McGonagall the Musical

Filed under: Events,Media; in the year 2017, on the 13th day of January at 12:16 pm

The inhabitants of Port Townsend in Washington have a theatrical treat in store over the next couple of weeks: The Disaster in Verse is a musical about the great man written, produced and directed by evidently multi-talented high school senior Ian Coates. You read more about the play and its author in this story from the PT Leader.

McGonagall himself felt that his work was too deep for music. Let’s hope Mr Coates is able to prove him wrong!

McGonagalls in the Washington Post

Filed under: Media,Readers’ Gems; in the year 2014, on the 9th day of August at 4:57 pm

Perhaps taking a lead from The Spectator, they’ve been holding a write-your-own-poetic-gem competition in the Washington Post, inviting their readers to write “bad poems about “a modern tragedy” à la McGonagall.”

The winning effort, from one Thomas Blaine of Virginia, reads rather more like Ogden Nash than the great Poet and Tragedian, but it’s a creditable effort nonetheless:

On Not Being Invited to Kim and Kanye’s Wedding

I knew it was coming, keeping up’s been my passion
That special invite from the family Kardashian.
When it didn’t arrive, as yet another week started,
My heart, it was rent, and my soul near departed.
So I went to my sister’s third wedding in Torrance
Instead of that very special one in the city of Florence.
And the memory of my sister’s party, OMG, how it pales,
With the one where my heart was, in the Chateau de Versailles.

You can read this and many more of the entries on the Post competition’s results page.

McGonagall on Independence

Filed under: Media,Readers’ Gems,Web Links; in the year 2014, on the 24th day of May at 6:34 pm

Readers’ Gems have been appearing in The Spectator today, in response to their weekly writing competition. Asked to “give William Topaz McGonagall a chance to comment on Scottish independence,” the competitors responded with some excellent (if that’s the right term) efforts:

Bounteous Heavens, let us all rejoice!
For the People of Scotland have been given a Choice
And there is to be a National Referendum
For which we must thank the Scottish Nationalists and London.
But how many will vote No and how many will vote Yes
Only God knows though other clever People may guess
And I think a terrible Excitement will have mounted
Until all the Votes of the People have been carefully counted.

The article also sported a neat summary of the Poet and Tragedian for those poor benighted souls as yet unacquainted with him:

The deluded handloom weaver from Dundee built his reputation on appalling yet beguiling works of inadvertent comic genius. Unhampered by self-awareness, and buoyed up by uncrushable self-belief, he forged ahead with his art in the face of universal mockery and derision. Here is a particularly awful line from his most famous poem, ‘The Tay Bridge Disaster’ of 1880:

‘And the cry rang out all o’er the town, Good Heavens! the Tay Bridge is blown down.’

McGonagall has had the last laugh, though: while most of his Victorian contemporaries have slid into oblivion, the Tayside Tragedian still has devoted fans more than a century after his death and several volumes of his work remain resolutely in print.

If anybody feels the urge to make their own entry to the independence debate, you know where to send it…

William McGonagall Rapping Masterclass

Filed under: Media,Music,News; in the year 2013, on the 17th day of December at 7:50 pm

At a time of year when we’re generally occupied with wrapping of a different sort, reader Tom Taylor writes with a little history and some exciting news:

What ho! fellow McGonagall fans of high and low degree

On the 3rd of April 1997, a number of journals including The Times and the Scottish Herald picked up a story from Associated Press that claimed “dim-witted” American rappers on the Santaphobia label had a huge hit rapping William McGonagall poems. While there is a grain of truth here, the piece had nevertheless been heavily salted with lazy journalism and urban myth. I can now reveal the naked truth as one of the dim wits who dared to tread on the memory of McGonagall.

