#nowlistening: Race in Ambridge

Last Tuesday’s episode left me reeling. Not at the all-too-vivid image of Jill in her see-through swimming cossie, imprinted as that now is on my poor innocent mind. Rather, I was suddenly stunned at the implications of radio as a medium without images. It’s obvious, really, but chatting about the aquaerobics class with my co-presenter, @emilybakermusic, I realized that I “knew” that the irresistible Leroy, was black. And when I thought about how I “knew” it, what I ended up questioning was how I “knew” Jill and Carol are white….

On reflection, the presumption came from two places: his name, and the music.

Aunt Jemima: the quintessential Southern black ‘mammy’

A contraction of “Le roi”, the name Leroy (also Leeroy and LeRoy) derives from French, meaning “the king”. And from French, it passed into English culture, no doubt first with 1066 and all that, subsequently becoming popular in the nineteenth century. So far, so white, since the aristocratic history of Europe is hardly know for racial diversity beyond the Caucasian. But, along with names like Tyrone (a county in Ireland), Antwan (Antoine), and Jemima (as in Beatrix Potter’s Puddleduck), the name Leroy has made a long journey from one side of the Atlantic to the other, no doubt following the routes of the slave boats, and simultaneously landing the other side of a racial divide. That “Leroy” might connote blackness in Ambridge is then almost certainly a by-product of the Americanisation of British popular culture, in which films like Which Way Is Up (1977, in which Richard Pryor plays Leroy Jones), and baseball stars like Leroy “Satchel” Paige, have left their own “Leroy is a black name” trace.


Leroy Jones: one contributor to the US image of Leroys as black interwar babies

But back to Ambridge FM’s raison d’être: the music. The end of the aquaerobics class (at 5:45) was signaled by the final bars of UK grime artist Sneakbo’s ‘Zim Zimma’ (2012), and the song taps into a rich intertextual world that signifies far beyond the obvious pun on the “zimmer frames” that many of Leroy’s clients might benefit from. As a genre, grime is quite particularly British; in this sense it differs from the black signification of the name Leroy, with its US origins, but it nonetheless shares an African/Caribbean heritage, albeit a specifically British version thereof. Deriving from a musical lineage that reaches back to Jamaica, through dancehall, drum and bass, jungle, and hip-hop, grime is characterized by quick-fire beats and often features rapped lyrics that focus on the gritty realities of urban life, spoken in a slang based on Jamaican patois. The genre has therefore grown up largely in highly multicultural cities, usually in communities with strong African/Caribbean legacies, and in this way, ‘Zim Zimma’ brings an intense sense of blackness to Ambridge.

And that jars uncomfortably—and indeed humorously—with Carol and Jill, who ooze rural middle-class whiteness. Yet there is nothing to tell us of their whiteness except their rural middle-classness: the 2011 UK census records 95% of rural populations as “White British”, compared with 84.7% of urban areas. Perhaps Leroy resides in the great metropolis of Borchester; perhaps he’s one of the remaining 5% of Ambridge. But we are no doubt also guided in our listening by a sense of ethnocentrism—a kind of default presumption that operates intensely in the white West that people we haven’t seen are themselves white: when was the last time any of us said, “You know him…he’s the white one?”. So I wonder: what might Ambridge look like if only 5% of its residents were white British? And if Leroy were the insider, while his (presumably?) white kingly counterpart–Rex (from the Latin)–were relegated to the aquaerobic outskirts?


#nowlistening: Baltimore Oriole by Hoagy Carmichael.

Hoagy_Carmichael_-_1947As she tucked into her delicious eggs benedict, Lilian wasn’t just being serenaded by relentless, saccharine compliments from Justin in the tea room on Wednesday night. Continuing this weeks’ ornithological musical theme was Hoagy Carmichael chirping away under the hubbub of the tea room with his ode to a particularly colourful migratory breeding bird, the Baltimore Oriole.

