THIS POEM! & The Gothic Symphony

The Reverend practising Tai Chi on Ipswich Road




My Friends, trust me,

This poem is different from the rest.


This poem is not a sales pitch.

This poem is not a plug or ploy.

This poem says,

Hey! Lay back..Enjoy!”

There is no book, tour, CD, DVD, or internet download

to promote,

This poem does not need your vote.

This poem does not enter

slams or competitions,

This poem does not apply for grants

or struggle for recognition.

This poem does not believe

in intellectual property, ideology, the profit motive,

religion or success.

This poem rhymes,

only when it feels like it.


Its not that this poem has no Motivation,

it just really objects to being turned into a product.

Ah! O noble idealistic poem!

O True Believer of a poem!

As the older and presumably wiser author,

I can’t say I always agree with its opinions,

still, I’m prepared to let the poem follow its own path,

like a favoured, wayward child.

Indeed, this poem reminds me of me

when I was young

before the weight of the world crushed my spirit.

So what care I if this poem has no work-ethic?

It’ll get by. (Word of Mouth mostly.)

And in future days firebrand younger poets

will plaster it in posters on the walls of banks

or grafitti quotes on the sides of tanks..

This poem will have its own

precarious ecstatic existence

on the edge of several extinctions.


(sings:) O This poem is bound for glory!

This poem..


This poem will lie down drunk in the streets.

This poem will lie between its few remaining teeth.

This poem will lie down with the dogs

and get up with the sheep.

This poem says, “Look don’t peep!”

This poem struggles to be free

and achieve its own odd kind of honesty.


This poem a strange created creature,

and yet, herr Doktorr, I say,

It Lives! Haha!

And lightning cracks the sky!


This poem takes the time,

to look you in the eye…


This poem the ice on which meaning skates.

This poem knows what it hates.


This poem says, “Listen!

I have my own obscure strategy,

whereby thru a series of negations,

I will carve out a unique

and hithero

unsuspected territory..”




Concert Review:

Havergal Brian’s “Gothic Symphony”

as presented by 4MBS Classic FM,

at QPAC Concert Hall, 22nd Dec,2010.


I had been looking forward eagerly to this event. Havergal Brian’s 1st Symphony in D minor (The Gothic) is apparently holder of a Guinness Book of Records title for being the largest orchestral assemblage ever, and hadn’t been performed for thirty years and was, reputedly, “cursed.” Though as it turned out the “Curse” was mainly hype and a product of the Promotions Department.

Its not cursed, its just a logistical nightmare,” opined my Personal Assistant, after the first full rehearsal. She had taken time off from her many onerous duties as my assistant to participate in this event as one of the 250 choristers involved.

She had a point. Lucky old Havergal had the luxury of composing said nightmare without having in any way to deal with the responsibility of actually staging it. Nightmare is really a bit of an understatement, with the original score calling for 5 adult choirs, a children’s choir, 2 full orchestra’s and 4 brassbands all jostling for lebensraum. In the eventuality, the organisers had to make do with but a single orchestra and only 2 brassbands, but there was a very nice pipe organ and a good selection of archaic and obscure instruments gathered for the occasion. The unseen heroes of the night were, of course, the army of backstage hands and organisers who made it all possible, but we saw little of them.

Some hold the Gothic to be not so much ‘cursed’ as merely a bad joke that Brian was playing on posterity. Others hold that it was an intellectual exercise, never meant to be staged.

Some hope. There will always be someone who likes a challenge.

In this case it was Gary Thorpe, General Manager of Brisbane’s 4MBS classic radio station, who, after witnessing the 1980 Royal Albert Hall Performance, has apparently laboured thirty years trying to get someone in Brisbane to stage this Leviathan. Now at last his dream is realised. Is his faith justified?

First, it has to be said that this was perhaps not the best place to stage this particular piece. The QPAC Concert Hall is one of Brisbane’s uglier modernist monstrosities, with big bare slabs of grey concrete. If Albert Speer designed the sets for the movie Fahrenheit 451 you might get a similar effect. Surely it should have been staged in one of Brisbane’s fine old Gothic-style Cathedrals, Saint John’s for example. Or even that grand Victorian folly, the old Brisbane Museum building would have been a more appropriate venue. But no, we get the QPAC slab. And I’ve never been impressed particularly with QPAC’s acoustics; they’re always a bit “dead”. Even a production of this size struggled to sound “full”.


Nonetheless, buy the ticket, take the ride. The day duly dawned, the weather suitably Gothic, with dark, ominous overhanging clouds and intermittent torrential downpours as we made our way to the foyer, there to quaff many fortifying Gin & Tonics by way of preparation. My companion on this occasion, the esteemed John Treason Esq., had previously lent me the 1989 recording of “The Gothic” as played by the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra. This is generally considered not to be a particularly good recording, and indeed, I had always found it to be disconcertingly jarring and discontinuous. So at the very least, I can report that the Brisbane performance of the Gothic leaves the Slovak rendition for dead. I believe a recording was made of this performance and will be made available to the public, so if you must have a copy of this symphony give the Slovak version a miss.

Havergal’s composition is exceedingly complex, with many small segments that go zooming off in their own directions. The relationship between the succeeding segments is often tenuous. To get a sense of flow out of all the conflicting components was an achievement in itself.

Certainly I was never bored by this performance, there was always something happening to command the attention. The technical standard needed to play many segments was extremely high and the musicians all impressed. The only wobble was when the choir first came in for the second part. Unaccompanied at first by any instrument, they struggled for a few lines to settle in key, but soon found their footing and sang confidently thereafter. Having perused my Personal Assistants copy of the score I can tell you that the vocal lines were extremely demanding. All the vocal soloists delivered their lines with confidence and clarity.

Throughout this symphony I kept hearing bits of other compositions, and indeed, for days afterwards I kept imagining I could hear Gothic playing again whenever there was classical music on the radio.

So I sat impressed but at the end I couldn’t help feeling that something was missing, the Golden Thread, as it were, that held it all together. For the life of me I certainly couldn’t pick out a theme or motif running through it. Mr. J.T. Esq., disagreed with me, and perversely insisted that there were on occasion elements of a motif buried deep amidst it all, but I remain unconvinced. Certainly it appears as if Brian couldn’t write a melody to save his life. No-one walks out of the Gothic whistling a tune. What you get instead are waves and washes of sound. To me the end result is thus that while everything about Gothic seems familiar, Brian having borrowed so prodigiously, it contributes nothing of its own. It is a curiously lacking personality, there is no hook to hang it on.

Havergal Brian spent many years working on this symphony. Did he perhaps lose sight of the Golden Thread, or was he was looking for one and never found it. Perhaps in the end it was not a Gothic Cathedral he erected, but a Tower of Babel.


 The Reverend apologises for the missing sermon on boxing day, but there were technical problems. Plus his personal Assistant insisted he have the day off like everyone else.

Normal transmission has been resumed




~ by reverendhellfire on January 3, 2011.

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