Tim Hill


Tim Hill Carnival Conference March 2013

Here’s One We Made Earlier. The 2nd Carnival Archive Conference March 15th and 16th 2013

Tim Hill

Tim Hill Transcript (Click to read/hide)

Hilary Carty:

We’re going to move on now to hear from Tim Hill. Tim we’ve already heard from, with wonderful accompaniment with John Fox, so thank you for that. Tim is a saxophonist, a composer, leading the band Tongues of Fire. Much of his creative life has been spent outdoors, making music for outdoor performances and playing in the landscape and public spaces, creating music and theatre that draws on street music and the history of outdoor ritual and celebration, thank you Tim.

Tim Hill:

My experience of carnival is quite limited. As a young man I was near Reading [? 0:44] and I used to play in lots of folky bands there on the back beds of trucks, used to play at [IA 0:50] Carnival and Notting Hill, and with that illicit white rum used to have a huge headache for the rest of the day. They were great times.

I live in Somerset and I’ve been working with Bridgwater Carnival creating some pre-shows, and getting Bridgwater Carnival involved in some of the larger shows that I’ve been involved in creating.

This very quick talk, Tola heard me talk a week ago and asked whether I would do it again, so this is a cut down version. It’s basically some investigations out of my work into older traditions of outdoor music making, celebratory noise and processions. You know a lot more about carnival than I do, so this is probably going up to carnival time, and I’d like to talk to people about carnival traditions.

England the land of noise, the British excel in dancing and music for they are active and lively. They are vastly fond of great noises that fill the air, such as the firing of canon, drums and the ringing of bells. It is common for a number of them, when drunk, to go up into some belfry and ring the bell for hours together. We are a noisy people.

Here [ image ] Hogarth depicts the noise of an 18th century street and a poor musician. I think that’s probably Handel trying to compose whilst this racket is going on outside.

One of the key mottos of the Olympics was:

‘Be Not Afeared, the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.’

For the ranter of [??? 2:44] the noise of England was a sound of an oppressed people:

‘My ears are filled brim-full with confused noise, cries and outcries,
Oh the innumerable complaints and groans that pierce my heart,
Oh astonishing complaints,
These are the cries of England and can I any longer forebear?’

The outdoor celebratory arts for me are very functional, they’re essential arts, they’re the arts that bring people together, and they help us to connect with ourselves, our past, where we live, to the seasons and the rhythms of the natural world. They are sensual and vernacular arts, practical yet magical, playing with joy and danger, making you dance and cry, and raising the hairs on the back of your head. They’re also contested arts. The bit I’ve cut out of this is a whole series about the whole battles about how we celebrate in England.

Noise is a very important part to outdoor celebration, so what functions does noise have?

First of all noise is a scarifier, it says, ‘get away’ to bad energy. In Somerset in January we fire shotguns over the trees to make sure that next year we’ve got really good cider. This year, because it was so wet, we couldn’t wassail; I’m hoping it’s going to be alright.

Of course we have songs that go along with this noise. In Somerset we sing the Wassail song:

‘Old apple tree, we’ll wassail thee
And hoping thou wilt bear
The Lord does know where we shall be
To be merry another year

To blow and to bear well
And so merry let us be;
Let everyone drink up their cup
And health to the old apple tree.’

Noise is the sound of protest. We are a nation that likes to riot, in fact we have a rioting form, a form of protest called ‘the rough music’, rough music were community protest. They involve cross-dressing, the making of effigies, and the beating of many objects. Thomas Hardy has a great description of one:

‘Preceding it was a band of motley musicians beating a fearsome tattoo on old buckets, frying pans, kettles and tin cans.’

Hogarth, bless him, has another great picture [ image ] of a skimmity ride in London.

Bridgwater Carnival started as a rough music, it was a bonfire celebration, they built a huge bonfire in the middle of town, at Corn Market and then basically people took the piss out of counsellors, they dressed up as councillors and took the piss. The last one, I think it was in 1885, was so hot it melted the street, and so somebody in Bridgwater decided, ‘let’s have a procession to channel these energies’, and that’s actually how Bridgwater Carnival started, and of course at the end of Bridgwater Carnival there’s the wonderful sound of squibbing down the street, fire.

In Ottery St Mary, another great fire procession, they roll great tar barrels down the street [ image ], and before that they fire off rock canons, quarry canons, blasting the way.

Other functions of noise, noise to the sound of rivalry competition and celebration in the great football rattle; a lost art that is.

