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
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!
“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.
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”.
“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.”
This extract taken from ‘The Making Of The English Landscape’ by W.G. Hoskins is brutal and telling.
We had the privilege of sharing a stage today with a hero of ours, the historian Peter Linebaugh… Here is a cheeky selfie of us in front of the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest.
Peter was a student of E.P. Thompson’s in the 70s and has written some wonderful books including ‘The Many Headed Hydra’ which I hope many of your will have read or know about…
Robin and Roo will be leading a sing-a-long this Sunday by The Major Oak in Sherwood Forest to mark the 800th anniversary of the 1217 Charter Of The Forest and linking this to land rights, fracking and universal basic income in our present day.
What’s the Charter Of The Forest, I hear you say… see hear for more information… https://thenewputneydebates.com/
Nick Hayes just put me on to this amazing page about the Newton Rebels of 1607 in Northamptonshire which was part of the Midlands Revolt concerning enclosure. Have a look at the photos from their 400th anniversary in 2007
The Green Backyard in Peterborough have just signed a 12 year lease, winning an amazing victory saving land from some dubious business people and a council which has some amazing people in it …and others with more questionable motives. Read about it in the Peterborough Telegraph:
The Ballad of the Green Backyard
In twenty zero eight, two enterprising souls
Set to work to realise their very worthy goals
They met allies and met baddies, now listen as i tell
A tale of Peterborough’s finest and some pond scum straight from hell
There’s pair of Antonelli’s, both grafters through and through
Give them tools and wellies… there is nothing they can’t do
I sure want them on my team when we build the barricades
As we fight the fight for all that’s right with rascals and comrades
Three cheers for the green backyard, ’tis a glorious hour for people power
On two acres of good land that never knew concrete
They set to work creating a paradise complete with
Veg and flowers and people, and ponds and compost loos
But a few in power (with faces sour) had some other views
In twenty and eleven, the council battle began
Machen and Kneally, they worked an evil plan
And we mustn’t forgot Cereste, they don’t get more corrupt
Someone should him soon arrestie, cos he’s such an evil fuck ….refrain
But in our growers’ corner we’ve Gillian Beasly who was
A very early ally and the council chief exec too!
And props to Jay and Allan, more people joined the team
Now the scene is set, the players met, all captured in one tune
We mustn’t forget ‘Metal’, who invite arty sorts
And let them loose around here, to sow creative thoughts
Like ‘if this were to be lost’ and ‘this land is our land’
And ‘people before profit when when we all together stand’ ….refrain
‘For sale’ the sign was raised, this was a big mistake
Gave our growers marching orders, even set a date
But the town and country planning act, a couple of VIPs
Plus a tonne of people power brought the blighters to their knees
so to conclude my story, there’s still much work to do
but this is quite a victory, so credit where its due
and i hope our children’s children can be nurtured by this land
and people far from peterborah will know of this fine stand ….refrain
Someone shared this on social media yesterday and I just want to bookmark it here quickly as it looks like a gold mine.
I’m not sure yet how relevant it is to the current show but if we end up working with our Scottish and Irish friends, this looks like a good place to start exploring due to the way it is indexed.
The parent part of the site also has lots of interesting stuff on it. What I love about this so much is that it is still in super old HTML style which means it is so much easier to navigate and search than all this fancy, flashing, fancy pants and usually pointless web design which is currently the fashion!