And did those feet?

by Chris Bertram on November 8, 2011

We went to see Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem on Saturday, with Mark Rylance playing the role of “Rooster” Byron. It was one of the most overwhelming experiences I’ve had at the theatre. The production was superb, and Rylance extraordinary, inhabiting the character of drunk, drug-dealing outsider Byron with love and energy throughout. Englishness is the theme, but hardly the house-trained Englishness of which the Daily Mail would approve, since the action is set on Byron’s last day before eviction from his illegal encampment by Kennet and Avon council, and Byron is a “gippo” and a “pikey” (Americans might call him “trailer trash”). The inhabitants of the little box houses on the “new estate”, many of whom have hung around Rooster’s caravan as adolescents themselves, want him out. If I were being pretentious I might use terms like Dionysian (ok I just did). The play problematizes peace, “progress”, order and prosperity and projects a view of what matters that won’t appeal to Steven Pinker or the average economist. Well too bad for them. I hear the play was well-received on Broadway. I wonder how well the Wiltshire underlass travelled to New York? No spoilers here, but I have listened to Sandy Denny singing “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” about 100 times in the past couple of days, often with tears running down my face.



ajay 11.08.11 at 2:00 pm

The play problematizes peace, “progress’‘, order and prosperity and projects a view of what matters that won’t appeal to Steven Pinker



Chris Bertram 11.08.11 at 2:16 pm

I’m glad to have rendered you speechless ajay, it has always been one of my ambitions.


bob mcmanus 11.08.11 at 2:45 pm

Electric Eden Rob Young, 2011 starts with a chapter about Robert Lewis and Vashti Bunyan getting evicted from their camp in the woods outside Ravensbourne College, and then follows their two years in a horsedrawn caravan around England. The second chapter goes back to Cecil Sharp, Hardy, Ley Lines, and Delius. And a lot about Denny, of course.

The book taught me more about the English relationship to their countryside than Raymond Williams.


Katya 11.08.11 at 3:42 pm

I can say from firsthand experience that it traveled well. Mark Rylance was amazing and kept the audience entranced. I would have liked to have seen the play again, because there were so many details and layers that one simply cannot absorb it all at once. Both the humor and the class issues translated surprisingly well, both because of the quality of the writing and of the performances.


Hidari 11.08.11 at 3:49 pm

“Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” is the best song ever written isn’t it?

‘How rock’n’roll is THAT’ Sandy Denny anecdote: despite having had a baby (which, considering her, eh, ‘lifestyle choices’ can only be described as a brave decision), SD continued to drink like a coke-fuelled fish. Sometimes she got so drunk she would leave her baby in the pub and would be woken in the early hours of the morning by the pub owner banging on her door and demanding she take her child back.

Other Sandy Denny anecdote: she once had an affair with Frank Zappa.

I think I remember reading somewhere on the interwebs that a new album has just been released of her singing the original version of this in Bert Jansch*’s living room. (Ah, I was wrong, it was Alex Campbell. The album is called 19 Rupert Street).



Torquil Macneil 11.08.11 at 3:55 pm

“Sometimes she got so drunk she would leave her baby in the pub ”

I suppose ‘rock ‘n’roll’ is one way of describing that. ‘Child abuse’ is the obvious other.


Chris Bertram 11.08.11 at 4:02 pm

Hidari, Torquil: I don’t think we need a sub-thread on Sandy Denny’s unsuitability as a parent.


bert 11.08.11 at 4:02 pm

This version too. As the mood takes you.


bob mcmanus 11.08.11 at 5:16 pm

I prefer the Judy Collins version of Who Knows. The Collister isn’t very good. By the time Denny was recording it, I suspect she was tired of it. I also like a lot of other Denny songs just as well or better, and think she was a better rocker than balladeer. Denny was always leaving bands, and then forming another band. Electric at a time when acoustic was just as possible, rocking the folk is her invention and legacy.


David in NY 11.08.11 at 7:05 pm

Everybody I know, in London or New York, who saw it loved it, but me. And I liked it OK. I guess I thought I’d been seeing the Rooster character (brilliantly and athletically played by Rylance), maybe in slightly different forms, and usually a little less raw, for decades. In fact, the charming deviant used to be even more a staple (in the ’60’s, say?) than it is now. But, hey, I’m not coming up with so many examples, am I … OK, see, e.g., Keysey’s Randle Patrick McMurphy. And frankly, I didn’t quite get the Englishness of it all … Rooster as the real England? I don’t know.