Common to the USA, this little warbler is cousin to the UK’s native blackbird — whose song we regularly hear in the Am Vale — indeed, the same could be said of Fag Ash Lil’s ubiquitous gin-soaked cackles. A little lyric analysis leaves little doubt that this little bird is indeed, representative of Lilian. This is all about her historically flighty love life (Oh how I miss those Tiger and Puss Cat days…) and her current predicament as mistress-turned-homewrecker-turned-significant other of Justin Elliott.


This version of ‘Baltimore Oriole’ is performed in the key of D minor, a key described by Schubert as possessing ‘melancholy womanliness, the spleen and humours brood’. Indeed, while co-writer Paul Webster’s lyrics seem to be voiced as Justin‘s arrogant desire to ‘rescue’ Lilian by making their relationship official, the musical environment of D minor keeps our focus on Lilian’s take on how the relationship is developing and changing.

images.jpegAs an aside, the music functions away from the Justilian connection too with the
sombre, yet sashaying ditty cutting across other themes and narratives currently at play in the village. Flurries from the flute section are particularly noticeable in this arrangement, a tried and tested orchestration technique to evoke birdsong and a neat touch to introduce avid twitcher Robert Snell into the scene just as Carmichael sings the word ‘bird’. This is either a result of cleverly synchronised editing or serendipitous timing but either way it’s not just any bird, but a ‘two-timing jay bird’ and so our attention is brought back to the Bellamy-Elliott tangle.

p04j8850.jpgThese tensions are emphasised again at 2mins 19secs when the lyric : ‘…to make a lonely man happy’ (in fact this is the most discernible lyric in the whole scene) when Justin asks Lilian out for a post-brunch promenade around the lake. But Lilian calls the activity into question, reiterating her ongoing rejection of domesticity and asserting her delight in the wildness of their previously unconventional affair. Ultimately ‘Baltimore Oriole’ functions as a bold and empowered statement for Lilian who continues to demand free-spirited autonomy from her own nest.

download.jpegThere are pleasing intertextual resonances with the songs’ history too: Hoagy
Carmichael performed ‘Baltimore Oriole’ in the screen adaptation of Ernest Hemmingway’s To Have and Have Not (1944), a film that first brought together Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Baccall who immediately embarked on their own passionate affair. Their on-screen chemistry is immortalised in the ‘whistle’ scene where Baccall asserts a specific brand of smoky-voiced, powerful femininity over Bogart. While Fag Ash might not have the sultry delivery of Bacall, the ‘Baltimore Oriole’ helps in demonstrating Lilian’s desire to continue her bold, bohemian chitter-chatter over and around Justin.


‘You know how to whistle don’t you Justin?….’

#nowlistening: On automata and colonisation

As birds go, the cuckoo could use a bit of work on its public image. It probably wins the prize for most recognisable bird call: clocks, Beethoven symphonies, and Delius tone poems all make of the distinctive two-note pattern that gives the bird its name. But let’s face it: the eponymous clocks are hardly the most desirable home accessory in the twenty-first century. And what else is the bird so well-known for? The fact that female cuckoos lay their eggs in other birds’ nests. Yup: they just waltz* right in and set up shop. Frances Pitt, in ‘The Scandalous Cuckoo’, calls them “lazy, idle, languid, flirty, promiscuous and reprehensible”. They’re ubiquitous, but no-one really wants them around. A bit like my weird uncle George at Christmas….


So when the mellifluous strains of The Cuckoo Waltz played as Alice and Josh bickered over his setting up his office in the tea-room (at 10:35), we could safely presume a reference to the notorious squatting behaviour of the bird. More than this, though, an intertextual ear reveals further layers of meaning.

