Monday 1st June 2009
01 June 2009
A Dementor At My Table
I spent this past Saturday trapped in a small room recording old British folk songs with the school choir. From the classic, Marie’s Wedding, to the mundane, Golden Slumbers, to the occasional obscure tale of perverted rodent love, The Tailor And The Mouse.
Lots of these old folks songs are mighty weird, and no mistake. Consider The Tailor And The Mouse. The first line: There was a tailor had a mouse, they lived together in one house. There’s a clear implication, straight from the off, that the tailor and the mouse are living together as a couple in some deranged, beastial union. One has to wonder if this is suitable singing material for children. In the second verse the tailor thinks the mouse is ill, tries to cure him, and when, by verse three it’s apparent that the mouse isn’t going to pull through, he bakes the mouse in an apple pie.
From the start you’re asking the kids to accept the diversity of a man and a mouse living as a couple, but then, when the relationship sours, the bloke tries to eat it in a pie. Aside from the fact that your average chef is surely going to cook the mouse in a savoury dish rather than for dessert, what message does this send to young children about the vicissitude of inter-species love?
It is also surely foolish of the tailor - who looks likely to be played by Pierce Brosnan in the upcoming Hollywood version - to stick the mouse in a pie when the thing is terminally ill with who knows what kind of plague, brought over from the continent by flea-infested rats. Unless, of course, the song is multi-layered, and we’re looking at the ancient art of cannibalism, where a little piece of the plague-ridden dead is eaten in order to act as a vaccine.
To cut a long story short, the mouse eventually legs it from the pie, but when the tailor finally finds it, it’s already dead. Then, rather than stick it back in his pie or eat it in a sandwich or in fact give it a decent burial, seeing as they’d had this long and previously loving relationship, he just goes out and gets another mouse. Chalk up another core human value for the kids.
To add to the general moral confusion of the song, every line is followed by the incantaion, Hi diddle unkum feedle... At one point, when the choirmaster was exhorting more effort from the children he said, ‘Make the listener wonder what hi diddle unkum feedle means...!’ Really, mate, no one is going to be wondering what hi diddle unkum feedle means. They’re all wondering what exactly it is that the tailor and the mouse get up to when the doors are locked and the lights are low.
Best not to think about it.
This was the recording debut of the Wraggle Taggle Gypsies, a strange collective working out of our local school. The creation of the head of music department, the Gypsies feature the junior school choir and a rogue collection of Teachers Who Can Play A Musical Instrument Or Two. I never really did work out why I was there, being neither a teacher nor a student, but since they were paying me $300k, picked me up in the school limo and gave me my own dressing room with my name on the door, I was quite happy.
Under-rehearsed and with the choir short of numbers, there was a wonderful air of shambles over proceedings. I doubt any drugs had been consumed so far that day, as we all assembled on a Saturday morning in the school music room, but there was the same general feeling of uproar and pernicious disintegration that you might have found at a late night Nirvana session in early ‘92.
Band rehearsals had been infrequent and poorly attended, leading to internecine strife and division. When we collected on Saturday morning there was already jostling for position closest to the best microphones, there was general argument about whose name should appear first on the album credits, and cries of Turn my instrument up! Mine! Mine! Make mine louder! rent the air. The kids arrived to find an all-out brawl, with fists flying and chairs being cast across the music room. However, expediency finally proved the better part of petty jealousy, and we all settled down to simmer in desperate and silent impotence at the necessary evil of big band anonymity.
What followed is a blur of traditional British folk songs. Try controlling twenty kids while keeping them interested for eight hours, while doing anything, never mind something as downright banal as singing Blow The Wind Southerly. The choir master’s technique was to start every pleading line to the bairns with the words, ‘I know you’re tired...’ which usually brought a swift I’m not from the back, followed by many more similar ejaculations in an I’m Brian and so’s my wife kind of a way.
Soldier, Soldier; My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean; Loch Lomond; Smells Like Teen Spirit; Early One Morning; the classic standards of British folk flowed like lava over the Pompeii of tradition, and the Wraggle Taggle Gypsies were born.
The sound engineer looked overwhelmed, but hopefully he managed to capture the raw essence of the house/folk fusion which we managed to conjure up on this one, grey afternoon in eastern Europe. That a new musical form was created cannot now be argued. Where the Wraggle Taggle Gypsies go from here is the only question. There will be the cd of course, tentatively titled Last Ticket On The Rollercoaster To Hell, but we also have our first live date confirmed, later this month in some ethnically chic Warsaw cafe.
This may well point the way ahead, as the Gypsies head off on the grand adventure of international folk superstardom. Where it ends, no one knows, but what is certain is that it all began on a bleak Saturday afternoon in the bleak capital of a bleak country at the bleak end of the continent, when for a few short hours the skies were illuminated by the glorious sound of ground-breaking hybrid musical supergenius.
And best just not to dwell on the tailor and his illicit rodent love.
Barney Thomson Report
This week’s update (changes in red):
Proof read Book number 2: complete
Re-write Book number 3: started.
Proof read numbers 4,5 & 6: not even started
Start final draft of number 7: Complete. Need to get final proofing done, but it’s down to the length I wanted it to be and pretty much ready to go. There’s potential for it all to be done a month or two ahead of schedule. If this happens, it will be unprecedented and will result in my awarding myself a bonus of $10.5m. This will, of course, bankrupt the company and ruin the lives of millions, but as Spock will possibly say in the new altered Star Trek universe, the needs of the one outweighs the needs of the many.
Launch Barney Series as ebooks: Getting there. The intention will be to get Lost In Juarez out in digital format as quickly as possible as a trial run, and then later in the summer/early autumn, release the full Barney series in one sweeping, majestic, murder-laden panoply of fictional death.
Strange Case Update
Last week I suggested that people send the link to the Going Back To Galileo YouTube video to everyone they knew, in the hope that it would help bring down Gordon Brown and his raggle taggle collection of People Who Defraud The System. Neither of these things happened. Fortunately, with Labour trailing the LibDems, UKIP, the Greens, the Muppets and the We’d Have Michael Foot Back Before This Guy Party, it doesn’t look like it will prove necessary. You can stand down.
Sandy Lyle Watch
(The continuing saga of the best golfer never to win three majors.)