QI on the telly Friday night and in the general ignorance round there’s mention of a musical instrument I’ve never heard of. Saturday night (a while back now, Jan 24) I get to see and hear one played. The theorbo is a bass lute. Given that people were smaller back then, it’s a bit of a monster. Along with the viol, Mr Simpson’s Little Consort put it to good use in the delivery of their sacred, profane and bawdy repertoire.
Now in its 11th year, StonyWords! – Stony Stratford’s literary festival – kicked off with Ayres and Graces at York House – John Alexander in full drag reading selections from the diaries of Samuel Pepys, interspersed with music of the Restoration period courtesy of aforesaid four-piece Consort; or music from the period interspersed with readings from … you get the picture. It was a game of two halves, the first richly populated with the bits Mr Knox, our history master, had taken joy in hinting at back then (the complete unexpurgated edition hadn’t wasn’t published til a decade later) – Pepys as recidivist philanderer and whorer (never again, he says … again), Pepys the chronicler of his bowels and more. In the moving second half the wig came off and we were living matter of factly through the sights and fears and practicalities of life in the Plague year of 1665 – the parallels with ebola impossible to put to one side, it was that vivid – and witnessing the progress of the Great Fire of London a year later. A fine evening of edifying entertainment.
Back to the 17th century the next Monday to the Library to see Adrian Tinniswood talking with engaging enthusiasm about his latest book, The Rainborowes: pirates, Puritans and a family’s quest for the Promised Land (Cape , 2013). Quite a bunch, indeed, crisscrossing the Atlantic (no, really), with a particularly sad tale of one of the much-married women failing to find happiness in the New World. Standout, however, has to be Thomas –
seaman, English Civil War siege-master and radical – a leading Republican soldier in Cromwell’s New Model Army and a significant contributor to the Putney Debates – the post-victory OK-what-are-we-gonna-do-now discussions forced on the Grandees by the more radically democratic Levellers. Fascinating stuff.
Interesting discussion at the end as to the respective merits of the hardback and paperback covers, with author and small minority at the meeting holding out for the hardback (that’s King Charles’s head coming off) as opposed to the author’s agent, paperback publisher and the majority favouring the historical genre design in the shops.
A new tradition instituted in this, the fifth of the annual Bardic Trials. Grey Rod, bedecked in academic gown, ceremonially knocking three times to gain entrance. Regardless of the rod not actually being grey [but see Comments below], it would appear the position also bears some responsibility as returning officer for the casting and counting of the popular vote, this year to be done with cheap metal washers as opposed to the traditional post-it note. Given that Grey Rod was Stephen Hobbs, this rather scuppered the redoubtable Antipoet‘s passionate rendering, in the course of another wondrous set, this time featuring some new material – of their tuneful rousing bit of music hall chantery (composed, tis said, on Christmas day) Stephen Hobbs for Bard.
At the end of the day it was Pat “the Hat” Nicholson who won out over storyteller Red Phoenix by a single metal washer after the initial field of four had been whittled down for the penalty shoot-out. It was a full house and the crowd was vocal throughout – another grand night. Let us now hail the new Bard. His Autobiographical ode to Stony Stratford, recalling his family’s Saturday shopping trips to Stony from Whaddon when he was 6 and lorries hurtled down the A5, for the High Street was still a trunk road back then, was the outstanding competition piece on the night. He’ll be a worthy Bard, and I hope some of his Bardic duties at least will be accomplished in song with the more familiar guitar in hand; nothing in the rules against it.
And so, back to York House on Friday for Ian Entwistle on acoustic guitar accompanied by, and on occasion featuring individually, the voices of 4 natural women (with a touch of recorder now and then), celebrating the singer-songwriters of the early ’70s – James Taylor, Carole King, Neil Young, Cat Stephens to the fore. Quality performances ensured the sell-out crowd had a great evening that was testament to the emotional power of those great songs on people the first time around, back then. There were moist eyes in every direction, and I for one had never quite realised what James Taylor meant to women of that generation; it was Neil Young’s Old man that did it for me.
That finished early enough for us to catch a bit of Speakeasy’s From Bard to verse evening down the road in The Bull. Just in time to catch the new Bard – still sans guitar – strutting his stuff, declaiming from the centre of the floor as if to the manor born.
The Box Ticked at the Crauford
Saturday, eschewing StonyWords! for the nevertheless highly literate charms of the “quirkessentially British power pop” that is The Box Ticked in the bar at the Crauford Arms in neighbouring Wolverton. This was the opening gig of the bands’ winter tour of Milton Keynes. Two full and very fine sets with some shaping up nicely new stuff. You can read all about it here, on their very own blog and website. I suppose a satire warning is warranted before you go there; this, for instance from the blog, about the second gig of the tour:
Having found a place to crash for the night with people we know, the weary but excited Box Ticked made their way from Wolverton over towards Stony Stratford for the mid-way point of their tour of Milton Keynes.
