13. NOW THE GREAT BEAR AND PLEIADES – from ‘Peter Grimes’ by Benjamin Britten

Can I call it a song? Whatever. Between 1974-7, when I was working in Cardiff, I probably saw more operas than I’ve seen in the subsequent 40 years put together. I was well aware, though, of how blessed I was, there at the base of the WNO probably, we’re often told, one of the best of the World’s opera companies. I saw everything I could and somehow, in those days, I could afford it, and even get a last-minute good seat, reasonable price. Times change.

I was often gripped by the spectacle and experience as much as the music – Tchaikovsky’s ‘Eugene Onegin’ comes to mind, as one of the first I saw, open mouthed. I heard all the arias that were meant to impress – and they did – I couldn’t help but be impressed by Suzanne Murphy’s Queen of the Night from ‘The Magic Flute’, by the ‘Pearl Fishers’ duet (incidentally the only opera I ever saw with my much loved and much missed sister Sue), by the slaves chorus from Nabucco, and so on.

But, Peter Grimes was something else, and I was quite unprepared for its effect on me! Perhaps because its music (my first taste of Britten) was so distinct from the Traviatas and Rigolettos and Bohemes, I was already paying a different kind of attention, I don’t know, but those wonderful sea overtures, for instance, hooked me even before the solos and choruses of the great narrative construction.

But it’s this solo that really got me: when the outcast, socially suspect recluse Grimes bursts through the door of the inn on that storm-ravaged night and sings words that have an unearthly visionary tone. His words at first, as he talks of the heavenly bodies (‘drawing up the clouds of human grief’) sustain a single note, while the strings behind begin to descend in subtle intervals. Somehow it not only captures the sense of dark wonder at space and the elements (‘Who can decipher/in storm or starlight..’)but also the tragic sense of lostness and alienation of a single soul in that universe. After a brief, manic moment, where the music reflects a crazier sense of bewilderment – ‘like a flashing turmoil/ or a shoal of herring..’ –we return to the single note line for a more melancholy sense of alienation – and regret? (Grimes, may, after all, have been responsible for a boy’s death).

This part of the song is the most chilling – and poignant – of all. The ‘who’ of his question becomes a one-note eerie hooting then melts into the rest of the question, moving down the scale, more melodic, and with a genuine note of heartbreaking enquiry – ‘Who….can turn skies back and begin again?’

The chorus mutters ‘He’s mad or drunk..’but me, I’ve been profoundly moved. Always drawn to the solitaries. And I’d never heard anything like it.

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12. CREATION DREAM and AFTER THE RAIN – Bruce Cockburn

And so to Bruce, finally.  It had to come.  My Bruce-history needs to be told.  But first, these songs.

I get them mixed up, if truth be told.  Although lyrically quite different, in sound and feel and emotional associations, they have a common vibe.  For reasons I’ll try to explain soon, Bruce became a major part of my listening life when we lived in Paraguay; and one day in the ‘English’ staff room, Kate –our newly arrived, zany, effervescent Australian ex-vet young teacher –wanted to listen in to what I was listening to on my Walkman.  When she grabbed an earplug to listen in, it was one of these two songs.  ‘But this is one of my happy songs!’ she squealed with surprised delight.  ‘I love this song!’ I realised what she meant (whichever one of these two songs she was referring to!) because both have a pounding, insistent ‘drive’ to them, melodies perhaps unremarkable in some ways, but subtly apt vehicles for their somewhat mysterious, always entrancing, lyrical content; and yes, they are really ‘happy’ songs!

It’s a bit religious of me to say so, but I almost feel that there’s something ‘anointed’ about the album which contains these tracks – ‘Dancing In The Dragon’s Jaws’.  Perhaps it was his immersion in the works of mystical Inkling Charles Williams, prior to writing and recording some of these songs? Like all the great albums, this one has its own character, a very ‘unified’ feel to it.  The opening track, ‘Creation Dream’ sets the tone perfectly, and its two verses seem to imagine the first, original act of creation –‘centred on silence/counting on nothing/I saw you standing on the sea…’; and the Creator is imagined as joyful, exhilarated in the act of bringing life into being: ‘you were dancing/I saw you dancing/throwing your arms towards the sky…/stars were shooting everywhere…’ Catch the song in the right mood (e.g.  With your Walkman on, walking down the warm evening callés of Asunción towards a cervecita…) and it’s breathtaking.

