The Song of the White Horse by David Bedford


Many of the old TV documentaries I link to are ones I saw when first broadcast and wanted to see again, but this edition of the BBC’s Omnibus from 1978 is one I missed. The late David Bedford is a familiar name in British music: in the 1970s he was as much known for his orchestral arrangements for Kevin Ayers, Roy Harper, Mike Oldfield, et al as for his own album-length compositions. The Omnibus film concentrates on the composition and performance of a new Bedford piece inspired by the ancient earthwork known as the White Horse of Uffington.

The first half of the film has Bedford visiting the White Horse and nearby Wayland’s Smithy before returning to his studio where he shows the film crew some of his electronic gear. Later we get to see Mike Ratledge of Soft Machine helping create an electronic equivalent of the sound made by the Blowing Stone. The second half of the film has a complete performance of Bedford’s piece which takes its libretto from The Ballad of the White Horse by GK Chesterton. The sound quality doesn’t do the composition any favours at all but Bedford did record the piece in 1983 for Mike Oldfield’s label.

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Hill figures

Harry Clarke in colour


Older illustrated books often suffer at the hands of owners or a certain breed of iniquitous antique dealer who razor out their colour plates in order to frame them as prints. The Internet Archive has two copies of The Year’s at the Spring; An Anthology of Recent Poetry (1920) edited by Lettice D’Oyly Walters, and illustrated by Harry Clarke: one copy features all of the colour plates, the other has many of them missing. Looking at these again I thought it worth drawing attention to their peculiar mixture of the delicate and the grotesque, a result of illustrating a variety of content combined with Clarke’s habit of pushing book illustration into areas where few of his contemporaries would tread. His painting for The Donkey by GK Chesterton is at once an accurate illustration of the poem but also quite repellent, especially in the company of those phallic extrusions which become increasingly common in his later work. Elsewhere, when illustrating James Elroy Flecker’s The Dying Patriot, it’s a description of submerged corpses that he chooses to depict.

The rest of the book—which contains many beautiful ink drawings—may be browsed here or downloaded here. The Internet Archive is raising funds throughout December to support its running costs. I’ve been using their books as a source of reference a great deal over the past two years so was happy to contribute something.




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