World War I commemoration and folk music


The video of this punk rock song is called Siouxsie & The Banshees ‘Poppy Day’ Live 1979.

By Nick Matthews in England:

In Flanders Fields finds a new voice

Monday 13th October 2014

Inspired by John McCrae’s World War I poem, a new folk rendition was a highlight of the Derby Folk Festival, writes NICK MATTHEWS

I had a fabulous time at the Derby Folk Festival earlier this month.

At one point it did not look like it would go ahead after a fire at the Assembly Rooms — however a large marquee in the market place saved the day.

Bill toppers included Steeleye Span, Show of Hands and Kate Rusby.

Lower down the bill however there were some real showstoppers including an outstanding performance from the wonderful Martin Simpson and a lovely laid-back slot from Americans Dana and Susan Robinson.

The most moving performance by a long way however was that of In Flanders Fields by vocal trio Barry Coope, Jim Boyes and Lester Simpson.

They have been stalwarts of the festival for a long time and are one of my personal favourites.

That is not just because they release their music on the co-operative No Masters Voice label.

Their vocal harmony singing is sublime and they combine a mastery of the genre with tremendous wit and biting social commentary.

The folk world generally has produced some of the best musical offerings to mark the centenary of the first world war and as you would expect from folk artists, has done so from the bottom up.

This music video is called The end of “Gentle Men”, written by Robb Johnson and performed with Roy Bailey at the Ropetackle, Shoreham-by-Sea 24.7.14.

Robb Johnson’s Gentle Men, his family history of the war to end all wars, is very good indeed and so is Show of Hands’ Centenary, a mixture of song and poetry from the period.

This 18 June 2014 music video is called Show of Hands – Centenary: In Conversation with Steve Knightley.

Coope, Boyes & Simpson’s is a very substantial piece of work. It is both moving and funny and marks a 20-year collaboration, not only with the history but the place of Flanders itself.

Piet Chielens, co-ordinator of the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres, argues that they have been at the forefront of the commemoration in the West Flemish Front region for 20 years.

Their body of work on the war can be seen as a “lieu de memoire.”

Indeed in Flanders, he says, no artistic initiative seems to have been more successfully involved with the theme than that of this trio.

In their show they bring together eyewitness accounts, contemporary poetry and songs specially commissioned for the town of Passchendaele’s peace concerts.

The album’s title, In Flanders Fields, takes its name from the poem written by John McCrae who was killed on the Western Front in the first world war.

Ironically the poem was used in army recruitment and its references to poppies made them an important part of later commemorations.

In the live shows the pieces between the songs are as well chosen as the songs themselves, including quips from contemporary music hall song, extracts from the Ypres Times — the satirical paper produced by the soldiers in the trenches — as well as poetry and letters home.

They give voice to the poor bloody infantry and their contempt for the sergeant majors and officers.

Never afraid to prick the bubble of the pompous they create a rounded image of the war that is deeply moving.

Visiting Belgium over two decades changed the life of Boyes in particular.

He now lives there after visiting regularly since the ’70s, before becoming involved in Peace Concerts Passchendaele, where he made many friends and later made Belgium his second home.

His involvement with the Flemish folk scene began when he released a solo album called Out The Blue.

It was the first thing he had done on the co-operative No Masters label which he had set up with John Tams.

Chielens, who wrote for the Flemish folk magazine Gandalf, had known of Boyes since his time in Swan Arcade.

He reviewed the album which contained a song, Down On The Dugout Floor, that he had written after a visit to play the Dranouter Folk Festival near Ypres.

When Chielens started the peace concerts, he invited Boyes to go over and play with some Flemish musicians.

Once there he was asked if there was anyone else that Boyes would like to involve.

He had just started working with Coope and Simpson and eventually they took part in five different peace concert productions in Belgium and England, performing on former battlefields like Hill 60, among the memorials at Tyne Cot and at the request of the town of Passchendaele for their 80th anniversary commemoration of the long and terrible 1917 battle.

Many of these performances are now contained on In Flanders Fields and there is also an impressive book to go with the two CDs.

At Derby they mocked the Guardian’s description of their work as post-modern folk. More like “post-mortem” they said. Sadly there is nothing post about this work — as we embark on another war, it is strikingly contemporary.