But Rylance’s performance is amazing, and it presents a nice version of the magical forest that goes back to and well beyond Shakespeare.

And yes, “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” is truly great (Judy Collins my fave as well).


David in NY 11.08.11 at 9:02 pm

Oops. “Kesey’s Randle Patrick McMurphy.>


mrearl 11.08.11 at 9:16 pm

You are correct, Hidari, “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” is the best song ever written. And while Judy Collins’ version is technically better, it doesn’t have the emotional tang of Denny’s recording with Fairport Convention. Collins’ delivery is a performance, and a beautiful one, but it’s too “good” to communicate Denny’s deeper understanding of the song. She truly has no thought of time.

It’s my favorite this time of year: “Across the purple sky, all the birds are leaving . . .”


Phil 11.08.11 at 9:21 pm

I’ve always had slightly mixed feelings about that song; I can go with it for a chorus or even two, but by the end of it I’m always feeling a bit on the outside, thinking “Me! I’m afraid of time!” (And the story I heard about Sandy Denny was that she fell down those stairs because she was getting ill, and she was getting ill because of the booze.)

Americans might call him “trailer trash”

Which would be oddly appropriate, given the racist undertones of ‘trash’ in that context (as in ‘white trash’, meaning ‘white but no better than those who we don’t even need to call “trash”‘). “Chav” is perhaps the direct equivalent of ‘trailer trash’, carrying the same mixed freight of contempt for poverty, fear of the poor and a kind of yearning for the simplicities of racism.

Haven’t seen the play, but it sounds great.


David in NY 11.08.11 at 9:32 pm

Phil —
I have an African-American friend with strong objections to the term “white trash” on just the grounds you note — the implicit presumption that blacks are trash.


Phil 11.08.11 at 9:38 pm

David – I can’t see any other way of reading it. It was Lynn Barber’s interview with Tammy Wynette that sensitised me to the phrase – she blundered in with “Your family were poor whites…” and created a chill that took some time to defrost (for Ms W, “poor whites” = “poor white trash” = “white trash”).


bob mcmanus 11.08.11 at 10:43 pm

OK, see, e.g., Keysey’s Randle Patrick McMurphy. And frankly, I didn’t quite get the Englishness of it all … Rooster as the real England? I don’t know.

it presents a nice version of the magical forest

This is what Young is working with in the book mentioned at 3. Comus, Tam Lin, Reynardine, the 60s artists re-imagining of the forests as dark and potent and pagan. I haven’t seen the play, and am not British, so my feeling for this is derivative.

Interestingly, the 2nd (3rd) folk revival as neo-pagan may have roots in the Lomax and Collins trip to Appalachia in 1959, but I don’t think Americans have the feel for wild country that the British and Irish do. Not enough history, wrong kind of religion? No enclosure? There may be local traditions of “magic forest” but I think they are remnants of import.


Watson Ladd 11.09.11 at 4:16 am

Celebrations of volkishness are the last thing I expected to see praised on Crooked Timber. Its the sophisticated rootless capitalist against the poor agrarian with ties to the land, the problems of modern society reduced to the presence of individuals. Somehow the anglosphere has missed out on the real history of folkishness. (And yes, I contra dance. The issue isn’t folk music: music doesn’t have politics. The issue is celebrating it as authentic and real against what capital produces. And this play is very much celebrating volkishness)


Chris Bertram 11.09.11 at 6:35 am

_Celebrations of volkishness are the last thing I expected to see praised on Crooked Timber. …. And this play is very much celebrating volkishness _

You haven’t seen the play Watson, have you?


NomadUK 11.09.11 at 7:16 am

The issue isn’t folk music: music doesn’t have politics.

… Right.


cian 11.09.11 at 9:48 am

While I quite enjoyed Rob Young’s book, I really wouldn’t rely upon it for anything. It struck me as a book that began with a thesis, and then struggled to fit details into that thesis. Its history of folk music is partial and just wrong in places, and I didn’t find his attempts to explain the British attitude to the countryside hugely convincing.

However, any book that gets people to check out Comus, or which points out that the second Steel Eye Span album is a masterpiece certainly has something going for it. Probably best used as an introduction to the music.


cian 11.09.11 at 9:53 am

Watson: Have you ever actually met a poor person?

