#nowlistening: a sky full of masculinities. The Ed Sheeran constellation over Ambridge.

Goodness me, the airwaves across Borsetshire have been a-flutter in the last couple of weeks. We’ve been a little quiet over here at Ambridge FM as our new, entirely fictional and completely invisible, radio mast has been installed at the top of Lakey Hill. But over the last few weeks, I couldn’t help but notice a theme emerging: the various colours of masculinity on display across Ambridge and how Ed Sheeran seemed to be at the centre of it all.

As the distance between Toby and Pip became somewhat galactic it was Sheeran’s Castle on the hill that underscored the moment Toby presumed too much of Pip’s affection for him. Ordering a takeaway she didn’t want, as the food chilled, the relationship finally soured and all the while Sheeran nostalgically mused on the rural idyll by singing:

‘I’m on my way, driving at 90 through those country lanes, singing to Tiny Dancer’.

Ah…a lyrical yearning for those teenage years that feel so horribly complex at the time – where danger and youthful exuberance aren’t hindered by Linda Snell lurking in the bushes with a speed gun.

*An aside for a moment…I’m not sure how likely is it that the average person in their mid-20s would have listened to Elton John’s Tiny Dancer, let alone heard it. My theory is that this is one of the only songs where an artist does a little ‘shout-out’ to the owner of his management company. I digress but suffice to say that Sheeran’s presence in The Archers has been much like its been out here in listener-land (is that what we call it?): entirely ubiquitous.*

Anyway, the freedom Sheeran yearns for in Castle on the hill might well seem to be representative of Toby’s laddish optimism but in many ways the song itself speaks for Pip’s obvious desire for a less complicated life away from Toby’s constant stream of half-truths lies.

Recently, Sheeran’s man-of-the-people/ boy-next-door has been problematised by both Chloe Stilwell and Laura Snapes as a specific brand of ‘toxic masculinity’. The song Shape of you is singled out as emblematic of the way womens’ bodies are habitually subjected to the male gaze without question. In Ambridge, many of us have felt this kind of ‘grrr-ish’ toward Toby’s bragging about the way he treats women. Further still, it is interesting that the most notably absent member of the Archer family, young Ben, blasted Shape of you as a means of asserting his youthful masculine presence during a who-sleeps-where debacle in Brookfield a few weeks back too.

To finish up though, it is through Lily Pargetter that Sheeran’s music and masculinity operates as the sun for a number of residents in the village and their preferred ditties to orbit around. I can think of at least five (do drop me a line with more!):

1. In the middle of May, David turned up to Lower Loxley to give Lily a driving lesson.

Lily was prompted to talk about music in response to what she terms David’s ‘seriously retro’ music that was already playing in his car. We heard Deep Purple’s Smoke on the water and it was a bit of a shock to start with. I never had David Archer down as a fan of early heavy metal but actually I can well imagine the dad dancing if I really put my mind to it. Interestingly, it’s a song about a casino burning down, so perhaps it’s a nod of the financially perilous things to come at Brookfield?

2. Lily tells David she’s a Sheeran fan and in doing so, positions songs like Castle on the hill in direct opposition to Smoke on the water as far as she’s concerned. Lily is about the here and now and Sheeran is representative of this. In the last week it turns out that her twin brother, Freddie, is a proud retrophile. A hipster in the making perhaps, he tells Johnny that he not only loves the ‘old skool’ sounds of Run DMC but that the acts playing at Loxfest were ‘lost’ on Lily.

3. Lily tells David that for her, ‘music isn’t really a distraction, it helps [her] concentrate…’ and that Sheeran’s latest album, ‘Divide’, is what she listens to as she revises for her English A Level exam. We know that like Sheeran, Lily is popular amongst her peers and so his music is a nod to how Lily enjoys operating as a kind of social glue between people. And so relatedly…

4. She goes on to tell a entirely disinterested David that Sheeran’s brand of 21st century troubadourism has caught Johnny’s attention too but she suspects its more to do with his eternal yearning for the enigmatic Amber than anything else.

This week, after much soul searching, Johnny eventually plucked up the courage to ask Amber to go to the Isle of White festival. Having received a pair of tickets for his birthday Johnny told Freddie, he was particularly excited about seeing rising star Rag’n’Bone man. In terms of both genre and style, Sheeran’s musical offering isn’t a million miles from er…’Rag’…and so Johnny is a clearly fan of young singers who culturally signify the unlikely ‘authentic underdog’ who hits the big time against the odds. Johnny thinks he’s punching above his weight with Amber, so when she agrees to take up the second ticket, might this music suggest that he’s going to win over her heart after all?

