We get a quite a few people asking us if there is a recording of the full show. Really happy that we now have this one, which condenses a thousand years of history into nine seconds. Lovely job.
Our show doesn’t yet capture the 80s very well. This is exceptionally good on rave culture, house music, new age travellers, the miners strike, Stone Henge and much more.
The lovely Peter Beader (AKA Pete The Temp) has been doing a tonne of research recently for his new book ‘Stage Invasion: Poetry & The Spoken Word Renaissance‘ and his new show ‘Homer to Hip Hop: a History of Spoken Word‘.
He came across an essay about a political pageant from the 1930s which has an interesting overlap with the structure of our show. The published essay is behind an academic paywall here but the author Mick Wallis has kindly provided his private copy of the essay which you can download from here if you don’t have an academic login to download from the link above.
Taken from the essay, here is the structure of a pageant performed to thousands of people in a stadium in the late 1930s:
Music and the People
1. Feudal England. A canon from 1350; songs ‘that have lived in the peasant tradition for centuries, only lately collected because they were beginning to be forgotten’; a primitive fertility ritual dance; a Hebridean spinning song. (No dramatic action.)
2. The Massacre of the Innocents. Parts of two pageant-plays are performed, as if to the villagers: after the famous complaint from the Second Shepherds’ Play, Herod and the Innocents – ‘no doubt much of its popularity owed much to the memory of the massacres of their own people after the rising of 1381’; the song King Herod and the Cock in which ‘the invincible spirit’ wins against the oppressor; a choir of early Christians, following an introductory verse by Paul Robeson; and, since ‘the play’s not finished yet’
(i.e., of history) the Basque Lullaby.
3. Peasants in Revolt. A return to 1381: John Ball addresses the crowd; a signal arrives from him; the march on London, singing The Cutty Wren; Tyler’s meeting with Richard II, and murder (‘All words spoken in this scene, except for the commentary of the Speaker, are taken from authentic records’); all the men of the Mass Chorus (nine choirs) sing The German Peasants’ Song.
Interlude. ‘The ancient ritual carried on / And the forbidden message spoke’: members of the Woodcraft Folk ‘come on in small numbers, like conspirators, and perform the Stag-Dance’, part of the cult which was ‘the bond of unity between the harassed peasants’.
4. Soldiers of Freedom. Two Announcers briefly set the scene for 1649 (the episode is not concerned with celebrating Cromwell). ‘One king may be dead, but who still owns the land? Six Levellers and the actor-singer Parry Jones sit at tavern tables and sing; an Announcer recounts their talk as they remain in tableau; a group of dancers; some Diggers brought on in ropes by soldiers; an Announcer hails them in verse while the soldiers
order drinks; the Diggers sing Stand up Now.
5. Village Green to Concert Hall. Announcer’s verse reports the break-up of rural communities and the appropriation of their culture by bourgeois institutions; ‘A group of dancers enters and performs to the tunes from which The Beggar’s Opera was concocted. At the end of their dance, a proscenium arch appears over the platform, and a scene from the play is performed to the dancers as audience.
6. Changing Europe. 1792. French revolution, singing the Carmagnole, verses 1 and 2, dressed as French peasants of 1790
7. Prisoners. ‘Ludwig van Beethoven descends from rostrum’; ‘But who are these / In modern clothes appearing / Their haggard eyes / The brand of torture like a web of scorpions wearing?’; prisoners from the Nazi concentration camps enter and sing the Peat-Bog Soldiers’ Song.
8. Slaves. ‘Following this train of thought’, John Payne and his Negro Choir enter as slaves, singing a chain-gang song, a cotton-picking song, and some ‘songs of freedom, led by one of the foremost champions of freedom’, Paul Robeson’.
9. The People Advance. As Robeson’s Kneelin’ Low ends, the Mass Chorus sings the Chartist We’re Low and the Speaker takes up a prose narrative to take us forward to trade unionism – ‘To every trade its club, to every club its song’ – and ‘the Trades Unionists sit round a table and sing their song’ (unspecified), ‘the verse sung solo’; ‘the tide rose apace’, and in a few sentences taking in the Co-operative Movement, the Speaker takes us to the late 1880s – a crowd headed by William Morris enters, singing People of England; the Speaker relates the killing by the police of the demonstrator in Trafalgar Square in 1880, and William Morris gives his famous ‘Not one, not one, nor thousands must they slay’; the Chorus marches off to the Russian 1905 Funeral March, ‘that now commemorates all those who have fallen in the fight for freedom’.
