Damon Albarn

Damon Albarn (b. 1968) is a British musician, producer and actor.  He is the co-albarnpicture3founder of the group Gorillaz, with Tank Girl creator Jamie Hewlett.  Gorillaz is a virtual band of animated characters (2-D, Murdoc Niccals, Noodle and Russel Hobbs).  Albarn composes the music; Hewlett produces the videos.  The music draws on many genres: reggae, pop, trip hop, dub, gospel, electronica, etc.  On tour Gorillaz is staged by musicians performing in front of a screen playing a video of the animated characters or with the screen covering the entire stage and the musicians performing behind it.  The animated characters have also played on stage as holograms through Musion Eyeliner technology.  Albarn is the only regular member, a revolving cast of musicians filling the other roles.  Gorillaz’s albums include Demon Days; Plastic Beach; and Humanz.  They have been enormously popular, selling millions of albums.

Albarn has always been a prolific artist.  He was the lead singer of the Britpop group Blur.  With them he released several albums in the 1990’s, including Modern Life is Rubbish; Parklife; The Great Escape; and The Magic Whip.  Their “Song No. 2” was a world-wide hit.  After Blur disbanded in 2003, Albarn focused on his own career.  His only solo album has been Everyday Robots.  But he also played as part of an unnamed supergroup, releasing The Good, the Bad and the Queen.  In collaboration with others, he recorded the operas Monkey: Journey to the West and Doctor DeeHe has been involved with world music, releasing Mali Music, and he wrote the scores for the movie The Boy in the Oak and the musical Wonder.land.  As well, a few Blur reunions have occurred, resulting in more albums and tours.  Albarn also acted in the films Face and Anna and the Moods as well as in the radioplay Up Against It.  In 2006 he was awarded an honorary Master of Arts degree from the University of East London, and in 2016 he was appointed an Officer of the British Empire.

Albarn comes from a long line of Lincolnshire Quakers.  His grandfather, a Friend, was a conscientious objector during World War Two and was imprisoned and later suffered ostracism because of his stand.  His father was also a conscientious objector.  Albarn was one of the leaders of the antiwar resistance when Britain became involved in the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars.  In 2003 he was supposed to speak at a Hyde Park peace rally before hundreds of thousands of people but was too overcome when the moment came.  He said later that he had “this image of my grandad in his slippers reading the paper, knowing that his grandson had been involved in something which he’d put so much of his life into” and he “got over-emotional”.  He has been active in various charities, recording and playing music for Oxfam and the Teenage Cancer Trust.  Albarn didn’t grow up a Quaker.  Raised in a bohemian family in the 1960’s, however, he was brought up in a very open and inquiring household.  He was exposed to Sufism and Hinduism.  And a Quaker influence persisted, through his grandfather.

I had been unfamiliar with Damon Albarn’s music, with the exception of “Song No. 2”.  So it was a joy to begin to explore his rich music.  I loved Gorillaz, his virtual band, especially the song “Feel Good Inc.”  Great innovation and great fun!

Here is a link to “Feel Good Inc.”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyHNuVaZJ-k

July 2017

Laurie Baker

Laurie Baker (1917-2007) was a British/Indian architect renowned for his work lb1bwith sustainable housing.  In 1943, in Bombay, he had a chance meeting with Mohandas Gandhi.  Gandhi told him that he should be building houses for ordinary people, those living in villages and slums, using materials found within a five-mile radius of the site. In 1945, he returned to India and spent the rest of his life building sustainable housing there.  As well as the use of local materials, Baker emphasized cost-effectiveness, energy-efficiency, and an uncluttered space with maximum ventilation and light.  He learned to use indigenous architecture and methods, combining lb2bit with modern design principles and technology wherever it seemed appropriate.  He also improvised, starting with a blueprint but then changing the design on-site as needed.  Though Baker focused on buildings for people, per Gandhi’s comment, some of his better-known buildings include the Centre for Development Studies, the Literacy Village, the Sálim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History, the Chitralekha Film Studio, the Indian Coffee House and the Pallikoodam School.  He was honored with the International Union of Architects  Award, a University of Kerala honorary doctorate, the Padma Shri, and a Member of the British Empire medal as well as being placed on the United Nations Roll of Honour.  In 1988 he was granted Indian citizenship, the only honor he actively pursued in his life.  Costford (the Center Of Science and Technology for Rural Development) carries on his work.

