Thursday, 8 December 2011

Camden / Cecil Sharp / Pudkin

I went to Cecil Sharp House in Camden, home of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, to look at the main hall as a possible venue for a book fair next year, and there’s a readings room downstairs and through the cafĂ© and it’s all magnificent. Except that it costs (but we can find ways), and except that it’s asking a lot of people to trek up Parkway and then cross a road or two, and except that for almost every Saturday next year they’re already booked. To be continued.

Meanwhile, Cecil Sharp: who early in the last century travelled around the West Country collecting folk songs. The very first he collected, in 1903, he took from the gardener of a vicar he happened to be staying with – a man (the gardener) called (you couldn’t make this up) John England: ‘Sharp whipped out out his notebook, took down the tune, and afterwards persuaded John to give him the words.’ The words, yes. I’m not a song man, and anyway the original tune, once it has been re-whatevered and re-presented from a stage, has surely been gentrified, but the words can stand alone (though robbed in print of the dialect voice), and they do so in a book I bought second-hand in York a week ago: The Idiom of the People, 1958, edited by James Reeves from Cecil Sharp’s manuscripts. ‘Clean wantonness’. Wonderful book. (Re-issued in the print-on-demand Faber Finds list, which normally I wouldn’t be advertising at all – badly designed, expensive editions of out-of-print books, most of which you can still find on – but in this case I’ll make an exception.)

And after Cecil Sharp House, on to Ken Garland, on the way back to the tube. To call him a designer (he designed the banners for the first CND Aldermaston marches, and Galt toys in the 1960s and early 70s, and onwards and onwards, with lots of digressions) is woefully short of the mark. His website is here; you’ll need walking boots and willingness to keep changing direction. Late each year he publishes three small-format books of photographs (leaves, fire hydrants, Bangladeshi rickshaws, Mexican windows: eclectic). I swapped two CBe books for two of his new ones: drawings of children playing in the street made by his daughter when she was 14 (decades ago), and photographs by Lana Durovic of those things the eye usually glides over but which may in fact be central: they train you how to look. Pudkin Books, available direct from Ken Garland.

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