#nowlistening or #notlistening? Toby, Daft Punk, and the moon goddess

daft_punk_vibe-comWhen we observed in passing that Tobeeee had been enjoying Daft Punk bright and early before his gin sesh with Kenton last Monday, reliable music-detective @bramblybarb was right in there: “I love that song! Reminds me of a fab holiday in Turkey. Daft punk pretty much sums up Toby.”  And she’s got a point. Well—two actually (which is three more than Toby and Pip combined….) “Get Lucky” was always destined to be a classic party anthem, and Toby really is a daft punk. (That is: “punk” in the sense used in West Side Story more than that pertaining to the Sex Pistols.) In so many respects, it’s an entirely likely music choice for this player-of-players, whose reliable-partner act isn’t fooling anyone except Pip. “Get Lucky” in this sense—with its insistence on the feel-good factor and a “be who you are, do what you like” mantra—is surely an ideal theme tune for this neoliberalist twerp.

And he clearly loves the song, because only three days later he said he’d given a “rousing chorus” of it while collecting the all-important marshmallow leaves with Carol “The camomile tea pusher” Tregorran. And Pip’s notion that the song might not have been appropriate was perhaps the most useful thing she’s said all year, since many a listener might have suggested he try “Casta diva” instead, the soulful ode to the moon sung by the eponymous and tragic heroine in Bellini’s Norma (1831).

To hear Toby for a moment as Norma herself would be an intriguing idea—the druid priestess has two secret children by the leader of the Roman occupiers, and is forced to throw herself on a sacrificial pyre when the deception and betrayal are exposed. The long-standing speculations that the Gin King of Ambridge has a secret family in Brighton were not abated by the “confession” of a heroin-addled ex, and to a keen music-detective like myself, these marshmallow moments only bring the possibility of another generation of Fairbrethren back into focus.

Bonfire Night’s coming early to Ambridge this year, as we eagerly await Toby’s self-sacrifice on the pyre…

Less transvestitically (Is that even a word? Ed.), Toby might remind us of the Roman, Pollione. This guy is a total jerk—also secretly the progenitor of the two sprogs, he has the added bonus of being on the side of the brutal invaders, and also a two-timing toss-bag, as he can’t seem to decide between Norma and her bezzie-cum-apprentice-priestess Adalgisa. Pip, alas, doesn’t seem to have any friends, with the exception of Alice, and although she went through a patch of REASSURING EVERYONE that SHE AND CHRIS WERE TOTALLY FAITHFUL in ways that threatened to foreshadow an affair, it all went a bit anticlimactic.

It takes a bit more of a leap to get anywhere near proper operatic on this one…from Toby to Carol, through John to Jennifer, and so to Brian and young Ruairi. And in the weaving and squinting that one has to do along such an operatic amble through Borsetshire, and in the incongruity that moments like Custardgate bring to this everyday tale of country folk, we find ourselves faced with the fundamental question about The Archers: is it, has it ever been, could it ever descend as far as being…a soap opera?


#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?