5. Finally, I am interested in how Lily’s relationship with Anisha is indirectly heard through her enjoyment of Sheeran’s music.

The singer recently featured on Desert Island Discs, not only revealing the back story to his extraordinary successes but also sharing insight into his dogged determinism and continued ambition.

In a culture that ascribes these kinds of qualities as typically masculine, to hear Lily’s fighting talk about out-doing Anisha at the single wicket was rather refreshing. With various village dramas being played out through the decision to include women in the Ambridge cricket team, a subtle flash of female masculinity was a delight this week. I’m not sure if we can ever claim that Sheeran brings such queerness to the yard, but I’m intrigued how the single wicket goes this year…and that’s a first!

#nowlistening: Elizabeth’s 50th birthday

abigail2527s2bparty2bdanceFriday night brought a metric tonne of canapés and troughs of fizz on Friday night as the Pargetter and Archer families gathered at Lower Loxley for Elizabeth’s 50th birthday shindig. Earlier in the week, Liz told Shula that Lily had hinted at a music heavy night, but nothing could prepare us for what that actually entailed. I’m sure I can’t have been the only one willing the party to be just like Abigail’s Party – how I longed for Lilian to glide up to Lower Loxley, layered in boundless orange chiffon and all to a waft of of Demis Roussos. But alas, there was to be no soft Greek balladry and no Fag Ash shimmying in the moonlight.

Instead, Lily’s playlist was an interesting blend of pop which chronologically swung through the years with each minute of Friday’s episode. Abba, Marc Almond and Dexy’s Midnight Runners took care of the 70s and 80s, while Madonna, Take That and Lou Bega represented the hits of the 90s. But the feuding Archer family are becoming increasingly fractured in the wake of an outbreak of IBR amongst various herds in the village (we’re still not entirely sure what IBR actually is but that doesn’t seem to matter). Yes, it’s been all ailing beasts and feeble fencing of late – might a spot of muzak be the perfect thing save the village?agnetha-frida-dancing-queen-o

As that iconic piano glissando kicked in, it looked as though Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’ might just start a chain reaction of hatchet burying across Ambridge as Kenton and Elizabeth let their rift fizzle away just as the Swedish quartet sang ‘you’re in the mood for a dance…’. This is a song which comes pre-loaded with nostalgia – we’re invited to either identify with, or wanting to be with, the carefree seventeen year-old dancer.

Yes, that’s all of us in that song – we’re dancing, jiving, we’re having. the. time. of. our. lives. I’m exhausted even thinking about it. And that’s because this is a song that tells us to dance like no one’s watching – which is a terrible idea. It’s asking us to recall an earlier time, when life was simple. Remember those days? No, neither do we.

Suffice to say, within the opening three minutes, the dialogue and the disco suggest that reconciliation might be the theme for the entire episode. But while the party music optimistically supports Kenton and Elizabeth’s rebuilding, each song carries a darker side too. Over the course of the next few blogs we’ll be taking a walk with a couple of the pairs of conversations that we were privy to that night because while Lily’s playlist might well begin with a song about not caring about whether you’re being watched, the fact is that the ‘dancing queen‘ is always under surveillance and Lily’s careful curation underscores measured monitoring by all in attendance at the party.

rpnksgSo, rather than go through a song by song analysis – we’re interested in how various partnerships crackle against the musical ‘interference’ in the background. Having said that, as ‘Dancing Queen’ fades away, Soft Cell’s dark new-wave, cover version of Gloria Jones’ ‘Tainted Love’  howls across the awkward familial forum. It is from here that I start by taking a look at one of Ambridge’s most troubled partnerships at present: Pip and Ruth.

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Toby Fairbrother?

As avid listeners to DumTeeDum and pottering away as we do on Twitter, I know it’s not a popular opinion to say this but poor old Pip. She’s a young woman in a relationship with an oik who is at best, thoughtless and stupid in a Tim-Nice-But-Dim kind of a way and at worst is manipulative in a Titchener-lite kind of a way. Toby certainly measures somewhere on the narcissistic personality disorder scale. I fear the latter and for that reason he needs a dunking in the sheep dip and should be sent on his merry way.

