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Monday, 29 November 2010

Adrian Mitchell, Poet and Honorary Bluesman

It's hard to believe that Adrian Mitchell left us almost two years ago, on 20 December 2008.

This version of "Tell me Lies" is as powerful as when he first wrote it in the 1960s.

I first heard him perform and read "out loud" in 1967.

I received this letter from him, with his typically generous and enthusiastic comments, back in 1968. It was typed on both sides of a thin sheet, with a red typewriter ribbon.

I interviewed him at his house back in 1979 and this is just one short quotation from a long, five page interview published in March 1979:

"I'd really like to have been a blues-singer, like Bessie Smith or Big Joe Turner. The words in the blues are fantastic; they hit very closely to what I feel, a lot of the time. It's my favourite kind of music. The most natural way of delivering poetry is to speak it- to sing and dance it preferably...but I'm no good at singing...I mean I'm "educated", you know- I was taught not to sing and dance, really ...! Poetry should get back to singing and dancing."

I last met Adrian in Sweden in 2002.

One song of his I've never stopped singing since circa 1968 is "Icarus Shmicarus":

"If you never spend your money
you know you'll always have some cash....
and if you crawl along the ground
at least you'll never crash.
So why why why-

 See Adrian's website archive

and Michael Rosen's moving Guardian piece about an inspiring poet

For your diary: Wiltshire Jazz Festival, 2011, June 11

The Wiltshire Jazz Festival goes from strength to strength and gets some rave reviews from people whose knowledge and love of jazz I respect

In 2011 it's on Saturday June 11, 2pm to 12.15 am (gates open 1.30pm).

I hope I can make it this year. The festival is at Dinton in Wiltshire. Congratulations to Mark Allen on making his dream a reality!

Keepen Up O' Chris'mas with William Barnes

As yesterday was the first Sunday of  Advent, I have an excuse for an early posting of two wonderful Dorset Christmas poems by William Barnes, "Chris'mas Invitation" and  "Keepen Up O' Chris'mas".

In the old days, when on postings in distant parts of the world, and when there was a family get-together at Christmas, I would always read these two poems on Christmas Eve (not a custom which was much appreciated, I have recently learnt, so it may not be kept up this year!)

Chris'mas Invitation

Come down to-morrow night; an, mind
Don’t leave thy fiddle-bag behind;
We’ll sheake a lag, an’ drink a cup
O’eale, to keep wold Chris’mas up.

An’ let thy sister teake thy earm,
The walk won’t do her any harm;
There’s noo dirt now to spweil her frock,
The ground’s a-vroze so hard’s a rock.

You won’t meet any stranger’s feace,
But only neighbours o’the pleace,
An’ Stowe, an’ Combe; an’ two or dree
Vrom uncle’s up at Rookery.

An’ thou wu’lt vind a rwosy feace,
An’ peair ov eyes so black as sloos,
The prettiest woones in all the pleace, –
I’m sure I needen tell thee whose.

We got a back-bran, dree girt logs
So much as dree ov us can car;
We’ll put ‘em up athirt the dogs,
An meake a vier to the bar.

An’ ev’ry woone shall tell his teale,
An’ ev’ry woone shall zing his zong,
An’ ev’ry woone wull drink his eale
To love an’ frien’ship all night long.

We’ll snap the tongs, we’ll have a ball,
We’ll shake the house, we’ll lift the ruf,
We’ll romp an’ meake the maidens squall,
A’ catchen o’m at blind-man’s buff.

Zoo come to-morrow night; an’ mind,
Don’t leave thy fiddle-bag behind;
We’ll sheake a lag, an’ drink a cup
O’eale, to keep wold Chris’mas up.

A Blue Christmas?

The best Christmas song? It must be Elvis's "Blue Christmas". I like this "duet" with Martina McBride.

In fact, some of these artifically created duets work well:

Try Santa Claus is Back in Town with Wynona Judd!

