SANDRA KERR AND JOHN FAULKNER
Music from 70s children’s TV favourite gets remastered and reappraised.
It starts with the metallic ring of a dulcimer, and then a sudden swirl of notes, the sound of a magic curtain being drawn back. For those of a certain age, it’s the very sound of childhood, a mysterious earworm that’s been with them since they first heard it, when a saggy cloth cat came to life…
Bagpuss is perhaps the best loved of Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate’s animated TV series, and part of its appeal is the music that was used to help tell the stories at its heart. Just like the programmes themselves, there’s a folky, idiosyncratic quality to these songs and interludes.
Sandra Kerr and John Faulkner were established figures on the traditional music scene, and had already made a record together, when they were approached to make these recordings. Along with music from the series, the album also includes outtakes from their sessions with Postgate and a tape recorder in “a fairly silent room in a remote house”, where they would conjure up the required songs and atmospheres with whatever instruments came to hand – though mandolin, fiddle and the aforementioned dulcimer feature prominently throughout.
As befits a children’s programme, many of the songs are mischievous and comical, if not a little surreal. Row Your Boat becomes a tale of mice in a boot sailing ‘across the mahogany seas’ before ending up covered in ‘revolting Stilton cheese’, while The Princess Suite is a lovely ballad where the suitors all turn into dragonflies. There’s also The Bony King Of Nowhere, inspiration for Radiohead’s There, There.
Yet among the helium-voiced chorus of make-do-and-mend mice, there are inevitable echoes of Kerr and Faulkner’s roots: the grainy melodica of The Elephant’s Fable could almost be Dolly Collins’ pipe organ, and The Miller’s Song is a compendium of English weather and hints at the melancholy that comes with it.
Alternative nostalgia for hauntologists and the young at heart alike.