Category Archives: Books

Politics, performance and pageant in the 1930s

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

Introduction

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.

Interval

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

The early coop movement and raising funds for migration back to countryside

This is taken from Steve Wyler’s latest book called ‘In Our Hands’, not to be confused with the recent Landworkers’ Alliance film of the same name!

https://www.creditoncommunitybookshop.co.uk/product/in-our-hands/

The above (from page 73) is a good example of how strong the connection was between the foundations of the coop movement and the desire of people to be free of hideous urban slum conditions and return to a rural agricultural existence.

East Yorkshire Historical Society booklets on enclosure and the open field system

I’ve just finished reading these three excellent booklets about enclosure and the open field system in East Yorkshire… Two were written in late 1950s and the third in the mid eighties. All were thoroughly researched, succinct and insightful.

Continue reading

Singing history pdf’s by Sing London and EFDSS

Some good stuff in these PDF’s by Sing London

https://www.efdss.org/efdss-education/resource-bank/resources-and-teaching-tools/singing-histories

Just currently looking at the ‘Petition of the Pigs in Kent’ ballad from the Kent book… https://media.efdss.org/resourcebank/docs/EFDSS_Education_RecentProjects_SingingHistoriesKent.pdf

Mr Men books as an example of propaganda and conditioning for kids

 

This article provides a nice example of how we are conditioned to think in a certain way from the youngest age! Greedy factory owner vs the workers and the king has to intervene…

http://www.thepoke.co.uk/2016/03/01/literary-criticism-mr-men-reviews-made-us-laugh-lot/

‘Hope In The Dark’ by Rebecca Solnit

hope in the dark

“Changing the story isn’t enough in itself, but it has often been foundational to real changes. Making an injury visible and public is usually the first step in remedying it, and political change often follows culture, as what was long tolerated is seen to be intolerable, or what was overlooked becomes obvious. Which means that every conflict is in part a battle over the story we tell, or who tells and who is heard.” Rebecca Solnit

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jul/15/rebecca-solnit-hope-in-the-dark-new-essay-embrace-unknown

I have yet to read this book but have it on authority that it will blow my socks off so I thought I might take the step of telling you all about it asap as my backlog of books is somewhat chronic as of late!

 

Fred Kitchen – Brother to the Ox

fred kitchen

I was just sent a message telling me to research Fred Kitchen… his wikipedia page is here – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Kitchen… Sounds like a super interesting guy.

I have just found out that Little Toller books is republishing his biography ‘Brother to the Ox’ in a few months time, which is great news as copies are going for silly money on the internet at the moment.

Michael Perelman and the Invention Of Capitalism

michaelPerelmanSome interesting brain food here which resonates with much else of what I have read:

“Perelman outlines the many different policies through which peasants were forced off the land—from the enactment of so-called Game Laws that prohibited peasants from hunting, to the destruction of the peasant productivity by fencing the commons into smaller lots—but by far the most interesting parts of the book are where you get to read Adam Smith’s proto-capitalist colleagues complaining and whining about how peasants are too independent and comfortable to be properly exploited, and trying to figure out how to force them to accept a life of wage slavery.”
http://www.filmsforaction.org/news/recovered_economic_history_everyone_but_an_idiot_knows_that_the_lower_classes_must_be_kept_poor_or_they_will_never_be_industrious/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Perelman
https://is.vsfs.cz/el/6410/leto2013/BA_ETD/um/3968033/The_Invention_of_Capitalism.pdf

Bristol Radical History Group pamphlets

brhgI have been really enjoying reading a number of pamphlets which I picked up recently from ‘Bristol Radical History Group‘ who seem to do a lot of great work down in the south west.

This one on Anglo-Saxon Democracy is of particular interest, although there are many others which I will write up at some point soon.

These few paragraphs are good food for thought, the italics in the last paragraph are mine:

———————————-

The Rise of the Church

If the major cause of the retreat of Anglo-Saxon democracy is the increasing use of charters to create bookland beyond the control of the local courts and thus the local community then it also has to be accepted that the use of charters to gain rights and privileges at the expense of the local populace was first introduced by the Roman Catholic church and all of the charters of pre-Conquest England were denrived from the form of the private charter of the later Roman empire. Continue reading

Edward Thomas writing about the state of the land and rights of access

southcountryEdward Thomas writing about the state of the land and rights of access taken from ‘The South Country’ (1906).

