Sunday, May 2, 2010
Jack and Percy
Yes, those of you who saw my previous post about the notices will probably have guessed that it was Jack in the Green who arrived yesterday, May Day, to mark the season with Morris dancing and other celebrations. There’s a photograph of Jack below, walking through Winchombe on his way to morning coffee. He appeared together with a group who make it their business around these parts to mark the stages of the year, an enterprise I admire greatly. This weekend of celebrations had an additional and unexpected pleasure, which provided a surprising link with another English building. During the afternoon of 1 May, Gwilym Davies gave a fascinating talk about some of the area’s traditional songs. The talk centred on the colourful figure of the Australian composer Percy Grainger, who was famous not only for writing his own music and for arranging (or ‘dishing up’, as he put it) the music of others in new, fresh forms, but also for travelling around collecting folk songs, which he might then ‘dish up’ in their turn. Grainger both wrote these songs down and recorded them on his wax-cylinder phonograph, still new technology in the early 1900s. Some of these songs would be quite lost today if Grainger (or colleagues such as Ralph Vaughan Williams) had not captured them on paper or wax.
In 1907, Grainger came to Gloucestershire and stayed at Stanway House, then the home of Lady Elcho, who threw interesting and rather arty house parties where one might come across the likes of J M Barrie or John Singer Sargent. Grainger travelled a few miles down the road to Winchcombe, where he visited the town’s workhouse and recorded several of the inmates singing their favourite songs. It was fascinating to hear some of Grainger’s recordings, crackly and indistinct but moving nonetheless, and to imagine him and his friends at Stanway, this golden house of the 16th and 17th centuries with its Cotswold stone gables and giant five-sided bay window. At Stanway there is also a terrific gatehouse of the 1630s, visible to the right of the photograph. And a medieval barn. And a cricket pavilion built for J M Barrie. And a water garden with the world's tallest gravity-fed fountain. I like to think of Percy Grainger performing one of his favourite tricks, hurling a tennis ball into the air over a house, and running round the back to catch it. But the tall gables of Stanway House would probably have defeated him.
Jack in the Green, Winchcombe