In North Devon in about 1880 a group of villagers gathered together for a dance, they’d employed a local fiddler, the fiddler didn’t turn up so they turned on the threshing machine [ image ], the first case of repetitive dance, rave music in England!

Noise is also a word for music and a word for a group of musicians, as in Psalm 100, ‘let us make a joyful noise to the Lord, all ye lambs.’

Let’s just move on to music. I’d be quite happy to debate the difference between noise and music later on. Outdoor music has many functions [ images ], sacred function, dancing, processions, community, weddings and funerals, and of course for fairs and circuses.

The oldest example of processional music I can find in Britain is the Carnegs [? 7:27] [ image ]. These were 2,000 year old horns, they were played for battles, and they were played for processions and feasting. They were probably played in a mixture of ways, some like trumpets and others like didgeridoos. In fact in Ireland and Denmark people have dug up horns that over 4,000 years old, probably played like didgeridoos. There are also some lovely photos of the Muse in Healing, when the hero in battle is wounded, eight horn players gather round him, he has a bath and he gets better; more about bathing later.

There’s another example of these horns [ image ], and a re-creation here, and this is a beautiful example [ image ], this is 2,000 years old, it was found in the South of France, and they had a flexible tongue that rattled and made an absolutely horrific noise when they’d be played into battle.

Another of their functions was feasting. 2,000 years ago we were great [??? 8:29] of feasts. What we called hill forts initially had celebratory functions, and these cauldrons [ image ] have been dug up in hill forts, and my brother, who’s at the British Museum, has a theory that, for fun, they used to set fire to these hill forts just to have a great bonfire show at night, and of course in a world without any street lights that would have looked spectacular.

Medieval times, we’ll move on, [ image ] there’s a whole range of instruments that came into England influenced by Arabic countries, reed instruments and other things, often associated with juggling, storytelling.

Feasting, Chaucer has a great quote about feasting:

‘Then I saw standing behind them, far away and all by themselves, many scores of thousands who made loud minstrelsy with bagpipes and shawms and other kinds of pipes, and skilfully played both of them both with a clear and reedy sound, such as to be played at feasts and with the roast meat.’

In fact medieval people divided their music into loud, trumpets, Sean’s drums, and quiet for indoors.

For some bizarre reason the medieval mind is a strange place. Most depictions of medieval and renaissance wimp playing come along with bathing [ shrugs ].

That medieval band by the time of the renaissance had become very much like a jazz band today, they usually had two shawms, a slide trumpet playing the bass and drums. Shawm players were really valued for their improvisation skills. There used to be a conference once a year, where all the shawm players from Europe used to gather and lords used to vie with getting the best shawm player.

I’m going to play you, just for you to get a sense of that sound, a bit of late medieval music. This is a shawm, a shawm is like an early obo, double reed, and I’m going to play you a dance called, ‘The Washer Woman’s Brawl’, which is a dance in which you mimicked fighters, a circle dance.

[ Plays song 10:38 – 11:13 ]

That late medieval / early renaissance time is also the great flowering of the English processional tradition. This was not a pre-Lenten procession; it was too cold for that. It actually mainly happened in the summer. Mid-summer is the old English fire festival, bone fires were lit [ image ] to purify the air and these great processions.

In rural places in Somerset these processions took the form of summer games, Robin Hood games, and often inversion games, that one day somebody would be made a mock mayor or Robin Hood, they’d have a procession around the village, and anyone who didn’t get drunk or danced was fined, and that’s how the village raised money.

In the towns, this is mid-summer [ image ], Corpus Christi, Whitsun, May were the great times of processions. Chester is the only place that still has a mid-summer watch, a mid-summer procession [ image ]. These were extraordinary great processions, they drew on mythic imagery, they featured giants, huge floats and they featured pyrotechnics. This is a description by the Venetian Ambassador of one of those processions, the mid-summer watch in about 1540:

‘Next came another band of musicians with 50 men and boys like devils goading the followers of Pluto, who was on a pulpit under a canopy seated on a serpent that spat fire, and on the pulpit in front of Pluto were figures of an ox, a lion, and some serpents.’

Here is the Ship of Fools [ image ] from an early renaissance procession; you can see the military, horses, this mad ship of fools being pulled along.

This is the last processional giant [ image ] in England; this is the Tailor’s Giant from Salisbury. It’s still in the museum, they remake it every hundred years or so.

We were talking about yellow jackets before, yellow jackets stewarding processions, the medieval people had it completely right, their processions were stewarded by wild men and green men, they had bellows, and to get you out of the way they’d pump them up your arse and you got out of the way. Bring back that tradition I say.