‘After The Rain’ is more mysterious, but it has the same dream quality, and the same life-affirming vitality.  Its highlights are these speculative assertions: ‘maybe to those who love is given sight/to pierce the wall of seeming night/and know it pure beyond all imagining’; and even more so, the thrilling falsetto-leap that takes place on ‘hydrogen’ in this: ‘maybe to those who love it’s given to hear/music too high for the human ear/and clear as hydrogen to go sailing…’ Goosebumps, from both the sound, and the content!

So, the story of me and Bruce. I always say that I sort of ‘adopted’ him; I chose to like him and listen to him even before I had heard him.  Before the nineties, his name was a fringe-name I may have noticed peripherally in articles about Greenbelt Festival, or about minor Canadian songwriters, or singers with some kind of Christian focus.  In Paraguay, when some kind organization had gifted us with free subscriptions to a magazine of choice, I read an article about him in ‘The Other Side’ (a now discontinued U.S. ‘alternative’ Christian periodical, a bit like ‘Sojourners’); felt a kinship…  And shortly afterwards, as if it was meant to be (!), discovered in a downtown record store a whole heap of music cassettes from north American companies (Columbia, particularly, I think) at prices muy barato – amongst them several Bruce Cockburn albums.  A couple of weeks later, in a different store, a few more!  Suddenly it seemed like I had most of Cockburn’s back catalogue for –In The Falling Dark, Humans, Joy Will Find A Way, Sunwheel Dance, Night Vision, High Winds White Sky, Inner City Front, The Trouble With Normal, Stealing Fire, Dancing In The Dragon’s Jaws (and I easily added missing ones later) –so I had an incredible and sudden immersion into his music, as it filled my ears there in those subtropical years, in the walks to and from work, in the late night strolls to cafes and plazas, soaking up the lovely Latino otherness.  I was inordinately proud of the Bruce I had adopted –in some ways not the most dynamic of singing voices; and a few of the songs even seemed a little awkward or contrived in construction.  But they were songs of challenge, searching, reflection, faith and compassion and I loved them all as if he were my own.

Back in Blighty, my interest in his work became inevitably less intense, but ‘fell into place’ as one significant element of my song-life.  Perhaps I will need to write a Part Two, and explore this for with another song…

11. YOU DID THAT FOR ME – Pierce Pettis

I’ve deliberately tried not to make these essays a ‘Desert Island Discs’ book, But I do believe that if Kirsty Young were interviewing me today, this track may well be one of the eight I take with me on my famous BBC Radio marooned experience.

Pierce Pettis did this song in the set he performed the first time I heard him, in, I think, the Christian Aid tent in Greenbelt Festival, late nineties or early noughties. Also in the set was another stunner – ‘Alabama 1959’, possibly the best song about ‘benign racism’ ever written. When he introduced ‘You Did that..’ I seem to recall that he said he hadn’t recorded it himself since Sara Groves had recorded it and done such a great job. (After hearing the song and the rest of the set, I went and bought the Sara Groves album – ‘All Right Now’ and – yes, he wasn’t wrong.)

It’s quite simply a great contemporary song about – pardon my language – the ‘substitutionary atonement’ – and the ‘gracious releases and exchanges’ from which we benefit because of that once for all Lamb of God sacrifice. Silly and inadequate, of course, to talk in such legalese jargon about the history-pivotal event, the supreme act of self-giving love…! The song gets it: fleshes out the theology, makes it human, and in a gutsy, unsentimental way sings out and celebrates appropriate gratitude and wonder at how we experience the benefits of this gift.

I’ve never learnt to play it – but I have used the song whenever I could or whenever it felt appropriate: at a Church retreat I ran; in an ‘All-Age Service’; at staff Monday-morning prayers in my old workplace… And here’s my favourite Pierce Pettis story coming up.

First, I need to say that following that Greenbelt, I pursued whatever Pettis recordings I could find on ebay – and I have them all now except for that tricky first album, ‘Memories’, only available on (deleted) vinyl as far as I know. Rare indeed. This song finally did get recorded by Pettis a few years after that initial hearing – on his ‘Some Kind of Love’ album. His ageing voice gets growlier, Nashvillier. It’s great.

Anyway, I also watched out for any UK tours and performances – and, though there have been none in recent years, in the year following that Greenbelt, I was privileged to see him twice. The second of those occasions was in the strangest of places – a pub in Tregaron, West Wales. I drove there straight from work. Juliet Turner was his support act – another great performer and also someone I’d first encountered at Greenbelt. I managed to have a five minute chat with PP, asking him why he opened each album with a Mark Heard song. “ Because they’re such great songs” he said. Fair enough; and true enough.