You can buy a lovely edition of the book from Little Toller here – http://littletoller.co.uk/bookshop/nature-classics/the-south-country/ or see a digital version here – https://archive.org/stream/southcountry00thomuoft/southcountry00thomuoft_djvu.txt

CHAPTER XVI

255-7 THE END OF SUMMER KENT BERKSHIRE — HAMPSHIRE SUSSEX THE FAIR

The road mounts the low Downs again. The bound-less stubble is streaked by long bands of purple-brown, the work of seven ploughs to which the teams and their carters, riding or walking, are now slowly descending by different ways over the slopes and jingling in the rain. Above is a Druid moor bounded by beech-clumps, and crossed by old sunken ways and broad grassy tracks. It is a land of moles and sheep. Continue reading

A History Of Community Asset Ownership by Steve Wyler

A-History-of-Community-Asset-Ownership_small Steve Wyler-1

A History Of Community Asset Ownership
By Steve Wyler

When my friend Sophie first told me about this book she said ‘Someone has written a book of the show!’

This is a brilliant overview of the last thousand years and what it lacks in a catchy title, it makes up for in compelling prose.

The book can be downloaded free from here as a pdf – http://locality.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/A-History-of-Community-Asset-Ownership_small.pdf or ordered from Locality – http://locality.org.uk/contact/

Owning The Earth by Andro Linklater

owning the earthOwning The Earth
By Andro Linklater

I’m only a little way into this book but am already enjoying it thoroughly. Highly readable and informative.

It brings a global perspective to the story and compares what happened in England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland with other European countries and those further afield.

I will update when I’ve finished it.

The Making of the English Working Class by E.P. Thompson

eptThe Making of the English Working Class
by E.P. Thompson

Considered a definitive text for many years this book is dense, academically rigorous and utterly superb.

I needed a dictionary, wikipedia and a notebook to get myself through the first quarter but once up to speed with the authors style and concepts, it was as compelling a read as I have ever had.

This book has the advantage of being widely respected across all academic and historical fields in a manner which some of the other books I have read are not.

The Painful Plough by Roy Palmer

ppThe Painful Plough
by Roy Palmer

The full title is ‘The Painful Plough: A Portrait of the Agricultural Labourer in the Nineteenth Century from Folksongs and Ballads and Contemporary Accounts’ which pretty much does the job.

It tells the story of Joseph Arch, a farm labourer who went on to start one of the first agricultural labourers unions and eventually to become an MP.

A superb piece of work and a huge source of inspiration for the concept of the show ‘Three Acres And A Cow’.

A Ballad History of England by Roy Palmer

rp---bhA Ballad History of England
by Roy Palmer

Roy Palmer has spent much of the last thirty years hunting for ballads and using them to weave together a people’s history of England. He has mastered the art of this in a number of excellent books of which this is a great starting point.

This book is utterly superb and should be bought without hesitation. Each song has a melody and words, along with a page or two giving its historical context.

The Sound Of History by Roy Palmer

sound of historyThe Sound Of History
By Roy Palmer

This is an amazing book. Not specifically about land but it has a chapter on the topic.

I cannot stress enough what a legend this man and his writings are. This is not the first book of his you should read but it is certainly one you want on your reading list.

This Land Is Our Land by Marion Shoard

marionThis Land Is Our Land
by Marion Shoard

The definitive book on land both past and present, although it has sadly not been updated since the 80’s.

It gets a bit heavy going in places but the first third, which is a history from Roman times to the present, is totally gripping and a must read for anyone interesting in land and land rights.

I had to take quite a few breaks whilst reading it as sections of it made me really angry and/or sad.

The Long Affray: The Poaching Wars in Britain by Harry Hopkins

The Long Affray by Harry HopkinsThe Long Affray: The Poaching Wars in Britain
by Harry Hopkins

Published in 1985, this life changing book was given to me by Sam Lee.

“A beautiful telling of the age-old battle between peasant and landowner where for the price of a rabbit or a pheasant men were murdered, transported as convicts and executed.

This ancient struggle over game was not just about food for the poor poachers and their families, it was about social rank and the power of the landed gentry, the burgeoning class politics of the time and the harsh realities of rural life.”

A People’s History Of England by A.L. Morton

A People's History Of England by A.L. MortonA People’s History Of England
by A.L. Morton

A leading Marxist historian, book written in 1938. Recommended reading by Roy Palmer.

A.L. Morton’s wikipedia page – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._L._Morton

An absolutely riveting, disturbing and fascinating read which turned my world view of history on its head.