Starless and Bible-Black
Came across an astonishingly beautiful piece of music this week thanks to my friend – writer, music-lover, and fellow enthusiast for creative thinking – Doug Miller. STARLESS AND BIBLE BLACK is a tune inspired by Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood, from an eponymous record of 1965 by the Stan Tracey Quartet. The Quartet was a British jazz outfit right there on the front line, “one of Britain’s few genuinely original contributions to world jazz”. The tenor saxophonist on Starless is a Glaswegian called Bobby Wellins whose performance is Something Special. I really, really love the title.
STARLESS AND BIBLE-BLACK.
It’s just one of those perfect phrases. It comes from the very beginning of Under Milk Wood: “To begin at the beginning: It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black”
I once started a novel (inspired by Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones) and took the rather over-reaching step of starting it “In the beginning…”. Proved a bit too much to live up to.
Tracey worked outwards from the titles which I really love as a working method – titles can be key and inspiring. “I settled down with the book and the album [original performance of Dylan Thomas' play], and as I was going through I jotted down ideas for titles. By the time I’d got to the end of the play I’d got all the titles worked out and just went on from there – writing for the titles”.
The phrase immediately brought to mind my favourite sentence from my favourite book:
THE HEAVENTREE OF STARS HUNG WITH HUMID NIGHTBLUE FRUIT.
It’s from James Joyce’s Ulysses (page 619 in my trusty old Penguin Modern Classics copy). It’s from when Bloom and Stephen go back to Bloom’s house after a wandering night on the lash and go out into the back garden for a piss.
Which brings us round to the Simple Pleasures – an outdoor piss after a great night out; an inspirational read; and a musical surprise. Total cost: about a fiver.