But the first of these two performances was even more memorable – a weeknight gig at a small basement venue just at the end of Queen Street, Cardiff. This time the lovely Julie Lee was the support act – but actually ended up doing the whole evening, since PP had developed laryngitis and couldn’t sing publicly! The other curious thing was that the audience numbered…seven, I think, and there was lots of hanging around and lots of chance to chat. I told Pierce it was a shame he wouldn’t be performing since I was going to request ‘You Did That for Me’.

Graciously he said ‘well, maybe I could give you a quiet croaky personal performance..’ We found something like a toilet/changing room ‘backstage’ and indeed, true to his word, croaking his way painfully through it, he did that for me. Magical moment. Blessing/jewel of a song.

10. GAUGUIN IN THE SOUTH SEAS – Jimmy Webb

…which is its full title, I believe. When I saw Judy Collins perform in Aberdare a few years ago – the first and only time I’ve seen her- she was, as predicted, polished, professional, superb – as you might expect from 50 years ‘on the circuit’. She ran through a familiar repertoire which, I imagine, she imagined fans expected to hear: the hits, a smattering of Joni and Leonard, a couple of traditional (yes we even had ‘The Great Selkie’), some ‘standards’, and in amongst them all, this – “a song by my friend Jimmy Webb”.

OK, if it didn’t literally ‘take my breath away’ it certainly made me sit up a little, and there was, I swear, something of a prickle down the old spine…With Judy’s crystally lucid enunciation, the narrative was clear from the start, from the very first phrase – ‘Gauguin, tired of the climate in Paris..’ and there we were, carried along musically, embarked on that famous artistic journey of discovery.

This is a story easy to glamorize, of course – the idea of leaving behind wage-slave drudgery, conventional and artificial civilization, grey uniformity, suburban mundanity – and heading out – with just some impelling notion of wanting to paint, heading out, further, further to lands of colour and otherness. Somerset Maugham’s ‘The Moon and Sixpence’ tackles the story, and …I seem to recall…manages to avoid over-glamorization, I think. But songs, ah well, generally they can’t resist the emotive and the romantic – and we get it here. “So I’m going to go down and look for Paradise..”

Probably the realities of it all were a lot more sordid – selfishness and desertion, stubborn idealism, and an ending in licentiousness and syphilis. Still, but still…there’s something universally valid about ‘the romance of the quest’ – “To paint pictures of Paradise – you’ve got to lose yourself to find Paradise”. We can relate to that, can’t we?

And the song – back to the song – there’s a really engaging architecture to its construction, which indeed draws you in and on. I sought out Webb’s own version as soon as I could. I wasn’t disappointed. Here’s a writer who knows his craft.

9. POWER – John Hall

It might be something to do with spending so much time in the garden, willing all the little plants in our ‘wildflower garden’ to take root, to start blooming, watching them perk up after a nice spring shower and (even more) the subsequent bursts of warm spring sunshine; but whatever it is, I find myself bursting spontaneously into ‘Give me the warm power of the sun; give me the restless flow of the waterfall…’ *

I usually stop before I get to ‘…  But won’t you take all your atomic poison power away…!’ Maybe not out of principle, probably more because I can’t remember all the words that precede it.  But maybe also – a bit –because that cry somehow seems…I don’t know…perhaps a little naive and unformed now; attitudes towards (some forms of?) nuclear energy have perhaps shifted since the early seventies, haven’t they?  And those promoting nuclear reactors have tried hard to make a case for the ‘cleanness’ of the source – compared for instance to the burning of fossil fuels. Still, since Fukushima 2011…might we be swinging back to John Hall’s sentiments?  Let’s stick to the song.

The song, I think, more or less ends the ‘No Nukes’ film about a series of concerts organized by the Musicians United for Safe Energy (M.U.S.E.) –a film with which I was so enamoured – late seventies?   early eighties?  -that I saw it at least twice in a cinema setting –Cardiff’s chapter arts centre probably; and have subsequently obtained the DVD.  The film showed iconic 1970s singer songwriters earnestly engaged in an enterprise of conviction.  There was a kind of evangelical fervor to their involvement –James Taylor, Carly Simon (still a married couple at that time), Bonnie Raitt,  Jackson Browne and Graham Nash –these last always a safe bet for liberal, democratic stances.