There isn’t space here to speculate over a storyline prediction paralleling the premise of the 1970s TV show for which this piece was the theme tune, although that would be an intriguing avenue to pursue. More interesting, perhaps, is to follow the trail left by the instrument on which it played last Tuesday: the accordion. Like the cuckoo, the accordion is ubiquitous, having emerged in nineteenth-century Vienna and spread the world over in all kinds of folk music. It’s never really taken off as a high-class instrument of classical music—not even half as successfully as other nineteenth-century inventions like the saxophone—and so it remains an instrument of the tango, of klezmer, of gypsies and brothels, or of the stereotyped dorkiness of folk clubs. Like the bird, then, the accordion is always weirdly out-of-place: exotic at best and antediluvian at worst. Moreover, like the cuckoo clock with its quaint moving bird popping out of the chalet every hour, it is fundamentally an instrument of automation. For although it has predecessors in ancient Chinese instruments like the sheng, the patent sought for the accordion in 1829 by Cyrill Demian included the characteristic feature of being able to sound an entire chord by pressing only one key. It is this feature that makes the accordion so portable and so useful. It is no accident, for instance, that the accordion’s Argentinian descendant, the bandoneón, was developed for use in churches without an organ, as this one instrument can provide a full accompaniment anywhere for any musical occasion, and still be carried home by one person.


So yes, the music points to Josh’s colonising of the tearoom without having bought anything for hours. And maybe it implies a future storyline in which he takes up lodgings in some newlyweds’ household, as in the ITV sitcom. But it also points to both cousins’ interest in the automatic, the futuristic, the technological, and even the extent to which that interest sets them apart from their respective family units. And so ultimately, the music encapsulates a particular combination of rural, automated, and always-slightly-out-of-place that applies equally to the bird (and the clock), the instrument, and both cousins.

Enormous thanks must go to @JoannaCDobson for amazing ornithological input, and @BramblyBarb for identifying the muzak.

* The question over whether this was intended as pun will emerge in a moment. It was.



#nowlistening: Cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm

fffffThere’s a reason the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is one of the best-known fragments of his work. It’s one of the most famous fragments of classical music at all, and in it, Beethoven straddles the listening centuries, a compositional giant. These four notes stand in for everything we think we know about Beethoven: fierce, dark, aggressive, mysterious, irascible. It is the canonical work from the ultimate canonical composer. What is less well-known is that it premiered the same night as his Sixth Symphony. In many ways, the two works could not be more different: the Sixth is not called the ‘Pastoral’ for nothing. And it was the Sixth that Lilian and Justin enjoyed on Sunday night after their first weekend of freedom from Miranda.

Its full title is ‘Pastoral Symphony, or Recollections of Country Life’, and it’s apt indeed, as the work portrays the idealized countryside of Romantic thought. The five movements have names themselves: ‘Scene by the brook’, the second movement,e4a7d3cdae887e8fa06ec3e74d6a9c0c closes with a woodwind section imitating bird calls crudely enough even for Robert Snell to identify; ‘Merry gathering of country folk’ would be well-placed to accompany a maypole choreography by Linda Snell. Coming immediately after ‘Thunder. Storm’, it was the fifth movement to which the young lovers relaxed: ‘Cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm’. Surely Miranda is that storm, and so we might assume that life at the Dower House will be full of Happy Ever Afters, the sort of ending found in the cleaned-up versions of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, themselves first published in 1812—contemporary to Beethoven’s symphony. But, as ever, there are clues at play if
we scratch beneath the surface.

Beethoven is known for a kind of cellular compositional style, in which a small fragment (like the opening notes of the Fifth) grows almost organically, and weave through the entire work. The Sixth is no exception, but here we can read the cells as a biological metaphor: Yvonne Frindle writes of “the infinite repetition of pattern in nature” to be found in the rhythmic cells. Nature is indeed nothing if not repetitive: the rising and setting of the sun; the turn of the seasons; the cycle of the weather, of rising and falling pressure, of evaporation and rain and evaporation again. So these lovers, with their newfound bliss, may well enjoy these “cheerful and thankful feelings” for now, but there is no maxim about the calm after the storm, is there? Are we to expect more turbulence for Justillian, perhaps a drawn-out and expensive divorce? And might it all draw out the darker side of Justin, whose own dyspeptic nature we have seen on more than one occasion? Perhaps we’ll be hearing the ominous opening of the Fifth before long after all….

