Saturday 17 December 2022

Autoharp Advent Calendar: Stephen Foster, Comrades, fill no Glass for me

Comrades, fill no Glass for me - Stephen Foster

This is my contribution for Day 16 of the UK Autoharps Advent Calendar 2022...



Jan Brodie asked me if I had a second song for the Advent Calendar - I said that I was working on a song that might fit...

But...  That first song was a Stephen Foster drinking song,

When the Bowl goes round, Stephen Foster and George Cooper

Video link

...and this second song is a Stephen Foster temperance song.

Comrades, fill no Glass for me - Stephen Foster

Video link

Compare and contrast...

But Jan thinks that nothing is more Chrismassy than temperance and good intentions...



A second song from Stephen Foster.  A second song from the University of Pittsburgh and the Library of Congress online archives.

The sheet music says, proudly, Poetry and Music by Stephen Foster.

Pittsburgh Stephen Foster Collection

Has 3 copies.  Here is one...

Comrades, fill no glass for me

Library of Congress

Comrades, fill no glass for me

Music for a nation: American sheet music, 1820-1860

A web search will find that the sheet music has spread widely - and a number of people have had a go at singing the song....



The lyric does show Foster's workmanlike skill, three 8 line verses each building to the couplet, which is sung twice, for emphasis...

Still, boon companions may ye be,

But, comrades, fill no glass for me.

With little variants on the later repeats.  There is the oddity that Verse 1 has 'boon companions may ye be',

But Verse 2 and Verse 3 have 'boon companions ye may be'.  Can we find a subtle reason for this?

You can sometimes hear performers puzzling over that difference.  And Copy & Paste web sites do not care.

There is a lot going on in the lyric - back and forth rumination.  Certainly a love of whisky, mixed feelings about the boon companions, and that, oft repeated, desired conclusion.

Basic lyric skills on show - like, when we plan rhyme schemes, if we are going to rhyme on an unusual word get that word in place early, so that the later, more expected, rhyme cements it in place.

'Liquid flame', meaning whisky, is a good example.  Foster knows then that he has the standard rhymes available.  He could explore the drinker's shame, the boon companions' blame.  And, of course, we do explore them.

For the actual rhyme Foster chooses 'blighted fame...'

See also Verse 3, 'aspirations undefiled' leads to the rhyme with 'child'...

And when we hear 'fill no glass for me', do we not also hear 'blasphemy...'?

Part of the fun of making the little illustrated videos for YouTube is seeing if - without getting bogged down - we can visually mark such detail.



The melody is also workmanlike - but has enough Foster subtlety to make it worthwhile. 

The sheet music gives no time signature - I don't think that that is unusual?  There are little irregularities, which can confuse.  In this performance, we try to skate over.

And the second part of the melody has, for me, an unexpected twist - for line 6, in the key of G, we have gone with A7 and D7.

The real musicians will have more to say. 

We should say Thank You to the University of Pittsburgh and the Library of Congress for the online archives - this is the web working as it was meant to work.

Patrick O'Sullivan

December 2022

Saturday 10 December 2022

Christmas Guest: Carol for Drums and Choir, sung by Shannon Marie Harney

Christmas Guest:  Carol for Drums and Choir

Helleborus Niger - The Christmas Rose

Anyone active in music in England is aware of that extraordinary network of choirs, a subset of the ecosystems studied by Ruth Finnegan in her important book, The Hidden Musicians.

1.  I have just noticed that Ruth Finnegan now has her own web site, which can now be a starting point.

I am re-reading her sections on choirs... 

The possibility of my writing songs for choirs has been around, but has never quite come together - I am sad.  But I am aware that I would need to spend much more time understanding the repertoire and the ecosystems...

2.  As a case study...

A while back I was asked if I had a Christmas song for a choir.  And, why not?

Thinking about Christmas songs, recurring themes, and talking and listening to people, as they remember Christmas, and value Christmas, and worry about Christmas...