In the course of the film you see them perform, yes, but also in impromptu rehearsals –preparing, for instance, a joint rendition of Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are A-changin’.  And we also witness John and Joanna Hall’s ‘Power’ song coming together, in snatches, in a suitably organic way, till it finally surfaces complete – chorus and verses and all, in the final open-air concert which concludes the film.

And it is stirring, of course –seeing that measure of lively ‘belief’ and ‘purpose’ in their take-it-in-turns delivery of the song, and the message gusto in their harmonised chorus.  There is a kind of ‘creationist’ faith (as in ‘creation theology’) there, that’s undeniably attractive: let’s use the natural things, man.

*And now I think of it, I’m not sure I sing it right: surely it’s the restless power of the wind, and the steady flow of the waterfall?  That makes a little more sense.

8. LET’S TWIST AGAIN by Chubby Checker; and SWEET SOUL MUSIC by Arthur Conley

What on earth?  Indeed…  The link between these two is Bedwellty Grammar School Christmas parties –and until I checked out the dates on these two discs, I didn’t realise that two separate events have blurred and blended together in my mind –particularly strange since they are three years apart, but perhaps that’s a mark of what a slow/late developer I was.  I probably approached the 1967 (form 4!) party not so differently from the way I did the Form 1 party in 1964…

…  Which we’ll deal with first.  Those who know me intimately might also know that this party –after just one term in secondary school, now I think of it –was the occasion of one of my earliest and proudest achievements –winning the ‘Twisting Competition’.  Largely due to the Chubby Checker single, and the industry around it, I suppose, the aforementioned dance had become a new, relatively successful, teenage fad.  The record played several times that night in the ‘dancey’ part of the evening (for surely, in 1964, we had games and food first?  I don’t remember) and teachers decided, I imagine, that it would be fun to test the youngsters’ expertise at ‘twisting’ their little bodies in an elimination competition.  Yay –last man left standing: me!  Of course, this being the only dance achievement of my life (and, thinking about it, one of the few dance experiences altogether) I definitely ‘peaked too early’.

Fast forward three years (if I went to the Christmas parties for Forms two and three, their musical flavour remains an undistinguished blank in my memory) and I’m in the Form four party – but…ah! the music!  The music being played over and over again is a genre to which I have obviously given too little heed –because on this particular evening, and without the aid of chemical substances and intoxicants, ladies and gentlemen!  -the music seems electrifying!  Several times the keynote single was played –Arthur Conley’s ‘Sweet Soul Music’ –I’d never heard it before, but it seemed to me that rarest of things, a ‘new sound’.  Although I was clearly too busy dancing (probably still the twist) along to it to recognise any lyrical content, I think I worked out that he was sort of referring to other stars of the same genre –Lou Rawls did I hear?  Wilson Pickett?  Apart from that, it was all tooting horns sections, and a ‘soulful’ controlled sort of shout –‘Do you like good music …?!’ And of course, 14 year old ingénu that I was, I certainly did!

Who was our DJ for the night, I wonder?  He had clearly decided that ‘soul’ was to be the order of the evening, though –because Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect’ also got several plays, as well as Otis Redding’s ‘Dock Of The Bay’ –and suddenly, I felt I was able to join the dots together and appreciate this music for it was: yes indeed, a brand new sound, an aptly named genre.

Now, this may well be a memory that is largely apocryphal fantasy – still, in my mind I seem to recall that brother Allan may well have come to pick me up from the school hall at the end of that evening in, I imagine, his first, ‘new’, secondhand Morris Minor (with its comical registration plate of MOO 118).  If I’m right, and he indeed did so, I believe he found me in something of a state of excitement, waxing lyrical about “Soul Music!!” What did I say to him that night?  “Hey Allan, it’s the new big thing!”?  “it’s the way ahead”?  “is where it’s at, man”?  Who knows?

My soul–excitement obviously never developed into anything life changing, or even listening changing.  Still, for one exciting night (two, if you count the Chubby Checker night and the glory of the Twisting Competition) I discovered what I suppose most youngsters experience routinely, and take for granted now –the simple links between a ‘new sounding’ sweep of popular song, and the urge to jig around to it, and that equally simple, sweet exhilaration of being alive!

7. I AM A ROCK by Diane Davis Andrew and the Fisherfolk

I could write a whole book, of course, just about my relationship with Fisherfolk songs, my enchantment with which defined possibly a whole period in my life, probably my whole approach to worship and my own predilections in contemporary worship songs; and probably still informs who I am today.

