London organ-grinding tweets for October 2017

Lukewarm barrel organ-ish ephemera from Hackney, London and thereabouts.

London organ-grinder tweets for September 2017

Barrel/street organ stuff.

Barrel organ tweets for July 2017

The latest organ-grinder news from Hackney, London.

Twitter’s death agony probably won’t continue for very long, so I’ve written a PHP script to parse their JSON output and post it here. I’ll improve presentation when I’ve got a mo.

From Charles Trenet, two musical De Gaulle anecdotes

Re the songs, L’âme des poètes and Douce France.

L’âme des poètes/The poets’ soul

Trenet’s 1951 song-about-a-song is a tribute to his friend, the poet Max Jacob, who died en route to Auschwitz in 1944. Long, long, long after the poets have disappeared, their songs still walk the streets. The crowd sings them, slightly absent-mindedly, ignorant of the author’s name, not knowing for whom their hearts beat. Sometimes we change a word, a phrase, and when we run out of ideas, we sing la la la:

Longtemps, longtemps, longtemps
Après que les poètes ont disparu
Leurs chansons courent encore dans les rues
La foule les chante un peu distraite
En ignorant le nom de l’auteur
Sans savoir pour qui battait leur coeur
Parfois on change un mot, une phrase
Et quand on est à court d’idées
On fait la la la la la la
La la la la la la

The anecdote:

In 1965 Charles Trenet is presented to General de Gaulle on the occasion of the annual gala of the Ministry of Justice. The Head of State says to him: “You know, I mentioned you this morning in the Council of Ministers. I said to them, ‘And above all, remember that long, long, long after you have disappeared, your decrees will still walk the streets.'”

Douce France/Sweet France

The French Wikipedia entry suggests a link between the commonplace taken as the title of this song, issued in 1943, and the 11th century Chanson de Roland, in which Roland dies fighting the Muslims at Roncesvalles, 1 his gaze fixed on Spain but his mind recalling sweet France:

Le comte Roland s’étendit dessous un pin.
Vers l’Espagne, il a tourné son visage.
Bien des choses lui reviennent en mémoire,
Tant de terres que le baron conquit,
La douce France, les hommes de son lignage,
Charlemagne, son seigneur qui l’éleva.
Il ne peut s’empêcher de pleurer et de soupirer.

Mad Beppo: Dear land of my childhood, I have kept you, cradled with tender thoughtlessness, in my heart:

Cher pays de mon enfance
Bercée de tendre insouciance
Je t’ai gardée dans mon cœur

The anecdote:

General de Gaulle visits Quebec, where the band, instead of striking up La Marseillaise, plays Douce France. The General doesn’t bat an eyelid and stands to attention.

I got to know Trenet’s repertoire via an artistic dynasty in Barcelona, which had a well-worn disc of La Mer from the early 1960s:

The clear barrel organ allusions in the arrangement of L’âme des poètes at the beginning of this post thus remind me of grandma, who inter alia created puppets like this Madrilenian dance scene with pianola which is currently in the marionette museum at Tibidabo:


  1. Roland seems to have suffered a cerebral haemorrhage as a result of blowing the elephant horn. I believe this to be the first self-inflicted death by aerophone on record. Joshua’s trumpets at Jericho must have caused considerable loss of life, but afaik there were no recursive (or even friendly fire) casualties.


A new translation of Joan Maragall’s poem about the anarchist bombing of the Barcelona Opera in 1893, and a limerick by the monkey.

The monkey has come up with a characteristically obtuse and flippant reaction to the London Bridge attack:

My head is still firmly in place, boom boom,
My arse is not next to my face, boom boom,
But peace-loving neighbours
With soft sighing sabres
Urge centring my shite in one place, boom boom.

Fortunately my repertoire consists exclusively of lyrics by wiser and more gifted souls. The poet Joan Maragall was at the opera house on Barcelona’s Rambla for Rossini’s William Tell in November 1893 when an anarchist, Santiago Salvador, threw two Orsini bombs into the stalls, killing 22 and wounding 35. Maragall’s first daughter, Helena, had been born in May, and he wove those two circumstances into the following:


Tornant del Liceu en la nit del 7 de novembre de 1893.

Furient va esclatant l’odi per la terra,
regalen sang les coll-torçades testes,
i cal anar a les festes,
amb pit ben esforçat, com a la guerra.

A cada esclat mortal – la gent trèmola es gira:
la crueltat que avança, – la por que s’enretira,
se van partint el món…

Mirant al fill que mama, – a la mare que sospira,
el pare arruga el front.

Pro l’infant innocent,
que deixa, satisfet, la buidada mamella,
se mira an ell, se mira an ella,
i riu bàrbarament.


Returning from the Liceu on the night of November 7, 1893.

