Past columns and songs have shown how some physical features lend themselves more to literary or musical interpretations and inspiration than others. Waterfalls are good in this respect. And cathedrals and stations. And cross-roads, too –how symbolic are they!. T junctions less so, though. Bridges, too, are rather like stations in this regard – an object that is not just about physical geography but a symbol for all sorts of things. crossing over to something new, leaving something behind, joining and connecting, a turning point. Wordsworth’s famous poem Upon Westminster Bridge used the view from the bridge to describe a moment of a familiar world made new again. In a totally different media, the film The Bridge on the River Kwai, the bridge being built became a metaphor for something much wider.
The bridge in song has already cropped up in previous columns - Battersea Bridge in Grief Came Riding, London Bridge in Earlies - and London bridges, indeed, have been well served by song over the years. Julie Driscoll and the Brian Auger Trinity described an evening walk along the Albert Embankment by the Thames in From Vauxhall to Lambeth Bridge in 1969. The Pogues painted an evocative dream in Misty Morning, Albert Bridge in 1989. Half Man Half Biscuit echoed Wordsworth in Upon Westminster Bridge. Further afield Brooklyn Bridge and the Bridge of Sighs, amongst others, have made it into song. It has also been claimed that the most famous musical offering featuring a bridge - Bridge Over Troubled Waters – was inspired by a real place, Bickleigh Bridge in Devon, a claim based on the fact that Paul Simon had stayed in the village in the early 60’s, presumably before heading north to Widnes Station and penning Homeward Bound. (It is a pity that this claim seems erroneous. I think that on a summer family holiday once as a child, I may have sat sketching this very bridge, motivated by just having done Perspective in art lessons at school)
The song here, Waterloo Bridge by Louise Marshall, returns once again to that part of London that seems to have run through this blog like a meandering river for some reason. Louise Marshall, a jazz and soul singer originally from Oldham in Lancashire, is an artist capable of subtle interpretations whilst giving a hint of the vocal power beneath. She has recorded another song about a place, the Jools Holland-penned I Went By, a ballad inspired by a visit to Newport in South Wales. It could be overblown and mawkish in the wrong hands – here it leaves a haunting poignancy.
Waterloo Bridge, also recorded with Jools Holland, is an example too of another sub-genre, an example where a poem has been turned into a song, in this case After The Lunch by Wendy Cope and first published as part of the Poems on the Underground. Musicians have often fancied themselves as Romantic poets: both Marc Bolan and Pete Doherty, for example, produced poetry alongside their songs. It is less common to be equally valid as poet and musician, (just as there haven’t been that many examples of artists equally valid as musician and actor). Leonard Cohen, whose Suzanne first appeared as a poem; Patti Smith; Roger McGough, whose poems ran alongside his musical work with The Scaffold for a while. His Summer with Monika remains an oddity of the first summer of love of 1967, in a parallel universe from Lily the Pink.
There have also been fewer examples of poems being turned into songs or hit records than one might expect (by which I mean works first written as poems and then put to music, as opposed to a genre such as rap which fits words to a particular metrical pattern). The meanderings and shifts of jazz probably suit the structure of poetry best, allowing Cleo Laine to sing Shakespeare. But Leonard Cohen (again) adapted Lorca for Take This Waltz, as already seen in an earlier column. Strange Fruit started as a poem.There were simple but effective musical translations of Alfred Noyes The Highwayman by Phil Ochs and of Yeats’ The Song of Wandering Aengus (Golden Apples of the Sun) by Judy Collins. Natalie Merchant from 10000 Maniacs sang an Emily Dickinson poem, Because I Could Not Stop For Death.
Waterloo Bridge has appeared before – in the very first column, Terry and Julie presumably crossed over it in Waterloo Sunset. The melancholic observations of that song, or the nostalgia of Jane Birkin’s Waterloo Station, are not present here, however. Instead, the mood is one of optimism and looking forward and the bridge is not there as a grand metaphor but as a familiar backdrop for the meeting of two lovers. Pop music is sometimes tempted by the grandiose vision. War of the Worlds! The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and The Knights of the Round Table! Nostradamus Part 1! Yet the most effective image can be the small-scale and familiar – like a black woolly glove on Waterloo Bridge.
Another London bridge - Battersea Bridge - in Grief Came Riding, was the setting for “the weight of a thousand people leaving or returning home to their failures , to their boredoms” On Waterloo Bridge the narrator is tempted to skip with the wind in her hair. The view from the bridge, as with most places, depends on who is looking.