Fisherfolk: the touring/performing/recording arm of the Community of Celebration, which in turn emanated from the renewal of community/worship in Houston’s Church of the Redeemer in the 1960s.  I was fascinated from the word go –from Michael Harper’s book about the church (‘A New Way of Living’), and my first LPs obtained through Fountain Trust –from their ‘Keyhole’ coffeehouse ministry.  Diane Davis would have been one of those singers.

No space here to discuss the far reaching extent of my interest (some might say obsession).  Let’s focus on this song.  It appears on an album which –unlikely, now –is a recording of an Anglican eucharist service using a liturgical setting composed by Betty Pulkingham, ‘Celebrate the feast.’ This song turns up as one of three or four in the ‘free’ section which presumably accompanies the actual communion time.

When I think of the song now, I think of listening to it while I was living in Aunty Jan’s house (when Graham and Gail went to live in my house, in the early months of their marriage), in the front room, with a record player.  That fluidity in our living arrangements and the sense of shared life and community they represent are entirely apposite of course to what I/we were soaking up from the Community of Celebration; or what we were replicating from our own experience of the Spirit’s wind sweeping through us.

For the first of many listens, I got a frisson of excitement each time I heard this song.  There was the bell like clarity of Diane’s voice, of course; there was Max Dyer’s always sensitive cello accompaniment;  but there were so many other elements blending together too: there was for instance a dangerously bold prophetic voice to the lyric –presuming to speak out the Lord’s words to his people rather than the(more usual) people’s cry to God –in supplication or praise.

Some of the verses were more conventionally acceptable symbols – ‘I am the bread of life/my blood is the wine…’; ‘come to my marriage feast/I’ll remove your tattered garments of sin…’ but the opening verse, repeated with rich harmony and descant at the end, seemed entirely fresher, more original…  And of course there were the obvious resonances with Paul Simon’s song of the same name, a more angst ridden celebration of romantic isolation.

But this wasn’t about isolation, this was a stirring voice promising solidity, and together the verses offer a healing invitation to experience divine grace, and life, from the source and foundation of all goodness and love.

A post script of sorts: the first touring performance of the Fisherfolk I ever saw (after this disc?) comprised Diane Davis, Jon Wilkes, Maggie Durren, and Louise Jolly, a pared down travelling team, but still effective.  Strangely, (as well as the much reduced but still vitally existent Community of Celebration in Pittsburg), Diane Davis and her husband Bob Andrew are perhaps the most active even today in keeping alive the heritage of blessing gleaned from the multifaceted ministry and creativity streaming outwards from that historic source, compiling as they do the ‘Celebrate the whole of it’ website.

6. SAVE THE COUNTRY – The Fifth Dimension

It was the early seventies, I presume.  For some reason, my brother had taken me to see Newport County football team in their home ground; even though we were really Cardiff City supporters.  It says much about the kind of boy I was that I remember nothing about the match but I do remember that during the half time interval, when music was played over the tannoy system –was this usual?  -that this song came on.  I’d never heard it before, and I thought it was fabulous.

Perhaps I inwardly jumped for joy because it had a kind of spiritual hymn-like quality; perhaps I responded to the raw, simple gospel appeal of the lyric: ‘Come on people, come on children…’; perhaps the vague but idealistically broad scope of the song –‘Save the country…  now!’  -also resonated with my 17 year old spirit.  But there was the sound too –something very rich and fruity and colourful in these voices belting out in unison then breaking into delicious harmonies.  I was hooked.

Did I know anything about Laura Nyro then?  I don’t think so.  If I had heard of her at all, I might have read –via the New Musical Express –that she wrote many songs which other people recorded –eg Barbra Streisand (Stoney End) and maybe I was already familiar with Wedding Bell Blues, a hit for this same group which I was listening to, there in the Newport ground.

I was still a couple of years from buying the ‘New York Tendaberry’ album, where Laura Nyro sings ‘Time and Love’, a similarly strong, anthemic kind of pop song, with an equal power to rouse goosebumps.

But ‘Save the Country’ –this is the one I’ll remember, on that cold weeknight football fixture and the halftime interval music which touched me in secret ways.

5. OUR TIME – Stephen Sondheim (from ‘Merrily We Roll Along’)

Blame youtube for my obsession with this song.  Even more, blame the wonderful modern phenomenon of theatre–live–to–cinema relays, or ‘recordings as if live’.  I saw this musical, ‘Merrily We Roll Along’ in the cinema earlier this year, and was entranced by its simple poignancy – three friends who cannot hold onto their friendship – and how that is reflected melodically.

