As a living poet I have always held a torch to tradition, using models like pillars on which to build my own poetical buildings. The Conchordia Folio is no different, for any self-respecting poet of substance, if turning to the dramatic arts, should really be focussing on the eminent dramatic poet of the language & his body of work.
But there is emulation & there is evolution, & for my own essay into theatre I have taken on board the love of my own zeitgeist for the Broadway/West End musical which has created, when blended with Shakespearean iambic pentameter, what I have call’d ‘Conchordia.’ In its purest essence it means ‘with chords,’ & all the songs I have provided for the conchords can be played on an acoustic guitar.
One must also praise the folk duo ‘The Flight Of The Conchords,’ who really raised the bar as to what an individual performer must be – part singer, part songwriter, part actor, part comedian, part dancer, etc… i.e. all the muses operating in a single bodily space.
The first 13 conchords of the CONCHORDIA FOLIO are;
No Nay Never
GODS OF THE RING
Fight Of The Century
Flight of The White Eagles
Stars & Stripes
The Siege of Gozo
The Conchordia Folio: An Interview with Damian Beeson Bullen (September 2019)
Ever imagined what would have happen’d
If the Stone Roses had teamed up with Shakepseare? The Mumble caught up with the man behind it all…
Hello Damo. So you are here to talk about your new project, the Conchordia Folio – what’s it all about?
Hello Mumble. Well, in essence the folio is a collection of dramatic scripts, per se, rather like the Shakespearean folio. The only difference is I’m assembling it myself, whereas the Bard’s was collated by his pals a few years after his death. It should be ready in book & audio form by the Spring. There’ also an element of competition here – why not, you only get one life. As a poet I’ve written a better epic than Milton, but Shakespeare seems untouchable. But so were Liverpool FC before Fergie got the Man U job, & after declaring he wanted to ‘knock them off their fuc£king perch’ he went on to do so. I know I’m definitely a better bass-payer than Shakespeare, so I knew had to incorporate music into my scripts, play to my strengths kinda thing. Its worth a pop, right, to try & knock Shakespeare off his feffin perch!
So how exactly do you intend to ‘Knock Shakespeare off his feffin perch?’
I mean look, if a guy can run a marathon in less than two hours, another guy can outdo Shakespeare. Its the whole point of being human right, to better ourselves. Methodwise, its simple really. I’ve tried to outdo his sonnets already, creating a sequence of 154 which if you put against Shakespeare’s 154, I think I’ve got the edge. So it’ll be the same idea with the plays. I need to create a canonical 37 which when placed next to Shakepseare’s own 37, lets leave it to posterity to decide. My edge, I think, is going to be more penetrable language, shorter pieces & some proper banging tunes.
Thirty Seven plays – thats an awful lot to create in a single sitting – how long do you think will it take to achieve?
Well, I’ve written/been writing an epic poem, Axis & Allies, since 2001, so I can handle large projects no problemo. But I have set myself a time limit. With Shakespeare writing his last play, The Tempest, over the winter of 1610-1611, then he was 46 years old, approaching 47. For an even playing field, then, I need to be finishing my 37th play about the same time. I turn 47 in June 2024, so I’ve got just under four years to finish them all. Its totally doable, by the way, & watching that guy run a sub-two-hour marathon thro sheer hard work & dedication inspired me. I guess its a bit like if you got an infinite number of monkeys with typewriters, or whatever it was, one of them would randomly recreate the works of William Shakespeare OR you get one very determined bard from Burnley on an emulation mission creating something rather like the complete works of William Shaksepeare.
So what exactly is Conchordia?
Well. Its essentially the artform I’m inventing. Stripped down to its most basic level the term can be interpreted as ‘with chords’ – the idea is that one can witness a piece of drama accompanied by a single acoustic guitar. That’s the core. Then, I realised that guitar could be played by a performer, which reminded me of the very funny Flight of the Conchords duo. They are like proper multi-taskers – acting, singing, dancing, playing guitars – that’s what I want ‘Conchordian’ to be able to do. Act, sing, dance & playing instruments when they’re not on stage – even if its just percussive. Also, since Concord the airplane is now defunct, the name is up for grabs these days & I like idea of people going for a ride in one of my conchords.
What traits & attributes sets Conchordia apart from the other arts?