And this from their report of the third gig on the tour:
There was a huge cheer at one point, which I’m happy to accept was a direct response to the chorus of Musical Differences, but may have been something to do with the rugby.
For the uninitiated Musical differences chronicles the supposed, um, musical differences of the two writers in the band, opposing the Carpenters with the Pistols; the point being … and it was the England-Wales Six Nations game. But back to the slightly cavernous Crauford, where the words of the excellent Plugging away
The room is cold and quiet
And well below capacity
were delivered with a certain ironic edge. Not that there weren’t people there (there were, but it was cold), just that the cool kids who knew the band were all sitting to the side. Was a pleasure to be there. And those very lyrics would ring out with a very different cadence to a packed crowd very soon in the future.
Pride and another Gathering
Sunday and Stony Scala Film Club is showing Pride (2014) at The Cock. Another sell-out crowd. Great British film about the travails of lesbian and gay group from London who set out to adopt a pit and end up in South Wales, a true story no less. Roller coaster of emotions as they achieve a certain acceptance from most of the mining village but become an embarrassment to the local NUM, all this as AIDS/HIV is rearing its head. Lots of great little cameos and nice little touches reflecting the times. It brought back memories of what was a horrible time for the left in Britain, and my only criticism was its giving full rein to a sentimentality that failed to address the question of Scargill’s disastrous leadership of the miners at all. (Slightly disturbing to discover Sherlock‘s Moriarty running Gay’s the Word bookshop.) And so, full of sadness and gladness …
… over the road and up a bit to the installation of the Scribal Gathering expansion pack in full swing at The Fox & Hounds. The room is full, the energy high, new faces on the stage and in the audience along with the usual suspects. A fine short quirkessential set this time from those Box Tickers again.
Last event of StonyWords! 11 was the literary quiz. I was on the Evil Y-nots team, amerry band of brothers. Honour saved, we came second last. But the teasing out of Bladerunner as an answer was worth a high-5, and this may well be the last time in my life it will ever be useful to know that Anne McCaffrey wrote the Dragonsingers of Pern sequence of SF novels. And apparently ‘Oh, fuck off’ was not one of the houses at Hogwarts. Innovatory new format this year – each team brings along a set of questions for one round – to overcome the handicap of actually winning (not that …), which used to be you had to set next year’s quiz. Worked well, set a decent precedent.
Oh, and there was the History Mystery: a charter in time creative chronicling competition. Procrasturbation meant I didn’t manage to get an entry in in time. I did have an idea, though. The thing is, as well as this year’s 800 years of Magna Carta, it was 1215 when King John visited Stony Stratford, and, hearsay has it, giving Stony its own charter granting township status. Except nobody’s ever seen said piece of parchment. There’s no documentation. So the competition was to speculate what might have happened to it. My idea – and it won’t be the only one, I’m sure – was time traveling mischief. This is what the judges were spared:
“Oh bloody hell, Wells. Not you again.” Finding himself on the banks of a river, coming round from yet another crack on the head, Herbert George Wells, author of the purportedly fictional book The time machine, was the last person Samuel Clemens wanted to see. His own book, published under the pseudonym of Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, was another traveller’s tale marketed as fiction to keep the reality of time travel secret. “We must stop meeting like this.”
“Twain, you old bastard,” responded the pompous little philanderer, whose friends may have called him HG [must look that up], “Happened again, has it? You really ought to wear something to protect that soft head of yours.”
Anyway, at some stage along comes King John, who autographs the Charter, and one way or another – maybe the two authors end up fighting over the Charter for some reason, ripping it asunder, the pieces falling into the river; or one of them, suddenly excited by inspiration, the prospect of another masterpiece, uses the back of it to take notes on; or, indeed, for some other less savoury use (do I have to spell it out?)
Charter or no, the Stony of StonyWords! 11 – and I haven’t covered it all at all – was a good place to be.
While all this was going on Mr Dylan released a new platter for our entertainment and enjoyment. In case you haven’t heard, it’s an unlikely 10-song strong collection of popular songs from the Great American Songbook which have been previously recorded by Frank Sinatra. It only takes up, no – fills, 40 minutes a go – good old vinyl LP length – of your time. Amazingly enough, it works. Singing sweetly (or as sweetly as, you know, but still sweetly), accompanied by his sparingly augmented touring band, slow-paced, with the pedal steel player in a crucial role, it’s rather wonderful. You’ll never hear the songs quite the same again. Yearning, regret, acceptance they’re all in there in abundance. The man owns Some enchanted evening, (“Fools give you reasons / Wise men never try“) and That lucky old sun, the closer, just rolls around heaven all day. It’s lovely.