I developed an idea about that extra plate on the table, the last minute guest - a person with nowhere else to go, because of tragedy or disaster, personal, political.  On the receiving end of rough kindness.

I started with the line, 'He brings nothing to the feast...'

And began to structure a lyric.

3.  And then Lyric Madness took over.  I looked at my opening, and thought, Why am I adding words to add meaning?  Could I not add meaning by taking words away?

And that is what I did, hewing the opening quatrain, 'He brings nothing to the feast...' so that each of the four lines could be halved.

To make a new more compact four line verse. 

And then halved again.  And then halved again.

So that I had created four quatrains.  Each one clearly developed from the quatrain before, but each one with a different meaning.  And a different line length.

And the last one, the most compact, lists the things that the Christmas Guest did bring to the feast.


4.  So, four very different quatrains, with four different line lengths - difficult to set as one song.  Maybe it is really a sequence of four songs?  Four different songs, with four different moods.

How to impose unity?  Because there is unity, unity of thought and unity of narrative.

At this point we might just call in The Lone Arranger.  But those days are gone, or, at least, disrupted.

And I already had a vision, partly based on those conversations with choirs - see above.  It was a theatrical vision - what I wanted to see on the stage.

So, this became...

Christmas Guest:  Carol for Drums and Choir

I created the four melodies for the four songs, and, with the help of Danny Yates and Shannon Marie Harney, created an arrangement.

Some details we had to return to, when first thoughts did not work.  For example, to clarify the story, I created more theatre - including the Jovial Man (God, he is annoying!), and the white phone.  With that distinctive sound.

Every choir has its Jovial Man.  Or Woman.

The keyboard signals the ways in which the choir might 'vocalise' its interludes, and the drums impose drive, unity and structure.

There will be other ways of doing all this - for example, I did think of developing the four 'songs' further, by giving one song each to the four voices of the choir.

If someone lends us a choir...

But the result now is 'Christmas Guest' - perhaps the bleakest Christmas song ever written...

In some theologies of Christmas there is that sense of foreboding.  See also, Matthew 25:31-46, Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.



'Christmas Guest' on YouTube...


This is Christmas Guest on Spotify

It is worth listening on one of the better platforms - to hear the uncompressed audio...

When I shared these thoughts, above, with Shannon Marie Harney - she understood perfectly...


Patrick O'Sullivan

December 2022

Christmas Guest:  Carol for Drums and Choir

He brings nothing to the feast but fears and woes.

His hollow eyes say everything that can be said.

His broken hands reach out to touch the Christmas Rose.

His hunger knows to sing, and waiting to be fed.

He brings nothing to the feast.

His hollow eyes say everything.

His broken hands reach out.

His hunger knows to sing. 

He brings nothing but

His hollow eyes,

His broken hands.

His hunger knows. 

He brings

His eyes,

His hands,

His hunger. 

© Patrick O'Sullivan 2022




Tuesday 6 December 2022

A new song called 'Darkness', sung by Shannon Marie Harney


Well, yes, since you ask - with this song, I do know where the ideas came from...


1.  I was listening to singer, Shannon Marie Harney, and thinking about writing a new song that would respond to her strengths.

So, reaching into the song bag, I found and wrote 'Darkness'.

And this time, for a number of reasons...  Setting the text to music...  I did it myself - I heard, emerging from the text, a waltz...

At this point this note on my blog becomes over-complicated - I will leave the complications in place, below, for people who like that sort of thing...

Others can waltz...


2.  Certainly we had been thinking about the Great American Songbook - and those songs which, when you analyse them and sing them, have a tiny, pared down, lyric.  Like a nursery rhyme.

A thimbleful.  Dark matter, compacted by gravity.

The heavy lifting is left to the performer, to the performance, to the music and the arrangement.

Also interesting is the power of repetition, and reprise.  On the page my lyric, 'Darkness', looks like 3 identical stanzas, times 2.  It would be easy to end up with the same melody times 6.

That is not what the lyric wanted.  Lines are repeated, yes, but at each repeat the meaning of the words change.  Choreograph that, in waltz time.


