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.

Take Me To Your Lieder

Filed under: Events,Music; in the year 2013, on the 22nd day of April at 11:57 pm

McGonagall fans living in Holland1 may be interested in an event happening in Amsterdam this week:

Challenge Classics and music publisher Deuss Music would like to invite you to the release of the new album of Robert Zuidam: McGonagall-Lieder, on April 24th at the ‘Muziekgebouw aan het IJ’!

McGonagall-Lieder is a song cycle composed by Robert Zuidam with lyrics of the legendary William McGonagall. It is conducted by Oliver Knussen and performed by Katrien Baerts, Pianoduo Post&Mulder and Asko|Schönberg. The work highlights the theatrical sound that Zuidam is known for and has a unique composition of instruments: soprano, four celli, double bass, percussion and the special role for two piano’s.

The texts of this work are from William McGonagall, a poet from Dundee in Schotland who was a weaver with an unshakeable faith in his poetic genius. The Times Literary Supplement once wrote about this legendary writer: “A real genius, for he is the only memorable bad poet in our language”. Robert Zuidam ads: “Bad poetry can be an excellent source of inspiration for a composer. Dante, Virgil, Goethe all evoke reverence and awe, and reluctance to open all portholes in the battleship of the imagination. And not without reason: after all, good poetry is already music in itself, and fares well without support. When Oliver Knussen, composer, conductor, and connaisseur of Scottish paraphernalia, gave me The Complete McGonagall as a Christmas present in 1992, I immediately sensed the musical potential of this remarkable poetry.”

Robert Zuidam, studied composition at the Conservatory of Rotterdam. He was awarded the Koussevitzky Composition Prize for Fishbone, a work for wind instruments and piano, and a Leonard Bernstein Scholarship enabled him to return to Tanglewood as a student. In 2010, Zuidam taught and lectured at Harvard University as Erasmus Professor, and was awarded the Kees van Baaren-Prize in The Hague, for his opera Rage d’amours. The core of Zuidam’s compositional activities lies in the field of vocal music, particularly that of the music theatre.

McGonagall-Lieder will be released on April 24th in Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ during the world premiere of Robert Zuidam’s String Quartet (2013) performed by DoelenKwartet.

I must confess, I’d not heard of Robert Zuidam or his work before despite the McGonagall-Lieder having been completed back in 2001. Clearly a fan of the poet’s work, this excerpt from his website shows he’s little more hazy on the details of his life:

McGonagall recited his poetry at tea circles and soirées at the homes of the upper social strata, or after he had starred, with his wavy locks, on the stage of the Theatre Royal, Dundee, as Richard III, Othello, or Hamlet, amidst a crowd in the foyer surrounding him in adoration.

A version of the man’s career drawn solely from his own imagination, I fear – but then Mr Zuidam didn’t have this website available to him to tell him the truth!

Thanks to serial gem contributor Stephen Midgley for drawing this event to my attention.

Footnotes

  1. The Gem of the Day Statistics currently show one recipient in Belgium and none at all in Holland, so they probably won’t be overwhelmed with McGonagall fans on Wednesday! []