This work is beautiful, funny, passionate and angry and a terrific antidote to much of the jingoism that marks the centenary.

The artists argue that “the more we learn about war, the more important it becomes to sing about peace.”

Get to see them perform if you can and let’s hope that’s what everyone who hears them learns too.

Nick Matthews is chair of Co-operatives UK.

Joan Littlewood and British theatre


This video from Britain says about itself:

A recording of Joan Littlewood’s production of Brendan Behan’s play THE HOSTAGE at Theatre Royal Stratford East, Joan’s anti-established theatrical pomp and phoniness bringing to the world real, and radical theatre, and via Maggie Bury E15 Acting School.

Ewan MacColl was also a founder member of Theatre Workshop, whilst married to Joan Littlewood, he then married Jean Newlove the mother of Kirsty MacColl who was one of the kids of Theatre Workshop born the year of this recording.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

Joan Littlewood, doyen of working-class theatre

Saturday 4th October 2014

Peter Frost celebrates the centenary of the founding mother of working-class theatre in Britain

Joan Littlewood, who was born 100 years ago this weekend, changed the face of British theatre forever.

Her great loves — agitprop, political and community theatre, speaking out in working-class language — have passed into mainstream culture both on stage and screen.

Littlewood, who died in 2002 aged 87, devoted her whole life to community theatre.

Late in life she said: “I really do believe in the community, I really do believe in the genius in every person.”

The Theatre Royal at Stratford, east London, remains a lasting tribute to her.

This year her production of Oh What a Lovely War! has been celebrated and has refocused interest on her, but there is much more to salute and pay tribute to in this, her centenary year.

Joan Maud Littlewood was born in Stockwell, south London, to an unmarried mother who disapproved of books. However her grandmother, who did most of the childcare, was known as a fine teller of — often bawdy — jokes and stories.

As soon as she could read Littlewood herself adopted the dangerous hobby of reading library books by candlelight under the bedclothes out of mother’s sight.

Young Littlewood’s first contact with the world of the stage was an approach by one of Stan Laurel’s scouts. She played a few small comedy parts in local shows.

Her first brush with politics was aged 12 in the general strike. She questioned her grandfather on why the strike had been defeated after just 10 days.

“What do you want, a communist red revolution?” grandpa asked the young Littlewood.

She didn’t hesitate. “Yes” she answered. It would be her political credo for life.

She won a scholarship to a convent school, fortuitously just a short walk from the Old Vic.

Theatre visits rather than formal schooling set her course for life and she applied for and won the only London scholarship to the then rather posh and middle-class Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

Despite winning awards and acting with Bernard Shaw, the atmosphere at Rada and their views on what theatre should be about, didn’t suit Littlewood and after just a year she decided to head for the US. She started out by walking to Liverpool.

She got 130 miles on foot to Burton-on-Trent before collapsing. She begged or borrowed the fare to Manchester, to meet an ex-Rada teacher and communist Archie Harding, whose left-wing views had seen him exiled to Manchester by the BBC.

In Manchester she found, and loved, a culture of small, leftist agitprop groups dedicated to taking drama to working people.

In this new and exciting world she met fellow young communist Jimmie Miller. Later he would become folk singer Ewan MacColl. They married and together they founded the Theatre of Action in 1934.

Littlewood and MacColl subsidised their communist work by acting and reading for the BBC but all their energy went into what by 1936 had become Theatre Union.

Theatre Union productions were influenced by Brecht, Stanislavsky, Meyerhold and Expressionist movement pioneer Rudolf Laban.

The inspiration Littlewood herself returned to most often was the commedia dell’arte — travelling troupes of radical players in 16th-century Italy.

During the war Littlewood and MacColl’s work was often splendidly reviewed but always refused official funding.

The couple were blacklisted by the BBC and by forces entertainment group ENSA as subversives. MI5 kept detailed files on them both.

Despite this, at the end of the war, such was Littlewood’s artistic reputation the BBC asked for her help with features and drama.

Instead, in 1945, she and her company, now renamed Theatre Workshop, hired a lorry and took to the road.