3.  The first line of the song comes from a play by Samuel Beckett.

This is not 'Godot, the Musical' - though there is a moment in the 'Godot' play where we expect Didi and Gogo to launch into 'The Trail of the Lonesome Pine'.

No, different play.

For reasons which I will not go into here, we are interested in translation - we are in an age of translation.  We are interested in the work of translators and interpreters.  I have written about this elsewhere, and can return to that theme at a later date.

Academic 'Translation Studies' has become very complex - and now includes a special category, 'self-translators'...  Writers who translate their own work from one language to another.  Amongst the list of famous names - a surprising number of them are Nobel Prize winners - we always find Samuel Beckett.

The first line of my lyric comes from the Beckett play that is called, in French, 'Fin de partie', and in English - Beckett's translation - 'Endgame'.  So, has the meaning changed?  The French, end of a game, becomes the English, endgame, the much analysed part of the game of chess that comes before the end?

Towards the end of 'Fin de partie'/ 'Endgame' the main character, Hamm, remembers a poem.  He half-remembers a poem, and then corrects himself.  He half-remembers a very famous French poem...

Now we have a section where text talks to text, soul to soul.


4.  Fin de partie/Endgame

Fin de partie Samuel Beckett


Un peu de poésie .

( Un temps )

Tu appelais

( Un temps.)

(Il se corrige) ...

TU RECLAMAIS le soir;  il vient

( Un temps.)

(Il se corrige) ...

IL DESCEND:  le voici

( Un temps.)

Joli ca.


Endgame Samuel Beckett



A little poetry.


 You prayed—

(Pause. He corrects himself.)

 You CRIED for night; it comes—

 (Pause. He corrects himself.)

 It FALLS: now cry in darkness.

 (He repeats, chanting.)

 You cried for night; it falls: now cry in darkness.


 Nicely put, that.


 And now?



(Note:  the French text here is from a secondary source.  I need to check it.)


5.  The half-remembered poem is by Charles Baudelaire, from Flowers of Evil, 1857.  It is called Recueillement, and these are the first 4 lines...



Sois sage, ô ma Douleur, et tiens-toi plus tranquille.

Tu réclamais le Soir; il descend; le voici:

Une atmosphère obscure enveloppe la ville,

Aux uns portant la paix, aux autres le souci.

You will find tons of comment online, in many languages - and I have excised from this note most of my own comment.  In English the title is usually translated as 'Meditation'.

We can explore the suggestion that the language of the poem hints that the poet is talking to 'Douleur', Sorrow, Sadness, as if she were a lover.  Or a recalcitrant child. 

The poem takes us on a walk, from 'Soir' to 'Nuit' - and one issue in translation is how to translate 'Soir' in line 2.  Be still, my O Level French...

Roy Campbell, 1952, goes with 'Dusk.  'Evening', Robert Lowell, 1963.  'Night', Cyril Scott, 1909.

Beckett - or is it Hamm? - has 'Soir' in his French text.  And 'Night' in his English.

You CRIED for night - what are you going to do with it?  'Now cry in darkness'.


6.  And my lyric begins:  'You can cry, in the darkness...'

Dark matter, compacted by gravity...


See also....

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

(English Standard Version)

For everything there is a season...

...a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance...



Now, for goodness sake, do not tell any of this to Shannon Marie Harney... 

Just let her sing...

Darkness, Shannon Marie Harney

On Spotify

On YouTube

And on every other platform...

Patrick O'Sullivan

December 2022

Monday 5 December 2022

Autoharp Advent Calendar: Foster & Cooper, When the Bowl goes round

 UK Autoharps have invented a new tradition, the Autoharp Advent Calendar...

1.  During the winter lockdown of 2021-2022 our collective organised our first long distance Autoharp Advent Calendar - a number of us sent in a songs, with video, for display, one a day, on the run-up to Christmas 2021.

