Fine Horseman is a song from Anne Briggs’ 1971 album The Time Has Come. It was originally a composition by Lal Waterson, which she didn’t record herself until later, adding extra verses in the process. I think Anne Briggs’s interpretation is definitive – it’s such a sparse, ambiguous and otherworldly recording, full of half-light and the scent of peat and old bracken.
The refurbished Tate Britain reopened this week, including the Rex Whistler restaurant, the walls of which are lined with Rex Whistler’s painting The Pursuit of Rare Meats.
Here’s a brochure, dating from some point mid-century, which explains the painting. The story was a collaboration with the novelist Edith Olivier.
An expedition leaves the ducal palace of Epicurania, which includes the Crown Prince Etienne and Princess Claudia, led by the son of an impoverised Polish nobleman on a bicycle (a character depicted as Rex Whistler). They travel through a typically Whistler-ish Arcadian landscape, where his dark humour is often at work: “Meanwhile, a disaster occurs upstream where, due to his excitement at seeing a balloon overhead, a small boy falls into the river and is drowned”.
The Pursuit of Rare Meats ends with the news that, “A sad result of the expedition was the death of the dowager duchess, who took too keen an interest for her age in sampling the rare meats collected”.
Images from London’s Geffrye Museum. Above: a painting from 1942 captures part of the audience at one of many wartime music recitals held in The National Gallery.
Above, a 1930s sitting room – one of the museum’s many displays, and below, factory workers in wartime.
There’s a term ‘dreampop’ which I think came from America. It’s where sound dislocates, swirls, soars or flows, river-like, waking those spaces that escape the everyday to become something more. Most books about pop culture reckon the most creative music comes from a need to escape, not from a location, but a nullifying mindset.
Dubstar emerged in the mid-1990s. A band with an indie sensibility in the tradition of The Smiths, they were also ripe for a full-blown popstar future. Halifax-born singer Sarah Blackwood, and her Edie Sedgwick look, delivered deadpan kitchen-sink lyrics like Jarvis Cocker’s younger sister. But Dubstar were never part of Britpop, though signed to the same label as Blur.
Despite the obvious pressure to be upbeat and chart-friendly, their single releases are scattered with extra tracks that are something else altogether. They’re works of lightly-handled introspection our more enlightened times would prize.
There’s nothing brittle or ironic about these melancholy, side-lined songs, astute as the most incisive film-maker in capturing awkwardness and regret (In My Defense, I Lost a Friend, Song No. 9…).
Neither were Dubstar purely dreampop: driven by a dirty-realism, their sweeter, transcendent moments belied real teeth.
The track here is what Dubstar call an ‘acoustic version’ of their biggest single from 1996, Stars, (buried in one of the multi-format CDs that used to follow every band’s releases back then). It’s anything but, scored with strings into one of those pieces of music that step outside any particular time. I’ve put it with the original video with the luminous help of a rabbit.
I remember watching them perform this once on breakfast TV, as I got ready for work, when the presenter pulled a face and said something like ‘That wasn’t very happy was it?’. Subversive stuff for Stepford worlds.
Dubstar have apparently been making their fourth album for a good while and played live this year for the first time as a band since they shut up shop in 2000. There’s a review here, and more about Dubstar here and here.
One of Agnes Miller Parker’s wood engravings for a 1930s edition of The Return of the Native. And then, from the same decade, a short film by Herman G. Weinberg called Autumn Fire.
There’s a man in the city, a woman in the country – both gazing mournfully at their landscape: autumn leaves, splashes of gleaming rainwater, city skylines, billowing clouds, and even a squirrel. If time is short, skip to eight minutes in for the general atmosphere. Whoever posted this on YouTube has used Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun for the soundtrack, which is perfect.
Anybody who also thinks the above quote is quite inspired might enjoy this collection of films about changing London.
Because Britain also produced Michael Gove and the Daily Mail, I am in no mood to celebrate. Instead, today we are going to Paris. There are scooters, trees in bloom and, for a moment, you might escape.
Sometimes you look up and wonder what the dog is thinking.
Perhaps it was the lamp cables, or the glow from the fire, but I saw a wistful, unassuming little character, waiting in the wings of the theatre… perhaps the props man, a star without a stage waiting his turn…
‘That Weimaraner’s always goin’ to steal my light…’