Two teenage communists, Howard Goorney and Gerry Raffles, joined the tour.

Both would become lifelong parts of her company and life.

Goorney as a principal actor, Raffles the indispensable backstage organiser.

Raffles soon replaced MacColl in Littlewood’s affections despite being her junior by nine years. Their relationship would last more than 30 years.

Raffles hitchhiked and slept rough as he searched working-class communities for venues where the group could perform. Although audiences loved the shows, money and bookings were hard to find.

In 1953, Littlewood and Raffles found a disused and scruffy theatre to rent in east London. MacColl left to concentrate on folk singing and recording.

The Theatre Royal, Angel Lane, Stratford, smelled strongly of cat’s pee but the rent was just £20 a week. They moved in, got rid of that smell, and again changed the face of British theatre forever.

Outstanding performances included Harry H Corbett — later TV’s Harold Steptoe and the only communist to be linked romantically to Princess Margaret — in an award-winning Richard II.

The 1955 production of the Czech play Good Soldier Schweik transferred to the West End. Many other productions too moved from Stratford to successful West End runs.

Among them were Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey, Brendan Behan’s The Hostage, Lionel Bart’s Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be, Wolf Mankowitz’s Make Me An Offer and Stephen Lewis’s Sparrers Can’t Sing.

Many of these shows were uproarious working-class comedies but with a serious message. All were a reaction to the stultified, overwhelmingly middle-class West End theatre.

In 1956 Behan’s anti-capital punishment prison drama The Quare Fellow drew full houses.

Many what are now well known names started under Littlewood’s tutelage.

These included Yootha Joyce, Glynn Edwards, Richard Harris, Brian Murphy, Nigel Hawthorne and Barbara Windsor.

Not all impressed Littlewood. She told the young Michael Caine after only one production: “Piss off to Shaftesbury Avenue. You will only ever be a star.”

Some West End successes eventually gave her and Raffles enough money to purchase the theatre but for Littlewood the spark had dimmed.

Exhausted and deflated, she travelled alone to Nigeria to work on a film project that never happened.

Back in London she launched her plan for a Fun Palace — a Thames-side entertainment promenade, with music, lectures, plays and restaurants.

It was as if she had foreseen the O2 Dome, but it never happened for her.

She returned to Stratford in 1975 for her last, and perhaps best-known, success with Oh, What A Lovely War!, a work of genius in which a lifetime’s creativity and politics came together.

A revival of that show to celebrate the centenary of the start of World War I has put Littlewood back in the limelight. Centre-stage is exactly where she deserves to be a century after her birth.

Peter Frost blogs at frostysramblings.wordpress.com,

On October 4 and 5 one of Joan Littlewood’s most exciting visions will come to life when over 120 Fun Palaces will pop up across Britain and globally.

They will celebrate the theatre director, her centenary and her vision. This is a campaign for culture in which everyone can join.

It gives rebirth to Littlewood’s dream of bringing arts, welcoming and free, to the heart of working-class communities.

Find your local event at www.funpalaces.co.uk.

World War I poets on stage


This theatre video from England is called Pat Barker‘s Regeneration adapted by Nicholas Wright.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

Anthem for souls in conflict

Thursday 18th September 2014

Peter Frost recommends Regeneration, a dark vision of the psychological horrors endured by soldiers in WWI

Regeneration, Royal and Derngate Theatre, Northampton

4/5

Novelist Pat Barker won a Booker prize for The Ghost Road, the third book in her Regeneration trilogy set in the first world war.

Now Nicholas Wright has adapted the novels for the stage and the result is thought-provoking and disturbing.

Virtually all the action takes place in the Craiglockhart war hospital in Scotland — a sombre asylum for officers with shell-shock — in 1917.

Soldier-poet Siegfried Sassoon (Tim Delap) has been sent there ostensibly because he is insane but in reality the War Office has put him away to discredit his anti-war poems and pronouncements.

Army psychiatrist Doctor William Rivers, beautifully played by Stephen Boxer, has the job of curing the shell-shocked officers, suffering from what is now understood to be post-traumatic stress disorder — or at least getting them fit enough to return to the trenches.

His sessions with Sassoon force him to consider the morality of what he is doing in the name of medicine. Some of the treatments employed are little short of torture.