#notlistening: flibbertigibbet!


A most unusual and wonderful word set the Ambridge-related twittersphere ablaze this week. No sooner had Peggy Woolley whipped out her second-best (*gasp*) china , she directed her deep disappointment at daughter Lilian for being, a ‘flibbertigibbet’. Peggy must’ve been the last to hear about Lilian and Justin’s raucous ‘going’s-on’ and so, Peggy was cross. In response, gin-soaked Lil’ was a little crestfallen and very hungover and so, quietly took her mother’s admonishment with a solemnity that she is rarely required to lean on.

Tomorrow morning, scriptwriter @keridavies goes on the Today programme to talk about ‘flibbertigibbet’. Of course he is. Brilliant. But among us mere mortals there have been some wonderful observations of the use of the word, not least @sallyannely ’s during this week’s tweetalong that the word would probably have trended if we had known how to spell it! Others have written beautifully on this scene (and beyond) but what I’d like to suggest is that Peggy’s use of the word functions as a musical spoiler of what lies ahead; she tells us that Lilian will get her man and, yet she does so without any music actually underscoring the scene.

‘A flibbertigibbet, a willo-the-wisp, a clown…’maria.jpg

The joy of Ambridge FM is that we get to learn about amazing music through the strangely addictive mundanity of The Archers. But in this moment, like many others, I recalled The Sound Of Music as the most memorable use of ‘flibbertigibbet’ and so the song played away in my background to the rest of the scene. Such is the power of these intertextual moments that a word like ‘flibbertigibbet’ prods the action with its unusualness, takes us elsewhere in that second and encourages us to sing along. Background music becomes superfluous as we all become Ambridge FM. Altogether now…

How do we solve a problem like Lilian Bellamy?

SOM how do you solveA process of recasting, where Lilian becomes Maria, and Peggy takes on the all-seeing surveilling eye of Mother Abbess. With this in mind then, of course Fag Ash would get her man – because big-boss Justin Elliot ends up being coded as Captain Von Trapp! Given Lilian’s disquiet on Justin’s decision to choose her over Miranda, I wonder if he’ll be out telling stories about Edelweiss any time soon?..

#nowlistening: Kirsty falls apart

Well, Kirsty’s finally crumpled. We knew she would. Not that we wanted her to, especially after her pointed reference to everyone waiting for her to fall apart, but it had been brewing. Perhaps what tipped her over the edge, though, was not Fallon’s cricket faux pas, but Ray Charles and Betty Carter crooning Cole Porter’s “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” 6-and-a-half minutes into Tuesday’s episode.

Ray Charles and Betty Carter

As @emilybakermusic has observed, mellow jazzy sounds have been a popular music choice on The Archers recently, and this track continues the trend. In some ways, though, it’s far from an obvious choice of song; as a classic love song, performed here as a duet as if to emphasise the romantic theme, it invites some rethinking of the words if we are to imagine them resonating with Kirsty’s position. But resonate they do, if we consider also the moments after she leaves the tea room, when she explains to Helen how she wakes up at night because the baby isn’t moving, only to find “it’s like losing him all over again.”

Written in 1944 by Cole Porter, and now part of what’s called the ‘Great American Songbook’, it’s been recorded innumerable times, both vocally and instrumentally, by many of the canonical names in jazz. (At the risk of an inappropriately amusing sidenote, it even featured on The Simpsons, in an episode with an apt title for our purposes: “Krusty Gets Busted”.) And so the song itself reiterates—keeps “saying goodbye”—across the decades, to the point that we think we know what it is “about”: romantic love. The familiar musical tropes are laid on thick in this performance too; velvety strings and lush harmonies are matched by Charles’s and Carter’s effortless vocals musing away at the melancholic lyric, and the song is only just raised up from suffocating smoothness by the occasional flick of a harp or a piano flourish.

