Monday, 13 April 2015

FAIRPORT CONVENTION, UNHALFBRICKING (The album cover)

The picture on the Fairport Convention album cover UNHALFBRICKING (1969)

The album cover to Fairport Convention’s second 1969 album UNHALFBRICKING shows a rather traditional, apparently timeless English scene. A middle aged couple, conservatively dressed, are standing before an English scene consisting of trees, lawn and a fine example of  a church  depicting  traditional English church architecture. A sense of  calm and continuity is created. The year of the album, 1969 was the year Harold Wilson,at the Labour Party Conference in Scarborough, made his, “White Heat,” speech about the vital importance of technology and science for the future prosperity and development of Britain, . Bob Dylan and friends had recorded  the Basement Tapes by 1967. Germaine Greer, published The Female Eunuch the year after in 1970. Charles Manson and his, “family,” committed terrible murders in California in 1969. The Vietnam War had been raging since 1955. Jenny Lee, the Minister of State for Education under Harold Wilson enabled the Open University to be created opening up degree level study and the consequent work, social and economic opportunities to a strata of society that had never considered a University education before. The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was promoting transcendental meditation. Sexual liberation was being practised. Social and personal experimentation were the driving forces of the time.


Mr and Mrs Andrews by Thomas Gainsborough  (1750)

The photograph on the front of the album has many Rennaissance influences. There are strong directional lines created within the picture leading the eye to various points. In the foreground the fence and wall take the eye from the upper left  of the picture, gently sloping away to a focal point low on the right of the picture. The, “half brick,” divide, created by the brick wall and the latticed fence on top of it, create a  barrier between the foreground and the background.  The tree just behind the wall, slightly off centre, compartmentalises the scene. It appears to separate the church from the rest of the picture. The spire of St Mary’s church in the background points heavenwards. The grid pattern, Renaissance artists experimented with grids and perspective lines to create and structure their paintings, produces the effect of showing us individual portraits of the band member. The central focal point of the picture is the slightly open gate between the foreground and the background. Is the gate opening or closing? The portrait of Edna and Neil Denny, Sandy Denny’s parents has a little of Thomas Gainsborough’s painting of Mr and Mrs Andrews about it. Gainsborough showed a wealthy landowning couple standing to one side of the painting showing off their estate in the same way as Edna and Neil reveal their garden to the observer.Even the arm and hand gestures are similar. Neil Denny, crooks his elbows as does Mr Andrews and Edna Denny's hands hold each other in a demure pose just as Mrs Andrews hands hold each other in her lap.

The same scene as the front cover fourty six years later.
(The address is 9B Arthur Road Wimbledon.)

This combination of using an art vocabulary from the past in a modern setting links with the music on the album. Reviewers have written that Unhalfbricking is an album which  links the past with the present in folk music. It is a combination of old folk music and its traditions with new ideas of rock music creating a new genre, folk rock. On different tracks Sandy Denny sings with the traditional folk singers tone and the group harmonise in a traditional folk manner. On other tracks she has a clear unaffected singing style more in common with a rock singer. This is most evident in the only track that is a traditional folk song on the entire album, “A sailors Life.” During the track, rock elements are introduced, two worlds come together.  Many of the tracks on the album are by Bob Dylan from his renowned, “Basement Tapes,” which were recorded up to 1967, such as Si Tu Dois Parter, which interestingly the members of Fairport Convention translated into French. Dylan’s original title was “If You Gotta Go Go now. “Whether this was an oblique support by the members of Fairport Convention for Britain joining the European Common Market which it did do in 1973, I am not sure. There is also, Percy’s Song, by Dylan, and on the recent publication of the album  two extra tracks, both either written or influenced by Dylan, Dear Landlord and Ballad of Easy Rider. The opening track, Genesis Hall, was written by Richard Thompson as was a Southern United States style song, Cajun Woman. Sandy Denny introduces her well known song, Who Knows Where The Time Goes, and also a song called, Autopsy. In many ways it is an experimental album trying out new ideas and using different influences. Listening to it you can understand where Fairport Convention were leading.

