"...long ago in 1945." The last words of Muriel Spark's acute, wicked novel The Girls of Slender Means, published in 1963, eighteen years after the period in which the book is set. It is as though Spark knew this book would be read long after it was written (18 years ago is, of course, just yesterday for those of us approaching 60).
Jazz – what do I know? I occasionally watch Oscar Peterson on You Tube. I have seen and heard the astonishing Dorian Ford play the entire Keith Jarrett Koln Concerto. I recognise ‘Take Five’. I might just be able to tell the difference between Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. I know that Louis Armstrong was one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century. Sting has had Brandon Marsalis in his band - I think. Sometimes Van Morrison sounds a bit jazzy; sometimes Steely Dan. You see? Anyone who knows jazz will be shivering with despair at the sheer vulgarity.
Tonight I caught a proper jazz gig. It was at the Hampstead Lounge & Jazz Club in New End, and the outfit playing was the Will Arnold-Forster Trio. That means Will on guitar, Matt Horne on drums, and Conor Chaplin on double bass. Will bends over his guitar like Glenn Gould over a keyboard, making it clear that hands and fingers are simply the tools of whatever it is that makes music in the head, or brings it from the heart. Chaplin treats his instrument as though it is a monster in need of taming. Horne appears to have limbs each under individual control. They are tight, very tight, but, of course, this being jazz, they are also wonderfully loose. In the second set a saxophonist whose name escaped me joins, and suddenly it is a quartet, and boy that boy can blow.
I don’t recognise any of the tunes they play, and I’ve no real idea of how they decide to play the notes and chords they do, but it all seems to work. It is smooth but surprising. What is going to happen next? Perhaps they know. Perhaps they don’t. Perhaps that’s half the fun.
The audience is interesting. Several earnest, intelligent-looking young men seem to have walked in from the 1950s. They all look like Lucky Jim. They clap politely – knowingly – at the end of each little solo, There are girlfriends and parents – the WAF Trio is young. I envy them. They are going to be playing this music all their lives. Is there a better occupation? No.
I saw my son’s band last week. They too are tight, good musicians. But the contrast couldn’t be greater. They play rock music. The experience is essentially theatrical. They put out. The jazz players pull in. The experience is essentially musical. I am given to sweeping generalisations. They are the only kind of generalisations worth making.
I’m sure there will be bigger venues, larger audiences, equally attentive, but this was just right for me – I felt a kind of privilege at being able to witness such skill and dedication, such enjoyably hard work, at such close quarters, like being privy to a conversation between unusually intelligent people.
Rock on, or whatever the equivalent is in jazzish.
To Tate Modern this evening. Absolutely rammed with people drinking. Didn't feel right at all. So is it a pub now? On to the Red Star Over Russia show. No art to be found there, either. Plenty of propaganda posters. Felt distinctly uncomfortable. Someone has been hoarding all this. I daresay a show of Nazi propaganda prints is not far off: it is really not very different. Grim. And if you are going to show this stuff, find a museum that does history. Insofar as there is 'art', it is mostly of that communist kitsch kind with which owners like to deck out second rate restaurants.
...and another thing. The little brochure you are given as you go in to the exhibition tells us that "The German invasion of 1941 drew the USSR into the Second World War''. I'm sorry - what? On 17 September, 1939 the USSR invaded Poland. On 30 November the communists started trying to invade Finland. This was followed by Soviet annexations of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and parts of Romania. Pretty warlike if you ask me. All part of a pact the USSR had with Nazi Germany. The Tate giving us alternative facts.
23 January The Bridge Theatre Nicholas Hytner, Director Ben Whishaw (Brutus), David Morrissey (Mark Antony) Michelle Fairley (Cassius), David Calder (JC) Shakespeare Club outing to JC at the new Bridge Theatre.
