Sunday, March 08, 2015

John Betjeman: A Shropshire Lad

Late in his life, John Betjeman recorded four albums of his poetry with musical accompaniment. The first of these, Banana Blush, was released in 1974.

Roy Wilkinson wrote about it back in 2006:
On its release, Banana Blush was well received, with critics praising its "sumptuous musical accompaniments". Over the four albums, Parker deployed subtly distinctive instrumentation - viols, euphonium, cornet and multi-tracked vari-tuned piano. 
On Late Flowering Love, the rock session guitarists took Betjeman into new realms - the intro to The Licorice Fields at Pontefract sounds just like the Velvet Underground. 
So perhaps it's not surprising that, when the track A Shropshire Lad was released as a 45, it was made single of the week in the NME. A subsequent interview found the NME reporter popping round to Betjeman's Chelsea flat. 
"It's awfully nice of you to visit me," Betjeman says in the interview. "I've bought some splendid cakes for the occasion. Would you like tea or whisky?" Throughout, Betjeman proffers Bourbon biscuits and booze. 
Soon the interviewer admits he is "sliding under the table", but Betjeman is not to be deterred. "Have the rest of the Scotch and the shortbread," he says. "I've got lots more bottles."
It has to be said that the great man had an odd idea of the Shropshire accent. Around Dawley and Lawley, Oakengates and Coalbrookdale - all part of Telford today - it is very much of the West Midlands.

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