mixed-mode performance – Helen & Fred

Well, I performed the new piece on Tuesday at the folk club (everyone was finger-popping 🙂 and also in Machynlleth at the Owain Glyndwr Centre for the singer-songwriter night. I had good feedback and audience response for both performances. The piece consists of a spoken frame at beginning and end with the song embedded in the middle with gestures and dance moves.

This version is different from the first draft, so even if you read the earlier post, it is worth reading this one. I’ve sharpened up the lyrics and written out something like the spoken bit as I actually deliver it.

Helen and Fred

By Mary Jacob, revised 14 November 2010

This piece is called ‘Helen and Fred’ and it goes like this: last week I was down with the flu. I slept all morning and I slept all afternoon. In between naps, I had nothing to do, so I thought I’d write a song. I was too tired to play guitar and my throat was too sore to sing, so I laid back on the sofa and closed my eyes, imagining.

I pictured myself performing at a gig, with a friendly audience, like this one. I asked the audience for three words: a person, a place, and a thing. I asked for a person – there was a pause – I thought I would listen rather than supplying the answer myself. The audience said ‘Helen’ – I have no idea who she is. Then I asked for a place – another pause – ‘the Spar’.  Oh, great! How can you write a song about the Spar? The third word came quickly, ‘bottle’.

Keep in mind I’m laying on my back, silent, with my eyes closed, all this time. I then pictured myself singing:

Helen went down to the corner Spar.
She slipped a bottle under her coat.
Then she sat beneath the railway bridge
for a good long drink and a smoke.

She looked up at the trestle overhead
as a train came trundling by.
It went clickety clack, clickety clack,
clickety clackety clickety clackety click clack clack.

She closed her eyes, drew a deep breath,
and slipped into a dream.
She saw herself dancing with Fred Astaire,
up on the silver screen.

She wore glittery tights and a spangly hat,
ruby-red stack-heel shoes.
They went tippety tap, tippety tap,
tippety tappety tippety tappety tap tap kick.

She opened her eyes, the shadows grew long.
It had been quite a while since the train had gone.
She picked herself up, hobbled down the street
with her moth-eaten coat and her swollen feet.

But I heard a boy say to his friend as she passed,
He said, ‘What’s that sound, is that a tippety tap?’
Tippety tap, tippety tap,
tippety tappety tippety tappety tap tap kick.
Her coat hem fluttered as she went past.
Her coat hem fluttered as she went past.

I opened my eyes and thought, ‘Once I get my voice back, I’d better sing this song. And I’d better write it down before I forget it’. So I did.


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