The Speaker makes a summation in verse of the Pageant, and reflects on its meanings for us now:
And having present struggles and despairs
Sharp in our minds, remember too
The past whose urgent influence prepares
The issues of today, and know that you
By today’s action map the future’s road….
Never so needed was that single will
That unity of the people, to fulfil
The claim for freedom, and to ensure our peace…
It is time we answered, as they answer now
In Spain, in China, in every tortured land….
Let our song rise whose simple power
Can flood the boundaries that divide us still
And make our common hope, our single will.
Then a procession of groups: Christian Hymn; Levellers’ Song; Marseillaise; People of England; ‘Bandera Rossa’ ; German Solidarity Song; Chinese Student Song; Spanish National Anthem; (and now not representations but actual) veterans of the International Brigade led by Fred Copeman; the Negro Choir. Paul Robeson sings The Land of Freedom, ‘the great song of liberated Soviet humanity’, with the Acting Chorus (twelve choirs); Tom Mann, the Dean of Canterbury, and Fred Copeman speak briefly on the theme ‘Music and the People’ . Finally, all (audience included) sing the American Men Awake! the Day is Dawnin
This is a lovely old Germany song which may be super old, but as ever, no one really knows… Here is what wikipedia has to say, and below is Pete Seeger’s adaptation into English. Note that these words are slightly different to the version embedded above. You can hear another version here but for some reason it will not embed outside of YouTube.
Die gedanken sind frei, my thoughts freely flower
Die gedanken sind frei, my thoughts give me power
No scholar can map them, no hunter can trap them
No man can deny, die gedanken sind frei
I think as I please and this gives me pleasure
My conscience decrees, this right I must treasure
My thoughts will not cater to duke or dictator
No man can deny – die gedanken sind frei
Tyrants can take me and throw me in prison
My thoughts will burst forth like blossoms in season
Foundations may crumble and structures may tumble
But free men shall cry – die gedanken sind frei
Original German lyrics (with translation below)
Die Gedanken sind frei, wer kann sie erraten,
Sie fliegen vorbei wie nächtliche Schatten.
Kein Mensch kann sie wissen, kein Jäger sie schießen
Mit Pulver und Blei: Die Gedanken sind frei!
Ich denke was ich will und was mich beglücket,
Doch alles in der Still’, und wie es sich schicket.
Mein Wunsch und Begehren kann niemand verwehren,
Es bleibet dabei: Die Gedanken sind frei!
Und sperrt man mich ein im finsteren Kerker,
Das alles sind rein vergebliche Werke.
Denn meine Gedanken zerreißen die Schranken
Und Mauern entzwei: Die Gedanken sind frei!
Drum will ich auf immer den Sorgen entsagen
Und will mich auch nimmer mit Grillen mehr plagen.
Man kann ja im Herzen stets lachen und scherzen
Und denken dabei: Die Gedanken sind frei!
Ich liebe den Wein, mein Mädchen vor allen,
Sie tut mir allein am besten gefallen.
Ich sitz nicht alleine bei meinem Glas Weine,
Mein Mädchen dabei: Die Gedanken sind frei!
Thoughts are free, who can guess them?
They fly by like nocturnal shadows.
No person can know them, no hunter can shoot them
With powder and lead: Thoughts are free!
I think what I want, and what delights me,
Still always reticent, and as it is suitable.
My wish and desire, no one can deny me
And so it will always be: Thoughts are free!
And if I am thrown into the darkest dungeon,
All these are futile works,
Because my thoughts tear all gates
And walls apart: Thoughts are free!
So I will renounce my sorrows forever,
And never again will torture myself with whimsies.
In one’s heart, one can always laugh and joke
And think at the same time: Thoughts are free!
I love wine, and my girl even more,
Only her I like best of all.
I’m not alone with my glass of wine,
My girl is with me: Thoughts are free!
The Deserted Village is a poem by Oliver Goldsmith published in 1770. It is a work of social commentary, and condemns rural depopulation and the pursuit of excessive wealth.Wikipedia
The location of the poem’s deserted village is unknown, but the description may have been influenced by Goldsmith’s memory of his childhood in rural Ireland, and his travels around England. The poem is written in heroic couplets, and describes the decline of a village and the emigration of many of its residents to America. In the poem, Goldsmith criticises rural depopulation, the moral corruption found in towns, consumerism, enclosure, landscape gardening, avarice, and the pursuit of wealth from international trade.
