Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Cutty Sark - Camberwell Now

Last weekend 40,000 people including both myself and the world's greatest endurance runners ran round the Cutty Sark in the course of the London Marathon. The week before thousands more were in the area for the Tall Ships festival. Since the ship was first put in in dry dock in Greenwich in 1954 it has become an iconic part of the SE London landscape.

The Cutty Sark was built on the Clyde in 1869 and in its heyday transported tea and possibly opium between Britain, China and India. For me, it has an ambivalent meaning as simultaneously a loved local landmark (mile 6 and a bit of the marathon no less); an impressive product of the ingenuity of human labour (my dad did his engineering apprenticeship in the Clyde shipyards, obviously in a later period, so I have a romantic appreciation of their products);  a vehicle of both colonial plunder and global connections.

Some of this ambivalence is expressed in the song Cutty Sark by Camberwell Now from their 1983 album Meridian (1983):

I dream of empire, I dream of sailing ships
A fortune beneath their decks
Heavy with cargo, copper and ivory

I cross the ocean from one land to the next
I trade the space between, I cross the ocean
I trade the space between

Up in the crow's nest or down in the hold
I hear the ocean sing to me
It sings to me of another way of life
I ignore it, I choose to ignore it

I work with chart, compass, latitude, longitude
A world of reference points
To cross the ocean, measure the space between

Still this singing insists and insists
Won't go away, won't leave me be
It sings to me of another way of life
I ignore it, I choose to ignore it
I ignore its melody

Camberwell Now were formed in 1982 by Charles Hayward and others previously involved in influential experimental band This Heat.

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