Monday 26 November 2018

The Train (Jill's Theme)

The Train (Jill's Theme)

A lyric response to Ennio Morricone's melody...

If we are to embrace cinema as an art, well, that means that we must wrestle with westerns...

My own view is that a critique of western movies starts with the western as a 'version of pastoral...'  But that is by the by...

My generation watched SO many westerns, as we grew up.  I have seen so many westerns and I have seen some westerns so many times that often I can recognise the horses.

Of course we were intrigued as we watched the Italian film maker Sergio Leone wrestle with the western.  We can leave, for elsewhere, comment on the 'spaghetti western', the critics' readiness to sneer and the simple cineaste's willingness to marvel.

We immediately knew, in 1968, that Sergio Leone's Once Upon A time in the West was an outsider's meditation on the western.  We spotted the citations.

And we still remember that moment when that crane shot introduced Jill's Theme.

And we realised that we were also exploring the power of melody...

So, some 50 years of meditation later, I have put my lyric for Ennio Morricone's melody on my Soundcloud, and I have put a version of my vision on Youtube...



Before I start work on a lyric for a pre-existing melody I need to do a lot of thinking - thinking and, let us call it, research.

I need to be convinced that I can bring something to this, that there is something for me to do and say.

Even if the work is a song translation - like my version of Papa Joachim Paris - I still need to be convinced that the new entity in the English language is good, that we have brought something worthwhile into the world.

So...  Let us call it research...

I remember asking Heather Farrell-Roberts, our autoharp star, some time ago, if Morricone, Jill's Theme, might be autoharp friendly.

The chords are simple, but the range is great.

There is some musicology, giving the chords, I-IV-V-I here...

Ennio Morricone’s Score for Once Upon a Time in the West (Part 1 of 3): Jill’s Theme (Main Theme) by Mark Richards
In the movie Jill's Theme is one of the leitmotifs.  Unusually for film music, Morricone's music for THIS movie was written before the film was made...

So, the melody is used in the movie in a rather scrappy way - the leitmotif floats in and out.

When we were working on my lyric for the melody Stephanie Hladowski and I had to find a song structure.

It has become a bravura piece for sopranos in posh frocks...

Patricia Janeckova - Once Upon A Time In The West (Miss Reneta 2012)

Don't you feel sorry for all the other pretty ladies in posh frocks - who have to stand around looking interested?

Steffi Vertriest

This version is really worth looking at - simple piano and voice.  The structure is odd.  But there is a structure.
(The Chords are in Chordify...)

Susanna Rigacci - Once Upon a Time in The West Ennio Morricone 2002 Arena Concert 1

André Vásáry - male


The melody is so attractive - there have been attempts to write words to the melody...
Two examples on same Youtube video
Mireille Mathieu and Dulce Pontes ...

Once Upon A Time In The West
Mireille Mathieu Starts at 1.44
Dulce Pontes starts at 6.05

Text Mireille Mathieu at

In French

Text Dulce Pontes at

Andrea Bocelli Your Love (Once Upon a Time in The West)

Standard love songs that do not engage with the narrative of the movie, and the melody as it appears in the movie.

But they do show how a text might be structured.

My words engage with the film's narrative.  It is a response to what we hear, and what we see on screen. 

It is very existentialist.

Of course.

I did ask Danny Yates for some electric guitar at the beginning of our recording, to reference that distinctive Morricone guitar sound from A Fistful Of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More...

I have emailed Ennio Morricone's office saying:  'It might interest the Maestro that the emotion I hear when I listen to the melody is, above all else, compassion...'

Patrick O'Sullivan
November 2018

Monday 19 November 2018

Decorate the Day - Wedding Oratorio

There are a number of versions of Decorate the Day, my Wedding Oratorio.

Some versions live only in our memories...

This is a link to my Soundcloud, which I use mostly for Works in Progress, to share with chums...

This is the direct link to Decorate the Day, the Clayton version, on Soundcloud...

The Singers are Patrick O'Sullivan and Stephanie Hladowski

Piano Danny Yates
Guitar Danny Yates
Mandolin Gene Dunford
Autoharp Patrick O'Sullivan

And here, on my blog, Fiddler's Dog, are some notes...

People who want to retain the mystery of the creative processes should read no further...

My elder son has long watched my attempts to play a musical instrument with amused detachment.  And has long said that he would like me to perform at his wedding.

