Going farther back in time than my usual 18th century
BLOG NO.12 IF YOU WANT TO READ THE PREVIOUS POST FIRST, CLICK HERE
(Those getting this via email won’t be able to see and listen to the tracks. Apologies. Blame WordPress and SoundCloud!)
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Although when composing and recording my music I only went back to 1700, my interest in history goes waaaaay back, to pre-history in fact. It probably started at school with the Romans, as, growing up not far from Hadrian’s Wall, it was part of our school curriculum, and visits. They fascinated me then, and they fascinate me still. My home town of Stanley, Co. Durham was also not far from the two Roman forts of Lanchester (Longovicium) and Chester-le-Street (Concangis), also in Co. Durham. The clue’s in their names really, which include ‘chester’ (also found in places with ‘cester’ and ‘caster’ in them) from Roman castrum and Anglo-Saxon caester meaning ‘military fort’. (Modern Welsh is Caer – Old Welsh Cair (pronounced kiyer), which is the Welsh name for Chester in Cheshire, England.) But first, let’s go back to before the Romans even set their military hobnailed boots on British soil….
THE IRON AGE
I think my interest in the Iron Age (c.800BC to the AD100) started when we moved to Shropshire in the mid-1980s, as it has the largest concentration of hillforts of anywhere in the UK, and we had moved to a house just over a mile from one of its more well known forts: The Berth (see reconstruction image below – the blue text link to the Megalithic Port has more of our virtual reconstructions of the site). This has recently been made even more famous by Arthurian author, Graham Phillips‘ claim that the historical Arthur was buried there…I won’t get started on that claim and subject as it’s a blog all of its own, and I’ve written about it in the past more than enough!
The Iron Age was the period when the hillforts of Britain really flourished, and I now live about a mile from one of Shropshire largest, Old Oswestry, and a few miles from another: Llanymynech on the English/Welsh border. (If you want to know how to pronounce that Welsh name, click HERE.) ‘Hillfort’ can be a bit of a misnomer, as some weren’t forts at all, but religious or seasonal ‘pens’ for animals. They also range greatly in size.
When it comes to Northeast England, most of the hillforts are in Northumberland, with forts like Eildon Hill and Trapain Law (pictured below) being the most well known. Of course, there was no England, Scotland or Wales then, just the various tribal nations of the Britons. We only know the names of some of these because the Greco-Roman geographer, Ptolemy, documented them in the 2nd century AD. We have no idea if they had the same names centuries before him, or after, and we know from inscribed stones found that even he missed off quite a few.
It’s not a time that I have written music about, but I hope, one day, to do so.
‘THE DARK AGES’
Leap-frogging the Romans, my interest in the so called ‘Dark Ages’ (Post Roman and Early Medieval – c.410 to 1066), probably started – along with my interest in King Arthur – with the early-1970s British tv series Arthur of the Britons. I’d never been particularly interested in the Arthurian legend, but there was something about this gritty telling of his stories and placing him at the time a historical Arthur may have existed (late-5th/early-6th century) that captivated me. To me, back then, they’d made him ‘real’. My interest in all-things-Arthurian would eventually go way beyond this, and I ended up blogging about him and attempting to write three eBooks on the many ‘Arthurs’ of history, from 800BC to AD1200. I had to give up on these books too, due to my illnesses, even though they weren’t far from finished, but I have done a few Arthurian musical compositions, which now follow….
Arthur o Brynaich (Arthur of Brynaich) started life as Arthur o Wynedd (Arthur of Gwynedd) in 2005, when I first composed it for the Arthurian author, Steve Blake, whose theory it was that a historical Arthur may have been from what is now the Gwynedd region of North Wales. Since then my views on Arthur have changed and I’ve now placed him in Brynaich or Bryneich (Anglo-Saxon Bernicia), which was roughly what is now the modern English county of Northumberland. I could have placed him in another location, but went for this, as some identify several of his twelve battles found in the 8th/9th century Welsh Latin pseudo-history, Historia Brittonum (‘History of the Britons’) in this region. It was the longest ‘orchestral’ piece I had done for a long time, and I only recently surpassed it with a piece I’ve compose about the River Tees…although I’m still not happy enough with it to share.
Arthur’s Battles Song is based on the twelve battles of Arthur found in the Historia Brittonum, which some think (not all) originated from an ancient battle poem or poems. In the Early Medieval and Medieval periods ‘poems’ were actually sung by the bards. Mine is a modern version of a battle poem, but certainly not done with the meter and rhyming scheme the bards had to use, but I did attempt the 7 and 8 alternating syllables. (My thanks to Christopher Gwinn for the Brythonic pronunciations of the battles. If you know the battle list, they may not sound like you imagined.)
(Done using GarageBand instruments.)
So To War is just another instrumental on the same theme as Arthur o Brynaich…but half the length.
(Created using the Korg Triton LE and GarageBand)
The next couple of tracks reflect more the King Arthur of the Anglo-Breton-French-Norman medieval legends. The king who, eventually, got a round table, a sword in the anvil (not in a stone!), Camelot, and all the other Arthurian elements now in the popular perception of him. The Welsh Arthur was a different kettle of fish, even though he was the one the Normans and everyone else first drew from; a far more fantastical figure in a more fantasy world, and – in the surviving texts we have – not central to the stories he’s found in. This character I have yet to put to music also. One day.
King Arthur’s Theme is very much inspired by the King Arthur of the medieval legends.
(Created with the Korg Triton LE and GarageBand)
Queen Guinevere is another inspired by the King Arthur stories.
(Created with GarageBand)
*The image behind the tracks was one Peter Hurst and I did for Arthurian author, Steve Blake.
THE AGE OF IRON
I grew up not far from the centre of iron and steel making in the region: Consett. (In fact I was born there.) Probably unknown to many living in the region, the name is thought to derive from a Ancient Brythonic one, possibly from the same derivation of Chester-le-Street’s Romano-British name: Con-gangis; thought to be named from the local British tribe of the time.
Even six miles away in Stanley we could see the night sky in the west suddenly glow orange from Consett Iron Works. The were many from the town that worked there, but nothing compared to those from Consett itself. Like the closing of the mines, this had a devastating affect on the region, and by 1983 the unemployment rate would be up to 30%.
Below is my experimental song about the closing of the Works in 1980. I say ‘experimental’ because I used a pitch shifter to make my voice deeper, as the song is meant to be coming from the Iron Works itself. The title of the song reflects the fact that the town used to get covered in a fine red dust.
(Created in GarageBand.)
Of course, iron and steel production led to another of the once great Northeastern industries: ship building. Though there is still some done today, it is nothing like it once was when the shipyards of Tyneside, Wearside and Teesside where bringing ships of all kinds to the seas and jobs to their regions. The song below is about the Swan Hunter shipyard at Wallsend on the River Tyne, and is set in 1953; although photo behind the track dates from 1973.
(Created with GarageBand)
Thanks, as always, for reading and please do leave a Star Rate it at the top of the Page (good or bad, I don’t mind), or Like it below if you’re a member of WordPress. You can also leave a Comment below. Until next time,
BLOG NO.13 WILL BE MY THE LAST FOUR TRACKS OF PART 2 OF MY MUSICAL ‘HISTORY’.
Featured image: King Arthur from the Ontrano Cathedral mosaic.
Trapain Law – CC-Kim Traynor-SA3.0 Wikimedia Commons