christopher james

Poems and prattle

Month: October, 2016

Harvesting gold: Boo Hewerdine and Dan Whitehouse at Cambridge Junction 2 (25/10/16)

To Cambridge’s Junction 2 for a spellbinding evening with Boo Hewerdine and musical accomplice, West Midlander, Dan Whitehouse. Dan opened proceedings with a pared back set of emotive love songs, carried home on a succession of glistening electric guitar lines played on his battered Telecaster, (which, he tells us ‘was rescued from a pub loo in Camden’). Imagine a Brummie Jeff Buckley and you’re nearly there, with a warmth and grit in his vocal which transcended his flat Birmingham vowels. As modest as he is accomplished, there was a strong strand of Americana combined with an attractive English understatement. His songs demanded attention and his stage craft was superb.

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Dan stayed on stage to add musical weight and heft to the songs of long-time troubadour, Boo Hewerdine. In something of a homecoming gig (The Bible played their early gigs at the Junction, next door), he was on assured form, leading off with comeback single Born, a litany of events from the year of his birth. This was swiftly followed by The Man That I Am, (already sounding like a classic) about the controversial child migration programmes to former Empire outposts. Village Bell rang out on Boo’s sky blue guitar filling the beautifully lit auditorium.

There were numerous highlights, not least a clutch of new songs, performed solo. Cinderella is a smoky, complex jaunt in the old style complete with Boo’s impersonation of an orchestra at the halfway point. Its cross-dressing theme (it’s from forthcoming musical Fancy Pants, written with Chris Difford) only added to the intrigue. Possibly his finest moment came in ‘Old Songs,’ an authentically ancient sounding tune (it could have been written in the 1930s) about the power of song in stirring lost memories. If Boo hasn’t shared this with those working with dementia, he probably should. With strange lost chords, unusual and affecting subject matter it’s another fine example of Boo’s quest for the perfect song.

Boo’s deadpan delivery (‘My record company is planning to turn me into a star – I’ve had plenty of practice’) is undoubtedly part of the attraction, but it’s the songs that constantly amaze. Sweet Honey in the Rock, originally from his State of the Union project is beefed up into a glorious stomp, augmented by a natty country solo from Dan. Their metronomic timing created a seemingly hypnotic effect on performers and audience alike. More recent songs, like Harvest Gypsies, sound every bit as strong as perennials like The Patience of Angels and Honey Be Good, the great lost classic from eighties. Boo’s voice was particularly strong this evening, nowhere more so than on an ambitious take on the Bee Gee’s ‘I Started a Joke,’ which soared to majestic heights.  

While light on tunes from his Brooks Williams collaborations (no Hellzapoppin!) Boo has songs to spare and is adept at varying his set to provide enough interest for long-time fans, as well as to keep himself engaged.

As with many Boo gigs, there is the spectre of a parallel universe where the Bible became as big as U2, and Boo became a superstar. As things stand, there were not many who would have traded the opportunity to listen to such fine songs in such an intimate setting. It was life affirming, inspiring stuff from two uniquely blessed musicians dedicated to their song craft, respectful of their musical forebears and still digging for musical gold.

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Fragment of lost play by William Shakespeare discovered in Tuscany

Four hundred years on from Shakespeare’s death, the discovery of a fragment of a new play, The Jeweller of Florence, is dividing academic opinion. Could there really be an undiscovered work in the Bard’s canon?

There are two plays generally accepted to be written, at least in part, by William Shakespeare, which are now considered ‘lost.’ The first, ironically, is titled, Love’s Labour’s Won and is mentioned on a contemporaneous 16th century bookseller’s list. It is also referred to by the late 16th century writer Francis Meres, although no text is extent. This has led some scholars to believe that it was merely an alternative title for All’s Well That Ends Well or Much Ado About Nothing.

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Then there is the intriguing prospect of Cardenio, said to be a late collaboration between Shakespeare and Fletcher, also referenced in documents from Shakespeare’s time. Its source, it is said, is Cervantes’ Don Quixote , which fits Shakespeare’s pattern of drawing on existing sources as the starting point for his own works. Over a hundred years on from Shakespeare’s death, a play emerged called Double Falsehood  produced by one Lewis Theobald in 1727. He admitted that he adapted it from no less than three manuscripts of an unnamed play by Shakespeare. Critical consensus is that Double Falsehood does indeed contain authentic work by Shakespeare.

This leads to the most recent discovery, in February 2016 of a single page of a play in a private collection of papers in Lama, a remote hamlet in Tuscany. ‘The fragment is a tantalizing prospect,’ says Shakespearean expert, Professor Anna Greening, ‘made even more so by the name of Ferdinando I de’Medici inscribed in the margin, leading some to believe he was the patron of the work.