I could never make out if this was a dare, a challenge, or a tease...


My autoharps and my mountain dulcimer to hand...

As the day of the wedding loomed...

I wrote a song - almost a Wedding Oratorio, 6 minutes long.

And I did perform at his wedding.

Video grab photo, above....

Autoharper, me, on left. Chorus of wedding guests. My elder son and his lovely bride, extreme right.

The wedding was in September 2018, a glamping wedding, with a festival vibe - oh yes.  In rural Norfolk.

Loving families were involved.

In our case...

My younger son made the wedding rings - moving on from the simple joys of silver to the seductive lures of gold.

My wife had grown the flowers.  Not an easy thing to do, to turn a part of the garden into a wildflower meadow - and persuade those wild flowers to bloom in September.

John Clare writes of The Fear of Flowers - 'The nodding oxeye bends before the wind...'  And the nodding oxeye did bend before the wind.

And Dolly Parton sings, 'Wildflowers don't care where they grow...'  Not true, Dolly - they are fussy.

My wife made the bouquets and other floral wonderments for the wedding.

So, I watched my younger son and my wife, and determined that I had to do something - effort not like or equal, but something.

I had to write the song...

For the glamping wedding, with the festival vibe...

And already I was thinking about the LOOK of the flowers, on the wedding day...

When it comes to songs I am very clear about roles.

I am the lyricist.  I write words.  I don't write the music, I don't perform the song, I don't play the music.  I leave these things to other, good people.

However, as I tried to plan the wedding song, none of the usual suspects stepped up to the plate...

So, there had to be made...

Decorate the Day, Wedding Oratorio
Words AND music by Patrick O'Sullivan
With a little help from Shakespeare, Beethoven, and John Hughes' Cwm Rhondda

I had no clear idea what resources I would have - in rural Norfolk - to actually present and perform the song.

I called, for help, on Danny Yates, ever patient and skilled...

and, of course, on our muse, Euterpe, the muse of music and lyric poetry, the bringer of delight...
I have to say, I had my doubts.  I asked, Is this wise, Euterpe?  I mean, Euterpe, six minutes?

Danny Yates and I made what I call a 'spine recording' - which gave a structure, simple piano, with me singing. In effect, the sort of thing that a good backing band might do, if you had a good backing band.

The song was always designed to be very pianistic - we have piano-players in the family.  Words, chords and music were sent to possible piano players.

In the event there was a decent sound system at the venue, into which I could stick my usb.  There was electricity.  The electric autoharp is great for faking it.

Two piano players stepped up - Joseph Attenborough and Michael Benaim - and were magnificent.  We played, and sang along to the spine recording.

The song has four main parts...

'We need not count the miracles...'
A philosophical, meditative prelude.  Lyrical, flowing, pianistic - a long line.  The lines are fourteeners, iambic heptameters - which are not often used in English verse, and have had a bad press.  I wanted a long lyrical line.  

'And here on the day of the marriage...'
A jolly folk song, changes the mood...

This poetic conceit ignores all my wife's hard work, the months of worry and hard work...

And imagines that we have wandered the fields just before the wedding, and we have gathered the wild flowers, to make our chaplets and buttonholes and bouquets...

It is about the look of the day.

'Ox-eye daisy, black eyed Susan...'
The Flower Chant
And what flowers have we gathered?  Everything.

I had been making notes about my wife's plants plans, and she had given me a list of the flowers that she would be taking to the wedding.

But the list was not long enough for the Flower Chant gag to work. 

The point of the gag is that the list just has to be preposterous.  See point 5, below...

There is a hint of Beethoven, but that is because Schiller and I use the same rhythm for a lyric...

'Freude, schöner Götterfunken,'

'Ox-eye daisy, Black eyed Susan'

The Shakespeare gag, half way through the flower chant, was just too good to leave out.  Midsummer Night's Dream, Oberon speaks.  The quote takes us from Cupid to 'Fetch me that flower...'  So, it summarises our song.

A more considered version of the song might put in a bit more business here.  For the song and the singers obey Oberon's instructions.  They fetch that flower.  The flower that maidens call 'Love in Idleness' is also called Viola Tricolor and Heart's Ease.

And the Flower Chant begins anew...

'Viola Tricolor, (Heart’s ease), Wood spurge...'