In juxtaposing this apparent familiarity with Kirsty’s breakdown, the scene jolts us out of what we think we know—even about Kirsty. Throughout Helen’s catastrophic relationship with Rob, and in the witness box, and on the road in the rain as he tried to kidnap Jack, Kirsty was there—Helen’s stalwart defender. But here, it is Kirsty who turns instead to Helen, as the resonance of the lyrics becomes heartbreakingly clear. For in this moment, the song has to be reimagined. The voices may no longer be those of lovers, but of mother and (unborn) son, the latter finally acquiring the voice he never had, haunting Kirsty at night. The cloying soundworld of strings and choral harmonies become the suffocation then of Ambridge itself, with its small-world politics of cricket teams, fur coats hastily thrown on over a nightie, and gossip in the tearoom.

It is this disjuncture between the familiarity of the song’s message and the song itself on the one hand, and the radically reimagined context of Kirsty’s trauma that helps generate the emotional power in this scene. Here’s hoping that, From This Moment On, she can sleep All Through The Night, and find, At Long Last, Love.

#nowlistening: earwigging at Jennifer’s party

There seems to be a tendency of late for Archers scriptwriters to turn to crooners for underscoring. Perhaps it’s the way the silky vocal timbre sits beneath the action? In the not-quite-thirteen minutes of Jenny Darling’s ‘Land’ themed party on Friday night (3rd March), crooners and their jazz-inflected cousins took to the background once again and all washed down with lashings of Sancerre broccoli.


After a smatter of high energy scat singing, followed by a touch of Glenn Miller-esque saxophone schmaltz, it’s Nat King Cole’s matter-of-fact reflection ‘It’s all in the game’ that wafts through Home Farm

For trivia fans, this might well be the only song to accompany a scene in the Archers that’s been written by a Vice-President of the United States of America. Charles G. Dawes’ ‘Melody in A major’ was penned in 1911, and it wasn’t until 1951 that songwriter Carl Sigman added lyrics, later becoming a multi-million selling hit in 1958 for Tommy Edwards.

Charles Dawes. Let’s hope Mike Pence follows suit. No?

I digress.

At a rudimentary level, this song resonates with the various ‘games’ currently being played in Ambridge at present, not least Jim amusing himself at Jenny Darling’s expense when she claims his translation of the party theme as her own work. That a large section in the middle of the song is given over to a small string orchestra to take the tune is useful for the practicalities of radio drama; while the melody sometimes prods at the drama, it is not as distracting as lyrical interest can be. Mostly though, Cole’s crooning of  lyrics like ‘…your future’s looking dim’, seem to operate as a warning for our beloved Lilian. She is, of course, comically blasé about it, invoking both Rita Hayworth and another musical text, Richard Strauss’ Salomé, as she teases Jennifer:

‘I’ll use the opposite corner for my dance of the seven veils!’ 


This imaginary striptease moves us away from Cole’s smooth crooning and toward increased rhythmic intensity, including Tommy Dorsey’s swooning trombone version of ‘Smoke gets in your eyes’ and Tom Jones and Jools Holland grooving their way through Moon Mullican’s ‘I’ll sail my ship alone’. Mullican’s song underscores earring-gate, the intimate moment that reveals the affair once and for all to Miranda. Reinforced by Jones’ warbling, the lyrical inference is that one of these three will be navigating the seas independently forward from here.

What happens next to the always-already doomed relationship Lilian and Justin is at the poetic heart of Anita O’Day’s ‘Stella by starlight’, which concludes the episode. If Tom Jones brought the clang of the penny dropping then Anita O’Day brings the ‘oh blimey…this doesn’t look good’ to the yard.


As Miranda and Justin leave the party, leaving Lilian under the false impression that the illicit romance remains hidden, O’Day’s song persona sings on behalf of Lilian of a ‘nook where two lovers hide’.  

Some attribute O’Day’s distinctive vocal style, with its vibrato-free tone and short phrases, to a botched tonsillectomy; others have mused that her concentration on rhythm over melody is why she is less well known than her contemporaries, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. But the connection runs outside the confines of the song too. Notwithstanding O’Day’s (successful) battle with drug addiction, she has a similar brand of joie de vivre as Lilian; this ‘the jezebel of jazz’ is the ideal musical counterpart to Lil’s geriatric-but-persistent sexuality.