Across the land this hatred now fiercely roars,
From twisted-throated heads gush bloody presents.
At parties now, our presence,
With chests puffed boldly out, is as for war.

At every mortal blast, the trembling people wend:
As cruelty marches onwards, so fear flees without end,
They cleave the world between them…

The father wrinkles his brow, observes his suckling son,
The mother’s dark suspicions.

But the infant, free from sin,
Who, satiated, leaves the breast grown slim,
Looks at her, and looks at him,
And gives a barb’rous grin.

Another English version by a well-known translator respects neither rhyme nor meter, as it were chopping off the legs off this great lover of rumpty-tumpty Italian opera (dixit Maria-Aurèlia Capmany), who has just walked away from death. Can’t be having that.

Spanish anarchism, like modern Islamism, promised that slaughter would usher in paradise, and states-within-the-state were improvised in 1936-7. The movement was then virtually exterminated by the local franchise of the Soviet Communist Party and Franco’s lot. Older Spanish precedent for dealing with ethnoreligious parallel polities, with their own laws and fiscality, is also not encouraging for anybody. Ya veremos.

[:en]An organ-grinder at Archway[:]

[:en]Pleasures and treasures of the Edwardian street, by a descendant of Scottish banditti.[:]

[:en]Market man, Mohammed S., is one of the most interesting people I’ve met since coming to London. He’s a fan of the organ act, which for him recalls the Parisian component of a Franco-Algerian childhood, but I think I’m right in saying that his true love is the old-style general-purpose street market, for which love he appears to have spent time in limbo.

I hope that that kind of market will survive the tsunami of fast food stalls for the asset-owning classes 1, and I think from Doris Neish’s splendid memoir of life at Archway around the time of the First World War – excerpt below – that she would also have been a fan of markets that were all things to all poissons.

Doris was born in 1908, the eleventh child of the London-Scottish part-time poet, William Neish, and his wife, Mary Ann McBeath. A collection of William’s work was published posthumously as Where the Apple-Ringie Grows. I haven’t managed to obtain a copy, but I suspect it will be cautious in approach and melancholy in tone. William Anderson, The Scottish Nation: Or the Surnames, Families, Literature, Honours, and Biographical History of the People of Scotland (1867):

[The MacNabs] carried on a deadly feud with the Neishes or McIlduys (?), a tribe which possessed the upper parts of Strathearn, and inhabited an island in the lower part of Loch Earn, called from them Neish island. Many battles were fought between them, with various success. The last was at Glenboultachan, about two miles north of Loch Earn foot, in which the Macnabs were victorious, and the Neishes cut off almost to a man. A small remnant of them, however, still lived in the island referred to, the head of which was an old man, who subsisted by plundering the people in the neighbourhood. One Christmas, the chief of the Macnabs had sent his servant to Crieff for provisions, but, on his return, he was waylaid, and robbed of all his purchases. He went home, therefore, empty-handed, and told his tale to the laird. Mscnab had twelve sons, all men of great strength, but one in particular exceedingly athletic, who was called for a byname, Iain mion Mac an Appa, or “Smooth John Macnab.” In the evening, these men were gloomily meditating some signal revenge on their old enemies, when their father entered, and said in Gaelic, “The night is the night, if the lads were but lads!” Each man instantly started to his feet, and belted on his dirk, his claymore, and his pistols. Led by their brother John, they set out, taking a fishing-boat on their shoulders from Loch Tay, carrying it over the mountains and glens till they reached Loch Earn, where they launched it, and passed over to the island. All was silent in the habitation of Neish. Having all the boats at the island secured, they had gone to sleep without fear of surprise. Smooth John, with his foot dashed open the door of Neish’s house; and the party, rushing in, attacked the unfortunate family, every one of whom was put to the sword, with the exception of one man and a boy, who concealed themselves under a bed. Carrying off the heads of the Neishes, and any plunder they could secure, the youths presented themselves to their father, while the piper struck up the pibroch of victory.

Stirling and Kenney, The Scottish tourist, and itinerary: or, A guide to the scenery and antiquities of Scotland and the western islands. With a description of the principal steam-boat tours (1830) adds an indispensable detail:

In commemoration of this event, the Macnabs have a Neish’s head for the family crest, with the motto Dread Nought.

It is a great shame that, following the success of his Irish Gaelic parodies, Flann O’Brien didn’t spend time in Scotland.