The full poem is much much longer – I have selected my favourite parts below which might be useful to read in a show sometime:
The Deserted Village by Oliver Goldsmith 1770
Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain,
Where health and plenty cheared the labouring swain,
Where smiling spring its earliest visit paid,
And parting summer’s lingering blooms delayed.
Dear lovely bowers of innocence and ease,
Seats of my youth, when every sport could please,
How often have I loitered o’er thy green,
Where humble happiness endeared each scene!
Sweet smiling village, loveliest of the lawn,
Thy sports are fled, and all thy charms withdrawn;
Amidst thy bowers the tyrant’s hand is seen,
And desolation saddens all thy green:
One only master grasps the whole domain,
And half a tillage stints thy smiling plain;
And, trembling, shrinking from the spoiler’s hand,
Far, far away, thy children leave the land.
Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay:
Princes and lords may flourish, or may fade;
A breath can make them, as a breath has made;
But a bold peasantry, their country’s pride,
When once destroyed, can never be supplied.
A time there was, ere England’s griefs began,
When every rood of ground maintained its man;
For him light labour spread her wholesome store,
Just gave what life required, but gave no more:
His best companions, innocence and health;
And his best riches, ignorance of wealth.
But times are altered; trade’s unfeeling train
Usurp the land and dispossess the swain;
Sweet was the sound, when oft at evening’s close,
Up yonder hill the village murmur rose;
There, as I past with careless steps and slow,
The mingling notes came soften’d from below;
The swain responsive as the milk-maid sung,
The sober herd that lowed to meet their young,
The noisy geese that gabbled o’er the pool,
The playful children just let loose from school,
The watch-dog’s voice that bayed the whispering wind,
And the loud laugh that spoke the vacant mind,
These all in sweet confusion sought the shade,
And filled each pause the nightingale had made.
But now the sounds of population fail,
No cheerful murmurs fluctuate in the gale,
No busy steps the grass-grown foot-way tread,
For all the bloomy flush of life is fled.
All but yon widowed, solitary thing
That feebly bends beside the plashy spring;
She, wretched matron, forced in age, for bread,
To strip the brook with mantling cresses spread,
To pick her wintry faggot from the thorn,
To seek her nightly shed, and weep till morn;
She only left of all the harmless train,
The sad historian of the pensive plain.
Mmmmmmm…. a nice academic essay called The enduring culture and limits of political song by Simon Cross – I learnt a few things from this and you might enjoy it too:
Blackstone Edge is the site of a famous Chartist gathering where Ernest Jones addressed 30,000 people on 2nd August 1846 – every year people still gather here to sing this song (and a few others!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86orh7GOLcs – you can find more about this annual gathering here – http://blackstoneedgegathering.org.uk/?page_id=12
To the tune of ‘Battle of Hohenlinden’ –
O’er plains and cities far away,
All lorn and lost the morning lay,
When sunk the sun at break of day,
In smoke of mill and factory.
But waved the wind on Blackstone height
A standard of the broad sunlight,
And sung, that morn, with trumpet might,
A sounding song of Liberty.
And grew the glorious music higher,
When pouring with his heart on fire,
Old Yorkshire came, with Lancashire,
And all its noblest chivalry.
The men, who give,—not those, who take;
The hands, that bless,—yet hearts that break;
Those toilers for their foemen’s sake;
Our England’s true nobility!
So brave a host hath never met,
For truth shall be their bayonet,
Whose bloodless thrusts shall scatter yet
The force of false finality!
Though hunger stamped each forehead spare,
And eyes were dim with factory glare,
Loud swelled the nation’s battle prayer,
Of—death to class monopoly!
Then every eye grew keen and bright,
And every pulse was dancing light,
For every heart had felt its might
The might of labour’s chivalry.
And up to Heaven the descant ran,
With no cold roof ‘twixt God and man,
To dash back from its frowning span,
A church prayer’s listless blasphemy.
How distant cities quaked to hear,
When rolled from that high hill the cheer,
Of—Hope to slaves! to tyrants fear!
And God and man for liberty!
By Bruce Garrard
These days it is a common assumption that the ‘improvement’ of land is of itself a good thing; however, we should bear in mind that “the majority of commoners were opposed to draining, or to any alteration of the commons that did not benefit them; and, what is more, because of their large numbers they could make their wishes felt.”
