Hello and welcome to the spring edition. I would like to thank all the writers for their wonderful work in getting us to publication.
This edition has an inadvertent sixties theme, with long-form articles about two musical groups. I had great fun talking to Rodney Slater of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band earlier this year, and I am very happy to feature the first part of his reminiscences. (His memories of Vivian Stanshall will appear in our autumn edition.) In the course of our hours-long chat I learned a lot about the sixties counterculture, the factors propelling it forward, and how it felt to be part of it —especially as the decade whirled faster and faster towards 1970 and exhaustion. Mark provides an in-depth review and reflection on Peter Jackson’s epic documentary film Get Back about the making of The Beatles’ album Let It Be, which similarly highlights some unexpected truths about the sixties. The creative efforts of that generation liberated us to be ourselves —and the gulf between that freedom and the 1950s becomes startlingly apparent when we compare the antics of the Bonzos, for example, with the popular culture performers who came before. The confident adventurousness and authenticity of groups such as The Beatles and the Bonzos permeated the society around them, emboldened countless other people, and made a ladder to the stars. Without the change of mindset that they set in train, many more people would have remained alone on the ground with unfulfilled dreams. (Without it, this magazine would very likely not exist at all.) So I would like to personally thank Rodney and the other Bonzos for a silliness that was truly inspired.
Mary examines the body of mediaeval romance known as the Matter of England, shaped by a nostalgic orientation towards the pre-Norman age and in some cases apparently containing retellings of Anglo-Saxon stories. These thrilling yarns —sometimes perilously close to farce in their hectic plots— boast some highly mobile and dauntless damsels such as Goldburu (Havelok the Dane) and Josiane (Bevis of Hampton). Other trailblazers and unconventional personalities are the focus of further articles. Chronicler of postmodernism J. G. Ballard’s Concrete Island is the focus of an article by Neil, drawing interesting parallels with The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. Paul provides a thoughtful review of a new offering on Laura Knight and reclaims her as one of the greatest English artists, full stop. In Mark’s assessment of a new H G Wells biography by Claire Tomalin, we discover that Wells was really an absolute —well, read the article and make up your own mind. Samuel Johnson’s elusive companion, a freed Jamaican slave named Francis Barber (thought to be the subject of a famous Joshua Reynolds portrait) has long excited curiosity, and Paul examines Michael Bundock’s investigation, which attempts to fill in the detail of an unusual life insufficiently documented in the historical record. Mark continues his exploration of difficult characters with Ronald Hutton’s new history of Oliver Cromwell, highlighting the arresting fact that Cromwell was fairly obscure until he suddenly emerged out of the destabilisation towards the end of Charles I’s reign. I was also given pause for thought by the fact that he was a relative of Thomas Cromwell, the notorious chief servant of Henry VIII. Speaking of the Tudors, Paul provides an illuminating discussion of a new book by Eleri Lynn which shows how that dynasty used expensive and luxurious textiles to communicate messages about kingship and power.
Finally, Music contains James’s reviews of new compilation releases from Ian A. Anderson, The Strawbs, and Caravan, while Em evaluates a particularly intriguing-sounding film of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. We hope you enjoy this edition, and look forward to publishing the autumn edition.--The Editor