We witness Sassoon and Wilfred Owen (Garmon Rhys) tussling over one of the latter’s poems — Anthem for Doomed Youth — before both men decide to return to the front.

Sassoon, Rivers and Owen are all drawn from history but the one individual who provides a more realistic view of the madness of war is the fictional character of grammar school boy Billy Prior (Jack Monaghan) from the “lower orders.”

A compelling look at the futility of war, the play is a reminder too that even in the horror of an asylum the officer class still get a round of golf in or take dinner at the Conservative club.

Sassoon, wounded by friendly fire, would live until the 1960s while Owen died exactly one week before the war ended.

His mother received the fateful telegram just as the church bells in her village started ringing out to celebrate victory.

A bitter irony, entirely in keeping with this commendable production.

Runs until September 20, box office: royalandderngate.co.uk, then tours nationwide.

Latino eco-festival in Colorado, USA


This video from the USA is called 1st Americas Latino Eco Festival 2013 ALEF.

By Sara Bernard in the USA:

Latino eco-festival hosts big stars, bigger ideas

9 Sep 2014 7:02 AM

Irene Vilar has always felt a strong pull towards social change. In fact, activism is in her blood: In 1954, the book publisher and award-winning author’s grandmother went to jail in the name of Puerto Rican independence. Sixty years later, Vilar wants to tackle the biggest social change campaign on the planet: the one that’s trying to save it.

In 2007, Vilar founded the nonprofit Americas for Conservation + the Arts, a Latin America-focused arts and education network, and last year, she launched Americas Latino Eco Festival, the U.S.’s first-ever Latino-themed enviro fest. The second ALEF kicks off this week, from September 11-16 in Boulder, Colo.

Vilar’s event is nothing if not ambitious. Dubbed a “Latino South by Southwest,” ALEF is “a high-end festival of ideas,” she says, complete with Grammy Award-winning musicians, Broadway actors, documentary filmmakers, Newbery Award-winning illustrators, educators, visual artists, chefs, and activists. But she’s also brought in high-profile environmental leaders of all stripes to talk about everything from fossil fuels to GMOs, environmental justice to water scarcity.

The event’s co-sponsors include the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign and Boulder-based The Dairy Center for the Arts. Speakers include Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva, actors and environmentalists Edward James Olmos and Ed Begley Jr., Mexican-American climate scientist Patricia Romero Lankao (one of the recipients of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize alongside Al Gore), and environmental justice scholar Dorceta Taylor (whom Grist interviewed a few months back). In addition to all the film screenings and art exhibits and discussion panels, there’s an entire art-and-workshop-filled K-12 education component, too — which could have been, Vilar says, “a whole festival in itself” — focused on how climate change affects bird migration.

Gathering the resources for such a monumental showcase is no simple task (Vilar’s team is still a few thousand in the red from last year’s fest, and as of a few weeks ago, was still looking for the last bit of funding for this one), but that has no bearing on its tenacity — or its success. They’ve raised double what they raised last year and have attracted a slew of green- and Latino-minded sponsors, including Whole Foods, Patagonia, Telemundo, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

For Vilar, money is not what’s at stake: It’s our planet, ourselves, and the importance of actively engaging all communities, particularly communities of color, in the conversation about climate change. “I cannot afford to start small,” she says. “It needs to be fast. Super fast. We’ve got to create a precedent, and then see what happens.”

We caught up with Vilar to talk about how the festival got started, why Latinos in particular are concerned about the environment, how talking about climate change can be an umbrella for talking about social change, and why it’s more crucial than ever to include everyone in these discussions. Here’s an edited and condensed version of what she had to say:

On why book publishing is still important — but not enough:

For the last 20 years, I’ve edited a book series that publishes minority writers of the Americas. We publish literature in translation. Less than 1 percent of people in the United States read literature in translation. [*Editor's note: That's tough to quantify, but it's true that less than 1 percent of all fiction and poetry published in the U.S. is in translation.] As a publisher, you’re impacting culture in a very slow way. A book takes about 10 years to penetrate culture. What needs to be done now is raising awareness through bringing people together, creating noise, and gathering once a year to create a platform and raise our voices.