I was then in a struggle with health, but was determined to contribute.  My video from Christmas 2021 is still there - you can see me, lashed to my horse, like Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, El Cid, defending Valencia...

...singing Stephen Foster 'Hard Times'...

Video link


2.  It helped that I knew the song.  I knew the song from Cathy Britell's 2012, lovely long distance, project...  I participated in that project in 2012, alongside Jan Brodie and Stephanie Hladowski, and the autoharp world...

Cathy Brittell wrote...  'In the winter of 2012, a group of friends (many of whom have never met) who share membership on an international autoharp mailing list, cyberpluckers, decided to reach across cyberspace and play and sing a song together.  There is nothing quite as wonderful as making music with others, whether in person or in the ether.'

And her 2012 video is still visible...

Hard Times Come Again No More - The Cyberpluckerpotluck

Catherine Britell


3.  My thanks to Danny Yates, who propped me up, and pointed a camera in 2021

This year Danny has helped me get another Stephen Foster number ready.  Back on the horse.

I suppose that there is here the makings of a further tradition.  There is a relationship between the autoharp communities and the work of Stephen Foster - I won't go into all the detail here, but it can be a problematic relationship...

Foster's work is autoharp friendly - and the autoharp and Stephen Foster, at one time, shared an ecological niche, the nineteenth century parlour...

In our own time, studying and playing the works of Stephen Foster has become just...  easy...

First, there is the Stephen Foster Collection at the University of Pittsburgh, much of it digitised and free to download...

'Sheet music, broadsides, songsters, music manuscripts, correspondence, business records, photographs, newspaper clippings, maps, iconography, Foster’s sketchbook, and other ephemera related to Stephen Foster and his family...'

There is also the Library of Congress - again much material is free to download...

Stephen Collins Foster: A Guide to Resources

'Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864) was the most famous American song composer of the 19th century. This guide provides links to resources at the Library of Congress, including a large collection of published first editions.'

The availability of the sheet music at Pittsburgh and LOC means that you can check other online versions of Foster's works, and correct the texts, if need be...


4.  For the UK Autoharps Advent Calendar 2022 I have offered, from the Stephen Foster archives, the justly neglected 'When the bowl goes round'.

The Lyric is by George Cooper, Stephen Foster's collaborator - Cooper is not as good a lyricist as Stephen Foster.  Melody is by Stephen Foster.

The song is Christmassy, I think - the bowl must be the Wassail bowl.  Cooper and Foster wrote drinking songs and temperance songs, as the market demanded.  In this song they seem to have confused the two categories - as a drinking song it demands, from the singer, extreme sobriety.  The lyric is chewy, and full of the archaisms that nineteenth century lyricists and audiences loved - it describes itself as 'the jocund song'.  I had a few goes at singing it - then Danny Yates and I decided that, try as I might, my version was never going to be more than adequate...

As for correcting the text...  You can see that the title page has 'When the bowl goes round' - while the verses as published have 'While the bowl goes round'...

I think that 'When' is better than 'While', and that is what I sing throughout. 

(There is the oddity that in some regional varieties of English the word 'While' can mean 'Until'.  Which...

'...reminds me of the possibly apocryphal tale about the first automatic level crossings in the Midlands - where the sign "Wait here while the lights are flashing" supposedly caused a string of near-fatalities...',5753,-5498,00.html

But I digress...)

So, here is, 'When the Bowl goes round', Stephen Foster and George Cooper

Video link

My contribution to the UK Autoharps Advent Calendar 2022...


Patrick O'Sullivan

December 2022

Further Note January 2023

Thinking further about this song, Foster & Cooper, 'When the Bowl goes round...'  And that strange phrase 'jolly fellows' in the chorus...  I have come across a book by Richard Stott...

Stott, R. (2009) Jolly Fellows: Male Milieus in Nineteenth-Century America. Johns Hopkins University Press (Gender Relations in the America). 