I've sung them both at British Embassy Christmas parties at one time or another!

Here's Elvis solo.

The Mail on Sunday must have sold well yesterday, as the paper gave away an Elvis Christmas CD with the originals of both these classics.

I wouldn't mind seeing the Cirque du Soleil show on Boxing Day.

Here's B. B. King's version of Merry Christmas Baby

Elvis: rare song (Where No One Stands Alone, Live)

Complete Dressing Room Sessions Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

The next posting will be about William Barnes' Christmas poems. Bringing it all back home!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Fort Abraham, Corfu

A useful posting and a rare photograph on John's Corfu World

Fort Abraham, 1860. John found it on Corfu Old Photos (Facebook).

Thoughts for the day (2): Aesop's Two Bags & Two Pots

The Two Bags

"Every man, according to an ancient legend, is born into the world
with two bags suspended from his neck-- a small bag in front
full of his neighbours' faults, and a large bag behind filled with his
own faults. Hence it is that men are quick to see the faults of
others, and yet are often blind to their own failings."

(Aesop, translated by George Fyler Townsend, 1814-1900)

The Two Pots

"A RIVER carried down in its stream two Pots,
one made of earthenware and the other of brass.
The Earthen Pot said to the Brass Pot,
'Pray keep at a distance and do not come near me,
for if you touch me ever so slightly,
I shall be broken in pieces, and besides,
I by no means wish to come near you."

Moral: Equals make the best friends.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Lyme Regis, Sir George Somers and St. George's, Bermuda

Admiral Sir George Somers was born in Lyme Regis in 1554; he is buried in Whitchurch Canonicorum, where he owned an estate. He served as mayor of Lyme Regis and as an MP; he was knighted in 1605 and died in Bermuda on 24 April, 1610. His body was brought back to Dorset, pickled in a barrel of alcohol. His heart is buried in St.George’s, Bermuda, the island’s original capital, which has been twinned with Lyme Regis since 1996.

Plaque in Bermuda: Flagstone from Berne Manor, Dorset


Lyme Regis, J M W Turner

Sir George had set sail in the Sea Venture for Virginia, from Plymouth, England, on June 2, 1609, and the flagship was shipwrecked during a storm on the coral reef off Bermuda on 26 July, 1609. Accounts of the tempest that caused the shipwreck inspired Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest”, in which he refers to the “vexed Bermoothes”.

"Sir George Somers, an exquisite Navigatour, and one of the first Discoverers of the Barmudoas, where at last, after manie Voyages thither, he died ; but his Bodie, beeing brought unto England, was interred at Whitechurch". Thomas Gerard, 1620s.

 Bermuda Gombey Dancers

Friday, 26 November 2010

Cecil Day-Lewis, Stinsford, Dorset

Cecil Day-Lewis was educated at Sherborne School and at Wadham College, Oxford.

He was Professor of Poetry at Oxford from 1951-1956, and was appointed Poet Laureate in 1968.

A brief biography

A great admirer of Thomas Hardy, Day-Lewis is buried close to him in St. Michael's churchyard, Stinsford, Dorset.

On Cecil Day-Lewis by Bernard O'Donoghue.

Day-Lewis would appear to be an Establishment figure. He was far from that in the 1930s, as can be seen from his poem "You that love England", which expresses his (then) Communist sympathies.

You That Love England (1933)

You that love England, who have an ear for her music,
The slow movement of clouds in benediction,
Clear arias of light thrilling over her uplands,
Over the chords of summer sustained peacefully;
Ceaseless the leaves' counterpoint in a west wind lively,
Blossom and river rippling loveliest allegro,
And the storms of wood strings brass at year's finale:
Listen. Can you not hear the entrance of a new theme?

You who go out alone, on tandem or on pillion,
Down arterial roads riding in April,
Or sad besides lakes where hill-slopes are reflected
Making fires of leaves, your high hopes fallen:
Cyclists and hikers in company, day excursionists,
Refugees from cursed towns and devastated areas;
Know you seek a new world, a saviour to establish
Long-lost kinship and restore the blood's fulfilment.