Doris lived in Harberton Road from 1914 until her death in 1993 and wrote up her memories for the Islington Gazette in the late 1960s. This excerpt is reproduced with the kind permission of Kristina Kashvili, who transcribed them, and with thanks to intermediary MM:

Remembering back over the years everything has altered but with change there was an often better substitute. But – there is a gap. Never replaced were the “Voices of the Streets”. Every trader from the errand boys whistling, to the street singers, could by sound identify themselves. “Coal, coal” – “Sweep”. There he would be with rods and brushes perched on his shoulder and his face still sooty from his previous jobs. “Any old rags, any old bones, any old iron”! Also the man with his tray of freshly backed muffins on his head – ringing a bell. They come no more. The old [but presumably pretty strong] lady who would drag a barrel organ up the Archway Road to give us music – the flute player and the couple whose soprano and tenor voices harmonized in “Love’s Old Sweet Song”. Bells used to ring, large clocks would chime. It is over 50 years since I last saw the lady with a basket on her arm and heard her singing

Won’t you buy my sweet Lavender
Sixteen bunches for one penny
You buy it once – you buy it twice
It makes your clothes smell fresh and nice

Only the memory, like the scent from lavender lingers.

Someone special was a man who would come sometimes near the close of a warm day and play a harp. He would sit on a stool while people gathered near. Into his cap would drop not only pennies but silver threepenny pieces. In the gathering dusk his beautiful music would fill the air and fill us with happiness.

So long ago these simple pleasures
Through memory’s door – return as treasures

In 1913 Alfred Noyes wrote a premonitory ballad:

There’s a barrel-organ carolling across a golden street
In the City as the sun sinks low;
Though the music’s only Verdi there’s a world to make it sweet
Just as yonder yellow sunset where the earth and heaven meet
Mellows all the sooty City! Hark, a hundred thousand feet
Are marching on to glory through the poppies and the wheat
In the land where the dead dreams go.

I think Doris has aged better, and wish I could trace that couplet. (Perhaps it is a Neish-ism.) Here though is John McCormack in 1927 singing Love’s Old Sweet Song (Just a Song at Twilight):



  1. But then with the addition of the itinerant boxers I met in the Rif, and the great piles of junk scattered over the grounds of the old Encants in Barcelona. Speaking as an amateur cook, at the moment my absolute favourite markets in East London are probably the wholesalers:

    1. New Spitalfields in Leyton – open after the pub, but less confusing after a few hours sleep for purchasers of wedding flowers, or of the “Fruits and Vegetables … which could be cost effictive, qualitative and quantitative and fresh too” of these Punjabi lions‘; it’s also convenient for Lea duck and Eurostar Engineering;
    2. Billingsgate – Spanish with rucksacks full of cheap octopus, again best before dawn.

    But the greater your distance from the money, the better the knife stalls.

[:en]The Singing Organ-Grinder’s top 10 pig songs[:]

[:en]Sincerity meets spam.[:]

[:en]Pork brings out the best in people (even in the Philippines), and I’m farming out most of this to Rol@My Top Ten. Normally I find his selections absolutely fascinating but alarmingly modern, but you have to admit the genius of Green Jelly’s “Three little pigs”:

Check out the rest. I’d get rid of the Beatles (who made this one mistake), Elvis Costello and Morrissey (who can’t do anything right, ever). In their place I’d like to suggest a couple of things I’ve sung at least once:

  • Even the wicked wolf agrees that “Los tres cochinitos,” the three little piggies, from the Mexican series Cri-Cri is adorable (starts ca. 01:50):

  • “I know an old lady who swallowed a fly.” It’s called a hog here, which is a misprint. Etymology:

    p – 1 = o
    i – 1 = h
    g – 1 = f

    So, “I’ll hof, and I’ll pof, and I’ll blow your house down.” Pof comes from qog, a misspelling of cog in the sense of a small Scots barrel used for milking ewes and cows, as in “Gin ye, fan the cow flings, the cog cast awa’” from “The rock and the wee pickle tow,” a Scots spinning song by Alexander Ross, schoolmaster at Lochlee.

    Why a wolf would be using such devices and secret code is unclear.

  • A number whose name I dare not print, which I wrote in Low Saxon dialect with KV at a time when rural isolation and suicide was in the news. It’s about a farmer who eschews towns and travels for the company of his own fat pig. Despite painting a positive picture of home entertainment -Britain is not the only nation of animal-lovers- it was banned by The Man.
  • An instrumental number, based on a transcription of the panpipe playing of an itinerant French castrator and tinker (you used roughly the same tools to redo pans as to undo pigs) in rural Galicia in the early 20th century. It will sound familiar (though infinitely more sophisticated) to anyone who has heard the pipes of the few remaining ambulant knife-grinders in Barcelona and other Spanish cities, their wheel driven by a belt run off their moped.
  • “I love little pussy” is not obviously about a pig, but it reminds me of the time in Hungary when I saw a large sow corner and eat a cat. I have often told my good friend Victor Orbán that he should welcome Muslims because they will drive down labour costs without increasing pork prices, but he will keep going on about Turks at the gates of Vienna in 1683. We Ulstermen would never hold a grudge like that.

