The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
ENO's production of La Boheme is a triumph,
Bert Lloyd - or AL Lloyd - is well known by folk-song lovers in many countries and he occupies a special niche in Australia because he knew, sang and recorded many of the old bush songs during the six years he spent in the bush there after emigrating from London at the age of 16.
Dave Arthur's biography encompasses not only those early beginnings but the breadth of Lloyd's contribution to translation, radio documentary, ethnographic film, industrial song, folklore, poetry, broadcasting, magazine journalism, teaching and radical politics.
It's a riveting story of a man, his friends, relations, triumphs, tragedies, his wide-ranging influence and his ideas.
Returning to London from Australia at the beginning of the depression in 1930, the 21-year-old Lloyd soon became involved in the radical politics of the Communist Party, of which he was a lifelong member.
Lloyd's first publications were on revolutionary art and a translation of Spanish poet Lorca's Lament For The Death Of A Bullfighter And Other Poems which was published in 1937 while he was working on a whaling ship.
A year later his script Voice Of The Seamen, with its use of working-class language, was broadcast on BBC radio. It created an outcry from ship-owners and questions were raised in the House of Commons - the first of a number of "Lloyd controversies."
Arthur describes Lloyd's first encounter with "working-class people doing their own thing, singing songs ... a thriving folk culture on his own doorstep," an experience which led to a session recorded in a pub, broadcast in the summer of 1939. According to Arthur, it was the BBC's first full-length programme of genuine traditional singing.
That same year Lloyd and the historian Igor Vinogradoff began work on the marathon drama-documentary series The Shadow Of The Swastika which re-enacted the "fantastical" history of the Nazi Party and Hitler.
Twelve million people tuned in to this vast and complex story which was later published in book form and recorded for the Ministry of Information.
Though Lloyd went on to work for the famous Picture Post magazine, his open membership of the Communist Party put paid to his job continuing at the BBC, despite his having written eight scripts and translated two plays in a period of seven months for the corporation.
At the end of 1949 Lloyd's bar from the BBC was officially removed and by this time he'd published The Singing Englishman And Corn On The Cob: Popular And Traditional Poetry Of The USA.
For the lay reader it was an eye-opener, introducing Lloyd's concept that folk music was not impossible to revive. "It's largely because Bert wrote The Singing Englishman at a critical time and nudged open the folkloric floodgates that the folk revival developed the way it did," Arthur writes.
Come All Ye Bold Miners followed and in 1959 Lloyd compiled The Penguin Book Of English Folk Songs with composer Vaughan Williams.
The folk revival was under way and Lloyd's part in it was unmistakable.
In the introduction to the book, Fairport Convention's Richard Thompson says that at school, where he first came across Lloyd's The Penguin Book Of English Folk Songs, he and his peers were spared "having to sing the more prim Victorian versions of our national folk songs in class" as a result.
Between the early 1970s and '80s Lloyd's films for the BBC included documentaries on legendary US singer Doc Watson, the work of Hungarian composer and folk song collector Bela Bartok and the music tradition of the Hebrides.
That the BBC ran with such material attests to the extraordinary influence of Lloyd at the time
Lloyd's singing style was rooted in learning how to make each breath go a long way and "release the song from its hobbles." Arthur reveals that he didn't aspire to teach people how to sing but he enjoyed singing so much himself that it was pretty hard to resist his appeal.
Lloyd's engagement with and interest in so many aspects of his time described in this biography shine through.
And it documents yet another side of Lloyd - his admiration for Bob Dylan and interest in the use of electric instruments to deliver centuries-old ballads and tunes to large audiences.
It's an excellent biography and the author and Pluto Press are to be commended for bringing it out.
The book is being launched at 7.30pm on Thursday May 31 at the English Folk Dance And Song Society, Cecil Sharp House, 2 Regent's Park Road, London NW1 with music from Rattle On The Stovepipe, Martyn Wyndham Read, Iris Bishop, Frankie Armstrong, John Foreman, Hylda Sims and the City Ramblers, Eddie Armer, Pete Cooper and Sue Lee. Free. To book, visit: bertlloydbooklaunch.eventbrite.co.uk