississippi. It was accepted with gratitude, but I'm not sure if the Museum is up and running yet. See
See also

Here's the email from the Museum, dated 12 August 2005:

"Thanks so much for the wonderful poem and I will get it printed out and
display it where all can read............

I am about 2.5 miles from Wolf's birthplace and am sure he would have loved
the poem.

Thanks again!!!!!"

Richard Ramsey
Program Director
Howlin' Wolf Blues Society