Each of the Conchordia has different DNA – there’s some that are just rock opera with barely any dialogue, & some that are simply musicals with an acoustic guitar. My later creations, however, are definitely realising a vision of theatre I have been developing. As a poet I have a gift for blank verse – its the most artistic way of expressing human speech. Shakespeare used it, so it can’t be that bad right? It certainly feels like at this point in time I’m the leading exponent of dramatic blank verse on the planet. I mean I just love it – there is a dynamic flow in those unrhymed five-stress ten styllable lines that seems like the dream of ordinary speach in a greater version of humainity – the idealised tongue. The English also have a genius for songwriting, while the Americans have mastered the musical. So if we blend all these together – Shakespearean blank verse, English songwriting, plus a wee splash of Broadway, you get Conchordia.
What other musical instruments are used in Conchordia, apart from the percussion?
Well, to be honest, there’s no limit. I’m going off the old edict that for a song to be a good song it needs to sound good sung on its own with only an acoustic guitar. But any producer of a conchord may use that basis to add an orchestra, or a rock & roll band, anything they like really. Each text also has a few ‘set’ pointers, which may also be interpreted as the company sees fit.
Have you performed any of your conchords yet?
I have actually – last year I put on a piece called Alibi at the Haddington Corn Exchange & also at the Eden Festival. It was fun – everyone enjoyed performing it & watching it. Doing Alibi made me realise I was onto something & began to look at my past pieces.
Your past pieces, what do you mean?
Alibi was the first slice of musical theatre I ever did – in 2007 & 2008. I was wintering in Sicily & got an acoustic guitar for Christmas, 2006. I then started looking at my old songs, connecting the common threads & adding a story. Bingo, my first conchord! I performed a it a few times in Edinburgh, Sheffield & Leeds. Next was a piece called Charlie, about the Jacobite rebellion, which I made into a film. About that period, & ever since, I’ve created a few others, but all in sketch form, in various states of completion. The Conchordio Folio is the moment I get them all nailed – a line in the sand, so to speak.
What Conchords are to be included in the Folio?
Like I said before, 37. The first five come together in a quintology called Leithology. There’s Alibi, Gangstaland, one I haven’t given a title to, a time-travelling one called Timewarpin’ & Tinky Disco. The idea is that they all interlink through characters, who each get a main musical to strut their stuff in. Like the X-Men franchise. Tinky Disco is based loosely upon The Tinky Disco Show, & will see the return of DJ Brooklyn – like a 21st century Falstaff. There are quite a number of histories – Charlie, Finnesburgh – based on a story in Beowulf – Malmaison, which tells the story of Napoleon on his return to Paris after Waterloo, one about Princess Diana, & Gods of The Ring, about the Foreman, Ali, Frazier fights in the 70s. There’s also a trilogy called The Rock & Roll Wars, its essentially a battle of the bands on a cosmic level. There’s Exes & Axes, a 19th century tale of romantic betrayal set in 19th century France – it doesn’t quite fit with any of the others, but its really funny.
Composing Conchordia: Provence (February 2020)
Just as Shakespeare toured Italy as a prelude to the writing of his Italian plays, when deciding to compose a conchord on Gaston Dominici, I thought a story-hunting trip to Provence in order to commune with the ghosts of that most famous of 20th century crimes would surely help my craft. The crime in question is the 1952 roadside murder of nutritionist Sir Jack Drummond, his wife & their 10 year old daughter. They had camped for the night near a farmhouse owned by Gaston Dominici, a 75 year old patriarch in whose barn was kept the WW2 carbine which shot Sir Jack & his wife, & then clubbed to death little Elizabeth. A shocking case which brought the world to the Durance Valley & also sucked to the surface old family quarrels & familiar local feuds which in the end saw Gaston sentenced to death. In the clear light of seven decades it seems likely that the perpetrator was Gaston’s grandson, 16 years old & probably drunk at the time, Roger Perrin.
Last Thursday myself, Spud, Victor Pope & ex-Tinky Disco bandmate Al Roberts all made our bleary-eyed ways to Edinburgh airport for a 9.45 AM flight. Me & Spud always get wound up by Al leaving his house in a slow-shabby fashion, so opted to get to the airport ourselves – I took a tram & he the shuttle bus. Vic & Al shared an Uber without any mess-ups, which surprised us & proved a good omen to our week together on the road. As we stepped onto the tarmac to board our plane, the Scottish chill was fully raging & I was very much looking forward to a respite from the seemingly endless Caledonian winter.