Here’s another wild man [ image ]. In Eastern Europe, Central Europe and Spain there’s still this extraordinary tradition of wild men, often featuring spring and carnival processions, this example is from the Basque country [ slide ], and I think these are from Hungary. There’s an extraordinary link between the wildness of carnival and these very old, deep traditions which still exist.

In the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th century each town and city had a band. These bands were employed in playing for processions, and you could also employ them to wake you up. For a hunter, 4 o’clock in the morning if you had to get up, they’d come and play outside your window, you’d soon get up. These lasted for about three centuries [ images ], most of our records are actually from court cases where they’d been done for drunkenness, and they were actually finished in about 1830 with the Corporations Act, and they became buskers in towns.

After the Napoleonic War the country was awash with people that could play instruments and full of instruments. There’s quite an interesting similarity with the American Civil War, what happened in America and New Orleans when suddenly a lot of people were skilled, there were a lot of instruments around, and the whole New Orleans Marching Band developed out of that.

In England we had village bands, there’s one called the ‘Scorpion Band’ in Dorchester, and near me there was one run by George Matthews, he had a band on the edge of Exmoor. It used to practice in this valley, he’d stand on one side of the stream, the band was on the other, and if you made a mistake he’d dash over and bash you on the head.

These were deeply related to the church bands of the time. In the early 19th century churches were run by other people, the vicar just swanned in, gave a sermon, baptised people, and then buggered off and did a bit of hunting and shooting. In the church the people themselves organised the music, they wrote the music. This is a vernacular music written by non-professional musicians, the greatest composer was William Nat [? 16:03], who was a glove maker in Poole [ slide ]. The picture before, they used to go out carolling on Christmas Eve

They also had an extraordinary tradition of funeral hymns, these were hymns sung around the grave, and I’m going to sing you one. This one is called ‘Egypt’:

‘And am I born to die
To lay this body down
Oh must my trembling spirit fly
Into a world unknown.’

The Victorians couldn’t stand the idea of working people organising themselves, in the context of the political world of the 1820s and 1830s, where people were trying to get the vote; where the Tolpuddle Martyrs were sent to Australia; where people were trying to establish unions. This whole idea of working people organising themselves was completely stamped out and these bands were finished, and of course they did rough music against their finishing.

These bands were of their community and another of their great functions was the club walking. In those fragile times, one of the only ways that people could make sure they had money when they were unemployed or when they died was they joined the Friendly Society, that’s the roots of our building societies today, and club walking, when they had a feast once a year, was one of the main functions of these bands. This is a modern club walking [ image ].

In 1860 another George, George Matthews, who was a quarryman, and there’s a lovely [??? 17:48] in Somerset where all the building stone is made of hand stone, he ran away, became a very rich stone merchant, and then wrote a book about rural poverty in Somerset in the 1860s and 1870s. In 1865 he had a big meeting on top of Ham Hill to get people to join the Farm Workers Union; 10,000 people came, there’s a picture of them gathering [ image ], and of course they were led by the Montague Drum & Fife Band. They met in the frying pan on top of a hill, they met there because 10 years ago in Chard, at another demonstration, the dragoons had charged and killed five people, so they met in this space which they could easily defend.

Of course 15 years later five anarchists are wrongly hung in Chicago, and to commemorate that hanging May Day was declared International Labour Day, a tradition that carries on today in things like the Durham Miner’s Gala [ image ], a procession to music, banners, working class solidarity; very functional peoples’ music.

Just to bring this up-to-date now, these traditions of protest continue with the Aldermaston nuclear marches, and then with Welfare State. I too, of course, was changed completely by experiencing a Welfare State show in 1984 and that’s why I do what do. Welfare State created a band that drew on marching bands, Caribbean music, English folk music, a sequence of fantastic musical directors including, I’d just like to mention, Lol Coxhill, who died just a year ago, one of the great English saxophonists, and leader of that blood-stained colonial band you just saw there [ image ]. These traditions of protest continue with the Fallout Band, with Ribbons of Resistance.

Just to bring you up to now in outdoor music making I thought I’d go through some examples of outdoor music making today [ images ]. These are samba drummers from St Paul’s Carnival; the dhol drummers from Birmingham; Bollywood bands; peace artists; this is the Boom Bike band led by Dan Fox, John’s son, they’ve got a pedal powered amplification system; and the Kinetika Bloco.

Thank you very much.

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