  • Here, here, here is pig and pork,” a vicious late 17th century Irish sectarian ballad, doesn’t really count, but who’s counting? Everyone knows Swift, but there’s lots of other fine and/or lively post-Restoration Dublin- and Belfast-based satire. One extraordinary example I’ve found is particularly apposite to my trade – a parody of an anti-revolutionary libel trial, of which more anon. Here’s a straightforward vocal recording, but my version is closer to some vile porcine Detroit hiphop I found in a remainder bin in a Paris record store, once upon a time.

More animal songs here.[:]

Roadtrip en segadora por el norte de España a finales de junio / Late June lawnmower roadtrip across Northern Spain

Busco sofás, pajares, etc. para descansar. / Call for sofas, haylofts etc.

Compañía sería muy bienvenida a lo largo de la siguiente ruta, asumiendo que la compra se realizara el miércoles:

(Pontevedra,) N-541 O Carballiño, N-541/N-120 Orense, N525 Verín, Benavente, Castrogonzalo, N-610 Palencia, Villalobón, Valdeolmillos, Torquemada, Cordovilla la Real, Quintana del Puente, N-622 Lerma, Covarrubias, Hortigüela, N-234 Soria, Calatayud, A-1504 Miedes de Aragón, Cariñena, A-220 Belchite, A-1307/N-232 Alcañiz, N-232 Valdealgoría, N-420 Gandesa, Corbera d’Ebre, Mora d’Ebre, Falset, Reus, T-315 Tarragona, Vilafranca, (Barcelona.)

Suena un poco extraño la ruta, porque he usado para comprobar y vagamente optimizar los perfiles de elevación de la ruta, porque dicen que la segadora sabe subir una pendiente del 18-22%, más allá de la cual pasa lo siguiente (salir de Galicia es particularmente complicado):

A 25-30 km/h creo que me costará unos 5/6 días. El consumo de gasolina es de ca. 30 km/l – llegaré con los dos ojos de la cara intactos.


Y luego se busca espacio (250*126 cm) en local/garaje de confi @BCN a cambio de publicidad.

Contactos aquí.

Company would be most welcome along the following route, assuming a purchase is made on Wednesday:

(Pontevedra,) N-541 O Carballiño, N-541/N-120 Orense, N525 Verín, Benavente, Castrogonzalo, N-610 Palencia, Villalobón, Valdeolmillos, Torquemada, Cordovilla la Real, Quintana del Puente, N-622 Lerma, Covarrubias, Hortigüela, N-234 Soria, Calatayud, A-1504 Miedes de Aragón, Cariñena, A-220 Belchite, A-1307/N-232 Alcañiz, N-232 Valdealgoría, N-420 Gandesa, Corbera d’Ebre, Mora d’Ebre, Falset, Reus, T-315 Tarragona, Vilafranca, (Barcelona.)

The route sounds a bit strange, but that’s because I’ve used to check and vaguely optimise route elevation profiles, and that’s because my prospective lawnmower is said to be able handle a maximum gradient of 18-22%, beyond which this happens (getting out of Galicia is particularly fraught):

At 25-30 km/h I reckon it’ll take 5/6 days. Petrol consumption is ca. 30 km/l, so it shouldn’t break the bank.


And then I’ll be looking for space (250*126 cm) in a trustworthy premise/garage @BCN in exchange for promotion.

Contacts here.

[:en]No tears for Tirsa[:]

[:en]En busca del perreo inteligente.[:]

[:en]El sábado, tras un largo preludio en entre otros Córdoba (Luarca 10) y el renovado Segovia (Poniente 31), entramos en otro tipo de bar antes de que se bajaron las persianas para siempre. Tomé un tirsa, un whisky sour y un gin tonic, todos buenísimos; cantaba un gallito, faltaba otro; y por suerte mía no hubo materiales para más. Ya se me fue el Beefeater en General Mitre, y Marco Lamelas explica el fin del bar inglés sesentero bien desde punto de vista autóctono:

Baja el telón El Tirsa para acabar con el sueño de que un día podremos volver al barrio. Simplemente porque el barrio en el que crecimos ya no existe.

Sic transit gloria mundi, y subimos a Torrassa, con sus peluquerías caribeñas nocturnas, buscando la música de la nueva revolución cubana, es decir el reggaetón, pero no old skool sino de lo bueno, que resulta que todavía no existe, si tampoco crees que cuente “La intelectual” de Alexis & Fido:

Esa dama nunca baja de categoría
Lleva como 3 años estudiando sicología
Yo tengo una maestría en perrologia
Lo conté porque conmigo se va pa la milla.