January 24, 2012

Dave Tomlin's "Lark Rise": origins & cultural references..

A recent object of debate here, Dave Tomlin's "Lark Rise" was quoted in the Antonello Cresti's book on the esoteric English folk music (read at http://ghettoraga.blogspot.com/2012/01/tebs-cultural-sources-on-italian-book.html).
The author wrote about it: "The incredible cultural background of Sweeney & C. shows to be much wider than one could imagine: for example, on "Lark Rise" the band tributes to one of the most influential character of pastoral revival, the composer Vaughan Williams, author of the legendary "The Lark Ascending"".

Reading this, TEB fan and musician Sedayne (Sean Breadin) commented: "I think it's more likely that the earthy folk simplicity of Tomlin's "Lark Rise" is more obviously rooted in Flora Thompson's "Lark Rise to Candleford" which celebrates a vanished bucolic utopia. As such it's the anthithesis of "The Lark Ascending" and maybe was intended as such given the more alternative routes (roots) taken by Tomlin on his travels, as oppose to the more overtly bourgeois take on the pastoral indulged in by Ralph Vaughan Williams, who was instrumental in a far more taxonomical/taxidermical approach to English Folk Music which relies less on actual mythic landscapes so essential to "Alchemy", than a romanticism which seems (to my ears) a complete anathema to it.
Sweeney's vision here is one of intuitive misrule; more that of the mischievous trickster than the earnest mystic. I guess his role of catalyst in this process will always keep us guessing!"

                                                                     "Lark Rise" from "Alchemy" album.

Replying to his comment, Cresti has been so honest to admit that "about "Lark Rise", I've just expressed the possible link with Vaughan Williams just in footnote, as a possible way to think about that track. But I'm happy to know that we can find other explanations".

Dave Tomlin (London 2010)
Infact, new explanations has went directly from the composer Dave Tomlin I've contacted on January 9th and 10th by e-mails.
His first laconic answer has been: "Luca. It was indeed inspired by Flora Thompson's 'Lark Rise to Candleford'".
Just before, in a brief interview with him of February 2010, he had explained me that "I composed 'Lark Rise' on violin whilst travelling with horses and carts and came into London just as Glen was recording 'Alchemy' and did just one track before leaving". 

Then, quite unexpectedly, on January 11th he adds:  "I wrote 'Lark Rise' after reading the book in about 1968/9 long before there were any films of it. I was travelling with a group of hippies in horses and carts in the countryside at the time. I will say some more but I wondered if you have ever read my book 'Tales from the Embassy' Vol. II where the whole story is told. If you haven't I can send you some pieces from it which contain the places where the music was composed. This should give you plenty of material to write up. (...) There were also quite a few other folk dances that I wrote at the time and in the book are the written scores of these dances. Let me know if this is interesting and if so I will email the pieces".

The original music of "Lark Rise" painted by Dave Tomlin (courtesy of Dave Tomlin)

So, just because I never read the book, kindly he has sent me an excerpt just about the right period when he composed the track. It's taken from the chapter titled "Priddy Fair" where "Smith" is just Dave Tomlin:

"Towards evening, when the cider-house begins to disgorge its rowdy contents, and red-faced farmers with half-cut wives tumble their way out into the sunset, Smith feels his moment approaching. Twilight is deepening and lights are coming on over the coconut-shy and twinkle around the awnings of the tombola-stall and lucky-dip. Two or three revellers exit the gate in the wall and Smith opens his violin-case and lays it open at his feet. Then, a quick tune-up and he is off. Lark Rise, a new piece he has been working on over the last few days is now finalised, it leaps into life and his bow-arm is fresh and feels strong. He will play till his arm drops off, thus ensuring that the music will be curtailed in a natural and unpredictable manner.
Tipsy farm-lads surround him and mock-dance to the tune, but some of the gypsy wives are moved to lift their skirts saucily as they kick their legs high, while their husbands dance catchy little jigs and stamp their hob-nailed boots. Smith is going like the clappers but knows he cannot stand this pace for long. The dancers spin ever faster, driving up the tempo with claps and stamps and copious juice is spilt from sloshing cider-mugs. Now the Count and a few London girls turn up to further animate the dance, and Muldoon clomps away on the edge of the crowd.

But Smith is already beginning to tire, the effort to maintain this speed soon depletes his energy and his arm is in agony. ‘One more time,’ he thinks, gritting his teeth and plunging once more around the circular piece, and he is only just able to reach the end before his arm drops, squeaking like a rusty hinge to hang throbbing and useless at his side. The dancers want more but he cannot oblige, and unable to persuade him they drift away across the green, still jigging and hopping to try out their luck on the coconut shy. Back at camp Smith counts the takings, almost seven shillings. Not bad, he will live like a lord for some days".
©2006 Dave Tomlin 

Luca Ferrari and Dave (London 2010). Photo by Steve Pank

A new addiction from Dave went on January 13th:
"I took up violin around 1967. There are only a few violin folk styles but there used to be more. There is the Scottish fiddle style. The Irish Fiddle and there used to be a Cumbrian style. I know there used to be some English folk styles and tried to imagine what they might have been like. So when I was travelling with the horses and carts and passing through small villages I was writing some fiddle tunes. They were very simple pieces except in places I altered the time signatures to give them a different flavour. The book 'Lark Rise to Candleford' impressed me very much since it was about English village life before the coming of the motorways etc, and that's what I was looking for".

How happened Glen asked you just that piece of music?
"It was while I was travelling. I came into town for a few days to buy some strings. I ran into Glen in a cafè near the studio. He invited me to do a track on the album and I said I had one new piece called 'Lark Rise'".

Do you remember which was the mood in the studio when did you record the track?

"I didn't know any of the other musicians so can't really say what the mood was although they were all pretty 'moody'".

Flora Thompson


no©2012 Luca Ferrari (unless you intend to make a profit. In which case, ask first)


  1. Hi Luca, have you seen this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=h1XrbbIV-g8 Sedayne found and shared this little treat!