A final football chant, to Cwm Rhondda/Bread of Heaven

Selected wedding guests had been primed, and were ready to join in.

But, in fact, all the wedding guests got the idea, without trouble.

The moment caught in the photograph, above, is the final chant...

Wild Flowers

Some background...

I was a minor poet of the late twentieth century.

Why only a minor poet? you ask.

There were many reasons - but the most significant for our discussion here today is the fact that I can never remember the names of flowers.

Actually, it is worse than that.  I find it difficult to be at all interested in flowers.

I watch the bumble bees.

We have in the autoharp community a song, Wildwood Flower - which everyone can play, but no one can remember the words.  Why? - because it is a half-remembered 1860s lyric full of the names of flowers.

The connection between flowers and poetry is one of those underlying structures that shape knowledge and create traps for the unwary.

It is a special problem for us peasant poets.  I have written elsewhere about my fellow peasants - for example, Patrick MacGill and Robert Story - and I have studied, for example, Patrick Kavanagh and John Clare.

Generally the market for poetry is not amongst peasants.  So, the peasant poet and his muse must produce stuff that will appeal to the un-peasant audience.  (This is just one example of the ways in which markets shape the arts.)

A little while ago I was at a conference in University College, Dublin - where I did what I always do when travelling...  I popped into the library.

There was an interesting - and moving - Patrick Kavanagh exhibition in the special collections section...

And, on display, was one special poem by Patrick Kavanagh, which partly addresses that peasant poet problem, On Reading a Book on Common Wild Flowers...

'...I knew them all by eyesight long before I knew their names
We were in love before we were introduced...'

And Kavanagh's very own copy of that book was there, Common Wild Flowers, by Dr John Hutchinson - it is a little blue Pelican book.

There is a note in one of Kavanagh's manuscripts which more directly addresses the peasant poet's predicament...  '... to progress into print he does not write out of his rural innocence— he writes out of Palgrave's Golden Treasury.'

Now, Palgrave's Golden Treasury is a major influence on my own thinking about verse techniques - and would have had even greater influence, if I could only remember the names of flowers...

On Palgrave see...

Spevack, M. (2012). The Golden Treasury: 150 Years On. EBLJ. Retrieved from

Sullivan, M. J. (2016). Tennyson and The Golden Treasury. Essays in Criticism, 66(4), 431–443. Retrieved from

The flower names in my Decorate the Day are based on a book I found in a local charity shop for £4...

Maurice Burton, Field Guide to British Wild Flowers, 1982.  Whose flower names list is based on English Names of Wild Flowers, Botanical Society of the British Isles

Now known as
Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland

The melodies are by me - except, thank John Hughes for the final football chant, Cwm Rhondda...

I use just the chorus, of course.  We had to have something that everyone already knew, even if they did not know that they already knew it...

A more considered version of Decorate the Day might give the song - as one friend has put it - 'room to breathe...'  In particular, the Clayton Version transitions are very abrupt.  But we had to try and control the length.  I mean, Euterpe, six minutes...?

Patrick O'Sullivan
November 2018

Friday 9 November 2018

I am a footnote in Tolkien Studies...

Surely something that is on everyone's bucket list...?

And at last I can it say it...

I am a footnote in Tolkien Studies...

Stuart Lee's article about the 1968 BBC tv Leslie Megahey film is now visible on the Project Muse web site.

And downloadable - for those with access.

Patrick O'Sullivan (me) appears first on page 121, on a number of pages thereafter, and in the footnotes.

The article also cites my notes on this blog, Fiddler's Dog.  (Search for the Tolkien items, below.)

I have sent an email to the BBC History email group, updating them about the publication of the article.

It is an amazing relief to see Stuart Lee's article now out there, and I thank him for it.

It is an example of the sort of thing that a lot of us find ourselves doing, at a certain time of life - and there is, undoubtedly, an element of frustration in all this.  That is, instead of getting on with the new work, that fills our brains, we are having to give time and energy to the rescue of old projects, and somehow finding ways to place them in the research record.  The final rescue of a 1968 project in 2018 is perhaps an extreme example, but it is a good example.  There was luck here - in a few more years we would not have been able to call on the networks and the influences that helped Stuart Lee to put his research in place.

It is done.  

Yes, I am busy, yes, the next rescue...  Yes.

Patrick O'Sullivan
November 2018