Category Archives: Music

A real gold blend: Thomas Hardy, Jon Lord, Jeremy Irons

I completely love the internet. (I suppose I wouldn’t be much of a blogger if I didn’t.) Just this morning, it presented me with a little piece of joy: Thomas Hardy’s poem Afterwards read by the actor Jeremy Irons, with music and performance by Jon Lord, formerly of Deep Purple, and images by YouTube user AntPDC. The clip is here, and the full text of the poem is here.

Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy

The recording is a real gem of blended media. At the risk of indulging in hyperbole, I’m not sure how the piece could be better. Irons’ sonorous, seductive voice, Hardy’s sensuous, nature-steeped word-picture, the deep beauty of the original photography by AntPDC and Lord’s soothing, flowing piano are simply a perfect combination.

Hardy’s poem is also a joy to experience on its own. I’ve always loved the dusky, musky, earthy world of Hardy’s poems. (During Wind and Rain is another lifelong favourite of mine, with its “creeping moss” and “rotten rose”.)

One of the things about Afterwards that tickles my fancy are the little insights it gives us into how the English language has changed, even in the relatively short time since the poem was first published (1917). A lovely example is Hardy’s use of the phrase “at last” in the first line of verse four:

“If, when hearing that I have been stilled at last…”

In Hardy’s day, “at last” was used simply to mean “at the end”. That usage is now all but obsolete and we now use it to mean “after a long wait”, with overtones of irritation and relief. Despite how this line sounds to our 2013 ears, we can safely assume that Hardy was not waiting impatiently for his own death. I love how the line shows the effects of time on language usage, with the resulting unintended humour.

My thanks go to Irish playwright and novelist John Mac Kenna, who alerted me to the recording.

Jon Lord, musician

Jon Lord, musician

Songs that make you go sniff

Did anyone hear Christy Moore on the John Murray show on RTÉ Radio One this morning? Christy played a selection from his back catalogue as requested by listeners. All the great songs were in there, including a favourite of mine, Lisdoonvarna. (“Amhráns, bodhráns and amadáns” is an all-time great lyrical gem.)

Christy Moore at the Liverpool Philharmonic, October 2008 (image: Wikimedia Commons)

This led met to think about the subject of personal musical tear-jerkers. It’s different for everyone; songs that have some people reaching for the tissue box can leave others indifferent. For me, one song in the tissue-box category is Christy Moore’s The VoyageI had to turn off the radio this morning when the presenter announced it as the next song, because I didn’t want to start my writing day in floods of tears.

I realise that the words to The Voyage are not great poetry. The song is full of clichés. It over-extends the “boat / voyage / sea” metaphor beyond all reason. The feebleness of “together we’re in this relationship” with the emphasis on “ship” is hard to overlook. But none of this seems to matter. It is those very clichés and so-thinly-stretched-it’s-transparent imagery that hit a weak spot in my heart.

The lump in my throat begins at “determined not to fail” and progresses to distinctly glassy eyes at “working together we learned how to cope”. Full-blown, undeniable tears set in at “Now gathered round us, we have our own crew”.

L.S. Lowry’s Coming Home from the Mill (1928). The 1978 tear-jerking hit song Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs was a tribute to Lowry.

For me, other songs in the same category include Roger Whittaker’s Durham Town and Brian and Michael’s Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs.

I’d love to hear how the rest of you feel. Maybe my top tearjerker The Voyage leaves you cold? What songs hit you in the Achilles heel of the heart?

%d bloggers like this: