The Dance

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August 2010

Nomination: The Dance [30 June 1963–12 May 1964. From Collected Poems (1988)]

On 15 February 2010, I received an email from Andy Newlove, the owner of Fairview Studios in Willerby. It consisted of two short sentences, containing just 25 words. The second sentence said simply:

Matt Edible thinks he’s got his track down to 12 mins!

Matt Edible is the singer and songwriter with The Holy Orders. A month earlier, I’d asked Matt if he would contribute a song to all night north, an album of twelve new songs using poems by Philip Larkin as lyrics. Matt had responded by saying he would love to be part of the project and that he was considering using ‘The Dance’:

I really like the unfinished poem ‘The Dance’ but it is rather lengthy and I’m not sure that if I attempted to wr

After receiving Andy Newlove’s email, I said to my wife, Julie: “Well, that’ll be the last track of the album, then.”

Those who own a copy of the all night north CD will know that ‘The Dance’ – at 12 minutes and 46 seconds – is track 7, and is the king-pin of the album. Matt, who insisted on including the eight additional lines unearthed after the poem’s publication in 1988, has created an epic masterpiece from Larkin’s unfinished poem; and demonstrates (once again) – in his impassioned and dramatic interpretation of the poem – the universality of Larkin’s poetry.

Considering the poem carefully, it isn’t difficult to see why it appealed to Matt Edible. When he agreed to be part of the All Night North project, Matt was in the final stages of completing a degree in English with Creative Writing, at Hull University, and there’s little doubt that the narrative style of the poem (and the fact that the poem was unfinished) was a significant attraction; but the themes of alienation, identity and social conformity that Larkin deals with in ‘The Dance’ will inevitably strike a chord with anyone who finds themselves in Matt’s circumstances: an independent creative artist struggling for some kind of recognition for his art in a world dominated by commercial concerns, celebrity culture, reality TV’s constant dishing out of 15 minutes of fame, and the relentless Cowellisation of – in particular – the music industry.

To what degree should anyone compromise their principles, identity or integrity in order to conform; to be accepted, welcomed or embraced (socially or artistically) by the majority – or by another individual who aligns themselves with the majority? It’s an eternal dilemma, and one Larkin recognised and tackled head-on. Of course, compromise can be a good thing; but artistic compromise would, I’m sure, have been seen by Larkin as a dilution of artistic integrity and a white-washing of creativity.

On the day that The Holy Orders came in to Fairview Studios to record ‘The Dance’, I (as usual) popped into the studio in the morning to introduce myself to the band, to see that they were settled in and that there were no problems; left them to it – while I went off to work painting and decorating; and returned a couple of hours before the end of the studio’s working day. I was amazed (and delighted) at what I heard when I returned.

After Matt and the rest of The Holy Orders had left the studio, John Spence (Fairview’s long-standing resident recording engineer) said he wished I’d been there to see Matt recording his vocals for the track. Apparently, Matt had countless sheets of paper spread around him, with the words of ‘The Dance’ scrawled over them; but John told me that all the way through singing the vocal, Matt had his eyes closed: he’d memorised every one of the 140 lines of the song. John recorded two complete takes of Matt singing the song from start to finish, and the final track contains sections of both.

With his passionate and compelling musical interpretation, Matt Edible has dramatically strengthened my connection with — and extended my understanding of — Larkin’s poem. But more than this, he has reinvigorated my believe in the integrity of true artists. In a world where the most common ambition of the young is to “be famous” – with no real regard for how they might achieve this, or any desire to develop any kind of talent that will bring it about – it is refreshing to come across someone (and, in fact, all the ‘someones’ who appear on the all night north album) for whom – like Larkin himself – artistic integrity is the priority; and for whom any kind of success would be welcomed primarily for the opportunities it would present for disseminating their artistic endeavours.

James L. Orwin

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