And given that you seem to think that it was the Industrial Revolution that ended feudalism in Britain, I think you can probably spare us the real history of folkishness.


cian 11.09.11 at 9:55 am

Oh and like Phil I haven’t seen the play, but everything I’ve hard about it makes me want to. Sounds fantastic.


garymar 11.09.11 at 1:27 pm

1. I protested at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968.
2. Ditto for the Moratorium protests in Washington, 1969.
3. Saw Hendrix in concert.
4. thought about going to Woodstock when someone offered us a ride; but we couldn’t afford the trip: we were surviving our Summer of Love by selling underground newspapers in downtown Detroit.

Herewith have I presented my hippie bona fides.

And yet I have never heard of Sandy Denny until this blog entry.


cian 11.09.11 at 1:34 pm

You were in the wrong country. She was British.


garymar 11.09.11 at 1:41 pm

Was she so local then?


Watson Ladd 11.09.11 at 2:03 pm

Chris, I haven’t. But your description of it is of a play celebrating proletarian Englishness and being entirely about people. Compared to an Angry Young Men play there is quite a bit of difference in how the question of proletarian identity is developed.

cian, I think its the Glorious Revolution that inaugurates capitalism and the Industrial Revolution that problematizes it. But why don’t you tell us if theres any way in which folk identity was emancipatory other then the most obvious example?


Harry 11.09.11 at 2:21 pm

garymar; I’m not completely surprised she passed you by; but you’ve heard of Fairport Convention, right? After Fairport I’d say she was very English, and she is really a seventies more than a sixties phenomenon. Pandora changes everything though: I was at some friends’ house the other day who mainly listen to contemporary pop, and realised that Kate Rusby was singing to me, on the Adele channel; then, again, at lunch in a crap sandwich place in the Atlanta airport both her and Sandy Denny.

Isn’t there a new boxed set with everything she ever did on it or something?

Regardless, today is one to celebrate.


cian 11.09.11 at 3:42 pm

Been and gone as I understand it Harry. Goes for a small fortune on ebay.


cian 11.09.11 at 3:44 pm

Watson, as I understand it that particular Marxist view of history has mostly been abandoned as the evidence didn’t support it. At least that was Austin Woolrych’s take on it.

But why don’t you tell us if theres any way in which folk identity was emancipatory other then the most obvious example?

This is a question so confused in its asking, its impossible to answer. Which folk identity? Which period? Where? Are we talking revival, Cecil Sharpe? Why does it have to be emancipatory, what can’t it just be? What the hell has this got to do with Sandy Denny, who was only very briefly a folk singer. and so on.

And why, assuming your bizarre taken on the play was correct (it isn’t – you should read what people write before going off one one), would any of that matter. Or is this a “only art which serves the revolution is good art” rant. In which case carry on – always good to see somebody continue the old craft traditions – though blacksmith might be more dignifed than doctrinaire Marxism.


JazzBumpa 11.09.11 at 4:51 pm

Sandy Denny did The Battle of Evermore with Led Zeppelin on the studio recording.

Damn – that STILL sounds good.



David in NY 11.09.11 at 11:19 pm

Watson, I think that you should have taken Chris’s point — that you haven’t even seen the play — to heart.


a reader 11.10.11 at 5:50 am

great song by sandy denny but the eva cassidy version kills me


Katya 11.10.11 at 4:33 pm

The thing I really loved about the play was that, while one might be tempted to read it as merely celebrating the pagan, natural, wild Rooster, it also critiques his life and choices–he’s not an uncomplicated hero. I read him as “primal,” and primal is not good or bad–it is both life-giving and dangerous. Dionysian isn’t just drinking and dancing–it’s also madness and chaos. To me, the greatness of the play was that it didn’t come down on one side or the other, but presented this force of nature, in his conflict with society and order, without judgment. And this big pagan theme was examined in a very specific context of race and class and time.


Metatone 11.13.11 at 6:20 pm

I felt that Dale Farm (amongst other recent events) gave the play an added layer in this run.

I also thought that the theme of the way attitudes change over time (and ageing) was an important commentary on “England.” (There was a discussion between Simon Armitage and John Harris on The Guardian recently that touched on the violence of 70s Britain that felt like it touched on a similar nerve.)


liz hand 11.14.11 at 7:33 pm

I was fortunate enough to score day tickets for “Jeruslaem” last week, one of the most incredible performances I’ve ever seen. I’m still obsessively reading about, thus your post? Thanks!


Henry 11.14.11 at 8:42 pm

Liz – nice to have you dropping by. I was thinking about your work the other week when going through Dupont Circle – the Childe Harolde has been replaced by an anonymous pub restaurant. and it hurts me every time I see it.

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