In 1969 feminism and sexual liberation were two of the great social forces of the time. Germaine Greer published The Female Eunuch in 1970. The pill was available. Having sex was prevalent outside marriage and women were being encouraged to not only have fun and enjoy sex but to take the lead too. Abortion was an option and there were shows of public nudity. This did not only happen at music festivals. I remember a news headline in a local paper with an companying picture of a naked woman streaking across Kingston Bridge. Women were going to university and getting an education. Men were encouraged to become, what was termed as, equal partners, house husbands, and take an equal share in looking after the children. I have changed my fair share of nappies!!!!!. Equality was being explored. The world seemed to be changing fast. The picture on the front cover of Unhalfbricking makes a powerful commentary about feminism and sexual liberation. Sandy Denny’s parents, Edna and Neil Denny at the front of the picture portray the past and conservatism with a small c. It is almost the same portrayal of the couple Thomas Gainsborough achieved in Mr and Mrs Andrews in 1748.  This is a view of relationships from the past. The wall, the half brick barrier behind Edna and Neil, separates them from their daughter Sandy and the members of Fairport Convention. The band all wear long hair, men and women both. They wear clothing influenced by India and the United States, jeans and caftans. Sandy Denny,is a female member of a group that is all male apart from herself. At the time of the picture she is travelling the country, playing at gigs with these men. She is living the liberated life.  I mentioned before, I wondered if the gate is being closed or is it being opened. It is open at the moment. Does this mean there is still a link between her parents ideals and beliefs and the new social revolution that is going on?

Sandy Denny died after falling down stairs and hitting her head.She was only 31 years old. Here is her grave in Putney Vale Cemetery, South London.

The church, St Mary’s Wimbledon, in the top right of the picture, isolated from the rest of the picture by the strong lines of the tree, is evocative of the established religion, the established order. To illustrate how little unchanging the world had been up to this point  we can consider the history of St Marys. The church is first recorded in 1086. There are remnants from each subsequent period within the fabric of the church. Some medieval oak beams have been found in the structure. The Georgians developed it further and then in the 1860’s Gilbert Scott was commissioned to redesign it and expand its size to take a further four hundred seats and he also  built the 196 foot spire. Within its structure are parts of all the historical periods of church architecture. Scott clad the outside of the church completely in flint so it looked like one complete entity. The population grew but basic beliefs  and attitudes about the world and society remained similar. However by 1969 Britain was actually becoming more and more multicultural. People such as the members of Fairport Convention were experimenting with new ideas of religion and culture. They were not sticking with the old beliefs caricatured by the church in the picture. They were looking at the world with new eyes which are reflected in the lyrics of their songs. The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was not only bringing transcendental meditation to the Beatles but many other young people of the time were trying out these new ideas of philosophy, spirituality and self-discovery. This idea of spirituality, self discovery and mind expansion, replacing the old ways of the established church, included drug taking. Sandy Denny was to be affected greatly by this. Drugs and alcohol probably contributed to the terrible accident which brought about her untimely death at the age of 31. In a way the church in this picture is a symbol of tradition and the past and is as strong a symbol of  what was changing and passing away as the pose made by Sandy Denny’s parents.

 The picture, with the members of the group in the distance, surrounded and almost swallowed up by their surroundings appear out of place and time. They don’t want to be there. It is not their world. Were Fairport Convention part of the old order in folk or were they the new? Dylan was castigated by the traditionalists for turning to the electric guitar rather than continuing with an acoustic sound.

In contrast to this picture,of  middle class timeless  England there was another opposite image in the Wimbledon of the time. The Vietnam War had been raging for the previous fourteen years and still had another six years to go. On a brick wall beside the railway line, as the train entered Wimbledon Station from the South, there was daubed the slogan, “America will be defeated by the Viet Cong.” How the graffiti artist knew that, many years before the end of the war, is difficult to discern. It was obviously a new way of looking at the war.

The title of the album, the second album they released in 1969, is apparently the result of a game the band often played while returning from concerts. Sandy Denny invented the word during a game called, Ghosts, a word creation game. The rules stated that you had to form non-existent words. The use of the prefix un  as with the word, unknowable, or unlikely and all the other words beginning with un, it creates the opposite meaning to the root word. Perhaps Sandy Denny in her use of the prefix, un, knew something about removing barriers such as the “halfbrick,” barrier in her parents garden. Perhaps the gate is being opened and not being closed. Perhaps the gate to the old style of folk music is still being left open and not being closed in this album.

Just after the recording of the album, Martin Lamble , the groups drummer,  died, at the age of nineteen. The band was travelling from a gig in a van, which crashed on the M1. Eric Hayes was the photographer who took the picture. Joe Boyd, the American record producer who produced Fairport Convention at the time, later said that the photograph for the cover was taken in early spring just before the crash. 