On diversity in the environmental movement:

Being in Colorado, and being in Boulder, one of the greenest cities in America, I wanted to get involved more with the environmental movement. Everywhere you go there’s an organization or a flier. I would go to meetings and show up sometimes, but I felt really disconnected.

There are these campaigns of misinformation that make people believe they’re not qualified to participate. You have this incredible disproportion between the actual multicultural fabric of the country and all these institutions: higher education, conservation organizations, politics, Hollywood. The country has been brown for a long time, but these institutions do not represent the brown face of the country. When that happens, my children grow up feeling like they do not belong.

We all talk about diversity, but diversity and inclusion are two different things.  We have to reach across borders. We have to reconnect with our cultures of origin. Natural resources have no national borders. Our entire future depends on the extent to which we engage communities of color. If we don’t do that, there’s no future.

On Latinos as huge environmentalists:

Over 90 percent of Latinos believe in [human-caused] climate change; that’s compared to about 50 percent of Americans in general.

When I was doing research for the festival, my first impression was to buy the story we are sold — that there is no Latino leader in the environmental movement. What I discovered is that the supply is there. I realized that it’s not about educating our communities, but the white communities! It’s more about educating them and validating us. There are a few issues; one of them is that the environmental movement is looking for PhDs. Our community is underserved. Many of my friends have grandfathers and fathers and mothers that have not even high school degrees, but we’re great conservation leaders.

By 2050, 30 percent of this country will be Hispanic. In Colorado, 52 percent of the high schoolers will be Hispanic. And in the last two years, amazing things have been happening. Things are moving very fast. Green LatinosNRDC, the League of Conservation Voters (it has wonderful Spanish language outreach), HECHO, the Hispanic Access FoundationVoces VerdesLatino Outdoors: We’re bringing them all to the festival.

On why Latinos are huge environmentalists:

Because we are living it in our skin, because we suffer from it. Latin Americans and African Americans are disproportionately affected by pollution, especially clean air. They suffer more than whites from asthma. They live in the most polluted cities. The big bulk of these communities, especially Latin Americans, are working outdoors, in agriculture. They’re exposed to sun, to climate change, to pesticides and chemicals.

And we come from societies that have a huge respect for science. In Latin America, science is huge. We look up to science. We want our children to be scientists.

Latin Americans also come from a very ecological tradition. Indigenous elements survive in our cultures, in our crafts, in our extended families. We have a legacy of recycle, reuse, upcycle because we cannot afford to dispose of anything or anyone.

On social justice and climate change:

Racism, social justice, human rights: climate change is something that unites all these platforms.  The reality of climate change made me sensitive to the fact that this gathering has to be framed around the environment. It’s the issue of the moment — and of the future. It’s also a wonderful platform to talk about these other issues.

When we talk about social justice, we need to be framing it in ways that don’t create fear, create walls. We’re all mothers, no matter what. Immigrant or no immigrant, we want our children to breathe good air, eat real food, and have access to clean water. We can talk about social justice, immigration, and all these issues that are very important, but the environmental platform will kind of dilute the defenses.

On the fact that people do care:

Last year was wonderful. We were able to rely on human capital, which proved to me that the product that we were launching — the multicultural Latino eco-festival — was filling a huge void. We saw a lot of excitement from people.

And the most inspiring thing is to really have an experience of what social capital is. The festival happened in its first year and is happening now only because of the power of people, of social capital. You have to stick by that because the element of disbelief can be so big in enterprises of this nature. As a mother of two Latina girls, I ask myself, how is the world going to be for them when they’re my age? Sometimes I feel hopeless. But I’ve discovered that there is hope.

Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner poem on stage


This video from Britain says about itself:

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner ~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge ~ Full Version

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (originally The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere) is the longest major poem by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, written in 1797–98 and published in 1798 in the first edition of Lyrical Ballads.

By Indianna Purcell in England:

Memorable rebranding of Coleridge

Saturday 13th September 2014

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
South Bank Centre, London SE1

5/5

IT WOULD seem that there’s nothing too ambitious for Britain’s darkest warbling cult trio The Tiger Lillies. And thank goodness for that as their latest project — premiered in France over two years ago — is one of their most spellbinding shows in recent times.