The story starts in 1993 at the birth of the All New Lucky Boys, a musical collective that a few friends and I started in Huddersfield (the heart of hand loom weaving in England), bringing together members of several ‘bedroom’ or ‘doss’ bands. During one of the early recording sessions, we were at a loss for lyrical inspiration until salvation presented itself in the form of a semi-randomly chosen book; The Folio Society’s Poetic Gems. In William McGonagall we instantly recognised a fellow ‘unwitting’ genius and rapidly recorded The Tay Bridge Disaster and Oban. Completely untutored in the arts of rap and hip hop, it was a mistake to think that they would be anything other than a dog’s breakfast, but we lived in a throwaway culture and this was reflected in our DIY, ‘do it and ditch it’ ethos.

The notoriety of what became known as The William McGonagall Rapping Masterclass was thanks to the blossoming internet career of one of our number. He created a personal website which told of our bedroom recording projects and the Santaphobia “label” under which we made them available, and offered Rapping Masterclass free to anyone willing to send a blank tape and a return envelope. No one ever did that, but in 1997 the website was used as the basis of the mangled story that Associated Press put on the wires. The Times picked it up and additionally contacted an English professor at Chicago North Park University for comment. Other journalists contacted The WTMcG Appreciation Society who also seemed nonplussed but rather pleased and so the mythmaking continued. What is plain through all of this is that no one, not the AP, the various journalists or academics had ever heard any of the All New Lucky Boys music.

It has always been in the back of my mind to do more McGonagall raps and after 20 years, I’ve found the bottle to try it all again. Radio Bingo vs Mile High Henry presents their new collection “McGonagall: Poeticrap” free to anyone willing to send a return envelope. Poems include Sunlight Soap, A Tale of the Sea, The Famous Tay Whale, Saved by Music and others. Listen and discover the truth for yourselves.

Tom tells me he’s also setting up a more 21st century approach to sharing the fruits of his labours than sending cassette tapes through the mail. When I have more information, I’ll be sure to pass it on.

Topaz – McGonagall on Radio 4

Filed under: Media,News; in the year 2013, on the 30th day of October at 12:25 am

A radio play based on an episode of the poet’s life was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Saturday. Written by Lucy Gannon, and starring Dundee-born actor and film star Brian Cox as the great man, Topaz was a dramatic recreation of the famous trip to Balmoral.

The play is pretty free in mixing up elements of McGonagall’s life, and in inventing entirely new ones, in order to make a more engaging story. Most notably, in this version of events, he actually gets to meet Queen Victoria at the end of his journey! I suppose McGonagall purists (if such people exist) might take umbrage at this, but as evidence suggests that William wasn’t above embellishing his life story for dramatic effect, we can hardly chide Ms Gannon for doing the same.

If you’re quick, you can still listen to the play on the BBC iPlayer – it’s available until Saturday 2nd November. You can also read a review of it in The Stage.

Lieder Article

Filed under: Media,News; in the year 2013, on the 24th day of June at 11:53 am

A recording of Robert Zuidam’s McGonagall-Lieder, mentioned on this site a couple of months ago, has received a short review in The Independent. The reviewer is impressed with

the success of his setting of McGonagall’s two signature works, without stooping to ridicule beyond a subtly bathetic momentum of marimba […] The coloratura soprano Katrien Baerts conveys the hysterical jubilation with which the poet first acclaims the new Tay Bridge, then laments its collapse

You can read the full review here.

STOP PRESS: A rather longer review has appeared in The Guardian.

Manuscript For Sale

Filed under: Media,News; in the year 2013, on the 18th day of February at 7:07 pm

Time for all true McGonagall fans to raid their piggy banks – The Guardian reports that an unpublished McGonagall manuscript is coming up for sale.

The poem, Lines in Praise of the Royal Marriage, was written in 1893 to mark the wedding of the Duke of York (later George V) and Princess May of Teck. Though short, it displays many of the great man’s distinguishing touches.

The manuscript comes up for sale at Bonhams on 8th May, where it is expected to fetch £3000 – so start saving those pennies!

Bard Poetry?

Filed under: Media; in the year 2012, on the 17th day of January at 10:21 am

The great man got a mention in this week’s Scotland on Sunday as they covered Auchentochan’s alternative Burns Night plans. For background, they interviewed your humble webmaster and tragedian – so there’s a few of my words of wisdom in there as well!