...which is a study, page 1, of 'a distinctive male comportment that consisted of not just fighting but also heavy drinking, gambling and playing pranks. Men who engaged in such behavior were called “jolly fellows.” Although the jolly fellows were a subset of the male population, whenever men, especially young men, gathered in milieus that were all male or where women were rare, such conduct could occur. Such behavior was tolerated, even condoned, by men who were not themselves drinkers, fighters, or gamblers...'

It is worth searching for Richard Stott's book - because I found it Open Access.  It is readily available.

Richard Stott does not seem to have been aware of this particular Stephen Foster song when he wrote his book, and picked its title.  It seems that Stephen Foster and George Cooper, writing in the 1860s, found that phrase still there in the ether.  And maybe by then - Richard Stott, the cultural historian, suggests - the age of the 'jolly fellows' was over...

I find myself putting the, 'jolly fellows', from this Foster song, alongside the 'boon companions' of 'Comrades, fill no glass...', the second Foster song I prepared for Christmas 2022.  See my note on 'Comrades', further up/later in this blog.



Tuesday 1 November 2022

New Yorker magazine and the 'Irish short story'

In my note on the BBC at 100 Symposium - in an aside - I suggested a possible study of the influence of New Yorker magazine on the 'Irish short story' in the twentieth century...

See now an article by Nora Shaalan, in the online journal Public Books, a digital humanities approach.  This New Yorker interest in short stories from Ireland/of Ireland has already been noted by, for example,  Ben Yagoda...

Yagoda, B. (2001) About Town: The New Yorker and The World It Made. Da Capo Press.

Nora Shaalan puts some figures on that.

My suggestion is that New Yorker magazine also shaped, from a distance, stories that did NOT make it into the magazine...



The View from the Fiction of the “New Yorker”


Digital Humanities

By Nora Shaalan

... At the magazine’s inception, in 1925, the fiction section was a hybrid of different genres, including miscellaneous pieces that straddle the line between prose, verse, and visual art. The section only began to cohere circa 1945. Around the same time, the magazine began to regularly publish fiction by a small subset of authors. Between 1945 and 2019, the magazine published 7,451 stories by 1,493 different authors, but 4,398 of these stories (more than 66 percent of them) were written by just 149 authors (less than 10 percent of the total pool).4 Many of these 149 authors have become synonymous with the magazine, and their work has come to define a dynamic New Yorker fiction tone and style, characterized by ironic detachment and a meticulous, if somewhat overbearing, attention to facticity...

... Many of the countries that score relatively high in both metrics are the usual suspects—the United Kingdom, France, Italy—with one exception. There is an outlier that has a relatively high diversity score and that outperforms the United States in the granularity measure: Ireland. A former colony, whose landmass and population are significantly smaller than those of the United States, Ireland boasts a granularity score of 1.875. The country is mentioned using 77 unique locations, placing it in the top five most diverse countries in the corpus. There are many plausible reasons why evocations of Ireland are both diverse and granular, but one striking detail stands out. Of the 176 stories that mention Ireland, 135 are by Irish writers—the likes of Edna O’Brien, Roddy Doyle, and William Trevor.

Tuesday 6 September 2022

The BBC at 100 Symposium

The BBC at 100 Symposium

Date / time:  13 September - 15 September, 2022

Location:  National Science & Media Museum (and online)

We have, here next week, in Bradford, Yorkshire, not far from my home, The BBC at 100 Symposium...

I am presenting a paper at the Symposium on a Diaspora Studies approach to the history of the BBC (that is already there in the research literature) - I think that the approach has to be fairly broad brush, but I want to zoom in on the life and work of Denis Johnston, whose 1953 memoir, Nine Rivers from Jordan, about his years as a BBC War Correspondent, is his ungainly masterpiece.  But the book only really makes sense with the sideways look of diaspora studies.

I also want to start a discussion about the short story for radio - which is part of the study of the study of technologies and art forms, including technologies of the word.  And the ways that markets shape art forms - the BBC radio market for Irish short stories can be compared with, for example, the New Yorker magazine market for Irish short stories.  Very different markets, different technologies - how do they shape that Irish short story tradition?