 

Either way, Pip is so captivated by Toby’s bullshittery that I do worry that her side of the Archers clan is in danger of watching her gradually drift away in the same way Helen did. We’ve seen (or rather heard) Pip become increasingly isolated, and meaningful relationships fractured, after Toby encouraged her to withhold the truth about fences, cows, that IBR thing and let’s not forget the £5k she foolishly gave him for his gin enterprise. To her credit, she has been trying to confess and last week, finally got a word in edgeways between her parents who were devastated with disappointment. Pip has been trying her hand at bridge-building ever since. As ‘Tainted Love’ pings awkwardly across the room, Pip approaches her Mother:

‘I got you a drink Mum’ (2mins 54secs)

1jyj7ylThe pair exchange small talk but look away from each other and toward the gestures and movements of the other guests. Looking out at the party serves means they don’t have to look in at each other; avoiding eye contact publicly helps in distracting from their private inner turmoil. The twisting strands of dialogue, intonation, musical setting and lyric all wrap around each other here.

As Marc Almond sings ‘…seems to go nowhere’, Pip attempts an optimistic tone by saying how well she thinks the party is going. But as she surveils the room, the backdrop of the squelching synths of Soft Cell, accompanied by a drum machine pattern that doesn’t quite shuffle along in time speak of something different. Accordingly, Ruth’s response is more downbeat and positions Pat and Tony well out of view, while commenting on what she perceives as ‘iciness’ from Brian and Jennifer. More tension is wrung out of the scene with the lyric ‘…once I ran to you, now I run from you…’ takes on familial resonance that speaks for both Pip and Ruth. It is a changed relationship, a complicated one that is in danger of breaking altogether. The complexities of love is, of course at the heart of Soft Cell’s interpretation of the song – an 80s gay anthem and so it is interesting that the next time we hear from Ruth and Pip is framed by another queer moment in pop music history.

tumblr_nj0qa0qvae1tmicivo1_500If the sound effect of a toilet flushing (7mins 29secs) isn’t a sonic cue that all is a bit…well…toilet…then I’m not sure what is. It transpires that Pip has followed her Mum to the loo to finally confront her about the awkwardness between them. Pip wants to flush away…oh never mind…but let’s just say the toilet is the perfect place for this chat and even Madonna agrees as she sings ‘so use it that’s what it’s for…’ from her 90s classic ‘Vogue’.

The scene is relatively short, with Pip pleading for honesty and transparency while Ruth suggests her thoughts and feelings are best locked away, for Pip’s sake. The majority of this dialogue takes place over the pre-chorus of the song, the moment Madonna explains the universality of ‘Vogue’ –  that ‘it makes no difference if you’re black or white, if you’re a boy or a girl…’. And so at a surface level, ‘Vogue’ can be perceived as speaking on behalf of Pip’s longing for openness with Ruth.

tumblr_nr7c7mbdu91uy82zoo1_500But if you’ve seen the extraordinarily important and compelling documentary ‘Paris is burning’ , you’ll know that Vogueing isn’t just about a particular dancing style or merely the action of striking a pose. Rather, it is the dance component of the ball scene in New York, a space made by and for queer, people of colour in the late 80s. In post-Stonewall NYC, this was a highly political and poignant moment in queer history. While vogueing is understood as a kind of posturing, Willy Ninja beautifully explains here that the moves are the manifestation of the practice of ‘throwing shade’ – a kind of dance argument of sorts. As Pip and Ruth arrange to secretly meet in another quiet space in the party, it becomes clear that Ruth is preparing to throw some serious Ambridge shade at her daughter (we’ll file that one under ‘things I never thought I’d type’). And so at 10mins 22secs Pip says it can’t be worse than she’s imagining. In other words, she already thinking badly of herself and is ready for a shady dressing down.

As the scene unwinds, Lou Bega’s interpretation of Perez Prado’s ‘Mambo no.5’ gradually comes into auditory focus. Bega’s monotone voice and sporadic raspy trumpet fanfare occasionally catches our attention, as an anchor point for Ruth’s list home truths. But Pip doesn’t retaliate in the way that ‘Vogue’ or rather, ‘Paris is burning’ suggested she might, instead she is full of apology and sadness. Set against the ubiquitous, light, sort of ridiculous tone of ‘Mambo No.5’, Ruth’s anger is made all the more dramatic by its contrast; a combination of four jabs at Pip with a list of faceless women with nice old lady names;

‘Ruth: You’ve made a fool of me…I’ve been your champion…I kept your secrets…I’m ashamed of you’.

