Link to Living Tradition Homepage





JIM CAUSLEY & LUKE THOMPSON - The Clay Hymnal: Poems of Jack Clemo

JIM CAUSLEY & LUKE THOMPSON - The Clay Hymnal: Poems of Jack Clemo
Westwords Publications WWCD01

What a triumph! Commissioned to celebrate his centenary, this CD is a collection of 10 poems written by the Cornish poet Jack Clemo. Jim Causley had the unenviable task of putting music to the beguiling poetry and a superb job he has made of it. This work is considered and sympathetic to the original material. Perhaps the next step is to create a folk opera, similar in style to A Day’s Work by Mick Ryan.

Putting the work into context, Jack was born in 1916 in a small miner’s cottage in the shadow of a towering white slag heap in the heart of ‘The Cornish Alps’, close to St Austell. During the First World War he lost his father to the ravages of the trenches and later on, whilst still a teenager, he became deaf and before the age of 40 he was blind. Working against such adversity has given the work a fantastic stoic strength. During his lifetime he did receive recognition but until recently he was largely forgotten. Currently, however, he is receiving an academic reassessment concerning his life and achievements, a true and well deserved renaissance indeed.

In his introduction, Jim Causley is somewhat undecided as to whether poems should be set to music at all, and as far as poetry is concerned I am often of the same opinion. However there is nothing to worry about here, the music is an intelligent response to the only landscape Clemo knew: “the flooded pits, open clay works, waste dumps, excavators and machinery” addressing universal themes of “faith, death, sex and identity”. The music is certainly an expert foil and in many ways equal to the poetry. The use of the piano enhances and augments Clemo’s themes, adding poignancy and impact to the stark realities of a harsh working class environment, none more so than the redolent and quite beautiful accompaniment for the evocative The Blacksmith. In response to Clemo’s poetry with its “beguiling rhythms which adhere to no classical structure” the music is also obliged to twist and turn like miners’ tracks through the stark white slag heaps, sometimes a powerful tune, sometimes a backdrop to the words and sometimes reminiscent of a Methodist hymn.

This is a serious endeavour that deserves consideration and musical reflection; and it certainly becomes more and more engaging every time the CD is played.

John Oke Bartlett

Secure On-line mailorder service
Buy this CD online from The Listening Post
The Listening Post is the CD mailorder service of The Living Tradition magazine.
This album was reviewed in Issue 116 of The Living Tradition magazine.