David Russell and Survivors’ Poetry

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A very long time ago, I emerged blinking from a failed marriage and reconnected with the London folk scene, where I got to know (among many others) the astonishing poet and guitarist David Russell. Almost as long ago I did quite a few benefit gigs for the Survivors’ Poetry group,  allied with the Campaign Against Psychiatric Oppression, and contributed a couple of poems to two anthologies published by Survivors’ Press.

More recently, having dipped several toes into the Cornish poetry scene, I wondered what had happened to the group and to the Survivors’ Press. As far as I can tell, the Press isn’t doing anything these days.  Sadly, quite a few of the people I knew from that time (Frank Bangay, Razz, Peter Campbell…) have died, but the group is still putting on regular poetry events. In fact, there’s one tomorrow night (29th December 2022) on Zoom, featuring Wendy Young, Jackie Juno, and the same “all-round experimentalist” Dave Russell. That sounds well worth checking out anyway, but I’m rather pleased to have reconnected with Dave, who has sent me a couple of YouTube links that you may find interesting:

David Harley

Wadebridge Folk Club – new venue

I’ve never been to the Wadebridge Folk Club, as I wouldn’t be able to get back from Wadebridge by public transport afterwards. However, I know lots of people will be glad to know that the club, having been unable to run during lockdown and subsequently without a venue, is now due to reopen at a new venue: specifically, the Barn at Pentireglaze Cafe, which is down a right turn (Brown signposted) off the New Polzeath Road @ PL27 6QY.

The first meeting will be on Thursday 19th Jan at 7pm. Neal Jolly tells us that there will be hot drinks available. I’m not sure if there’ll be alcohol: Neal will be checking on that. He says that “The barn also has a log burner, chairs, tables etc and a sofa (First come first settled!)”

There will be a cost (£5) to cover the hire of the building and to build a fund to be able to pay for the occasional guest performer.

While the slide player on the poster looks to be playing something like a Telecaster, the event will be purely acoustic “to encourage a listening audience, and yet offering a sort of stagey area, rather than a sing around. ”

“Spoken word performance will be very much welcome as well as singing and playing.”

More details when I have them.

In the meantime, I believe the club’s Tuesday Zoom session is continuing: details at https://www.folkincornwall.co.uk/clubdetail.php?clubname=WADEBRIDGE%20ZOOM

David Harley

Jack in the Box

…now with added music. (I suddenly noticed that it fitted a traditional tune perfectly!)

It also fits the subject matter of a book I’m working on: more on that in due course…

backup:

Down in the workhouse when I was a lad
No tongue can relate all the pleasures we had
Dry bread, and Bastille soup by the bowl
And a flogging or two for the good of our souls x2

A tale I recall of those happy times
And an orphan lad always to mischief inclined
He was ever in line for a kick, at the best
And the poor workhouse master could scarcely find rest

Till came the day one of the other lads died
“Aha!” says the master, “I’ll settle your pride!”
He shut up the lad in the dead-house to stay
Alone with the coffin until the next day

But what should Jack do but open the box
He takes out the corpse, and with it swaps clothes
Props it up on the rail at the top of the stairs
Then he hops in the box and the winding-sheet wears

And when it grew dark, the master came up
With a plate for Jack, some victuals to sup
Holds it out to the corpse on the rail
Who says not a word, but stands stiff, cold and pale

“Well, take it!” the master says in surprise
“I should think you’d be starving by now, damn your eyes!”
Then up leaps Jack, who was lying so still
And says “If he wunna eat it, I will!”

When the master heard this he got such a fright
He let go of the plate, and turned whiter than white
Gave a terrible shriek, such a fright did he get
Fell back down the stairs and near broke his neck

Wasn’t that a sad fall for a man such as he
So kind to his charges, with his boot so free?
So pity the poor who must live on the Roll
And think on the guardians and pray for their souls

A half-written song of mine based on a story of Knighton workhouse from ‘An idler on the Shropshire borders’, by Ida Gandy. Told to her by Ellen Hughes (nee Jordan) 1864-1940 also known as Granny Hughes. Many thanks to her great-granddaughter Denise Lewis of the Memories of Shropshire FB group for the information and photograph.