You who like peace, good sticks, happy in a small way
Watching birds or playing cricket with schoolboys,
Who pay for drinks all round, whom disaster chose not;
Yet passing derelict mills and barns roof-rent
Where despair has burnt itself out - hearts at a standstill,
Who suffer loss, aware of lowered vitality;
We can tell you a secret, offer a tonic; only
Submit to the visiting angel, the strange new healer.

You above all who have come to the far end, victims
Of a run-down machine, who can bear it no longer;
Whether in easy chairs chafing at impotence
Or against hunger, bullies and spies preserving
The nerve for action, the spark of indignation-
Need fight in the dark no more, you know your enemies.
You shall be leaders when zero hour is signalled,
Wielders of power and welders of a new world.

Property and Painting (Berger on Gainsborough)

In the course of walks through the English countryside, one sometimes skirts round the walls of admirable country houses and private estates.

I was reminded of John Berger's still-controversial comments ("Ways of Seeing", 1972) about Gainsborough's painting Mr and Mrs Andrews:

"The special relationship between oil painting and property did play a certain role even in the development of landscape painting. Consider the well-known example of Gainsborough's Mr and Mrs Andrews".

"Why did Mr and Mrs Andrews commission a portrait of themselves with a recognizable landscape of their own land as background" asks John Berger, "They are not a couple in Nature as Rousseau imagined nature. They are landowners and their proprietary attitude towards what surrounds them is visible in their stance and their expressions".

Berger reminds us that "the sentence of poaching at that time was deportation. If a man stole a potato he risked a public whipping ordered by the magistrate who would be a landowner."

(Ann Bermingham also discusses this painting in "Landscape and Ideology", as do Rose-Marie and Rainer Hagen in "What Great Paintings Say, From the Bayeux Tapestry to Diego Rivera- Volume II").

Nowadays we shouldn't complain. There are still plenty of footpaths and rights of way that enable us to enjoy the countryside- and even deportation, or rather transportation, to Australia would not constitute such a terrible punishment. There might even be quite a queue of people volunteering to become Tolpuddle Martyrs. Some reckless individuals might even be tempted to injure or deface a bridge.

I would have been interested to hear John Berger's comments on this Indian painting:

It's taken from Geoffrey Moorhouse's book "India Britannica" (Harvill Press, 1983; Paladin Books, 1984).
Moorhouse comments: "European officer under a tree with his servant, gouache by a Bengali artist 1775. It's a deferential view of the British, who had lately become rulers of Bengal." 
Moorhouse asks us to note the depiction and relative size of the Indian servant. 


A puzzle in the Gainsborough painting:

Why did Gainsborough leave the painting uncompleted, in the area on Mrs Andrews' lap? Was it intended to show a pheasant or other game-bird that Mr Andrews had just shot, or rather, as is suggested in the National Gallery, a baby that would complete the painting in due course? Or was Gainsborough simply too lazy to finish his masterpiece?

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Everyman's East Coker

"What is the late November doing..."

On my way back through Somerset, after a meeting with my brother today (at our haunt of olden days, The Stag's Head in Yarlington), I thought I would make quick visits to Castle Cary (of Parson Woodforde fame) and East Coker (of William Dampier fame), before returning to Dorset.

Recent visits to Castle Cary have brought home very forcibly words from T. S. Eliot's "East Coker"

"In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass."

"Houses live and die: there is a time for building...
And a time for the wind to break the loosened pane"

"...each venture
is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion"

After my paper on Odysseas Elytis was presented at the recent conference in Corfu, a question was apparently raised about my stated preference for clarity in poetry, in the context of our "Post-Eliot" poetic environment. Compared to Elytis, I would have answered, Eliot is a model of clarity!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The French Working Week (35 Hours) - and BB!