Furthermore, the song itself has its own intertextual interest to add intrigue. Like ‘It’s all in the game’, there is a time-lapse between the creation of music and lyrics; the former was composed in 1944 to underscore the film, The Uninvited, and the lyrics were added later in 1946 by Ned Washington. The inclusion in this scene sees the music return to its primary use as supporting drama.

The Uninvited tells a supernatural tale of ghostly hauntings, so might it leave clues as to what’s up next in Ambridge? Will Miranda surreptitiously linger in the shadows to definitively catch Lilian and Justin in the act? Or does all this talk of speed limits and fast cars in the village point toward a very literal ghost on the horizon?


P.S. A caveat and confession: as much as I’d love to have analysed all 7 pieces I didn’t have the space here and as much as I’ve tried, I can’t identify all the tracks that are used in this episode. Please do drop me an email or a tweet if you can shed any light!

#nowlistening: Purcell with Jenny and Fallon

“Land”, Jennifer’s absurdly vague theme for the party celebrating Brian’s vaguely absurd purchase, wasn’t much for Emma and Fallon to go on. They got there in the end, of course, with Jim’s help, and the cornucopia theme went down well enough. But what was the significance of the music Jennifer was enjoying a minute into Wednesday’s episode while Fallon presented the menu?

Not to be confused with the composer

Jennifer might have meant ‘land’ in the sense of physical space, and Fallon turned to land’s physical capacity to nourish, but ‘land’ is also a cultural concept. In 1904, the German writer Oscar Schmitz described England as “Das Land ohne Musik”: “The land without music”. And so he identifies Englishness itself as lacking in original musical capacity.

Last Night of the Proms: propped up by Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Parry, and other composers of the “English musical renaissance”.


Today, the English composers contemporary to Schmitz are at the centre of English musical identity. With Elgar’s pomp and circumstance and Parry’s new Jerusalem, they are the soundtrack of the establishment. Historically, Purcell stands apart, a lone English name in the musical canon. And his shadow looms long into the twentieth century over notions of musical Englishness. Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra; the main theme in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange; the Pet Shop Boys’ ‘Love Is A Bourgeois Construct’: all of them start at Purcell.

Tamsin Greig in between Debbie Aldridge moments, as Malvolia in Twelfth Night at the National

He is to music what Shakespeare is to theatre, and it is apt indeed that the opening of Twelfth Night accompanied the scene, for the quote is surely one of the most iconic of the Bard’s. With it, Purcell manages to piggy-back on the existing English-cultural capital of Shakespeare, and in turn it is the legacy of both of them that occupied the sonic space behind Jenny and Fallon. In Twelfth Night, the speech comes from the Duke Orsino, musing over an unrequited love; it’s very little to do with food, and much more to do with his self-indulgence, in love, food, and anything else going. Eventually, as @muchadoambridge puts it, “love conquers all and snobby authority (Malvolio) is put in its place”. Perhaps this foretells of Lillian and Justin’s ‘love’ triumphing, and Miranda-as-Malvolio being shot down. Alternatively, if Jenny’s party is itself all about her snobbishness and the importance of reputation, then perhaps it is her pride and her fall that are in such dangerous proximity.

If the Shakespeare text is Purcell drawing on the timelessness of what has gone before, his “Sound the trumpets” represents a point on which others draw in turn. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the castrato voice dominated the operatic stage and church music practice. These voices, preserved in their youthful state by medical intervention, were highly prized and highly paid, in Italy especially. Conversely, the adult male voice singing high without such intervention—what we now call the countertenor—was considered a pretence, a falsity (hence the word falsetto). But in England the politics of voice types were somewhat different, and it was the countertenor for which Purcell wrote this duet. By the mid-twentieth-century, both castrato and countertenor were voices of the past. But when, in 1943, Michael Tippett heard Alfred Deller singing in Canterbury Cathedral (perhaps the most ‘eternal’ of Christian structures), he pointed to Purcell as a point of origin: “I recognised absolutely,” said Tippett, “that this was the voice for which Purcell had written.” And so Deller acquired validation for what was then a very unusual voice.