The tune is the well-known ‘Down-derry-down’ tune used for  various nautical songs including ‘The Dreadnought’/’Flash Packet’/’Liverpool Packet’/’Flash Frigate’… Though I guess it’s more naughty than nautical.

(c) David Harley

Hosanna In Extremis

Something a little different from me on the Poetry Archive YouTube channel. Yes, it’s a poetry video.  Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) YouTube has done its favourite trick of keeping the volume as low as it can get away with, and I think I rushed it a bit. However, I suspect it will be on the forthcoming poetry and music project in some form.

Fortunately, there are plenty of videos on that channel worth listening to and not requiring tweaking of the volume control.

Meanwhile, here’s the poem.

Born in freefall, oppressed by gravity;
Cutting the harness and falling free
In the last days of the human race,
The last few metres of the Fall from Grace.
The gods look down and cannot change a thing:
No miracles, no more psalms to sing.
The rich men take the seats that they reserved;
The rest fight for a place on Dead Man’s Curve.
Somehow the human race is hanging on,
But humanity’s already dead and gone.

There’ll be no singing in the lifeboats,
Unless it’s in the Captain’s praise.
The countdown started long ago,
The last days of the human race,
But the chaos we’re creating cannot wipe
The smirk from the rich man’s face.

This is your last call:
The countdown to freefall.
The coming gale will shake the earth’s foundations,
And most of us will perish in the flood,
The poor and unseaworthy lie abandoned,
Buried somewhere deep within the mud.
Survival of the fattest; trickle-up economics;
Fact and fiction, fear and faith, despair and desire;
Politics and science, bigotry, morality:
We’re choking on the smoking and you can’t see the fire
.
Cold turkey voting still for Christmas
Season of myths and moral fruitlessness –
Break those habits, not the habitat,
Or you’ll take the whole world with you when you choke on the excess.
This is the very last last chance:
Let’s face down the muzak and dance.

David Harley

Two improvisations…

…likely to appear at some point in an ongoing verse and music project.

  1. Improvisation in High G tuning:

 

or backup:

 

2. Improvisation on piccolo guitar in Nashville tuning:

 

or backup:

 

David Harley

Loveliest of Trees

Words by A.E. Housman (A Shropshire Lad II), tune traditional arranged and adapted by David A. Harley. It’s more or less the A tune from the reel ‘The Rose Tree’. At some point I’ll probably combine it with a version of the reel on mandola. Though since my fingers already exceed my three-score-and-ten, maybe not…

[A couple of alternative arrangements (demo only) added below.]

Taster for an album.

Backup:

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

This is a version using the B-tune of ‘The Rose Tree’ for the second verse.

And this version uses the B-tune for the third verse instead.

David Harley

Jack in the Box

Down in the workhouse when I was a lad
No tongue can relate all the pleasures we had
Dry bread, and Bastille soup by the bowl
And a flogging or two for the good of our souls x2

A tale I recall of those happy times
And an orphan lad always to mischief inclined
He was ever in line for a kick, at the best
And the poor workhouse master could scarcely find rest

Till came the day one of the other lads died
“Aha!” says the master, “I’ll settle your pride!”
He shut up the lad in the dead-house to stay
Alone with the coffin until the next day

But what should Jack do but open the box
He takes out the corpse, and with it swaps clothes
Props it up on the rail at the top of the stairs
Then he hops in the box and the winding-sheet wears

And when it grew dark, the master came up
With a plate for Jack, some victuals to sup
Holds it out to the corpse on the rail
Who says not a word, but stands stiff, cold and pale

“Well, take it!” the master says in surprise
“I should think you’d be starving by now, damn your eyes!”
Then up leaps Jack, who was lying so still
And says “If he wunna eat it, I will!”