‘It is thought to be written around the same time as The Merchant of Venice, 1596, possibly earlier. A draft of the inscription, also included in the papers reads: The most excellent history of The Jeweller of Florence being the true account of the marriage between Alessandra, daughter of the Duke of Florence and Flavio, master jeweller. With the obtaining of a necklace of pearls for the wife of the Duke and the comic interludes of Filippo the clown who appears in divers jocular scenes.’ 

It was discovered in a cache of papers by a family who had recently purchased a property in the area. ‘The theory runs as follows,’ says Professor Greening. ‘Ferdinando I de’Medici, son of the infamous Cosimo I of Florence, was a cardinal and eventually the Grand Duke of Tuscany. He was a ruthless and perhaps a cruel man even by the standards of the day. But at heart, he was an artist. This manifested itself in his collecting. He was a man of enormous curiosity and boundless appetites. He created an unrivalled collection of sculpture, bestowed patronage on poets and composers and commissioned mosaics, notably the intricate pietre dure created from precious stones.

‘Above all, he was obsessed by the idea of artistic genius. As a man of the court, naturally his principle entertainment was theatre. The re-enactments of battles on the Arne are legend. But he was a man of the world and his interests extended far beyond the shores of the Mediterranean. He dreamed of establishing civilizations in the new world, creating great cities in Brazil. We believe he had heard of this man William Shakespeare and had his plays translated and enacted for him. He was fascinated by the playwright’s mind; how he could conjure a man from the air and make him as real as you or I. But it was not enough simply to hear his plays; the same words that had been heard by countless others. The Medici was a family of limitless wealth and power. Nothing was impossible for them and once set on a course they could not be easily swayed. Through his brokers he sent word to England that he would commission this playwright at whatever cost. He wanted a play that would be no less dazzling in its ambitions than any other Shakespeare’s great works. For this he would pay handsomely. But there was one condition, it must be his and his alone.

‘A fee was negotiated, it is believed through Richard Burbage, the actor and one of Shakespeare’s closest associates. No one has recorded the sum, but it must have been stupendous. In 1596, he was writing four plays simultaneously. How could he write another?

‘Legend has it,’ continues Professor Greening, ‘that he wrote it in a furious burst over three days. At the end of it he drank a bottle of Spanish wine and then slept for a day and a night. A single copy was printed in conditions of the greatest secrecy.’

If the theory seems fanciful, then the fragment itself is convincing enough, even if, perhaps it does not contain some of Shakespeare’s greatest poetry.

DUKE

What music, sir, is this?

 

ANTONIO 

Tis wedding music, my lord. They practice as larks at dawn.

 

DUKE

What happy pair will join in such delight?

Hannibal’s elephants would not trumpet

With such joy as this. The trunks of England’s

Trees would shake at such a cacophony.

This fanfare of angels, this well wrought sound

of heaven, has seeped through our vault of sky

and filled the twin cathedrals of our ears.

Fetch me those who engendered this row

I shall bless their matrimony, their solemn vow.   

 

                                                                (They go)

 

SILVIO

What foul weather has blighted our fair conceit!

The servant’s flapping tongue forewarns the duke

Of a marriage. But yet he has not wind

That these nuptials are his own daughter’s,

And that she is betrothed to the only son

Of his foresworn enemy. What dark skies

would come from this unseen tempest;  

such squalls and that would wreck his heart.

 

MARCELLO

Soft, fair brother, he hath not the reason

Nor temperament to suspect; his season

Is always spring; serenity blossoms

In him as bitterness dwells in the spleen

Of the cynic; by the time he smells the rose

The altar will be clear, the candles snuffed.

 

SILVIO

Now where goes Flavio? These hours ‘til our

Brother’s union will I fear be fraught;

But for a stoup of wine to numb our nerves.    

 

While the possibility of a hoax remains, the pages are currently being forensically examined and dated with the results expected in January 2017. Then there is the question of the remainder of the play. Is it still waiting somewhere on a Tuscan hillside to be discovered?

There is a compelling piece of evidence that corroborates the story. In 1597 Shakespeare suddenly found the money to buy New Place, the grandest house in all of Stratford. How could a simple actor find such wealth?

The discovery has already inspired a work of fiction: Sherlock Holmes and The Jeweller of Florence, by Christopher James, which puts the famous detective on the trail of the lost play.

Anyone for tennis?

A brand new song for all you lovers of barley water and white flannel trousers! Anyone for Tennis? 

tennis