Animated McGonagall

Filed under: News; in the year 2013, on the 25th day of June at 12:00 am

While we wait for the McGonagall Movie, reader “Eugene Cheese” has been working on an animated version of the great man. I don’t think Pixar will be quaking in their boots just yet, but feast your eyes on the pixelated poet narrating the opening passage to his autobiography:

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.

Biker’s Gems

Filed under: Readers’ Gems; in the year 2013, on the 20th day of May at 10:29 pm

Regular contributor Stephen Midgley has taken up his pen once more. This time, perhaps inspired by certain lines in praise of local shopkeepers, he has written a paean to Ducati Glasgow – purveyors of motorbikes to the inhabitants of Scotland’s second grandest city. Whether they choose to reward the poet with an example of their wares remains to be seen…

Lines in Praise of Ducati Glasgow

’Twas in the year 2002, and on June the twenty-nine,
A day which Scotland’s bikers will remember for a very long time,
That Ducati Glasgow opened its doors with great ceremony
To display the finest motorcycles which are made in Italy.

For at that time there was no Ducati dealer in the region,
The city of Glasgow, land of Taggart and of brave John Smeaton,
And fans of the Italian brand were in great dismay and sorrow
Because for their bikes and servicing they must go to Edinboro’.

For Ducatis are fine motorbikes, and beautiful to see,
Oh! so splendid to be ridden and of highest quality;
There are the Hypermotard, the Diavel and the Monster,
And riding the Multistrada will also bring great rapture,
And the Superbikes, eleven-ninety-eight, nine-one-six and seven-four-nine,
And especially the Panigale which is exceeding fine.

So if you are considering to replace your ancient steed
With an Italian two-wheeled motorised velocipede,
Then get thee along without delay to the Great Western Road,
Where you can see all these Ducatis so magnificent to behold.

And if to Ducati Glasgow you should come on a two-wheeler,
You can park it in the street outside the front door of the dealer;
But if instead you come by car, then park it in the alley,
And enter by the back passage for to view the Panigale.

As soon as you go into the shop, you will see straight away
The many awards, such as Dealer of the Year, which are on display,
For customers their praises to the skies have often lauded,
Though, sad to say, some other bike shops long ago their windows boarded.

The staff of this emporium are as welcoming as can be,
And they soon will make you feel at home with a cup of good coffee;
Martin Rees is the man in charge, and the chief salesman is Blair,
And they are both very helpful and most expert, I do declare,
For whether you are young or old, skinny or a fatty
They will soon find the right bike for you, preferably a red Ducati.

But if you are no millionaire by some sad mischance,
To ride the Ducati of your dreams you may well need finance,
So you should have a chat about this with business manager Kerrie,
And after that your heart will soon be cheerful, gay and merry,
For not only is the fair Kerrie most beautiful to be seen
But she can arrange easy payments for you, even if you’re very mean.

And then there are the workshop boys, George and Craig and Charlie,
Who’ll do a great job on your bike, even if ’twas running poorly,
And Harry is the parts manager, who’ll obtain without dismay
Anything you need, whether ’tis a fairing or can of spray.

Indeed they are good people all, such as service driver Robin,
And I must mention Mrs Rees, who keeps the place so clean,
Which you will notice the minute that you step in through the door,
For you could gladly eat your luncheon off the showroom floor.
And then there’s Vincent the “Ducati dog”, a boxer is his breed,
Who is so gentle and friendly that he doesn’t need to be on a lead.

But I pray ye riders, once you have your bike, be advised by me,
Take care when you open the throttle of your nice new Ducati,
For you would be most sensible to be extremely wary
Lest your collar soon be felt by the Strathclyde constabulary,
Who care not whether you are on a moped or a Panigale.

So when you ride off up the A-eighty-two on your Ducati
Heading for a day out amid Scotland’s splendid scenery,
Of Strathclyde’s eagle-eyed finest you must take especial heed
Lest you travel the Queen’s highway at an excessive speed;

Or else you could get points upon your licence and a fine,
Which will be remember’d by your insurers for a very long time.
So, ye bikers, do not think for to exceed the ton,
At least until you’re well and truly clear of Dumbarton.

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.


  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! []

Exhibition Marks 200th Anniversary of McGonagall Disaster

Filed under: News; in the year 2013, on the 12th day of April at 12:01 pm

’Twas on the 1st of April, and in the year of Eighteen thirteen,
That the whaler “Oscar” was wrecked not far from Aberdeen;
’Twas all on a sudden the wind arose, and a terrific blast it blew,
And the “Oscar” was lost, and forty-two of a gallant crew.

So begins The Wreck of the Whaler Oscar, a typical McGonagall gem commemorating this maritime disaster. Now, Aberdeen Maritime Museum has opened a new exhibition to mark the 200th anniversary of the event .

The whaling industry was no stranger to casualties at sea, but this particular wreck happened so close inshore as to be visible to many of the unfortunate sailors’ friends and relatives. It had a huge impact locally and led to the construction of a local lighthouse.  And to a rotten poem, of course.

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!

McGonagall the Movie

Filed under: News; in the year 2013, on the 15th day of February at 1:19 pm

Moves are afoot to make a documentary film about the great poet & tragedian. It’s early days yet, but this short trailer has already been made:

Find out more about the project by visiting their Facebook page.


