28. WHO WILL BUY – from ‘Oliver’ by Lionel Bart

The more that I think about it, the more I delve into these songs that have been pals and markers for my days, the more I feel that I’ve had quite a blest upbringing, ‘musically’.

One perfect example is this.  When I was about just seven or eight, my sister Judith was working in London, as a teacher in Upminster, then Surbiton.  On several occasions she invited us to stay with her and –now I appreciate what a sacrifice and expense this must have been –on those occasions she would book tickets for West End shows.  Now, I may well be blurring together memories of separate visits, but in my mind, it seems probable to me that in one single week she took us not only to a West End cinema to see The Parent Trap (thus beginning my lifelong fascination with Hayley Mills), but also to two theatre visits: ‘The Sound Of Music’, a smash new hit musical transferred from Broadway; and the equally new British hit musical theatre version of Dickens’s Oliver Twist! With historical hindsight I now see this to have been indeed the original production – Ron Moody, Georgia Brown and all.

Perhaps I was at a very impressionable age; perhaps I might already have heard some of the songs on the radio (‘As Long As He Needs Me’ very possibly); perhaps I’m imagining it, but, I recall finding that every song in ‘Oliver’ seemed instantly engaging and memorable: from the opening workhouse boys chorus of ‘Food Glorious Food’ onwards, I was transfixed.  If I hadn’t already committed most of the songs to memory, on the following Christmas, as a gift for our parents, Judy bought the LP of the original London cast’s recording of the musical’s songs, and then, with repeated listens, they were sealed for ever inside me…

Part of Bart’s genius was that the songs of the production cover the whole range of moods – seemingly something for every feeling.  My particular favourites included ‘Where Is Love?’ which I would sing when I wanted to feel mawkishly sentimental or self pitying, or when I was savouring some delicious slice of childhood solitude.  For more boisterously happy occasions, I might have chirped up with ‘Consider Yourself’ or the aforementioned celebration of food; but the real feel good song for me, and the one that won out most of the time was ‘Who will buy?’

Most people will remember its theatrical context I’m sure (especially since, when a film was made of the musical some years later, they made something of a choreographical meal of this very song…), with all those early morning mongers, costers and barrowboys hitting the streets to ply their wares and their produce –their individual cries and voices alternating and interweaving to create a musical collage (‘ripe, strawberries ripe…’… ‘any milk today, mistress?’…  etc.).  Into and over this, young Oliver, entranced with his touch of Brownlow luxury, a good sleep and a bright morning, sings ‘Who will buy this wonderful morning..?’

Now, we could get quite analytical here and find several layers in the lyric worthy of discussion: you might say for instance that the song romanticises the drudgery of work and commerce –after all these singing salespersons got up at the crack of dawn to push their barrows, peddle their knife grinding skills; and how much fun being weighed down with a yoke of milk pails?-all from the viewpoint of the lucky leisured classes’ high balconies.  Or we could discuss the ‘buying’ concept, and the commoditization of nature and beauty; but we be missing the point – more probing ecological songs will consider this (eg Artisan’s ‘What am I bid?’) – this one doesn’t.

No, this is simply a song about wanting to capture and savour a beautiful experience and because we know it’s ephemeral, particularly that sense of joy, beauty, freshness of a new day – and okay, especially one that’s free of responsibilities.  And I suppose there’s a particular kind of joy attached to city morningscapes as opposed to country side ones (Think of Wordsworth’s ‘Westminster Bridge’ for instance)– that sense of the miraculous mix of humanity, its endless range of colours, activities and interests coexisting and even somehow harmonising.  That’s the feel of the song, of course, somewhat simplified, but the nine year old still inside me still loves it.

And perhaps those of us who scribble a bit have all tried to write something about wanting to stop time, crystallise a moment etc.  I can think of a couple of my own songs echoing that sentiment, even one called ‘Hold On To the Morning’!  But for that sheer crazy sense of morning time wonder, all filtered through a child’s innocence, this fondly remembered musical set piece takes the biscuit.

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2 thoughts on “28. WHO WILL BUY – from ‘Oliver’ by Lionel Bart

  1. I was so tired when I returned home from work that I passed over your blog for later enjoyment and just looked at the comments. Your childhood experiences echoed mine, at least in this blog. My grandparents were the ones introducing me to the wonders of Broadway musicals. I memorized all the songs as well, pulling them out as friends and accompaniment to my life. When I was living in the UK with the Fisherfolk, I remember singing as I walked down streets in London, not sure exactly where as I think back, but “Who will buy” is one of the songs that I sang. I wonder if people along my way thought I was crazy???

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! I still do it when I visit London, Diane! Except that now I’m not just wide-eyed-with-wonder Oliver, but I’m also crossed a bit with worldly-wise Artful Dodger and reflective old Fagin ‘Reviewing the Situation’. But London’s a great place to sing as you go along!!

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