‘Bega: A little bit of Monica in my life, a little bit of Erica by my side, a little bit of Rita is all I need…’

Poor Pip. Don’t you think?

#nowlistening: to songs about tea.

63907815496faaa5e6d2dfc8eae82bc0I write this as I do most things, perched atop a mug of Earl Grey and in the company of a highly-strung black cat. If tea is a vice, I am in its grip and I’m fairly certain my tiny cat thinks it’s a very large dog. Life is confusing, you know?

Anyway, in the mid-20th century, tea flowed like cultural penicillin here in Blighty as we kept calm and carried on – defined as a nation by our love of a nice cuppa. In Ambridge, this is made clear in the way that its not Fallon’s cafe or coffee shop, it’s her tea room and the episode on the 29th March made tea a central musical feature. First was Doris Day’s version of ‘Two for tea’ (1950) from her eponymous film and later was Mario ‘harp’ Lorenzi’s arrangement of  ‘Everything stops for tea’ (1936).

In this episode the lyrics of ‘Two for tea’ clearly speak on behalf of Emma Grundy who is battling with her loyalty to the Grundy brood with growing dissatisfaction of the constant need for positive thinking that everything to be ok. In his latest scheme, Ed Grudy had bought Texel sheep for breeding and Emma tells Fallon they are ‘unremarkable’ — another almost-but-not-quite moment for the Grundy clan. Emma admits frustration, loneliness and confesses a wavering in her familial requirement infinite faith.

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‘unremarkable’ (enormous?).

Vocally, Day’s silky, mezzo-soprano can be heard to represent Emma’s sense of obligation too. The song’s forever-unravelling and always-twisting melody dreamily imagines a quieter time as the supporting harmony subtly changes key but always repeats that same, simple, apparently endless little melody.

1579In this way, ‘Two for tea’ certainly fits with the idea I keep coming back to about The Ambridge Tea Room operating a space for the members of the village to express their existential angst. But a pause in the dialogue at 6mins 10secs is echoed in the songs’ arrangement (at 1min 42secs here) and points toward something slightly different here.

Until now, Day’s soft yearning had been covered by a rich blanket of vocal harmonies from the Ken Lane Singers, an ensemble that made that warm (if not sonically rather overbearing), texture such an iconic sound in Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby’s late-40s/early-50s recordings.f898f25de8e391a4d81b610f9d932571

Day takes a moment of rest from her singing duties and the vocal group sings staccato and in unison which breaks up the previous powerful surges of harmony. Earlier in the song there had been a swooning violin countermelody, playing second fiddle to Day’s tune, but this moment of the song is harmonically framed by a flute which rhythmically skips around the like a tap dance solo. The desired effect is that kind of ‘knowing wink’ comedy, where we know it’s a ridiculous musical trope. In the same way, you don’t have to listen to The Archers for long to understand that the humour is encoded into the way that endless Grundy plans are eternally doomed.

At 6mins 23secs in the episode there is a final flurry of notes, and as the flute ascends Emma sighs and remains firmly back in the family fold, hopeful that perhaps when the lambs grow a little they’ll be able to spot a prize-winning one. This regained positivity is mirrored both in the dialogue with Fallon, and some tinkling stride piano which replaces the flute’s arpeggio. The Ken Lane Singers return to their thick harmonies again too as Emma explains the complexities of rearing these kinds of animals. At 6mins 44 secs, a chromatic shimmy on the piano underlines Emma’s returning doubts and these are reiterated by the return of Day’s smooth voice. Where we might have sensed resolution, it is certainly back to square one again here as Emma concedes:

‘This is the way life is and you’ve just got to learn to put up with it’.

24971But, it’s been hard to ignore the waft of feminism around the village in the past few weeks. And so, at 8mins 45secs when Robert Snell and Emma discuss both the controversy around ageism and sexism in the cricket team; how he loves getting involved in the running of the B&B and how she feels lumbered with it because of the domestic setting, the scent of a longing for gender equality is strong.

Hearing about Robert’s passion for cooking and working with his darling Lyndie operates as a wake-up call to Emma who recognises an imbalance Chez Grundy. There’s certainly a blog post brewing here about the problematic ridicule of the Grundy’s working-class sexism in contrast with Robert Snell being coded as a middle-class (apparently) modern man, but that’s for another day (or, dear reader, if you’d care to write it?!).

d497a49efe0efadaad8f7ec3b9a33131However, at this moment the choice of recording is certainly fascinating, a swinging, ragtime-infused, light-music styled, harp centred interpretation of ‘Everything stops for tea’. A song originally written by three Americans and originally sung by a Scotsman, it seeks to concretise the Englishness of tea drinking. Brilliant.