And I am chairing a session on the BBC and the Northern Ireland 'Troubles'.  It turns out that one way to track the research literature through my database is to search for just one word:  'oxygen'.


BRIEF REPORT September 20

See background...


A quick report might help put things on the agenda...

Marcus Collins, the organiser, stressed that it was a Symposium, not a Conference - and that it was 'a gathering of the tribes'.

So, the full weight of the BBC history community was there, and - as we know - these things can be clannish, and indeed tribal.  But I am already known to the community, have been to events (Before Covid), know the vocabulary and the preoccupations...  It was a hybrid event, was affected by illnesses - the technology mostly worked.  There had to be a lot of thinking on feet.  Not sure that the Symposium idea worked - a lot of sharing of truisms.  But I can see what was aimed at...

Certainly the gathering of the tribes worked - I think that everyone appreciated the opportunity to have, at last, face to face informal conversations.  We moved things forward.

1.  On Wednesday, 14th, I gave a presentation on Denis Johnston, a Diaspora Studies approach, focussing on his time as War Correspondent for the BBC, and his memoir...

Johnston, D. (1953) Nine Rivers from Jordan: The Chronicle of a Journey and a Search. London: Derek Verschoyle.

Johnston, D. (1955) Nine Rivers from Jordan: The Chronicle of a Journey and a Search. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

You may know the background, but, in essence, all debate, about neutrality, balance, guns, ends when he reaches Buchenwald concentration camp - and, just the way the session panned out, I was able to cover most of the ground and give a reading from the book...

It worked with the audience.  For example, the detail that the American edition differs from the first British edition.  Different ending.  The international audience could see a bear trap avoided.

2.  On Thursday, 15th, I chaired a session on the BBC and Northern Ireland.  I had Robert Savage and Mark Devenport as talking heads, on the big screen above me, and Jean Seaton, Craig Murray and Ella Roberts on the stage beside me.

The names that will be new here are Craig Murray, Imperial War Museum - who is curator of the looming Northern Ireland exhibition - and Ella Roberts - who is a phd student looking at BBC series about Ireland.

(I have shared my notes about the Irish Empire tv series with Ella Roberts.)

3.  I repeatedly flagged my relationship with London Metropolitan University - I think the video recordings of the Symposium will be made available in due course, so we can all critique my performance.

Thinking about the short story...  Let me leave a note here.  As I say - looking at the market forces shaping the 'Irish short story'...  Two major forces are BBC radio and New Yorker magazine - pulling in different directions, of course.  With the work that has been done on the New Yorker online, we could do something quantifiable.  Similar, but more difficult, with the BBC - bit of a gap there.

At the Symposium I was able to develop the notion of a Diaspora Studies approach to the history of the BBC - the Denis Johnston presentation laid some of the ground rules.  I liaised with people studying Jews, Italians, Germans + BBC, and so on.  A  lot on the BBC World Service, which will be of interest to colleagues at London Metropolitan University.  In the background, there is some work on Irish + BBC, which is complex but not over-complex, different but not that different.

It would not be great task to write the bibliographic discussion paper, a Diaspora Studies approach to the history of the BBC, what has been done so far, integrating strands, rewards and fairies.  As I say, complex, but not over-complex.

Patrick O'Sullivan


Saturday 27 August 2022

Shabby Dress, sung by Shannon Marie Harney

Shabby Dress, sung by Shannon Marie Harney

Now working with Bradford-based torch singer Shannon Marie Harney.  Shannon Marie is new to our repertoire.  But she is determined.

We have started with a song whose needs we understand, an old song...

Here is Shannon Marie and Shabby Dress on YouTube...

Video link

And here on Soundcloud...

A song with its own history... 

And I will give some of that history here, omitting detail that might embarrass the living, or the dead.



The anecdotal lecture about this song can be long - and even longer if we include the musical interludes...  But, in my defence, that is maybe what a song lyric should be - distillation...

The lyric is in the book, Love Death and Whiskey - pages 48-49.