A handful of hours later we were in Marseille & checking into our Air B&B right beside the Old Harbour, or Vieux Port. This was the spot where in 600 BC a guy called Euxene arrives from Phocae (an ancient part of Turkey) just in time for the local king’s daughter’s ‘choosing ceremony.’ In short, among a group of gathered suitors, Euxene was the one given a goblet of wine by princess Gyptis, who would later change her name to Aristoxenus. Euxene & Aristoxenus, now that’s already got the hallmarks of a conchord, I thought to myself, in the same way I thought that Gaston Dominici has a Motzartean ring about it. Looking at the Gyptis story at that point, tho, it unfortunately seemed a bit weak to make a conchord out of…
Marseille with the lads was fun. Kicking back with a smart TV & cheap beer in the hypermodern flat or on the balcony overlooking the harbour, with the pointed cathedral rising on the central Marseille hill beyond. On the smart TV, we watched Netflix, played all our music videos, while Al could send to it our recent recordings – an album called the New Truth. I couldn’t help but notice the technological advancement of the species – the last time I was in Provence was 20 years ago & for fun me & my pal, Bryn, ended up making a chess board out of paper & stones. Here’s an extract from my journal of that time.
May 10th, 2000
We woke up proper spangled, but a quick dip in the exquisitely cool pool proved enough of a respite from our frail noggins & we were able to pack & head out to Cannes. It was the first day of the festival & full of noisy Yanks, so we soon got out of dodge, striking inland on a bus to Grasse, a lovely town stacked high against the hillside. We had a couple of hours to kill so wandered around a bit & to our delight found it very swell, with lovely narrow streets & great prospects of the Cotes d’Azore in the distance.
After sending off our postcards we hopped on a bus north along La Route Napoleon. The view was spectacular as we climbed & wound thro’ the mountains, each one clad in trees giving a baize effect, & I could imagine Napoleon & his column following the same road. A rapid mist descended, however, followed soon after by heavy rain which showed no intention of letting up as we were unceremoniously dumped in the wee hamlet of Seranon. We dived into the only bar around for shelter & refreshment, obtaining a few funny looks off the funny looking locals.
Eventually we found out the bus north didn’t leave til the morning, so we were stuck. We didn’t fancy putting the tent up in the rain so opted for a hotel. A friendly couple drove us a half mile down the road to their mate’s hotel, which was closed. Luckily the mustached madame opened it up for us (a whole hotel to ourselves), but we were forced to share a double bed (with pants on obviously). As soon as we paid our 15 francs the sun came out & we heaved a table up to the roof, bought wine, cheese, bread & sausage & had a most pleasant supper among the mountains. It was cool, me musing & Bryn sketchin’ & it felt nice to be doing spot of real travelling, the only sound being the constant chuckle of crickets. Bryn very correctly brought up the point we were stuck in a one horse dive & had less than two days to get to Venice, but I re-assured him all would be reyt. We made a chess-board out of paper & stones & played to the setting of the sun, before all the wine & well-thought-out moves took their toll & sent us both a-slumbering.
Fastforward to 2020, on our first full day in France – Brexit day as it so happened – we enjoyed a daytime riviera stroll, followed by a wicked night out at bohemian La Plaine – a very funky part of Marseille. Drinking & dancing & downing tequilas, we met an English busker called Charlie, & his Slovakian girlfriend. The gods had answered our pleas, & he actually had 3 guitars. ‘Don’t worry, we won’t steal them – it’ll be too expensive to check them into our flights back,’ put him off from coming round for a jam, but he agreed to meet us the next day for a wee busk.
It was more than a joy the following afternoon to find ourselves all jamming together by Marseille harbour to the infinite delight of the locals. Our immediate audience consisting of an annoying kid who kept banging the guitars, a Czech street lassie & a Parisenne rock-chick who finds Marseille a cheaper place to live. Before then, I’d taken a solo morning mission up to Allauch, a hilltop village right on the edge of the Marseille conurbation. It was at the old castle, even higher still, that I filmed the following Pendragon Poetry post, talking all about Conchordia.
I was up in the hills as I’d read that a possible Gyptis object had been found in a hillside cave nearby. The curator of the slick local museum begged to differ, but I said I’m a poet & I didn’t want the truth to get in the way of a good story. Yes, a conchord was being born & on the way back to the appartment I googled a few Greek myths & found one, which I felt I could use – Alcyone and Ceyx. Basically, they offended the gods by calling themselves Hera & Zeus, & ended up being drowned & then turned into birds. A little creative furnace-burning later & I’d transmorped the myth into Euxene & Aristoxenus being turned into the the islands of Pomègues and Ratonneau which lie off the mouth of Marseille harbour. Like the Phaecean ship which carried Odysseus to Ithica being turned to stone.