Where the commoners were freeholders and relatively prosperous farmers, their opposition could be played out in the courts. Attempts to drain King’s Sedgemoor, for instance, continued from 1618 until well into the 1650s, when Sir Cornelius Vermuyden – the only Dutch drainage engineer who ever took a serious interest in the Somerset Levels – withdrew from the proposed project in frustration after endless litigation and delays, and continuing opposition from ‘the good opinion of the country.’
Where the commoners had fewer resources, and their ‘good opinion’ was less likely to be paid heed to, it was also true that their rights of commonage were all the more crucial to their survival. These included summer grazing for cattle and pigs; cutting of wood for firing, fencing and building; and peat cutting. Access to such resources could make the difference between life being tolerable and life being close to impossible. It was these common rights that were threatened by the enclosure and draining of the moors, and a particular case in point was Alder (or ‘Oller’) Moor, on either side of the River Brue just south of Glastonbury. It took its name from its particularly valued Alder groves.
Like much of the remaining Somerset wetlands, Alder Moor belonged to the Crown, having been part of the abbey’s estates until 1539. James I became king of England as well as Scotland in 1603, and “upon assuming power south of the border, the new King of England was genuinely affronted by the constraints the English Parliament attempted to place on him in exchange for money. In spite of this, James’ personal extravagance meant he was perennially short of money and had to resort to extra-Parliamentary sources of income.”
The financial difficulties of the Stuarts meant that on the one hand they were keen for land such as they owned on the Somerset Levels to be drained and sold, and on the other that they could not afford to invest in the reclamation themselves. The result was that the work would be made the responsibility of an agent, and that the only way the agent could take his percentage as payment was by taking possession of a portion of the land. This meant, in approximate round figures, that the best third of the land would provide an extensive and desirable farm that was a saleable asset belonging to the king; the second third would provide the agent with a worthwhile property for himself; and the last third, supposedly drained and improved, would be what was left available to the commoners.
James‘ son Charles I succeeded to the throne in 1625, and in the 1630s attention was paid to enclosing and draining Alder Moor. Instead of being “worth to the owners as much as nothinge,” it would now be “even the richest, worthiest and most notable feeding in all these parts.” However, it had also been described as “very large, capacious, fruitful marshes”. Far from being ‘as nothinge,’ its value to the commoners was huge; when the commissioners came to Glastonbury to order the digging of ditches, they were besieged in the house where they met by people saying that they “should be undone if the said moor was enclosed.” One of their number was charged with sedition as an example to the rest.
The scheme was going ahead against the will of the majority of local people, but the on-going difficulties with enclosing King’s Sedgemoor had hardened the attitude of the Crown and its agents. Furthermore the chief of the commissioners, Sir Robert Phelips, had been out of royal favour, and King Charles had made it clear to him in a personal letter that this would be rectified so long as “you will rather use your best endeavours and care for the preservation and increase of our ancient rent, and inheritance, than for the favour of the multitude.”
The enclosure and division of the moor thus went ahead. The ‘best and commodious part’ was retained by the Crown, and later sold for £1,000. The rest was distributed proportionally amongst the tenants from Glastonbury, Street and Butleigh, though tenants from Edgarley were entirely excluded. The drier parts of these allocations were then taken by the agents, whilst the remainder, the most frequently flooded areas, were returned to the commoners. The land taken by the agents was said to be wprth 20 shillings per acre whilst that allocated tpo the commioners was valued at only 12 pence; the access droves severed by the new rhynes. The alder groves, subjected to indiscriminate felling, had been ruined.
This moorland had formerly been ‘a great reliefe to the poor’; now, however, poverty was noticeably increased and many houses in Glastonbury, for instance, were soon in a state of decay. James Lovington, the gentleman farmer who had purchased the land from the Crown, did undertake to recompense Edgarley for its loss of commonage with one hundred acres. This land was never entrusted to the people of Edgarley however, for “the agents who handled the transfer then appear to have expropriated the ground.” Frustration and anger finally reached boiling point. “The commoners broke down the walls and fences, filled in the rhynes and stopped the flow of water, so that most of the moor … reverted to its original state.” Normal legal processes in relation to such relatively minor matters were then suspended since the civil war broke out, in 1642, and continued until 1651; so that “for the next nine years at least, the commoners of the four parishes pastured their cattle as of old, without hindrance.”
