Sunday, 14 September 2008

I left my heart in Sutton Coldfield

It's my yearly habit to watch the last night of the Proms, and this year I was able to do so in glorious HD for the first time. Curiously, the promenaders didn't seem quite so raucous or eccentric this year, but the music was up to its usual standard. I particularly enjoyed Sea Songs arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams (it being the 50th anniversary of his death) and, of course, the old favourites - Rule Britannia and Jerusalem.

There was a lot of flag waving; mostly union flags, but I also saw a fair smattering of Welsh dragons and Scottish lions. I also noted a Kentish one (a rampant white horse on a red background) and, curiously, a Brownie Guide banner. With this overt display of patriotism, I'm quite surprised that the BBC still screens it. One might have expected that, by now, some producer would have condemned the whole thing as "hideously British" and either relegated it to a sound-only broadcast on Radio Three or removed it from the schedules altogether.

Patriotism isn't a problem in America. You'll see the Stars and Stripes on many a house lawn; children unselfconsciously pledge allegiance to the flag; and note how citizens place hand on heart whenever the national anthem is played. But then the Americans have a great sense of pride about everything American. Take their towns and cities, for instance. Most of those I have seen are entered on long, straight roads with tyre shops, second hand car lots and diners on either side. The city centres are for the most part concrete jungles of modern or semi-modern offices and apartment blocks, with not a medieval church or fifteenth century merchants' hall in sight. So how come there are so many songs extolling the virtues of these cities? "I left my heart in San Francisco"; "New York New York"; "Chicago"; "Do you know the way to San Jose?" The list is pretty well endless. It's all down to patriotism again; being proud of what you've got, even if it is an ocean of steel and glass.

But it's not quite the same here in the UK, is it? We have a long, rich history that America can only dream of. Celtic, Saxon and Roman remains abound. We have a long tradition of literature, poetry and music. We have many genuinely beautiful cities - Bath and York are two notable examples. Now, you'd have thought that our catalogue of music would be bursting at the seams with songs, good, memorable, whistle on the way to work songs, about these places. (I'm not talking about folk songs here, but what the Americans would call 'standards'.) So, what do we have? "Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner"; "I belong to Glasgow"; "I'm gonna leave old Durham Town"; "In my Liverpool home." And then you branch out a bit. "Billericay Dicky"; "London calling"; and (gulp) "Long haired lover from Liverpool". I couldn't see any of these being sung in some Vegas casino to thunderous applause. Perhaps we should start hijacking some of the old US standards and replacing their city names with our own. "Dungeness" has the same number of syllables as "Galveston". How about "New Cross New Cross, it's a wonderful town"? Or "Do you know the way to Colwyn Bay"? I think it would work. Or perhaps not.


Janet said...

So true.

"Do You Know the Way to Milton Keynes" just doesn't have the same ring to it, does it?

"24 Hours from Swindon"?

"I Left My Heart in Middleton Cheney"?


chris hale said...

Hi Janet.

No, you're absolutely right! Using English place names somehow sounds completely wrong.

Curiously, I once had an old aunt who lived in Middleton Cheney. As far as I can recall, it wasn't the sort of place you'd want to leave your heart. Unless, of course it's changed!

Janet said...

Chris, I was thinking about something else this morning.

The flip-side (of what we discussed yesterday) is also true.

Can you imagine...

Oh ye'll take the high road and
I'll take the low road,
And I'll be in Texas afore ye...

No. Doesn't work.


Stevyn Colgan said...

York. So good they named it once?

The Winchester line man?

Caledonian dreamin'?

I've been to Paradise but I've never been to Leeds?

Stevyn Colgan said...

24 Hours from Tulse Hill?

I found my thrill on Silbury Hill?

Viva Lancaster?

Midnight train to Gloucester?

I'm so sorry. I'll stop now.

chris hale said...

Janet - I like it! How about "Maybe it's because I'm a New York-er"? Or "I belong to Tulsa, dear old Tulsa Toon"?

Stevyn - Please don't stop! You've forgotten that great Tony Christie standard, "Is this the way to Amersham?" And "Last train to Bourneville" by The Monkees.

Janet said...

I'm just delighted to see my hometown - Tulsa - getting quoted so much on British blogs!

That reminds me of something that happened during one of my many trips into London to run training classes. I got into a taxi to get back to Marylebone once class had finished. The driver was probably about my age. He asked me where in the States I was born. When I told him Tulsa, he said..."OH! '24 Hours From Tulsa' - great song!" I was surprised and very pleased.

He didn't know "Take me back to Tulsa...I'm too young to marry...", however!


chris hale said...

Hi Janet.

Gene Pitney's 1963 hit put your home town on the map. I suspect very few people in the UK knew where it was, or had even heard of it, before that.

Rob (Inukshuk Adventure) said...

Oh what a fun post - I've even been lol ing away. More, more!

chris hale said...

Welcome, Rob!

It's a bit of fun, isn't it!

Nashville seems to feature in a good few songs. Here are some I was able to find:

Nashville Bum - Waylon Jennings
Nashville Cats - Lovin' Spoonful
Nashville Rebel - Waylon Jennings
Nashville Skyline Rag - Bob Dylan
Nashville Wimmin - Waylon Jennings

Now, replace "Nashville" with "Coalville". Hmm...doesn't really work, does it?

Incidentally, what is a "Nashville Bum"? Is it a medical condition?