I bought this book in my Christmas/Birthday Book Token Splurge of June 2021, reported in my State of the TBR July 2021 post. Of the ten books I bought then, this is the sixth I’ve read and reviewed, which isn’t too bad, is it? This was Richard King’s last book, before “Brittle with Relics” which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago: it’s a lovely read and I hope the new one sends a few people back to pick it up, as it covers some of the same areas. Again, I provided some administrative support on this one, but there’s a lot more narrative and fewer quotations so there were more new bits and surprises.

Richard King – “The Lark Ascending: People, Music and Landscape in Twentieth-Century Britain”

(24 June 2021)

From the song written to commemorate the mass trespass of Kinder Scout to the moment before the sound systems of the free festivals finally ran out of charge, music was the thread of this activity and flowed through the century with the authority of a river. (pp. vi-vii)

From Vaughan Williams and war poets through dodgily right-wing back-to-nature enthusiasts to hippie role models to rock stars getting away from it all to get their heads together in the country to the women protestors of Greenham Common to the ravers of the 90s in their free festival fields, here is the story of people’s relationship to the British countryside and the music woven in among it. As soon as we get within living memory, King’s in there, meeting and interviewing people, and he visits sites such as the decommissioned bunkers at Greenham, thinking of the women who danced on them in protest and iconic photos. As is common to King’s works, an aura of wistfulness drifts around the text, but it’s also practical and workmanlike, doing the difficult job of describing music and covering all forms from jazz to classical to folk song to dance music.

The book does intersect with “Brittle With Relics”, showcasing some of King’s abiding interests – the women of the Greenham Common Peace Camp have a different emphasis (and remain anonymous) and there’s a big section on John Seymour, whose “How-to” guides were the bibles of so many of the hippies who moved to West Wales in the 70s (two of whom rewired King’s parents’ own cottage). It’s such a wide-ranging book in terms of geography and special interests, that there’s something for everyone, and a worthy addition to the books we’ve had recently on nature and land ownership, both of which are touched on importantly here.

Edited to add (thanks, Bill): This book has a good chapter-by-chapter discography in the back, as well as a bibliography, so the discerning reader can create a soundtrack to their read.

This was my second review for Reading Wales 2022. I’ve bought a Kindle copy of Charlotte Williams’ magnificent-sounding “Sugar and Slate”; I won’t get to read and review it by the end of the month but I’m also not going to wait until next March to read it, so watch this space for my review!

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 2 Book 12/53 – 41 to go.