“I don’t think songs themselves can alter societies. It takes a movement to do that. It takes political engagement to do that. But songs have always been a part of those movements. They have always been the lifeblood and spirit of the movement.
There’s no political movement of the people that I can think of, that hasn’t produced a wealth of songs and those songs are usually made illegal by the power structure that they’re seeking to topple. So if they recognise that these songs have got power I think that’s a confirmation that we are right in that hunch.”
Alistair Hulett 1951-2010
We’ve just come back from a delightful Oxford Real Farming Conference which is always a good way to start the year.
We hosted a singers circle of songs about land and farming, and Robin and Roo penned lyrics for a song that Darla Eno performed closing the conference.
by Robin Grey and Roo Bramley
(to the tune of Sing Ovy Sing Ivy)
Our Ruth and Colin had an idea (sing ovy, sing ivy)
To gather good folk from far and from near (sing holly go whistling ivy)
A place for enlightened ideas to grow
And host this whilst they schemed up the road
A few years did pass, the gathering grown
At Oxford Town Hall we found a new home
The answers here, new wisdom and old
A future for farming, our visions are bold
Good food produced with healthy soil
Fair wages paid to all those who toil
A seasonal harvest, the fat of the land
Godspeed to the plough and the watchful hand
In partnership with worms and with bees
Flourishing herds in pastures of green
The ministers and the media come
To find out about the things we have done
So here’s to the future in uncertain times
Let’s nurture the land with our children in mind
(cc) This work is reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License
Over the years we’ve had a number of people expressed interest in being patrons of the show, so we are really happy to announce that we now have a ‘support us‘ page where you can make a one-off or monthly donation.
Much of our work is now happily paying us a living wage, but there are always projects which require subsidising, such as training up new apprentice performers, developing the Welsh show ‘Gadael Tir‘, starting to record material from the show and occasional gigs which aren’t able to cover our full performers fees in remoter places.
If you feel inspired and able to support us with money we are hugely grateful and promise that we will work ardently to make the most of your contribution.
This is a really excellent podcast, which we highly recommend you check out!
Last week a dear friend of ours was sent to prison for 16 months for a peaceful protest against fracking. Fracking is a reckless technique to get fossil fuels out of the ground which is banned in France, Holland and Ireland amongst others, which we often discuss in the show.
Please excuse the language, but this is a f*cking disgrace.
Please read his words about what happened here – https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/…/fracking-climate-change_…)
…and consider donating to the fund to support him and the others – https://chuffed.org/project/free-the-three#/
Most people have heard of the Tolpuddle Martyrs but how many know about the Ascott Martyrs? These were 16 indomitable women of a little known village in Oxfordshire.
In 1873, 16 women of Ascott-under-Wychwood were sent to prison for the part they played in the founding of the Agricultural Workers Union. The newspaper in 1873 printed the story under the heading, “Rioting in Chipping Norton”.
I’ve posted links to Melvyn Braggs ‘In Our Time‘ podcasts/radio shows a number of times on this website but it has to be said that I’ve always been a little weary of them… something about the fact that the large majority of the guests are Oxbridge academics and the number of massively posh accents always leaves a little bell of warning ringing somewhere that I’m getting the official ruling classes imperial spin on history.
I remember having a post show email disagreement with his academic guests after their ‘Putney Debates’ show managed to completely ignore the issue of land during the civil war period which still seems a critical oversight from other things I’ve learnt and read.
I’ve had a number of people email me the recent episode on the Highland Clearances (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09tc4tm) which seemed quite revisionist to my mind when I listened to it. I thought nothing more of it at the time, but then someone posted a fine response via Bella Caledonia which I think is worth bringing to your attention:
“It is easy to forget how mysterious and mighty stories are. They do their work in silence, invisibly. They work with all the internal materials of the mind and self. They become part of you while changing you. Beware the stories you read or tell; subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world.”
If you are able to make it out safely, please come. The temperature is staying at a dazzling 2-3 degrees tonight so no black ice
As ever we have much to learn and be inspired by from our neighbours to the north.
Last week marked the 15th anniversary of the 2003 Scottish land reform act and an event to mark this was held at the Scottish Parliament.
BBC Scotland has made a lovely 70min radio documentary about this, which interviews many of the people key to the reform bill happening – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02nrtq1/episodes/downloads
It is primarily focused on the right to roam aspect of the act and it gives the best insight into how key battles were won of anything i’ve seen, heard or read.