Baker’s designs were striking.  His buildings were usually constructed of brick with jali walls, perforated screens to allow light and air to flow through.  Curved walls were used to enclose more space at less cost than straight walls.  (He said “building (became) more fun with the circle”).  They featured sloping roofs with vents to allow rising hot air to escape as well as irregular, pyramid-like structures atop, one side left open and tilting into the wind to promote ventilation. A cooling system was created by placing a high, latticed, brick wall near a pond that used air pressure differences to draw cool air through the building. As a rule, trees remained in place and the topography was left undisturbed.  Dug-up soil was shifted into the built area rather than out of it. Compartments for milk bottles were set near the doorstep, and windowsills doubled as bench surfaces.  Junk heaps were often rummaged through for building materials. 

Baker became a Quaker while a teen after a period of questioning about what religion meant to him.  During World War Two he served as a conscientious objector in a Friends Ambulance Unit in China.  Trained as a nurse, midwife, and anesthetist, he worked there with civilian casualties and lepers.  On his way back to England, he met and became friends with Gandhi and had his epiphany about sustainable housing.  (They met because Gandhi noticed his handmade shoes and approached him to ask about them).  Baker lived simply, owning only the house he lived in Kerala in southern India and, at any one time, no more than four sets of shirts and trousers, made of handwoven khadi fabric.  While he was known as the “Gandhi of Architecture”, well-loved, his workers and students called him “Daddy”.  “On What Being a Quaker Means” was a short piece that he wrote about his Quakerism. 

The first Friend came to India in 1657.  Formal Quakerism began in India in 1866 through the efforts of the Friends Foreign Mission Association of London Yearly Meeting.  In 1907 Mid-India Yearly Meeting was established.  Located in Madhya Pradesh, it includes six Meetings: Hoshangabad, Itarsi, Kheda, Sohagpur, Seoni Malwa and Makoriya.  Four schools were founded and are still run by Friends, though they now belong to the Indian government. In 2002 Mid-India Yearly Meeting published a Hindi language version of Britain Yearly Meeting’s Advices and Queries.  It is affiliated with Friends World Committee for Consultation.

I have long felt that there should be a Testimony for Sustainability.  So I was moved by Baker’s simple, elegant buildings.  What graceful pieces of art!

(Above are Laurie Baker and a house of his in the Deccan Plateau).

June 2017

Betsy Ross

Betsy Ross (1752-1836) is, of course, famous for making the first American flag.  br flagBorn in Philadelphia, she came from a family with 17 siblings and was married three times.  A seamstress, she was one of the many artisans active in colonial times.  Ross was also a fervent Patriot during the American Revolution.  Her first two husbands died during the war, one reportedly from the explosion of a munitions depot, the other of disease in a prisoner-of-war camp in Britain.  Her third husband survived the war while serving as a privateer.  She was known as a bustling, humorous, intelligent woman.

Ross learned needlework from her mother and sisters and at Rebecca Jones’s school.  Though there was no formal apprenticeship for girls, as a teenager, she was taken on at John Webster’s shop.  With her husbands, she opened her own shops.  Her work came to be much sought after in Philadelphia.  Upholstery, as the items she created were called in those times, encompassed many things: curtains, blanket, clothes, pillows, blinds, mattress covers, etc., etc.

