Adrian Bell writes about British agriculture between the wars in his book Men And The Fields (Little Toller Books) when farmers and their labourers eked out a living during a protracted slump.
It was a challenging time when toiling the soil and tending livestock did not pay well. The characters Bell describes were familiar with the different rhythms of the seasons; they lived in harmony with their environment and were at ease with the plodding of hooves.
The tasks they carried out would have been familiar to previous generations, including those so recently named on the war memorials standing sentinel-like in each parish.
Bell, father of the journalist and former MP Martin Bell, left Uppingham School, Rutland, and apprenticed himself to a Suffolk farmer in 1920, aged 19, farming in various locations over the next 60 years.
He describes his beloved countryside through the practical, non-sentimental eyes of a farmer; he realised this rural lifestyle, with its ancient knowledge, was already withering on the vine as the magnificent heavy horses were being superseded by noisy tractors.
Only months after Bell’s book was published in 1939, Britain was plunged into another world war, an event that hastened the industrialisation of agriculture. After the war, farming, lubricated by Whitehall subsidies, continued to change the landscape with its labour-saving machines and relentless quest for increased output and profit.
Bell’s prose is illustrated by his friend John Nash, the distinguished war artist, with a series of evocative colour lithographs and monochrome line drawings.
Billy Bragg, the Bard of Barking, shines the spotlight on skiffle in his latest book Roots, Radicals And Rockers: How Skiffle Changed The World.
This primitive music, with its tea chest bass, washboard and guitar, energised the lives of British teenagers in the 1950s; a mainly drab world where the shadow of World War Two loomed large with certain foodstuffs still on the ration.
Bragg, in this well-written and diligently-researched work of scholarship, argues that skiffle lies neglected in the dead ground of British pop culture. Yet skiffle was where the “pop royalty” of the 1960s learned their musical chops and paved the way for the British invasion of the US charts; as Beatles guitarist George Harrison once said: “If there was no Lead Belly, there would be no Lonnie Donegan; no Lonnie Donegan, no Beatles.”
Donegan was skiffle’s biggest star but his swift decline into novelty songs, such as the 1960 hit My Old Man’s A Dustman, tainted skiffle with an odour of embarrassment that still lingers.
Now Bragg believes the time is ripe to restore the genre’s reputation. He stresses skiffle was the first music for teenagers by teenagers in our cultural history and he dedicates his book to “every kid who picked up a guitar after hearing Lonnie Donegan”.
Pioneer stop-go animator Peter Lord demonstrated dexterity bordering on the subliminal when fashioning a Morph out of a ball of Plasticine while giving a Festival of Ideas lecture in York.
This festival version of his popular comic character, known to millions of TV viewers, attracted bids from the audience, thereby raising £600 for charity.
Lord, who studied at the University of York, is co-founder and creative director of Aardman, the award-winning animation studio in Bristol known for Wallace & Gromit, Shaun The Sheep, Creature Comforts and Chicken Run as well as Morph.
Aardman started as a two-man venture in 1972 and now employs hundreds of people, a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of creative talent. Lord told the packed audience at Bootham School this evening (June 7) that the studio’s success was his proudest achievement.
There are some exquisite paintings on show at York Art Gallery in its latest exhibition, which features more than 30 works by Albert Moore (1841-1893).
One of them is entitled A Revery, which the gallery wants to buy for £3.6 million. It hopes to raise the money through grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund and public donations.
Albert, born in York, was the 14th child of painter William Moore and his second wife Sarah Collingham. Two of his brothers also achieved success in the art world: Henry Moore and John Collingham Moore.
Albert studied at the Royal Academy in London, becoming an influential proponent of the Aesthetic movement, which included artists such as Edward Burne-Jones and James McNeil Whistler. The movement championed pure beauty and art for art’s sake over morals or narrative.
Albert Moore: Of Beauty And Aesthetics is the first solo exhibition of his work since 1894. It is on until 1st October 2017 and is well worth seeing.