What interests me here, and is certainly at the centre of the PhD I’m trying to write, is how rules about identity are seemingly made solid through musical performances but that certain qualities or elements can be heard to (either accidentally or deliberately) transgress musically inscribed socio-cultural norms. ‘Everything stops for tea’ is precisely this kind of text, especially in Lorenzi’s rendition of the song as we hear it in the tea room. The harp’s unusual instrumental context is proudly coded as Other by Lorenzi, much in the same way that Robert is delighted by, while Emma is shocked with, being part of domestic life in the Snell household.

And so, as Robert leaves the tea room, Emma is jolted from her Doris Day reverie – exasperated by her inability to offer her kids ‘the simplest of things’. Might Robert, with a helping hand from Lorenzi’s harp solo, have encouraged her to start hatching plans that demonstrate her emancipation by breaking the conventions of the House of Grundy?

#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.

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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.

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

#notlistening: flibbertigibbet!

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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: 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.

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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.

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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!’ 

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DAHHHLINNNG!

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.

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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.

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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: Perry Como ‘It’s impossible’.

Two minutes into Monday 20th Feb’s instalment of The Archers, Perry Como’s ‘It’s impossible’ can just about be discerned underneath the unfolding action between Harrison and Fallon. Over on Twitter, I mused over the significance of the song in relation to the scene’s closing tension on whether or not Harrison could persuade the Ambridge cricket team AGM to include women [*gasp*]. But revisiting the song and it’s placement in the scene provides fascinating insight not just into the socio-cultural-political climate of Ambridge but also demonstrates how music serves to inform the listener about the physical spaces of the village.

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A schmalzy celebration of soft-focus monogamy, ‘It’s Impossible’ was released by Como in 1970 after being translated into English from the original Spanish, ‘Somos Novios’, by long-time Elvis collaborator Sid Wayne. Written and first performed by Mexican composer Armando Manzanero in 1968, the famous bolero has been subject to multiple interpretations in both languages, not least this ‘My Way-esque’ version from ‘The King’ during the velour years. Como’s rendition is an altogether more ponderous and low-key affair. And yet, the way the elements of plot, dialogue, musical texture and lyrical expression twist together in this scene is dynamic in establishing a tension between that which appears to be stable and those things that attempt to trouble that stability.

This warrants further prodding.

Manzanero’s composition, and Wayne’s translation, is surprisingly existential for easy listening, a genre which errs toward the straight ahead love song. ‘It’s impossible’ is expressed through earnest reflections on the natural world. Como smoothly ruminates on the perpetual ‘rushin’ ‘ of waves to the shore and the obligatory presence of the sun in the sky. Bass and drums gently chug away too, supported by subtle electric guitar, providing a muted soulful backbeat. Como’s musical world is steady, in the same way that the Ambridge tea room has quickly established itself as a key venue in village life.

However,  just as the steady groove underpins the action, a piano part which had been towing the musical line by entwining itself between vocal melody, groove and supporting swooning violins, becomes rather noticeable. Twenty seconds into the scene (listen at 2mins 20secs), nimble descending flourishes protrude into the action. Again, the stability of the tea room is made clear as Fallon and Harrison test it by talking about a range of unresolved Ambridge-related news items, all of which fall under the remit of that which is deemed to be ‘impossible’. Subjects ranging from the genuine heartache of Fallon’s attempts to comfort Kirsty following her miscarriage to the ridiculous news of Jennifer’s theme of ‘Land’ for her party. Just how should Fallon cater for such an event? And with half term looming, will she have the time? Nail-biting stuff. Those swirling piano embellishments are a musical representation of active problems for the folk of the village, reminding the listener of a variety of plot lines which are at play.

41aaeshdtkl-_sy355_In other words, ‘It’s impossible’ helps in establishing the tearoom as a place for a more thoughtful and subtle mode of existential reflection than the kind of gossip than we might expect from say, Susan Carter in the village shop. The retro-feel of the recording and Como’s ‘croony’ yearning doesn’t just paint an idea of the shabby-chic interior of the space – it opens up a philosophical quagmire of uncertainty. Which is ultimately why we tune in to Ambridge anyway…isn’t it?!