Friday, 3 April 2015

JUST GOING FOR A RUN


Taken on a run along the Cornish coast at Holywell Bay

The words, “Just going for a run,” are the words I invariably say when I leave the house to indulge in my form of fitness exercise, which is running of course. I usually turn left out of my front door and along West Barnes Lane, through Crossway and then onto Grand Drive. My runs tend to vary from that point. I take different routes.  I am never sure what form the run will take. It is a little like stream of consciousness writing, a Jackson Pollock painting or Miles Davis improvising with his trumpet on a theme.  I have certain tools, feet, legs and a pair of lungs and of course I run on pavements but with those prerequisites anything can happen. The streets are my pallet.   When I was young, early twenties, I took the George Best viewpoint. Drink and fitness can go together for a few years at that age. I have never smoked, so that has never been a problem, but as far as drinking alcohol goes, I think regular running has made me moderate my drinking of beer and wine as I have got older.  Running enables me to feel that I do not want to drink alcohol or not much. I still have a great night out with a group of mates once in a while. Marilyn and I get mellow together drinking a bottle of wine on occasion too.

Approaching running from an improvisational point of view, I have found that over the years I have been to locations and seen places I would never have seen if I didn't get out and run. I have run through alleyways between houses, run along paths and bye ways via allotments, parks and on occasion, between the gravestones of cemeteries. At the pace I run I have time to take in my surroundings and enjoy them.

Running is a great way to explore your environment, whether in your local area or on holiday. Many years ago, Marilyn and I were staying in a YMCA quite near the UN building in New York. While I am on holiday I try to keep up my regular running regime. One morning I decided to tackle the paths and byeways of Central Park. My good ness the park was full of cyclists, skateboarders and rollerbladers. It was like being in the worst traffic hour ever but with everything moving fast. I survived.That was an experience. I have run along the cliffs north of Newquay in Cornwall and experienced the most amazing sea and coastal views in bright sunshine. It is awe inspiring seeing wild gorse and heathers along the cliff tops and circling gulls and diving cormorants over the sea. The fresh smell of the sea air and the clean cool breeze are wonderful.  Before kids Marilyn and I went camping in a two man tent, yes very cosy, in a quiet valley beneath the peaks of the Skafells. This was thirty years ago. I imagined I could run to the top of one of the fells that abutted our campsite. I started off early one morning. My legs began to feel heavy half way but there was no way I was going to stop. I forced myself on and upwards. I got to a point where will power didn’t come into it anymore. I had been going up this very steep incline for twenty minutes or more, and this is the only time this has ever happened to me, my legs stopped moving. I could not consciously make them move any more. I stopped. I had to sit while the sensation in my legs came back. I was determined to get to the top and I did. That was scary because my legs had actually stopped of their own accord even though I wanted them to continue. I tried the same run every day for a week. By the end of the week I could do it with a degree of comfort.

 I have a passion for local history.  I mostly run where I live. My favourite routes take me through South Wimbledon , through the John Innes conservation area. There are some famous places in South Wimbledon. Merton is connected with Admiral Lord Nelson who lived at Merton Hall. William Morris’s works, where his wallpapers were printed and his furniture was made by local craftsmen, was situated at Merton Abbey Mills. The only remaining parts of the medieval Merton Priory, the chapter house, is under Merantun Way . Merantun Way itself marks the Roman road, Staine Street which lead from the Roman London Bridge to Chichester Harbour on the south coast near Portsmouth. I especially love running on Wimbledon Common though. There are parts of the common, bits of woodland, up there that have never been developed by human touch, ever. The common is managed but in a way to continue its health, growth and continuance. There are two golf courses within its bounds, The Royal Wimbledon and London Scottish both begun in Victorian times. Parts of it have been used by the military over the centuries too. Charles II’s Tangier regiment was formed and trained on the common before going out to Tangiers in 1662. The Royal Flying Core had an airfield on the common before the RAF was formed. It was a military shooting rifle range in Victorian times and was used to train rifle regiments in the First World War. Highwaymen and duelists took advantage of the remoteness of the common during the 18th century. It is however the silver birch woods and the wild grasses and the wild birds that proliferate on the common that I love to look at and experience as I run. Running on the common puts me in touch with nature. As an aside, for you lovers of all things connected with Ancient Egypt, the Putney cemetery on the west side of the common contains a very important grave. Howard Carter, who discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 is buried there I see blue and green plaques on buildings and have time to stop and read them. Robert Graves lived as a child near the Ridgeway in Wimbledon Village. A V Roe, the aircraft pioneer, worked in a shed at the back of his brother’s house at the bottom of the hill leading to Wandsworth High Street. The Putney debates of 1647, held after the English Civil War about religion and government, took place in St Mary the Virgin church next to the Putney side of the bridge going over the Thames. Buildings, gardens, trees, people and all manner of life is observable as I run. Running from your front door around the locality where you live is a great way to interact with and  learn about and enjoy where you live.

