Category Archives: Time period

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 essay is behind an academic paywall here but the author Mick Wallis is hoping to provide me with a version I can share online here soon.

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

German Peasants’ Song – Die Gedanken Sind Frei

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 by Oliver Goldsmith 1770

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.

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.

Wikipedia

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.

The Blackstone-Edge Song by Ernest Jones – Chartist Song 1846

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!

Jailed for protesting fracking

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#/

The Ascott Martyrs

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”.

Read more via
https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/Ascott-Martyrs/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ascott_Martyrs
https://www.ascottmartyrs.co.uk/

Excellent new short film on Kinder Scout trespass and direct action

Have a look at this excellent short film by Well Red Films on Kinder Scout trespass and direct action

Mass Trespass from wellredfilms on Vimeo.

https://www.facebook.com/wellredfilms/
https://twitter.com/wellredfilms

BBC radio documentary on 15th anniversary of the 2003 Scottish land reform act

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.

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.

Newton Rebels of 1607 in Northamptonshire

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

http://www.newtonrebels.org.uk/rebels/history.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midland_Revolt

 

The Ballad Of The Green Backyard

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:

http://www.peterboroughtoday.co.uk/news/environment/we-are-naturally-delighted-future-secured-for-peterborough-s-the-green-backyard-after-signing-new-12-year-lease-1-8181733

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

California State University, Fresno – Traditional Ballad index

Someone shared this on social media yesterday and I just want to bookmark it here quickly as it looks like a gold mine.

http://fresnostate.edu/folklore/BalladIndexArticles.html

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!

http://fresnostate.edu/folklore/

 

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

Obituary of trade unionist and labour rights activist Don Pollard

I missed this last month but never to late to learn about the amazing work of trade unionist and labour rights Don Pollard who died in August. #legend

‘The trade unionist and labour rights activist Don Pollard, who has died aged 80, was one of the driving forces behind the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004, legislation brought in by the British government to curb the exploitation of agricultural and food workers in the UK.

It took the Morecambe Bay tragedy to bring his and fellow union organisers’ efforts to fruition. In 2004, 23 workers from China drowned after their gangmasters sent them cockle-picking in lethal tides. Some of the victims had been employed previously on farms in East Anglia, where Pollard had uncovered appalling conditions. His work had laid the ground for a coalition of unions, business, and MPs to push through the Labour MP Jim Sheridan’s private member’s bill introducing licensing to the gangmaster sector.’

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/aug/22/don-pollard-obituary

Song about the Swing Riots – Eight shillings a week

Eight shillings a week

This dates from the winter of 1830, when starving farm-workers in the Southern Counties riotously demonstrated for a basic wage of a half a crown a day. They committed a breach of the peace but otherwise harmed no one, yet after the demonstrations three of them were hanged and over four hundred were transported. At that time a loaf of bread cost a shilling.

Come all you bold Britons where’re you may be,
I pray give attention and listen to me,
There once was good times but they’re gone by complete,
For a poor man now lives on eight shillings a week.

Such times in old England there never was seen,
As the present ones now but much better have been,
A poor man’s condemned and looked on as a thief.
And compelled to work hard on eight shillings a week.

Our venerable fathers remember the year,
When a man earned thee shillings a day and his beer,
He then could live well, keep his family all neat,
But now he must work for eight shillings a week

The nobs of old England of shameful renown,
Are striving to crush a poor man to the ground,
They’ll beat down his wages and starve him complete
And make him work hard for eight shillings a week.

A poor man to labour believe me ‘tis so,
To maintain his family is willing to go,
Either hedging or ditching, to plough or to reap,
But how does he live on eight shillings a week?

So now to conclude and finish my song,
May the times be much better before too long,
May each labouring man be able to keep,
His children and wife on twelve shillings a week.

Song about the Swing Riots – Owslebury lads

Lovely track about the Swing Riots

In 1830, on November the 23rd, there was a riot in Owslebury. This was part of the wave of discontent among agricultural workers which had spread across southern England and expressed itself as the Swing Riots. A large mob formed and moved from farm to farm demanding money and threatening to destroy agricultural machinery. At Rosehill they assaulted Lord Northesk’s steward, Moses Stanbrook, wrecked a winnowing machine, and extorted £5. John Boyes, a local farmer, accompanied the mob demanding that farmers and landlords sign an undertaking which read “We, the undersigned, are willing to give 2s. per day to our married labourers, and 9s. per week to single men, in consideration of having our rent and tithes abated in proportion”. At Marwell Hall the lady of the house, Mrs. Alice Long, gave the mob £5 and signed John’s document. Eventually the mob retreated to Owslebury Down. Nine people had signed John Boyes’ document.

The rioters were tried in Winchester at the end of the year and several were executed. There was a good deal of sympathy for John Boyes and he was twice acquitted before eventually being found guilty and sentenced to be transported to Van Diemen’s Land for seven years. The trials were reported in The Times in December 1830 and January 1831. John Boyes did not complete his sentence. In 1835 the Home Secretary, Lord Melbourne, pardoned him and he returned home to his wife, Faith, and their children, in June of that year to continue farming in Owslebury. He died in Hensting in 1856.

Who Owns England blog – one year on

Guy Shrubsole is doing some excellent work here digging into data to find out who owns our land – https://whoownsengland.org/2017/09/12/who-owns-england-one-year-on-what-we-now-know/