Deep state

DEREK TURNER is editor of The Brazen Head. He is also a novelist, reviewer, travelogist, and the author of the chorography Edge of England: Landfall in Lincolnshire (Hurst, 2022). Twitter: @derekturner1964. Instagram: edge.of.england

“Stilled legendary depth:
It was as deep as England”

‘Pike’, Ted Hughes

The plumber’s van’s been standing since the small hours

At the fishing-place beside the chartered town;

Its driver has been sounding deeper waters

Since he set up as the night was going down.

He saw the sun come wheeling up from ocean,

Watched whitening sky go glowing into gold;

Heard the birds orchestrate their calling,

Stamped booted feet to counteract life’s cold.

Cynosure of today these level courses –

These muddy understated lowland drains

Whose depths hide evolution’s shining forces –

Silver knights swim pricking on these plains.

Other men stare silent at reflections,

Itching for a twitch upon their lines,

Unknowing echo ancient Izaak Walton,

Compleatest anglers, contemplating time.

Coarse fishers here can sit on thrones like Doges

Wedded to the waters of their wealth;

Serene for once among the mace and sedges,

Each man an island nation to himself.

Slow surface holds deep state of planted kingdoms,

Mirrors showing sallow, alder, oak –

Chlorophylled and kingly-symbolled leaves

The royal trees on any English road.

The tops of reeds stand proud among sheet-silver,

Their dirty roots outshone by swelling light –

Excaliburs – or the lances of dead riders

Who rode here once to set the east alight.

Waterfowl calls urgently to offspring –

Brown fuzzy balls bob cheeping at her steer.

The angler cannot stop himself from smiling,

As he casts for luck across the haunted mere.

(Awake by now at home, his fishing widow,

Sipping her first coffee of the day.

Smiling at her grandkids out the window –

Her ducklings’ ducks, so soon to swim away.)

The plants that edge the lake have grown here always;

Reseeded from some Anglo-Saxon store –

Marginalia from the seventh century,

Still richly green if now less filled with lore.

Epona tails of Rome and Celt connections

Vanished lands in floreated forms –

Lush lowland lawn, these thronging herbs of nations,

Forget-me-nots and flags, dog-rose and thorn.

Apothecaries prospected these elixirs,

Water-mint and yarrow, woad and rue –

Cut and dried for daubed dog-Latined ewers,

Cures for flux, stone, plague, and marsh-ague.

Pallid fish slide silent near the surface

Or nose among new-inundated grass,

Animals always searching for advantage,

Ghosts glimpsed in oxidising antique glass.

Carp suck and spap and rise to find him casting;

Their ancestors gaped for God-believing men;

Now endless sky, that abbey’s painted ceiling –

Great fane forlorn, foundation lost in fen.

He throws his line along the deepest margins,

His hook hangs in the decomposing ooze;

He hovers with all fish beyond all ageing –

Quick and dead commingled in long view.

Good times in Kent

Photo: Drew de F Fawkes. Wikimedia Commons
RICHARD DOVE cavorts to Chic at Rochester Castle

In this year’s Grammy Awards, Nile Rodgers received the rare and prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award. He told us last night (6 July) that whilst very honoured, it implies a career end and he announced: “He ain’t done yet.” On cue, his band launched into ‘Everybody Dance’ – and we did.

The grounds of Rochester Castle saw the latest chapter in Nile’s legendary career. His band, Chic, were drilled, tight and in the groove. The thousands of us sprawled on rugs and mats got to our feet (some with difficulty) and threw shapes in the night air. Chic was always Rodgers and partner Bernard Edwards, but he died in 1996 and the band has become Nile Rodgers and Chic. They play hit after hit of their own and Nile’s other work with Madonna, David Bowie, Diana Ross, Sister Sledge, Peter Gabriel and Daft Punk, with whom he co-wrote the megahit, ‘Get Lucky’.

Rodgers is now a sprightly 70 and has survived, he engagingly told us, two bouts of cancer. He says music has its own way of healing and we all swing into the infectious groove of ‘Lost in Music’. It is a balmy evening and the ruins of Rochester Castle are illuminated behind the crowd of thousands. The cathedral tower shines a vivid blue into the dark night sky. The audience contains young and old, some wearing that old glitter dress or top found at the back of the wardrobe – a gathering, largely, of the well high heeled.

There is little room for extended solos as the band glide one dance floor hit with another, with the subtle moves of musicians complemented by the sinuous choreography and almost gospel-like singing of Audrey Martells and Kimberly Davis. Chic’s music relies on restrained but virtuosic drumming and bass playing. Ralph Rolle looks as if he was born behind a drum kit, and filling the huge gap left by Bernard Edwards is the heavyweight (in all senses) Jerry Barnes who plays some breathtaking bass lines throughout the evening. He keeps the less mobile in the audience literally on their toes.

Rodgers’ career is that on both a survivor and innovator. He was at the forefront of Studio 54-inspired disco music and then moved on swiftly when the tide turned and disco was regarded as mindless or toxic or both.  His work with Madonna (‘Like a Virgin’, ‘Material Girl’) and David Bowie (‘Let’s Dance’) put him back on track. Along with his Lifetime Grammy award he has also won this year a Grammy for the best R&B song with Beyoncé. He certainly ain’t done yet.

Rodgers dedicates a song to his old band mate, and the backdrop screens black and white photos of Edwards. Astonishingly, Chic has in some form been on the road for over 50 years. It has to be ‘We Are Family’, and we all shout out the words more or less in tune.

Whilst reminding us of his sackful of Grammys, Rodgers remains a modest stage persona with his precise, jaggling rhythmic guitar playing. He confesses he is not much of a dancer himself but encourages us once again to shake our ‘tushes’. I reflect that there will a variety of aches and pains and sprains in the morning. We wave our arms to his and Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ as the moonlight slips across the River Medway. This is a wonderful setting for an open-air concert. Indeed, this is the first of four concert evenings with the Sugarbabes and Soft Cell entertaining the ancient stones of the castle.

How to close the concert? It has to be the beguiling beat and melody of ‘Good Times’, a song that has been sampled by hip hop artists countless times. It dates from 1979 and is still as fresh and energising as ever.

The song is extended allowing some bass gymnastics that his old partner Bernard Edwards would approve. With a ‘Thank you Rochester’ they are gone, and we bounce and shuffle into the night hoping we can recall where we put that parking ticket. As the song says: “Let’s cut the rug, a little jive and jitterbug. We want the best, we won’t settle for less.” Long may Nile and Chic continue. Get out the Voltarol.