On Common Ground – The Enclosure of John Clare – Hugh Lupton and Chris Wood

Way back in 2009 or thereabouts, in a village hall in north Notts, the world of John Clare, peasant poet, came alive in a vivid spellbinding reality. All that was used to create a gripping compelling narrative, was a fiddle, a guitar, two bowls and two human voices. The mundanity of the surroundings receded, and the audience found themselves back in 1841, as elderly John Clare struggles up the road from Epping asylum to his home village of Helpston. This miracle was made possible only by the skill of master storyteller Hugh Lupton, and the music of Chris Wood.

John Clare rests on the long walk home - John Lawrence


Lupton savoured the words as they left his mouth to seduce the ears, and with skilful use of repetition and the language of the countryside a vivid picture was created which moved back in time to 1810, when the young Clare falls in love with his first love, Mary Joyce.
The narrative of Clare’s love, and his disappointment at the hands of her ambitious farmer father, was paralleled with the coming of enclosure, where the landscape in which nature loving Clare was born and raised is carved and parcelled up by landowners, leaving the rural dispossessed even more impoverished than before, and Clare bereft of his other love, childhood Helpston.

Threshing - John Lawrence


As the evening progressed, the story moved towards its compelling conclusion, as the figures of old Northamptonshire, contemporaries of Clare, had life breathed into them for the space of a few minutes once more.
How glad I was then to get a CD copy of the heat of the narrative, skilfully reconstructed and almost as compellingly told as on that evening. Chris Wood’s songs are fleshed out with additional instrumentation, and Lupton’s voice is as rich as before, but oh it was so special to witness the whole thing live!

Chris Wood (left) and Hugh Lupton


The CD and others can be bought from Fivetrees.

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from off the goose.

All the fantastic illustrations here are by the great illustrator John Lawrence – a future post about him to come!

I Am

I am: yet what I am none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death’s oblivion lost;
And yet I am! and live with shadows tost

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
And e’en the dearest–that I loved the best–
Are strange–nay, rather stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man has never trod;
A place where woman never smil’d or wept;
There to abide with my creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie;
The grass below–above the vaulted sky.

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