If you put 'Terry Jones Shabby Dress' into your favourite search engine, you find this...

'Love Death & Whisky 40 songs by Patrick O'Sullivan is a great way in for those nervous of poetry. Shabby Dress - great song lyric of our time

10:06 AM · Aug 29, 2011·Twitter Web Client'

Terry had long been a supporter of my lyric writing.  When, in the 1970s, we first put a band together, he offered financial support - Terry's management company paid for recording studio time, with André Jacquemin at Redwood...

...and paid for The Van.  This, for me, was induction into the Cult of The Van, and other odd aspects of the life of working musicians.  Really, we did not know what we were doing - and did not know what we wanted to do.  When the danger arose that looking after The Van might become my full time job, I decided enough was enough.

Looking back, I can hope that nowadays I have a  better understanding of what was going on.  I can lecture, and I can quote...  Christopher Small, on 'Musicking', Ruth Finnegan, on the 'Hidden Musicians'.  David Hesmondhalgh's critique.  I can quote Ted Gioia.

For Christopher Small, music is a verb, not a  noun.  'Musicking' is something that people do...



In the 1970s and 1980s I had become a minor poet of the late twentieth century - and the horrors of that experience can become the basis of another anecdotal lecture.  But the main lesson from the experience was simple, and became a mantra:  If you are going to write for performance, you might as well write for performers.  So, song lyrics...

In the 1970s, at a difficult time in my life, my friend, Leslie Megahey, put me in a car and took me across Spain...  Pause here, for anecdotal comedy.

In Madrid I met Leslie's friends, Esperanza and Sidney Malkin.  Sidney was a large, Hemingwayesque character.  As a US Marine he had invaded Sicily.  In Spain he led a complex, not quite controlled, existence.  He leased the shooting rights of several villages in the mountains to the north of Madrid, and he organised hunting parties for visiting Americans.  Special guests would be taken to shoot bustard.  In Esperanza's distinctive English this became 'persecuting the bustard...'  It was impossible not to fall in love with Esperanza...

I spent some days in the mountains with Sydney, and his gamekeepers, watching the persecution of the bustards.  Nevertheless...  Sydney and I got on, and we became friends.

Sidney had lived in Paris for a long time, and he had in Madrid his French record collection.  So, it was in the apartment of Sidney and Esperanza Malkin, in Madrid, that I first heard the distilled essence of French song, Barbara.

Vinyl rotating.



Nowadays, we can search online for Monique Andrée Serf, stage name Barbara...  And that song, La Solitude, that I heard for the first time in Madrid...

Here she is on YouTube...

And here are the words...

My song, Shabby Dress, references La Solitude.  I have made it at home in the English language, more structured, more technical, less fierce...

Loneliness rather than the French, Solitude.

In Shannon Marie's version of my lyric we do get the feeling that the ghost, the reflection, the memory, whatever it is - at least it can be depended on.  A reliable ghost...


We could dedicate this song to Monique Andrée Serf, Barbara.  I could dedicate it to Sidney Malkin, or to Esperanza.  Or to Leslie Megahey.  And they are there in the story...

Terry Jones remained a supporter of my work, and a good friend.  This was before the public appearance of Terry Jones, the writer for children, and the scholar of medieval literature - whose scholarship was at first sneered at, and is now revered.

So, in the background are long, garrulous, lubricated, conversations about kinds of writing, and how they work.  The lyric, Shabby Dress, is a nice, technical, piece of writing - that is one of the things I like about it.  Terry Jones understood that.

When at last I got round to publishing that little book of my lyrics, in 2010, I sent a copy to Terry - as a thank you.  And he told me how much he enjoyed reading the lyrics aloud, as poetry.  Especially Shabby Dress.

So, alongside the composer, Adrian Long, who set the lyric - and alongside our companions and memories of those days - let us dedicate the song to Terry Jones...


Now, for goodness sake, do not tell any of this to Shannon Marie Harney...  

Just let her sing...


Patrick O'Sullivan

August 2022