Just started a French Language evening class and we've been discussing the pros and cons of the French 35 hour working week and paid holidays etc.

One of the texts to be discussed is this song from 1965

They never had it so good...All that extra paid leave allowed them to take longer holidays in the sun, at the Club Med in Corfu etc.

As I found on a French website:

"Cette chanson fait l'apologie de la paresse, tout comme "Travailler c'est trop dur" de Zachary Richard, ou encore "Je peux pas travailler", titre qu'Henri Salvador co-signe avec son ami Boris Vian. Depuis le 27 mars 1956, les français bénéficient de trois semaines de congés payés. L'économie est en pleine croissance, le chômage limité, ils peuvent, en outre, depuis 1950, quand ils sont cadres, partir au soleil, dans des pays lointains grâce à l'émergence des premiers clubs de vacances organisées. Les années 60, voient le début de la civilisation des loisirs. Mais pour Henri Salvador, les congés payés ne semblent pas suffire : "Le travail c'est la santé, rien faire c'est la conserver" prône-t-il."

BB sings "Le Soleil"

and La Madrague 

and Je me donne a qui me plait 

Wish we'd had such splendid audio-visual aids when I was learning French at school...

Finally, let the lads sing a song about the Med (Moustaki- whose parents came from Corf) and Dalaras.  Sound quality not great. Melina Mercouri's version was one of her best.

Jan Morris on the decline of whistling

Jan Morris makes some original observations on the decline of whistling!

Now there's an unusual topic.

It's a pity nobody ever taught me how to whistle. I have quite a complex about it! I can't even do a proper version of "Singing the Blues". Mind you, I can't yodel either. Nor could Johnny Cash, to judge from this version of Blue Yodel No 9, with Louis Armstrong.

GREECE, The Year's Headlines

It would be interesting to study a compilation of the year's international press headlines about Greece.

In all seriousness, it would help the country's politicians and tourist promotion officials to develop a more effective strategy about how to change perceptions of the country in 2011, and for the next five years.

Here's one item, for starters, from The Guardian, 25/6/2010:

See also an earlier posting of 17 August, 2010, "Greece Vows to Halve Budget Deficit", which refers to a Financial Times article of 30/9/2004.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Re-reading Richard Pine on Culture

Corfu resident Richard Pine's article in the Irish Times (June 21, 2010) had a lot of good points about culture-

but I can't agree with him when he writes

"And in the case of Greece, the EU – desperate to maintain not only the euro zone but its very raison d’etre, its forward thrust as a superpower – is insisting on assimilation, rather than acknowledging that Greece should never have joined the EU. Balkan Greece has as much in common with the western states as Genghis Khan had with the girl-guide movement, and the fact that it is causing almost as much damage as Genghis is not entirely its own fault" (my italics) .

I am quite unqualified to comment on his views on Ireland:

"And Ireland could be strong again, through its amazing cultural vigour. I don’t necessarily mean the international achievements of Brian Friel, Séamus Heaney, Louis le Brocquy, Gerald Barry or Dorothy Cross, immeasurable though they are. I mean the perceptions that fuel their creativity: Friel looking at the local as global; Heaney caressing memory as the way forward; le Brocquy’s “other” way of seeing; Barry’s intellectual musical brilliance; and Cross’s radical critique of what “art” can be: art as part of the cultural intelligence of a people. Apart from the past, it may be all we have to go on."

The Greatest Gospel Singer? Georgia Peach; Sister Clara

Georgia Peach/Sister Clara Hudman

Clara Hudman Gholston, also known as 'Clara Belle Gholston', 'Clara Gholston Brock', 'Sister Clara Hudmon'

Clara Hudman sings Now is the Needy Time

and another of her gospel songs

and another 

One of her most moving recordings is of the gospel song "Where the sun won't never go down" (Georgia Peach and The Harmonaires, on Apollo).

Compare her version of "Needy Time" with Lightnin' Hopkins' "Now is the needed time", and with an Eric Bibb version. Which do you prefer?