Compositionwise I only managed a few speeches from VIRIATHUS in Marseille – the second Senate scene – in the early morning before the boys woke up, mainly at a cafe by the harbour. I usually compose on my morning East Lothian walks with Daisy, accompanied otherwise only by nature and the essential headspace needed to really zone out. Not so easy in a busy city as ever. There was no way I was going to achieve my goal of finishing Viriathus on this trip & then starting ‘The Flight of the White Eagles, ‘ – my conchord about the retreat from Moscow – the notes for which I worked intensively on before I set off. Still, they are all in the bank & Viriathus should be finished within days. I’ll be recreating the antics & dashing chit-chat of Seargant Bourgogne soon enough!
We left Marseille the next day, the sunshine heating up, arriving by train at the Durance valley & the station which serves La Brilliane & Oraison. The River Durance patches its way between them on a hugely wide stony river bed, with hills framing the scene on either side, & the snow-capped Alps closing the vista far to the north at Digne. Public transport round these parts is pretty neglible, & with it being Sunday afternoon no shops were open. Of that first of the two matters, we soon hit paydirt. After walking over the bridge to Oraison, beyond the frustratingly closed intermarche, we came to a carpark where I asked a lovely fella could he take us to Dabisse, & he agreed gladly.
Dabisse is a wee village with a bar & a bus stop kinda thing. The bar was well busy, tho, its car park full of temporary pebbledash for a meeting of the region’s petanque teams. It was a really serendiptous, masonic, monastic moment listening to the clink-clinks & murmours of the play. Getting a carry-out together we went back to our villa & gorged on the food previous Air B&B-ers had left behind – a severe stroke of luck for a hungry bunch on a Sunday.
Ah, the good old days! Roll on a nigh decade & I found myself composing Viriathus, drinking wine by the pool of a plush villa in Provence. We had a look at the pool, but soon covered it up again – early February means a bit of algae & no need for pool-use, I guess.
The fridge was now full. We’d hitched a lift to Oraison in the morning off the lovely John Christmas (real name Jean-Noel), stocked up at the supermarket, then caught a taxi back to Dabisse for the day. And what a day, far from the Scottish chill and ended by a walk with Al for a sunset view over the Durance valley.
Some of those 21 degree sun-soaked, Senate-based Viriathus lines composed by the pool read like this ;
Senators of our majestic city
& many other regions in its stride,
This treaty is, in the highest degree,
Dishonorable to all we stand for,
Staining Servilianus’ career,
Viriathus is a craved barbaric,
Beheading, disembowelling at will,
A bandit on an unsubsistive soil –
To him a border is a line to cross
To empty beaten innocents of blood
& topple pillars, pillaging obscene.
Obscene? Objection! You paint him monster,
Humanity, his high ascendency,
Distributes unifying spiritus
That never in the passage of this war,
In armies of tribal variety,
Was ever spill’d sedition, all obey’d,
All fearless in the presence of danger –
As statesman he was neither humble-knee’d
Nor overbearing in leagues & treaties,
Faithful, exact, aequis, veritable,
Vir Duxque Magnus, ancient ideals
Penetrated atoms of existence,
& as the adsertur of Hispania
Let us assert our honour to his will
Make good his claims to the fame of the world,
Too many lost already in that place
We owe him our respect
We owe him death
The retributive slew for youth hard lost.
So to yesterday – the ultimate object of this mission & a trip to La Grand Terre, the farmhouse of the Dominicis. It began in fine fashion with me & Spud arguing about how to get to Lurs – it was a case of his gammy leg versus my abundant energy & in the end the lads got a taxi & I walked the muddy Durance-side fields down to the bridge & back up the other side. I got to Lurs scrambling up its rocky slopes & arrived at its medieval core to see the lads waiting at the entrance. Once reunited we hit the old goat tracks down to the road, & using a little satnav orienteering came out at the very spot where the Drummonds were murdered. The poignant teddy bear shrine is testament to the locals’ indignation at the death of a child.
After La Grand Terre, I’d got it in my head that we could ford the Durance – Dabisse was more or less facing us on the other bank. The lads humoured me & watched me make tentative efforts on a scouting mission in the shallower bits – but the plan was soon aborted & we caught a taxi back. That night I ruminated in a Pendragon fashion on the Drummond murders & got a pretty plausible idea of what went on that night – which I’ll use in my composition.
The next day we chilled in the sun til 2PM, caught a taxi to the station, then a train to Saint Antione, conducted a wee walk to our Air B&B off La Pennes Mirabeau, then caught the Rangers-Hibs game over beers. At 6AM we hired a lift off our landlord to the airport & we were finally in Edinburgh by 9.30 AM. On the flight I pretty much worked out the structure of the Dominic conchord – 4 acts with a cliffhanger ending each one – & began sketching it out on the inside cover of an Agatha Christie book I was reading on the holiday- A Pocketful of Rye. Just like Agatha I was going backwards from the ending, & there’s a chance I could have a wee Mousetrap on my hands if I get mi ‘ead down. With bangin’ tunes & Shakespearean blank verse, of course!