A selfie taken in Edinburgh running around Arthur's Seat.

On the down side, I have been sworn at from passing cars, been made fun of, had eggs thrown at me from the top of the multi storey car park in New Malden, tripped over and gashed my knees and elbows and even once, because I was distracted by a car without its headlights on in the dark, run into a lamppost and concussed myself. But the bad things are very rare and represent a negligible fraction of one percent of the running time have clocked up over the years.

There is an industry built up around running and sport in general. Who can blame the magazines, shops, gyms, clubs and TV programmes from trying to encourage people to take up sport and what seems to be highly important, buy their product? There is a benefit for the consumer if they are serious about the sport. It is running magazines that I have a particular issue with. I am sure my thoughts and concerns can be extrapolated to other magazine titles attached to other sports and events too. These magazines have nice glossy pictures of fit young men and women looking attractive. Many pages are used to advertise running shoes, clothes, computerised running devices to track speed, distance and heart rate, energy drinks and food.  The magazines are however, unnecessary. They are a shop window for various businesses and manufacturers to make money. Maybe it is controversial to say this but all the myriad of energy food products created and marketed for runners and participants of sports are not needed. The different running shoes made by different manufacturers are really unnecessary too. Most running shoes on the market are of a reasonably high standard. The only difference between them is their logo. The prices are all much the same. The articles in these magazines are of limited use too. How to get fit for a marathon. What shoes to wear? How to run. Keeping a running diary; and various other obvious themes.  The articles are worded in different ways and are given different angles to grab the interest. Different people write them or ghost write them so they always sound new and fresh. I have discovered that if you buy a monthly series of any one of these magazines over a year, they all end up saying the same sort of thing. You can actually learn the same stuff by just getting out there and running. But what you must realise about these magazines and what should stop you buying them is that year after year the same things are repeated.  You can only say so much about running. Everybody is an individual and we all have different body types. There is no information a magazine will provide that will really apply to you. There are the obvious things like staying hydrated and eating energy foods like pasta, but we all know that stuff anyway. You really do have to get out there and find what is good for you yourself.

My reasons now for running are not to get fit, or lose weight or necessarily run for charity these days, and although I think these things are worthy things my reasoning for running is about feeling good and exploring and enjoying my environment. I already have a high level of fitness so I am not aiming to achieve a particular level of fitness any more. I have discovered that being fit helps me think and provides me with the energy to do a multitude of things with enthusiasm and effort. I feel so much more active in every way being fit.  The feeling and sensation of running is one of the things that I like. There are those moments, when I have attained a comfortable rhythm in stride, arms swinging and breathing that creates almost a feeling of euphoria. That particular feeling doesn’t happen often but when it does I feel as though I could run forever. It is almost a floating sensation. I think I actually attain a level of karma. Mostly, however, running is a comfortable experience. I tend to run on the front of my foot. I have never adhered to the heal toe principle. I have consciously tried using the heel toe combination but it is an unnatural technique I think. I get a better pace, more spring in my step, a more natural flowing movement and a cushioned feeling from running on the front part of each foot. I have never suffered, ankle or tendon problems so I must have found a way of doing it right. The other feeling I get derives from the fitness I have achieved. It is good to feel fit. There is no doubt about that. I am 62 years old and I feel fit and well. My lungs work well. My weight is right for my height. I eat when I need to, generally what may be termed a balanced diet.  I probably drink too much coffee and tea, especially coffee. Coffee gives me a buzz. A drug, I know.

The way technology is going, one day we will be able to design our own running shoes based on the evidence collected on a personal application that monitors our running experiences. Imagine connecting your phone to a 3D printer and the printer making a bespoke pair of shoes for you? It will happen. Take my word for it.

I combine recycling with running too. Marilyn bought me a pair of baggy tracksuit trousers from a car boot sale for 50p. (I am NOT into tight fitting lycra you might be pleased to know.) I also wear inexpensive £2 tee shirts from my local supermarket.
Running is wonderful. It is good for you!!!!!