See also, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Rock Me (1938)

Strange Things Happening Every Day (1944)

Sister Rosetta, Guitar Solos

Raul's Corfu Studio; Raul Scacchi

Behind the oval window, in a village house in Sinarades, Corfu, is Raul's studio, where Raul Scacchi has recorded some inspired albums like Emails to Emily and Neuromantics. He's now working on a ground-breaking new album called Necromantics.

It's also where he did the arrangements and recordings of around ten of my own songs/demos. I take this opportunity to express my appreciation.

An article from The Corfiot, July 2008  (see pages 28-29)

I've also recorded at Nikos Vrachliotis' Studio Echo in Potamos, where the brilliant recording engineer Andreas Monopolis mastered and mixed some old blues. Andreas now has his own successful operation.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Ted Hughes' Memorial Stone

When I next need a challenge, this must be an interesting Dartmoor walk

The Ted Hughes Memorial Stone 

or, somewhat easier, The Ted Hughes Poetry Trail

Easiest of all, a pint at The Poet Laureate, whilst dipping into his Collected Poems:


"I brought you to Devon. I brought you into my dreamland.
I sleepwalked you
Into my land of totems. Never-never land:
The orchard in the West...
                                     What had happened
To the Italian sun?
Had it escaped our snatch
Like a butterfly off a nettle?
                                      ...The world
Came to an end at bullocks
Huddled behind gates, knee-deep in quag,
Under the huddled, rainy hills..."

                                     (from Birthday Letters)

See Channel 4 news item (6 October 2010) concerning the recently discovered "last letter".

Kaiser Wilhelm in Corfu

There is a fascinating book (in Greek) by Thanasis Kalpaxis, on the subject of archaeology and politics, and the excavation of the Temple of Artemis in Corfu:

"Archaeologia kai Politiki, I Anaskafi tou Naou tis Aretemidos (Kerkyra 1911)", Rethymnon, 1993.

I discuss it in the first chapter ('Classic Ground') of  "The Ionian Islands and Epirus, A Cultural History".

Go to Oxford University Press for the US edition (hardback and paperback).


Next year (2011) is the centenary of the birth of Greek Nobel Prize-winning poet Odysseas Elytis.

You may be wondering how it was possible for me to give a "centenary" paper last night on Elytis' early poetry, at the Solomos Museum in Corfu, for the Society of Corfiot Studies conference (Elytis Synedrio), when I am not in Greece.

I was very fortunate that the outstanding translator (and editor) Demetrios Dallas translated my paper into Greek and kindly agreed to read it out on my behalf. The original (much longer) paper in English was also distributed to those who wanted the English version. Anyone interested in either the English or Greek versions could leave a comment on this blog, but I am hoping both versions will be published in due course.

This is the second time I have written papers on Greece's greatest poets (of the "1930's generation"). See: for my lecture on George Seferis, at the Mediterranean Museum, Stockholm, on 6 May 2003: “There is an island …Diplomacy and Poetry, Friendship and War” - A British Tribute to George Seferis to mark the fortieth anniversary of the award of the Nobel Prize for  Literature".

Jim with Ann Margaret Mellberg (Greek Cultural Counsellor, Stockholm and translator of Strindberg, etc) and Professor Emeritus Kjell Espmark, Member of the Swedish Academy, distinguished Swedish poet and Chairman of the Nobel Prize Literature Committee, who read Seferis' poems in Swedish translation, as part of the lecture; see

Yannis Ritsos was the only one of the "great three" Greek poets (of the 30's generation) I ever met personally, when I organised an event to celebrate, in part, the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of his first collection of poetry.

I feel I know them all, from their writing in prose and poetry, but Seferis and Ritsos much better than Elytis.
Still, I hope the paper went down well last night. Demetrios Dallas and Dimitris Konidaris are kind enough to say it did. My thanks to them and to the Society of Corfiot Studies.