It is said that George Washington, George Ross, and Robert Morris, on behalf of the Continental Congress, visited Ross in her Arch Street shop, in June 1776.  They brought along a rough sketch of a flag with 13 stripes, alternating red and white, and 13 white stars against a blue background.  After she explained that the six-pointed stars they wanted would be difficult to reproduce, she took out scissors and cut a five-pointed star quickly.  She also proposed that the stars be in lines, a circle or a star, instead of scattered about, and that the flag be rectangular, not square.  They agreed to her version.  When her sample flag was hoisted on a ship at a Philadelphia wharf, it was applauded by passersby and then taken to the Continental Congress, who approved it.  Unfortunately, however, no proof exists that this story is true.  War Department records were burnt in 1800, and no other documentation survives.  Ross told the story to her many relatives, who then passed the tale down in her family.  William Canby, her grandson, recounted the story to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in 1870.  He then recruited Ross’s relatives to swear affidavits that they had heard the story, too.  Promoted after the Civil War to encourage nationalism, the legend spread.

Ross came from an old New Jersey and Pennsylvania Quaker family.  She attended Friends Public School as well as Friend Rebecca Jones’s school and was a member of Arch Street Meeting.  She was also known to have worked with Quaker cabinetmakers Thomas Affleck, Benjamin Randolph and James Claypoole. In 1773, after she married John Ross, an Anglican, she was disowned.  In 1781 she began attending the Free Quaker Meeting in Philadelphia.  The Free Quakers followed Quaker faith and practice but rejected disownment and supported war in defense of the government.  Their Meetings also existed in Massachusetts, Ohio and Maryland.  By the 1830’s the Free Quakers had mostly died, joined others churches or rejoined mainstream Friends.  A small group does survive in Indiana.  Ross was one of the last two members of the Philadelphia Meeting.

I tend to believe that Betsy Ross created the first American flag.  She probably knew George Washington, having worshipped at Philadelphia’s Christ Church with him.  Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis, George Washington’s step-granddaughter, visited her in 1820, indicating that the Washington family was acquainted with her.  Robert Morris was a business partner of John Ross, an uncle.  George Ross was another uncle.  Evidence does exist that Ross made numerous flags, beginning in the Revolution, throughout the early 19th century and especially during the War of 1812.  The story has the ring of truth.

May 2017

Christopher Fry

Christopher Fry (1907-2005) was a British playwright. From about 1945 to 1955 fryhe was considered the foremost dramatist of theater in Britain.  He created religious dramas in verse, á la the Elizabethan plays.  (T.  S. Eliot was his mentor).  His works were optimistic and featured happy endings.  A quiet wittiness, a sense of wonder and a struggle with moral choices were core elements.  The plays included The Lady’s Not for Burning; Venus Observed; A Sleep with Prisoners; The Dark is Light Enough; and A Ringing of Bells. In addition, he wrote the screenplays for Ben-Hur (with others); Barabbas; and The Bible. For television, among others, he wrote The Tenant of Wildfell Hall; The Brontës of Haworth; and The Best of Enemies.  He was also known for his translations of the plays of Anouilh, Giradoux, Rostand and Ibsen.  Actors who appeared in his works included Olivier, Gielgud, Burton, Evans, Scofield and Plummer.  He won New York Drama Critics Circle Awards in 1952 and 1956; was nominated for a Tony Award in 1956; and was given the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1962.

Fry became a Quaker as a teenager. He actually changed his name to Fry because that was his mother’s maiden name, and he thought she was related to Elizabeth Fry.  In World War Two, due to his pacifism, he became a conscientious objector and spent the conflict cleaning up sewers in London’s East End that had been damaged from the bombings.  (He had approached Eliot, asking him, “….what I could do in wartime that didn’t mean shooting people. He suggested the fire service, but I told him that I had no head for heights. Eliot said, ‘You must specialize in basements’.”) For Ben-Hur Fry inserted the dialogue, (Sextus to Messala:) “He teaches that God is near, in every man”. He said that he wanted to evoke in his plays, “a world in which we are poised on the edge of eternity, a world which has deeps and shadows of mystery, and God is anything but a sleeping partner.”

I had not been familiar with Christopher Fry’s work so I listened to the John Gielgud radioplay of The Lady’s Not for Burning. It was a delight: funny, nimble language. As Harold Hobson noted, “He (could) make words dance”.