RM; "It wasn't for me" RP: "I thought that was marvellous" RW: "They were afraid of the intimacy" NM: "You can't carve with guns" Well, it starts brutally with a band playing Seven Nation Army rather (perhaps not inappropriately) badly but loudly (gig-loud). This is for the benefit of the 'mob' (£15 promenade tickets) which gets frequently shifted about through the course of the evening as different parts of the stage rise and descend, and bodies or military equipment are moved in and out. The production is more or less in the round, in, you will have gathered, modern costume. The assassins have guns rather than knives (which are really not as 'intimate' as knives, and nor can they be said to 'carve'). The late war scenes are pretty well done: loud and unpleasant, with actors dashing around with guns (very Johnny 7) - but it does look nastily like a battlefield. On the whole, I am for togas. The audience is usually clever enough to make its own comparisons, draw its own conclusions. We really don't need Trump jammed down our gullets. I thought the thing stuttered along until the assassination, at which point the pace picked up, specifically with David Morrissey's very good Lend Me Your Ears. That sold me. Ben Whishaw is a very good actor (FR however could not drive Paddington Bear from her mind), but he perhaps lacks that stolid, almost dim gravitas that I think Brutus needs ("It was all a bit Chekov" RW remarked of his and Cassius' bivouac argument/make-up scene). Michelle Fairley (Cassius) I thought was not quite sure whether she should be pretending to be a man or not. What can be said is that I heard almost every word of this play, which is incredibly rare. Whether this is to the credit of the performers or the superdooper uptodate acoustics of the Bridge, I don't know. A bit of both, I daresay.
JC is a tricky play: one is never quite sure who it is about, and, prefiguring Psycho, the person you thought it was about gets killed in the middle. Nonetheless, I expect that with time (it hasn't actually opened yet) this production will find a rhythm that will give it both the intimacy and the cohesion it somewhat lacked this evening. I think if we average out the marks it comes in at perhaps 6/10. I'd give it a B+ myself and expect it to rise to an A- . What began questionably ended enjoyably. Finally, a word for Leaphia Darko as Portia, who spoke her small part beautifully. I look forward to seeing more of her.
"She just knows humanity, one of the rarest things in the world" - Walter de la Mare on Charlotte Mew. One could say the same of Penelope Fitzgerald, in whose book 'Charlotte Mew and Her Friends', this is to be found. One the best biographies I have read: wise, kind, and sharp.
This picture is reproduced unsatisfactorily in black and white in Penelope Fitzgerald's brilliant 'Charlotte Mew and Her Friends'. Bramley was one of the artists of 'the Newlyn school'. Mew visited Newlyn, in Cornwall, in the 1890s. and set a story there called 'The China Bowl' (see them on the table? - as Fitzgerald observes "they seem to suggest a story of their own").
I heard Gary Oldman, who plays Churchill in Darkest Hour, talking about the twinkle in the great man's eye, his energy. Here's an excerpt from my biography of my father, Kicking the Bar (available through all good booksellers, cough, cough), which describes the way in which Churchill could, as it were, become 'Churchill'. despite black dog, age or sickness.
November before [Orson Welles'] Sketchbook, Dad had
been the producer in Downing Street for a special programme celebrating Winston
Churchill’s 80th birthday.Donald Baverstock, another inspiring Welshman in Talks, who was
producing a news programme called Highlight
and who would go on to become Editor of Tonight
and eventually Controller of BBC1, suggested that the programme take the form
of a party. Grace Wyndham Goldie, the overall producer, agreed. The great and
the good from around the world would make toasts to the great man.The hope was that Churchill would respond.No-one knew whether he would or not. Dad,
Lord Ismay and Wyndham Goldie planned for three endings to the programme. Years
later my father told his own version of the Churchill story to Frank Gillard.
had to be there of course watching in Downing Street [but] there wasn’t a
television set there in those days… Grace asked me to go down there. Anyway, I
went down there, and presently his family turned up…but no sign of the great man. And then, just
before the programme was due to begin, he came in with his wife. I’d been told
that he looked old, but I had simply not been prepared for the sight of this
pterodactyl coming very, very slowly into the room.I mean, he looked about eight thousand years
old… and his skin was like yellow leather.He shuffled to his chair, sat in the wrong one I need hardly say;anyway, there it was; and paid no attention
to his children, all of whom said ‘Hello’, and paid no attention to them at
all. Still less to me - he didn’t see me.
