Oh, Eu, and might I even say, reka! I have long intended to revisit and even to share with you, O dear and reluctant reader, some of my juvenilia (and boy, is it juvenile — would that my more recent efforts were less so!). The trouble was that I couldn’t find them anywhere. But now, after scraping off a thick layer of dust and detritus, a book lurking at the base of my amazing bookshelves has turned out to be a ‘journal of sorts’ from the middle of the Year of Our Bored, 1983. Amazingly for me, it is almost a quarter filled. I must get down to reading it, but what it contains, and which I have long sought, is a piece called ‘Radio Three’.
Memory insists that I already found and typed this up in recent years, but none of my files or blogs seem to bear this out. In 1983 Your Humble Blogger was living in Victoria Street, Warwick, in the Heart of England, aged 31 (which casts doubt on his definition of ‘juvenilia’). Back then the journal, like this blog, seems to have been a place to get the pen flowing and dump half-arsed ideas.
The rest of the scribblings may bring back memories of where his head as well as what passes for his body was at back then, but for now, I will just transcribe the one piece and leave us both wondering why the hell I’d bother. Read on, or don’t.
August 2, 1983
Today marks the tenth anniversary of the death of Antonin O’Keefe, Czechoslovakian patriot, Irish playwright and seminal West Indian reggae musician.
Born in any number of places in 1924, O’Keefe showed early signs of a precocious musical talent, being able, by the age of six, to play from memory all the operas of Wagner on the piano while singing all the parts in perfect pitch. However he gave up classical music at the age of ten and took up chess. By the age of fifteen, he was travelling the world, beating all the great players of his day, though his flat refusal to become involved in ‘the cutthroat and corrupt world of tournament play’ prevented him from achieving the title of grandmaster. His ever-gloomy personality was not lightened by this self-induced failure, and at 19 he vowed never to touch a chess piece in anger again — though when, in later years, he did play against (and soundly beat) a few grandmasters, he claimed that he had been misheard and had only vowed never to touch a piece in Ankara again, which, to be fair, he never did.
Critics agree that the five plays he wrote over the next fifteen years of his life are the greatest in the English language, but his refusal to licence performance of any of them until his belovéd Serbo Croat should be adopted as the official language of the United States of America has cheated the general public of any chance to appreciate them as they should be appreciated, on the stage. Needless to say, and despite the efforts of a few dedicated impresarios, successive American governments have been totally unsympathetic to O’Keefe’s desires.
The plays all deal with the attempts of two couples, living in a squalid two-up-two-down in Kettering, to cope with the mysterious appearance of a llama in their shared bathroom, each play being written from the point of view of a different character, culminating with that of the South American ungulate. As an allegory of the human condition, the last play, Llama, can have few peers other than Hamlet, and plans are already being made for its first public performance in forty years’ time, when the copyright finally expires.
Even more dispirited by his failure to influence the domestic policy of the country he hated most, he relocated to Barbados, from where he could at least shout at America. While there he became involved in the blossoming reggae scene, and his innovative approach to the music, coupled with his doom-laden lyrics, made him a cult figure all over the world, his records selling in the hundreds. His triumphant return concert in Prague in 1965, where he openly criticised the Warsaw pact in three of his songs, is still fondly remembered by those who were jailed for attending it.
Ironically, however, even after his ensuing sentence and numerous arrests in the Caribbean, where he engineered many convictions by planting drugs on himself, he was never accepted by the local population, who only attended his concerts to throw fruit and eggs at him, and who referred to him as ‘that uppity honky’, which soubriquet he took for the title of his last album.
Finally he returned in secret to his belovéd Prague, where he committed suicide after delivering an impassioned anti-Soviet and anti-American speech from a soapbox in Wenceslas Square, shooting himself in the head as the security forces closed in. The final irony of his life was that no one present understood him, as he still believed that the language of the Czech people was Serbo Croat.
His first symphony, which we are to hear now, was written when O’Keefe was five years old. It has four movements: Lento, Largo, Depresivo and Piu Depresivo.
Antonin O’Keefe’s Symphony Number One in C#minor is played on this recording by the Kettering Schools Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the composer’s nephew, Rodriguez Malatesta O’Keefe. The soprano soloist in the third movement is Mary Swillbrook.
Now I just need to find the book which contains my student masterpome, Days of Laughter, to see if it’s a brilliant as my memory stubbornly insists.