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This report is taken from PN Review 196, Volume 37 Number 2, November - December 2010.

A Flamingo in Cemetery Road Neil Powell

What will survive of us is jazz. Of the assorted events and publications marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of Philip Larkin’s death, the four CDs of Larkin’s Jazz in the Proper Box series seem in some ways truest to the man. I feel less enthusiastic about Hull’s celebratory toads: the toad was Larkin’s image for his job, without which he couldn’t have coped, but ‘Give me your arm, old toad; / Help me down Cemetery Road’ isn’t an entirely reassuring endorsement, even from one who often relished glumness. Jazz, on the other hand, was Larkin’s great glumness-disperser, his excursion-ticket to a toad-free world, and the wonder is that it didn’t let him down until deafness cruelly cut him off from it. Much of the jazz he liked best was straightforward and extrovert, often with a hint of jokiness about it: he was an exception to the rule that melancholic music-lovers tend to enjoy those sad, introverted pieces which tell us we’re not alone. ‘I have a weakness for the entertainers of jazz,’ he said, adding in a typically wry parenthesis, ‘(as opposed to more sombre characters who suggest by their demeanour that I am lucky to hear them)’. His jazz has the courage, as he hadn’t, to cry Stuff your pension! And, while you’re about it, you can stuff that toad as well.

Wary of the wrong sort of seriousness – the kind that turns jazz into a subject for academic study and its insufferable po-faced jargon – ...


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