Sunday 27 May 2018

A modern folk ballad - A Shropshire Lad

This is sung by a favourite folk duo of the 1970s - John Kirkpatrick and Sue Harris; and Kirkpatrick accompanies on the Anglo-Concertina, an instrument of which he was the greatest master I have ever heard.

The poem was written by the then poet laureate John Betjeman (and the title references a very influential collection of poems by AE Houseman) - the music was written by Jim Parker.

The story is about Captain Webb - once famous as the first man to swim the English Channel; and the supposed return of his ghost to his birthplace - en route to Heaven.

The words and music are each excellent, and matched perfectly - and I particularly like the many local details, the names - very characteristic of Betjeman.

BTW if you don't already know Betjeman's work, you should; because it is full of delights. Most of it is verse, rather than poetry; quite a bit is humorous, satrical or nostalgic - but he was a real poet too, and this peeps through in some places and some poems - often quite suddently and suprisingly:

In A Bath Teashop by John Betjeman

"Let us not speak, for the love we bear one another
Let us hold hands and look."
She such a very ordinary little woman;
He such a thumping crook;
But both, for a moment, little lower than the angels
In the teashop's ingle-nook.


Of course, Betjeman himself was one of the greatest ever TV 'characters' - here is a taste from his blank verse autobiography, which I watched on its original broadcast. 

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