Category Archives: 1500’s

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

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!

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

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.

“Of Rente Raysers” by Robert Crowley 1550

Today’s discovery, some lovely words from 1550…

“Of Rente Raysers” by Robert Crowley

————————Original

A Manne that had landes of tenne pounde by yere,
Surueyed the same and lette it out deare;

So that of tenne pounde he made well a score (20)
Moe poundes by the yere than other dyd before.

But when he was told whan daunger it was
to oppresse his tenauntes, he sayed he did not passe.

For thys thynge, he sayde, full certayne he wyste,
That wyth hys owne he myghte alwayes do as he lyste.

But immediatlye, I trowe thys oppressoure fyl sicke
Of a voyce that he harde, “geue accountes of thy baliwicke!”

———————–my adaptation

A man that had lands worth ten pound each year,
Surveyed the same and then let it out dear;

So that of ten pound he made well a score (20)
More pounds by the year than all others before.

But when he was told what danger it was
To oppress his tenants, he said I don’t pause,

For this thing, he said, full certain he wist,
That with his own, he might do as he list.

But immediately, I trow, this oppressor fell sick:
Of a voice that he heard, ‘Give accounts of thy bailiwick!’

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.

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.

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.

Books on Peterborough and The Fens

pboroHere are the books which Hazel Perry brought along to the workshops localising the show for Peterborough…

Free Thinkers and Troublemakers: Fenland Dissenters / Harry Jones / Published by the Wisbech Society & Preservation Trust / ISBN 0951922076

Peterborough: A Story of City and Country, People and Places / (Peterborough City Council, published by Pitkin) / ISBN 1-84165-050-1

From Punt to Plough: A History of the Fens / Rex Sly / The History Press / ISBN 978-0-7509-3398-8

Peterborough (Britain In Photographs) / Lisa Sargood / Budding Books / ISB 1-84015-247-8

Peterborough Through Time (A Second Selection) / June and Vernon Bull / ISBN 978-1-84868-990-9

The Lost Fens / England’s Greatest Ecological Disaster / Ian D Rotherham / ISBN 978-0-7524-8699-4

Peterborough / HF Tebbs / ISBN 0900891300

Utopia by Thomas More

IMG_1274a

So powerful re-reading the words of Thomas More from ‘Utopia’ now I understand the historical context of his words.

The first part of the book is largely a critique of the society around him written in a fictional form to protect him from persecution…

“your sheep that were wont to be so meek and tame, and so small eaters, now, as I heard say, be become so great devourers and so wild, that they eat up, and swallow down the very men themselves.”

http://www.bartleby.com/209/55.htmlutopia

 

In short, communities were deprived of their access to land to make way for sheep. The wool from these sheep became the first resource to be mass produced and traded leading to massive accumulation of excess capital in the hands of a few large landowners.

This excess capital could be invested in ships which laid the foundation for empires and slavery bringing along the second big accumulation of excess capital.

Read the wikipedia entry here – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utopia_(book)