April 2017


Costa Rican Friends

A beautiful sound: Costa Rican Young Friends playing classical music on a monteverdeplatform up in the canopy of the Children’s Eternal Rainforest.

Costa Rican Friends were founded in 1951 by eleven Alabaman and Iowan Quaker families. They were fleeing the coming military-industrial complex in the United States.  Specifically, some of the Friends had refused to register for the first peacetime draft and had been imprisoned.  They were also drawn by the Costa Rican government’s invitation to immigrants and by the abolishment of its army.  Travelling overland in trucks and oxcarts, led by Hubert Mendenhall, they settled in Monteverde in the northwest of the country.  Friends established farms and built a cheese factory.  Out of a concern to protect their watershed, they set aside large areas of the land.  Those areas grew into the massive Cloud Forest Reserve.  Nowadays the reserve is the focus of ecotourism, the main local business.

Monteverde Monthly Meeting numbers about 100 Friends. A small worship group in San Jose also gathers.  In 1951 a Friends School was created to serve both Quaker and non-Quaker students.  In 1983 the Centro de Amigos para la Paz, a peace center in San Jose, was founded. The CAP engages in a number of projects: conflict resolution programs with Alternatives to Violence; human rights investigations and observers for elections in Honduras; efforts to increase awareness about the struggle of the Palestinian people; the Casa Hostel Ridgeway for international travelers; the Finca la Bella, a community farming project, with Quaker Earthcare Witness; and the Monteverde Institute, an education and research center, with local people. Over the years Friends have intermarried with Spanish and Indian Costa Ricans, and there is a close relationship with the Catholic Church.

Costa Rican Friends practice various arts. Living in a remote place without theaters or cultural centers, they first provided their own entertainment.  Family nights, moved around to various houses, took place, and later coffehouses were organized.  Community plays and musicals were put on.  Square-dancing on Saturday nights at the Meetinghouse, with the Guindon family as callers, has long been a tradition.  Some Friends are painters or storytellers.  Quaker artists and craftspeople offer their works in art galleries in downtown Monteverde.  The Friends School teaches the arts.  In the 1990’s Quakers helped create the Monteverde Music Festival, first featuring classical music and later expanding to many genres.  And during the fundraising efforts for the 60th anniversary of the Friends School, Young Friends played in the canopy.  Here is a link to Morning Melodies at the Children’s Eternal Rainforest:


Elizabeth Hooton

Elizabeth Hooton (1600-72) was an early Friends minister. The leader of a group of General Baptists, she met George Fox in 1647 and became a mentor to him. She was the first person to join Fox in the Quaker movement as well as the first Quaker woman minister. Her gift for performing healing miracles was hootonletterwell-known. As a member of the Valiant Sixty, she travelled widely in central England and the Americas. Hooton was jailed in Derby, York and Lincoln for preaching Quakerism, suffering deeply from her imprisonments. In Massachusetts, by then elderly, she was stripped to the waist, tied to the back of a cart and whipped through the villages. She was also put in stocks, beaten, jailed and left in the forest to die. On her last visit to America, with George Fox, she died in Jamaica.

Hooton published the pamphlets False Prophets and False Teachers Described; To the King and Both Houses of Parliament; and A Short Relation Concerning William Simpson. She wrote what was perhaps the first Quaker document, a letter in 1651 to the Mayor of Derby telling him about her imprisonment in Derby jail and asking for justice.  Seventy-nine of her letters survive, a few addressed to King Charles II. Some of the letters contain eloquent passages.

A vibrant spirit, Hooton was greatly influential in the opening among Friends about the equality of women.

(Above is a letter from Hooton to Fox).