Having embarked on projects such as transforming WWI poetry into songs or a macabre classic German children’s book into an even more sinister musical, The Tiger Lillies now take on Samuel Coleridge’s epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Along with Mark Holthusen’s stunning visual effects, they transform it into a unique, haunting and effortlessly graceful stage production.

Coleridge’s eerie crime-and-punishment classic recounts the tale of a mariner who narrates his nightmare sea voyage where, having shot an albatross, he’s forced to wear it round his neck in penance by his fellow sailors, who ultimately all perish.

In bringing that morbid tale to life, lead singer and accordionist extraordinaire Jacques grimaces through his usual glass-breaking vocal range, with many of the 20 seductive songs sounding sombre in comparison to the Lillies’ usual circus-style cabaret tracks.

In contrast with many of their shows where the group perform on a stage with minimal visual effects, relying more on their own startling stage presence, this time they perform behind a screen of animated handmade puppets. It’s a puppet theatre which they memorably transform into a work of nightmarish art.

Poem about World War I, by Attila the Stockbroker


This video is called Attila the Stockbroker – A Centenary War Poem For My Father Bill Baine, 1899 – 1968.

By poet Attila the Stockbroker from Britain:

Cheers for proud Hull, punking about in Brussels and a poem

Saturday 13th September 2014

On the road with Attila the Stockbroker

LAST weekend I was on at the Freedom Festival in Hull, and what a wonderfully organised and vibrant event it was.

Set in the old streets of the historic port area and featuring loads of diverse bands, poets, dancers — you name it — all washed down with a fine selection of local beers and food from all over the world.

Hull is Britain’s City of Culture for 2017 and has had a vibrant scene for years. It also hosts my favourite venue the Adelphi, basically a hollowed-out terraced house next to a bomb site. It’s been presided over for 30 years by the indefatigable and inspirational Paul “Jacko” Jackson and spawned loads of household names in the independent music scene from the Housemartins to Pulp to Death by Milkfloat, to name but a few.

What d’you mean, you haven’t heard of Death by Milkfloat? Legends, comrades, legends.

Best T shirt of that weekend: “Welcome to Hull, European City of Culture 2017. We’re not shit any more.” You never were, Hull, you’re great.

This music video from Belgium is the song Nuit blanche, by the band Contingent.

I’ve just been playing bass in Brussels with Contingent, the punk band I joined there in 1979. They still gig occasionally — and incendiarally — and we’re supporting Sham 69 at a celebration of the 20th anniversary of Magasin 4, the alternative venue set up by our late, great guitarist Eric Lemaitre. Belgian beer awaits in vats – and then I’m off with my wife for a week’s holiday in Marseille.

I wanted to use this poem in my column at the actual anniversary of the start of world War I, but so much was going on gig-wise then that I decided to hold it back for the relatively relaxed few weeks between the end of the festival season and the start of my autumn touring, where it could have pride of place.

It is a true and unusual story — and a poem from the heart.

A Centenary War Poem

For my father, Bill Baine

“What passing-bells for those who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.”
And so some lines to spike centenary prattle:
These words a sole survivor soldier’s son’s.

My father Bill, born in Victorian England:
The sixth of January, 1899.
His stock, loyal London. Proletarian doff-cap.
Aged seventeen, he went to join the line.

Not in a war to end all wars forever
Just in a ghastly slaughter at the Somme
A pointless feud, a royal family squabble
Fought by their proxy poor with gun and bomb.

My father saved. Pyrexia, unknown origin.
Front line battalion: he lay sick in bed.
His comrades formed their line, then came the whistle
And then the news that every one was dead.

In later life a polished comic poet
No words to us expressed that awful fear
Although we knew such things were not forgotten.
He dreamed Sassoon: he wrote Belloc and Lear.

When I was ten he died, but I remember,
Although just once, he’d hinted at the truth.
He put down Henry King and Jabberwocky
And read me Owen’s “Anthem For Doomed Youth”.

“What passing-bells for those who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.”
And so some lines to spike Gove’s mindless prattle:

These words a sole survivor soldier’s son’s.