When the master heard this he got such a fright
He let go of the plate, and turned whiter than white
Gave a terrible shriek, such a fright did he get
Fell back down the stairs and near broke his neck

Wasn’t that a sad fall for a man such as he
So kind to his charges, with his boot so free?
So pity the poor who must live on the Roll
And think on the guardians and pray for their souls

A half-written song of mine based on a story of Knighton workhouse from ‘An idler on the Shropshire borders’, by Ida Gandy. Told to her by Ellen Hughes (nee Jordan) 1864-1940 also known as Granny Hughes. Many thanks to her great-granddaughter Denise Lewis of the Memories of Shropshire FB group for the information and photograph.

The song doesn’t have a tune yet: in fact, I think I might just fit it to the well-known ‘Down-derry-down’ tune used for  various nautical songs including ‘The Dreadnought’/’Flash Packet’/’Liverpool Packet’/’Flash Frigate’… Though I guess it’s more naughty than nautical.

(c) David Harley

Llanfair Wakes

There was a man, long years ago, lived up in Skyborry
David ap-Evan was his name, a farmworker was he
Those days in Llanfair Waterdine each year they held a fair
And David dearly wished to go and see the wonders there.

“Gaffer, today is Llanfair Wakes; I’d dearly love to see
The doings that I’ve heard of there, if you can just spare me.”
Said farmer, “Not this year; why, mon, myself I have to go.
While I’m away, you must stay and scare away the crows.”

So David went down to the field, though he thought it wunna fair
And while he stood and grumbled, he saw a stranger there.
“David, it’s the Wakes today: why aren’t you at Llanfair?”
“Cos gaffer says to stay home, these ruddy crows to scare.”

Says the stranger, “Come with me, for I mean you no harm,”
And straightaway he called the crows and shut them in the barn.
So David went down to the Wake, and coming to Llanfair
He’d scarce been minutes in the place when he met the farmer there.

When he told the farmer what had passed, the mon began to rail:
Says he, “You think I’m simple, but I’ll not believe that tale!”
So back they went together, and the farmer said no word
Till they opened up the old barn door, and out flew all the birds.

“David, this is Devil’s work,” said farmer with a frown.
“I think you’d best be on your guard next time he comes around.”
Sure enough, before too long back the owd devil did roll,
A-tempting him to this and that till he feared for his soul.

One day as he was sowing wheat, the Devil told him straight,
“David, you must let me have half your crop of wheat,
So tell me which is my share, and you may keep the rest.”
“Why, take the roots!” said David, and so he came off best.

And sure enough the Devil came by as he was planting spuds.
Surely thinking this time he’d do himself some good.
“I’ve a mind to try some tater pie” says he, being cute,
“And I’ll not be caught out twice, me lad, so this time you’ll take the roots.”

Says David, “Twice I’ve bested thee, and third time pays for all:
But there’s a job you’ll do for me, if you mun take my soul.
Fetch me water from Llanfair up here to Skyborry,
And for summat to carry it in, this owd sieve I’ll give to thee.”

Owd Joseph tried, and tried his best, but no water could he bring.
“Third time pays for all,” said David with a grin.
“Uncle Joe, I’ve bested thee: you’d best be on your way,
And if you call this way again you can bring some tater pie!”

In course of time old David died, and when they read his will
It said “When I die, fling my heart onto the owd dunghill.
A raven and dove will fight for it, and then by that you’ll know:
If the dove wins, I’m for heaven; if the raven, for Uncle Joe.”

“And when my corpse you come to take, dunna go by the door,
Nor yet by any window, nor by any path or road.
And when you come to bury me, you’d best be on your guard:
Be certain not to lay me in church, or in churchyard.”

So they took some slates from off the roof to lift him through the gap,
And carried him along the dykes, and not by any path.
They laid him with his head in church, his feet in the churchyard,
And there he lay until at last Llanfair church was restored.

This is based on another story from ‘An Idler On The Shropshire Borders’, by Ida Gandy, told to her by a Mr Powell from Treverward, about halfway between Clun and Llanfair Waterdine. I’m not sure yet whether to put a tune to it or leave it as a recitation – poem seems a bit too grandiose a name for it. 🙂

According to Wikipedia,  “Skyborry” is an anglicisation of the Welsh for barn – ysgubor”. Llanfair or Llanvair means St Mary’s Church, while Waterdine denotes a place by the water.

(c) David Harley