Purcell stands not just for the imperial Britishness of Elgar et al., which rises and falls in violence, but for the timelessness of England, the unspoilt land, the beauty of rolling hills. In the context of The Archers, he stands for an idea of rural England as untouchable, sacred, eternal. This is surely the myth that Jenny Darling buys into—the inevitability of her lord, Brine, surveying his land; of her managing the household and organising the servant caterers; and of the entire social system of Ambridge relying on this feudal relationship.

Now, if they want any DJing for the party itself, they know where to find us….

#nowlistening: Take That, ‘Patience’

The assassination of JFK. The moon landing. 9/11. The death of Diana. Everything changes in a moment like that.

Oh, and when Robbie left Take That; that’s another one we’ll never forget. And it signalled in 1996 the end of the group, one of the most successful British boy bands since Jazzer’s uncles formed the Bay City Rollers.

Note: “British” only incorporates “Scottish” when it suits the English. Andy Murray will confirm.

Since then, they’ve reformed as a foursome, welcomed Robbie back, lost Robbie again and Jason too, and enjoyed occasional visits from Robbie. The on-again-off-again history of the band is more flippety-flop than Adam Macy’s sense of fidelity.

Perhaps no surprise, then, that it was Take That’s “Patience” playing last Tuesday (21 Feb) when Tom resisted Pat’s maternal anxiety over his emotional state in the wake of Kirsty’s miscarriage, because she and the Sausage King are also in a perennial state of will-they-won’t-they.

Throughout the scene, the lyrics mirror Tom’s emotions: starting at the second verse lyric “I really wanna start over again”, later lines like “I’m trying to move on” and “I’ll try to be strong” similarly match Tom’s feelings about the situation. This is matched by a mirroring of pitches, as Tom’s voice weaves in and out of the voices of however-many-members-of-Take-That-there-were-that-day. The underlying awkwardness of the conversation gives plenty of space to hear the most anthemic section of the song too, as the chorus kicks in with the crucial sing-along moment. And the gentle clipping of Tom’s voice lends his speech an air of the same slow groove that the song is built on. So his speech altogether merges with the musical frame.

Beyond Take That’s apparently pathological inability to stay together as a band—and probably because of the long hiatus following Robbie’s departure—they operate now not as the boy band they once were, but a “man band”. In the fiction of rock authenticity, “masculinity” is basically left unscrutinised wherever possible, and the narrative is fundamentally about the male ego and the trouble women cause. For the boy band, by contrast, masculinity is far more fragile. Like Rudy Vallee and the crooners of old, the boy band’s narrative is about the vulnerability of masculinity in the face of love. The big rock gods straddle the stage declaring they’re “gonna give you my love” (presumably whether you want it or not…). The boy band instead sing of their heartbreaks, their capacity for fidelity, and their need for women to come and save them. For this boy-band-grown-up, such fragility is still at the forefront; at that anthemic peak, the vulnerable height of Gary Barlow’s vocal pitch plus the lack of discernible words render it more like a wail of heartache than the screaming sexual climaxes of Led Zep et al.

It is this new-millennium masculinity that now characterises Tom, wrestling as he is with his responsibilities and whether he can ever be happy now. His proposal to Kirsty—which once upon a time would have been the Done Thing—was roundly derided by Kirsty, Helen, and all of Twitter. And so he’s a man in crisis, just like men the western world over are—for they are caught between paleolithic ‘programming’, the demands of the patriarchal order, the internal contradictions of neoliberalism where the “do what you like” mantra fails to cohere anything, and the rise of ‘post-feminism’.

To be sure—we might even suggest that Lord Barlow could pop into Bridge Farm if he’s missing a member at any point.