The Cortège

A Hearth Burns

In “Böse Zeit", near the beginning of The Cortège, Hesse’s traveller, in loneliness and despair, asks “where is the time, when a light, a hearth burned for us?" Now, his journey completed, the traveller joins the rest of the company round the fireside.

The Cortège, which has loosely followed the cycle of a man’s life and death, has also paralleled the progress through the seasons of a year, and on another level, the changes within a single day. Now it is winter again, and night. After the Kyrie, the musicians disperse, then reassemble for what is, in effect, a coda to The Cortège - the aftermath of the journey, the wake after the funeral.

Gradually everyone joins in a kind of New Year’s celebration with the drinking song ‘The Toper’s Rant”, which builds into a paeon to ale and good fellowship. The song was originally written for the opening programme, screened on January 1st, 1982, of the new TV company based in Plymouth, Television South West.

Phil and Kate sing the lyrics, from a poem by the 19th century English poet, John Clare. The arrangement features three alto saxophones in a bebop counterpoint to the song: its
siMike Westbrook, Phil Minton, Kate Westbrookmple forthright chord sequence consists mainly of three major seventh chords, C, G and D, with an occasional F7 chord. The alto saxophones trade ‘fours’. There are high trumpets, a vocal reprise in which Georgie Born joins Kate and Phil, and solo contributions by many members of the orchestra, including Brian Godding on guitar, Dick Pearce on flugelhorn and Lindsay Cooper on sopranino sax. A dazzling unison run by the alto saxophones, from the top to the bottom of the instrument, ends "The Toper’s Rant”.

At this point I speak Pentti Saarikoski’s poem "Une Vie", accompanied by Steve Cook on bass guitar and Dave Barry on drums.

The starting points for the pieces in The Cortège came in many ways. They were worked on, discussed and tried out in many places, helped along by encounters in different countries. The composition is the product of an itinerant way of life. Some pieces reflect the impact of the Mediterranean climate, landscape and culture. Others were conceived in the long, deep winters of Northern Europe.

On tour in Finland, early in l979, we met and talked to Jorma Moilanen in the Sea Horse cafe, in Helsinki, a warm shelter from ice and snow and temperatures of 30 below zero. In this cafe, a traditional Helsinki meeting place of artists and writers which serves beer and cheap meals all day, we talked about The Cortège, and, looking through a selection of Finnish poems, came across “Une Vie".

Many of the ideas in our work have come from the experience of “being there", on tour with the band. At such times it is occasionally possible to see a pattern and a meaning in all this travelling and music making and to envisage a composition, in which these scattered ideas and experiences can be brought together.

At that moment in Helsinki “Une Vie” became part of The Cortège. In its dark humour, its folkloric charm and murderous punch-line, the poem could only have come from that land of vast spaces, of stark contrasts - humour and despair.

This extreme quality, this demonic laughter, was needed as a catalyst for grief and the pagan energies released in the wake. This is the winter solstice, a coda tacked on at the year’s turning, a time of misrule.


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