OK … another August Bank Holiday, another Stony Stratford Town Fayre. And only a brief sprinkling of rain. It’s a bit like an island, stuck in its own space-time continuum, that materializes for a few hours in Horsefair Green this time of year. And none the worse for that, tombolas and all. Silver band on the hour at 2.00 and 3.00, Punch & Judy on the half.
This year I thought the Bradwell Silver Band had a lot more oomph than last. And this year’s revelation – they’ve done it with Robbie Williams’ Angels in the past – was an arrangement of Don McLean’s American Pie that revealed an inner beauty one never suspected. (Not that I’ve anything against it – on the contrary – but don’t get me started on Vincent.) Never mind the red white and blue of the stars & stripes, Silver Band they may be but here the harmonies exploded with glorious golds, burnished brass, chestnut reds, deep orange, rich burgundies. It was lovely, with that swelling of overwhelming sadness and its overcoming that is the calling card of decent brass and silver ensembles. While an eminently traditional Mr Punch, with no softening of blows, can still entrance the children, elicit squeals of delight. Long may he and his Judy run.
Many other musical delights are to be found on the Michael Weston King curated We’re all in it together, a 2 CD benefit anthology for the Morning Star, the only newspaper boasting the strapline “For peace and Socialism“. It might not be all that cheap in this day and age (£15 plus p&p from the paper’s website shop, where you can also see the full track listing) but it’s pretty much all good, mainly folkie, with some great songs and performances, and melodies that will stick, committed for sure, but hardly hectoring, often contemplative and wry by turn. Spread over 2 CDs – ‘Protest’ and ‘Survive’ – you’ll find 33 contributions, some of them originals, from names you might know, like Paul Heaton, Eddi Reader, James Yorkston, Jackie Leven (The view from shit creek) and Robyn Hitchcock (Brenda’s iron sledge!), and some that you’ve (or I’ve) never even heard of. It is from the ranks of the latter that the two tunes that have particularly stuck in my head come – Peter Bruntnell‘s lilting Tin streamer song (it’s a refence to old Cornish mining methods) and Reg Meuross’s rousing homage to Chilean martyr Victor Jara, which had me singing along – ‘Vencermos!’. There’s also We’re all in this together – not the High School Musical song, but a tremendous contemporary UK reworking of Barry McGuire’s The eve of destruction by Michael Weston King – that deserves to be known much wider. (Pathetically, I feel the need to add that I only discovered about that High School Musical song when I was checking to see if I could find any online links to Michael’s tour de force.)
For my sins someone else I’d never heard of till the Olympics ceremonies was Emeli Sandé, whose Read all about it was just perfect for the occasion. I’ve only listened to her album Our version of events a couple of times. With that haircut and the pretentious name (which I now discover is actually her real name, understandably minus the Adele that fronts it on her passport) all my prejudices were primed, but I’ve been so impressed by some of those songs, not least River and probably, sometime soon, all of them. There are deep melodies at work here, not obvious, but they take hold, there’s an emotional swell that makes them something special. And wasn’t it great to hear and see Ian Dury‘s song Spasticus autisticous featured in the Paralympics opening ceremony? Lest we forget, the BBC wouldn’t play that 30 years ago.
Oh, and I’ve read Alan Bennett‘s short and sweet The uncommon reader (Faber, 2007) and I shall read it again – an absolute delight. The basic premise is the Queen strays onto a mobile library to apologise for her corgis’ yacking and by and by becomes a serious reader, which changes her whole view of life to the dismay of many of her close associates. It’s a very funny and compassionate book which says a lot of good things about reading and writing and much else (not least prime ministers) and ends with a neat twist. At one stage it looked like I might find further justification for my eschewing the novels of Henry James, but disappointingly he gets a reprieve.