The News was on, and there was a camera,
looking at him.He looked at the News
and in a very, very broken, switched-off, childish voice, he said, ‘Is this the
And in a reverential bellow - because it
was clear to me that you had to speak very loudly to get at the old thing at
all – in a reverential bellow I said, ’No. This is the News.The Programme,’I said,‘will follow in a minute, and Lord Ismay will be there in Shepherd’s
Bush talking to you.’He said ‘Ismay is
in Paris.’ And I said, ‘No, Ismay has come over especially for the programme,
and he will be talking to you in a minute or two.’Then I said,‘You’ll be here watching the programme, and when at the end they… wish
you God speed and best wishes… if you want to respond in any way, all you have
to do is look into this camera over here, and you can speak directly to them,
and I will give you a signal for doing that if you like.’To which he paid no attention, none.So I was very apprehensive.I went round the back of the chair to Clemmie
[Lady Churchill] and said, ‘Do you think he’ll say anything?’And she said, ‘It’s very difficult to
say.He’s very tired.’
…I rang Grace up in the studio and said I
had no idea what was going to happen. He looked like an old tortoise – and it
wasn’t at all clear to me that he would speak.
Cut to Grace
Wyndham Goldie at Lime Grove:
impossible to believe that he knew in the least what was happening. But when
Lady Violet Bonham-Carter, at the end of her message, said “Courage, that is
your greatest gift to those who know you”, I watched, unbelieving, on my
gallery monitor the ancient head move slowly from side to side in a gesture of
negation and tears rolling slowly down the leathery cheeks.Only we in the gallery saw this incredibly
moving spectacle.And we were filled
also with professional relief.He was
registering something after all.[i]
Back to Dad:
programme took place, and he betrayed no emotion of any kind, of pleasure or
displeasure – except that whenever Clemmie was mentioned he looked slightly in
her direction, but whether to say ‘How nice’, or alternatively ‘Why should that
be said?’, it was impossible to draw any conclusion.
The programme came to an end, and I heard
Ismay give his final speech, so I was alert and I was just preparing to signal
Churchill towards the camera, Ismay having said ‘So best wishes for the future,
dear Winston,’ or words to that effect, when I looked towards the great
man.He was sitting up in his chair and
his eyes were fixed on me, and it was exactly as if I’d come round a little bend
in a Pembrokeshire hedgerow in 1934 in one of those little Austins, and run
into a gigantic red lorry.It was like
running into searchlights head on.In
some curious way he appeared to have switched on.I nervously signaled him towards the camera,
and he then moved his entire chair so that he was facing it, and instantly
spoke in this enormous diapason, ‘I have been delighted’ and so on, ‘This
remarkable ….’ And a great sonorous sentence came out, Gibbonesque, very, very
good, very much to the point, extremely rounded, very masculine, very virile,
very Churchillian.So he came to the end
of his peroration and looked away from the camera to me, glared at me and said
Then I heard the trumpets blowing, so I
knew we were off old Churchill.I rushed
up to him, and so did his family, and everybody said, ‘You were wonderful,’
‘You were marvelous,’ all that sort of thing, but he paid no attention, he’d
switched off again.He said to his
wife,‘I hadn’t had time to prepare,’
and she said, ‘You were very good, Winston.’He said, ‘But I hadn’t had time.’He shuffled to the door, and then he did look round for a moment at his
family – not at me, he never paid any attention to me from beginning to end –
and he switched on for a minute. ‘I’m going to have a bath,’ he said, and
pushed off. It was a memorable programme, beautifully done by Grace.