Because of the story being told backwards –not original but nevertheless and very effective –this song, representing the inception and idealism of their friendship and the accompanying the youthful optimism, is what closes the show.  Musically it’s stirring and gorgeous, all three main protagonists chipping into the growing excitement and joined by a swelling chorus at the end.

There are dozens of youtube clips of this song –I’ve checked most of them out.  Perhaps my favourite, though least polished, comes from the sophomore acting and musical theatre majors from Ithaca College performing this as an ensemble.  What must it have been like for a group of 19 year olds (?) to be together, singing these lyrics?  Feeling, indeed, like it’s their time –‘worlds to change and worlds to win’.  Almost everyone in the class gets a line or two to sing –one girl goes a little off key and the camera catches her face crumpling to disappointment after her contribution –but this too is precious.

And oh, Mr. Sondheim, how wonderful that this musical theatre production which starts at the relationship’s end with cynicism and disappointment, should end so joyously, at the relationship’s beginning with this  joyous, forward-looking, uniting anthem to purposeful living.  Long live youthful idealism!

4. EL LAZO by Victor Jara

Although famously in touch with my feelings, and something of an easy crier, there are not too many songs that have conjured forth tears on a regular basis.  Joni Mitchell’s ‘Tin Angel’ was one notable exception; and ‘The Living Years’ (Paul Carrack) for different reasons; but this song got me ‘welling up’ (as they say) regularly, when I was first acquainted with it.

I had known of Victor Jara by name in the 1980s – growing up as a miner’s son in a socialist family it might be strange if I hadn’t – as someone who had been a popular theatre director and (more importantly for me) ‘people’s folk singer’ in Chile establishing a burgeoning ‘nueva cancion’ movement in Allende’s brief administration.; and ‘martyred’ under Pinochet’s brutal reactionary regime. In several of my teaching years (both before and after South America) I championed the inclusion of James Watson’s teenage fiction novel ‘Talking in Whispers’ as a studiable text for Key Stage 3: it looked at Chile’s recent (then) turbulent history and had a character based upon Jara.

So, when, living in South America, we holidayed in Chile at the end of 1990/beginning of 91, I made sure I bought some music cassettes in the streets of Vina del Mar, of both the wonderful Violeta Parra (‘Gracias a la Vida’) and also, obviously, of Victor Jara. Then, back in Asuncion, got to listening to them more closely.

Jara’s tape was a ‘Best of’, I think – with the moving ‘Plegaria a un Laborador’ and the wonderful ‘Te Recuerdo Amanda’ which later I heard sung by Joan Baez.  But it was this song, ‘El Lazo’, which got to me most.  I can’t say I understood all the lyrics.  Even apart from the less comprehensible Chileanisms, my Spanish was still pretty basic, and I eventually got a more experienced colleague in the staff (thanks Pat Baldock) to transcribe the lyrics for me.  But the bits I could understand (and several I couldn’t) touched me deeply.  ‘Cuando el sol se inclinaba/Lo encontré…’ – there is something so deliciously lugubrious about the sound of this and the idea of the sun ‘inclining itself’ adds so fittingly to the melancholy, as does the almost onomatopoeic ‘sombrío’ describing the dark ranch, this ‘rancho de pobre’ where the poor ranchero lives, twisting and twining his lasso rope. So begins and ends the song, with this deeply moving slow,minor key evocation of a poor tired man at sunset (his own life’s sunset?). In between are seven pacier verses sketching out the man’s work and life (inseparable) – the strength but skillful deftness of his lasso-making dexterity; the solitary, unaffirmed and unrelenting nature of his work (‘nadie ha dicho;’Es bueno/Ya no debes trabajar..’); a sense of his growing tiredness; while the ‘lazo’ becomes a metaphor for his own weary life ‘laceando’ by the countryside and the need to labour.

You could see this as merely romantic, perhaps, the noble poverty-enslaved agricultural artisan; you could see it all as socialist propaganda; but I don’t cry any more when I listen to it. Beyond the merely emotive appeal, the song has a value and performs the function of the best of true ‘folk’ song: and it seems to me a beautiful  and necessary thing to do, to celebrate the dignity and worth of old, honest workers. Whatever one’s level of Spanish fluency, I think you can still get a sense of that in this gorgeous song.