Composing Conchordia: Vaulting The Lockdown (May 2020)
After the completion of the Leithology quintology – which will soon be on sale on all platforms – & the composition of Viriathus & Malmaison, I felt THE FLIGHT OF THE WHITE EAGLES was going to be a real statement-maker. If I really do wanna emulate Shakespeare, I need definitive works with meaty bodies – a bit like Hamlet innit – & so turned to Napoleon’s infamous retreat from Moscow as the first of my major conchords. There’s a hell of a lot of drama obviously, & when it comes to stagecraft the visual deterioration of the soldiers will be a wonderful story to tell.
With five acts of seven or so scenes each, all bubbling with blank verse & containing both original songs & songs drawn from the period itself, WHITE EAGLES definitely marks a placement of my muse on a Parnassian plateaux of sorts. No looking back now – ten down, 27 to go!
I began researching WHITE EAGLES last year after reading the fabulous ‘Memoirs of Sergeant Bourgogne.’ From this first catalyst – I was very verteux at the time – I began to research other memoirs up in the National Library of Scotland, such as those of Caulaincourt, & set to work on the composition period not long after my return from Provence sometime in mid-February. Then the Lock Down happened. I don’t need to rattle on about it, everyone’s experiencing it. I’m lucky tho’ – I walk dogs with my girlfriend which meant I could to & fro between my places in Edinburgh & East Lothian for ‘work that cannot be done from home‘ – the dog numbers had drastically plumetted, but there was enough to make it valid & of course meant I could compose pretty much anyway I liked – from the Lammermuirs to Leith Links. Here’s a Walking East Lothian post I created during the Lock Down.
Musically, WHITE EAGLES has been something of an educational dream, help’d along by my house-mate’s keyboard playing. By February I had a couple of tunes, but then began to write more & add local colour so to speak, translating from the French lyric into the English. Of my new songs THE BALLAD OF BORODINO is really beautiful I think, & THE GREAT NAPOLEON really fun – the Herod moment – my house mate incorporating the Tetrislike theme tune into via some techno rave from the 90s via Hicksy & Sharky. He also fell in love with Plaisir D’Amour & Compere Guillere.
The full list of songs is below, with astersks denoting my own compositions)
The Sable Raven – English version
Marlbrough is Going To war – English version
Parisienne Skies (*)
On Va Leur Percer Le Franc
The Blood of Borodino (*)
Pomme de Terres (*)
Compere Guillere – French Version
Song of the Loricated Legion (*)
My Handsome Husband (*)
Soarin’ Home (*)
Chant du Depart
Crossing the Bridge (*)
The Great Napoleon (*)
Compere Guillere – English version (*)
Au Clair de la Lune
Le Depart Du Bologne
The March from Moscow (*)
Theatrically, there are a lot of parts – three main bodies of 8-10 characters; Napoleon & his entourage, Bourgogne’s company & the Russian partisans. There’s also another 20 or so walk-in parts, plus the crossing of the Berezhina bridge to depict – but whenever WHITE EAGLES does get performed everyone’s gonna JUST love it!
Artistically, WHITE EAGLES is the bag daddy to Malmaison, but together they form a very good account of Napoleon’s life. Like I said at the start, it also represents the foot-scrambling heave onto the plateaux from where the rest of my conchords will be composed.
The first of this new bunch is GODS OF THE RING & I’m extremely excited about it. The principle subject is the four fights between Ali, Foreman & Frazier, & all the dramas before, during, after & between the fights. The names of these epic combats have gone down in history – THE FIGHT OF THE CENTURY, THE SUNSHINE SHOWDOWN, THE RUMBLE IN THE JUNGLE & THE THRILLA IN MANILLA. Like White Eagles I’ve already got two tunes in the bank, a theme tune & the sublime, best song I’ve written in ages, BLACK POWER. I’ve been compiling the notes in the past few days, the bulk of which were studied for in the National Library just before the Lockdown. I’m gonna print out the first notes today & get composing soon after.
With White Eagles taking just over three months, & June the 1st on the horizon, I’ve got a feeling that every new conchord is gonna take a season – so Gods of the Ring is the conchord of the summer of 2020 – the weird summer, the one where the theatres were closed. For me, I think I’ll be spending some of it hopefully in Greece, where the next of these windows into my workings will be composed.