Filed under: News; in the year 2012, on the 29th day of October at 12:10 pm

Earlier this year, the Journal of Experimental & Theoretical Artificial Intelligence published a paper by Messrs Manurung, Ritchie and Thompson entitled Using genetic algorithms to create meaningful poetic text. In it they describe an AI system built to produce computer-generated poetry, which they’ve named “McGONAGALL”. According to the authors:

McGONAGALL, applies the genetic algorithm to construct [poems]. It uses a sophisticated linguistic formalism to represent its genomic information, from which can be computed the phenotypic information of both semantic representations and patterns of stress.

So how does this methodology compare with reading the papers, finding a disaster, and shoehorning in as many “November/remember”, “cried/died” and  “seen/green/Her Majesty the Queen” rhymes as you can? Here’s an example of the bionic bard’s handiwork when seeded with a couple of lines of Hilaire Belloc:

They play. An expense is a waist.
A lion, he dwells in a dish.
He dwells in a skin.
A sensitive child,
he dwells in a child with a fish.

Apparently, like it’s namesake, McGONAGALL is able to generate relatively meaningful poems if the constraints of metre are relaxed, or metrical poems which don’t make much sense, but struggles to combine sense and metre in a single work. Its reaction to railway bridges is unrecorded.

Perhaps predictably, I’m happy to stick with the old flesh-and-blood version of poetic imperfection. Thanks to Improbable Research for bringing this paper to my attention.

Lines in Praise of Wimbledon

Filed under: Readers’ Gems; in the year 2012, on the 19th day of June at 7:42 pm

Another fantastic effort by Stephen Midgley in the style we all know and love. This time his genius of poetry is inspired by a certain tennis competition…

Lines in Praise of the Wimbledon Championships

Oh! ’tis time for Wimbledon fortnight again,
The great tennis tournament for ladies and men;
Crowds flock to the show courts, match after match,
While vast multitudes in their homes do watch.

The rules of the game are very clear,
The competitors hit a ball through the air;
One player strikes it with his racket,
And his opponent back over the net must whack it.

So the ball flies rapidly back and forth,
And the players run about the court for all they are worth;
Sunshiny days are the best for lawn tennis,
But sometimes wet weather can be a fearful menace.

The court is of green grass, marked out with lines of white,
And the players try hard for to place the ball just right,
For they must pay heed to where it touches the ground,
Or else they will not get through to the next round.

Some hit the ball past the other player
With lightning speed, I do declare,
While others use tactics, precision and cunning,
Which are equally effective ways of winning.

Sometimes the ball strikes the ground so fast,
’Tis hard to tell exactly where it lands on the grass,
And, sad to say, there may follow an argument,
As the players seek ways to express their dissent.

For some men defer to the umpire’s decision,
While others do treat it, alas! with derision,
Like John McEnroe, whose conduct in his youth was notorious,
Especially for his famous catchphrase, “Thou canst not be serious!”

The great tennis players have earned many honours,
Such as Rosewall, Laver, Hoad, Borg and Connors,
And I must mention Edberg, Lendl and Becker,
Also Agassi, Sampras, Nadal and Federer.

Sometimes a match doth the nation enthral,
Like the final in the year 2008 ‘twixt Federer and Nadal,
A battle that lasted for a very long time,
And will be remember’d for an even longer time.

The ladies too are a sight to witness,
Such as Goolagong, King, Sharapova and Hingis,
But some say the best of all was Steffi Graf,
And ’twas a happy day she became Andre Agassi’s better half;

And Serena and Venus, the Williams sisters,
Who strike the ball at a pace that blisters;
They have even played each other on Centre Court,
Where so many desperate battles are fought.

Hurrah also for Martina Navratilova,
And who can forget the fair Anna Kournikova?
So beautiful to behold, she made men’s hearts beat faster,
But alas! of tennis the finer points she could not quite master.

And what of the brave British, who strive so hard for to play,
But often fill onlookers’ hearts with dismay?
Such as ‘Tiger Tim’ Henman, and Scot Andy Murray
Who may yet reach the top, but perhaps not in a hurry.

For, ’tis pitiful to relate, the British are rather unlucky,
Although our players are extremely plucky;
And they never throw their rackets, kick, shout or swear,
But they set an example to their foreign foes everywhere.

For the game of tennis is a noble sport,
Which keeps men away from strong drink, rum or port,
And if a player drinks whisky, beer or gin,
Be advised by me, he never shall win.

At the All England Club in the open air they do play,
Which is good for the health, there’s none can gainsay,
So ’tis game, set and match to British sportsmanship,
And that is the reason why Wimbledon is the world’s best championship.

An Ode to Queen Elizabeth the Second in her Jubilee Year

Filed under: Readers’ Gems; in the year 2012, on the 25th day of May at 12:10 pm

Kate Adamson writes in with this gem, written for the Minute McGonagall event last night:

An Ode to Queen Elizabeth the Second in her Jubilee Year

O wonderful and long-lived Majesty!
How happy I am that I have lived to see
Your anniversary of sixty years on the throne
Where you have not been alone
But have been supported by Prince Philip your consort,
Who when he keeps his mouth shut is quite a good sort.

O wonderful and long-lived Majesty!
We will celebrate your jubilee.
You will travel round the country once again.
We know you will not ever say anything that is profane.
Instead a great deal of interest you will feign
When someone attempts the widget factory to explain.

O wonderful and long-lived Majesty!
There will be a river boat and some pageantry.
We will put up Union Jack bunting.
There will be street parties with food and wine unstinting
And a long weekend holiday,
Except in Scotland where some people do not get the Monday
And where you should be known as Elizabeth the First, by the way.

O great and long-lived Majesty!
Please do not die soon or we will have to have Charlie.


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