February 2017

Tony Biggin

Tony Biggin, a British Friend, is a composer of classical music.  A long-time tonybigginteacher, he has maintained a commitment to music education and has created several works for youth music theater.  A concern for peace and justice has also sparked several of his pieces.  The Gates of Greenham, considered to be his major work, was created with Alec Davison, his long-time collaborator, as the librettist.  He has composed several other pieces, including The Cry of the Earth; Child of Light; Requiem; The Peace Pudding Songbook; and Quest of the Golden Eye.  The Living Spirit is an exploration in song of Meeting for Worship.  The Fire and the Hammer describes the early life of women'speacecampGeorge Fox.  Biggin has worked with the London Philharmonic Orchestra; the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra; the BBC National Orchestra of Wales; and the Manchester Camerata.  For several years he was musical director of Cantor Ltd., a recording studio and music lab.  He has been Head of Music at Edge Hill University and was Director of the East Sussex Music Service.

The Gates of Greenham is an oratorio for orchestra, chorus, soloists and narrators.  The work is dedicated to the Women’s Peace Camp at Greenham Common, the American cruise missile base in Berkshire, England, a camp in which many Quaker women participated.  The music is rendered in seventeen movements, from “Mystery” to “We Have Won Through”.  Its text includes conversations, article extracts, Quaker writings and Biblical quotes.  A brief period of silence follows the conclusion of the piece.  Premiered in 1985 at the Royal Festival Hall, it featured the London Philharmonic Orchestra; the Quaker Festival Chorus; soloists Eiddwen Harrhy, Margaret Cable, Wynford Evans and Henry Herford; and narrators Barry Wilsher and Sheila Hancock.  (Wilsher and Hancock are Friends).  The largest gathering of British Quakers in history attended the concert.  It was subsequently performed in Sheffield, Manchester, Leiden and Utrecht, the latter performance broadcast on Dutch television.  In 1986 a recording was made by Sain Records.  The record included instructions about how to make Sadako’s paper crane for peace.

The Gates of Greenham, with which I am most familiar, is a rousing and moving work.  A fitting piece of art for the magnificient Women’s Peace Camp.  Highly recommended.

Below are links to a Gates of Greenham excerpt; a Women’s Peace Camp article; and a Women’s Peace Camp video.

The Gates of Greenham: http://www.tonybiggin.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Cam-copyright-copy-1.mp3

Women’s Peace Camp article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenham_Common_Women’s_Peace_Camp

The Women’s Peace Camp video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMdrXW72jaw

January 2017

Humphrey Smith

Humphrey Smith (d. 1663) was an early Quaker preacher and one of the Valiant jailSixty. He was also an essayist, poet and musician.  Originally an Independent minister, he joined Friends about 1654.  He preached widely in the west and south of England and was known for his eloquence. He was also noted for healing a young woman’s mental illness. In 1655, 1658 and 1661 he was imprisoned for his ministry. During the last imprisonment, in the horrific Winchester Gaol, he contracted typhus and died.

Smith wrote prolifically. He is credited with about 30 tracts of theology, education and polemics, several of them composed in jail. Among them were “The Suffering of the Saints at Evesham”; “Divine Love Spreading Forth Over All Nations”; “Hidden Things Made Manifest by the Light”; “To All Parents of Children”; “For the Honour of the King”; and “Sound Things Asserted”.  “The Vision of Humphrey Smith Concerning London” was a prophecy of the Great Fire of London in 1666.  “To the Musicioners, Harpers, Minstrels, Singers, Dancers and the Persecutors” was an influential attack against music and dancing.  (At the same time, however, he lamented the loss of his music).  He wrote “One Hundred and Forty Four Lines of Secret Inward Melody and Praise to the Lord”, one of the first Quaker poems. Commenting on the poem and reflecting the ambivalence of Friends toward poetry, he noted:

“As I was walking alone in my prison at Winchester upon the 24th day of the 5th month, 1662, in much quietness and inward refreshing by the rising virtue of God’s refreshing love; these lines began to run gently through me, with melody in my heart to the Lord, and when I was free in myself to write, it departed not from me, but came so easy and so fast as I could well write, whereby in a very little part of the aforesaid day this was begun and finished with my own hand; yet would I not have it looked upon to be a great thing, nor a pattern nor example for others to run into the like, for since I came into the life and obedience of truth, I durst not write anything in verse until this time”.

And an excerpt from “One Hundred and Forty Four Lines….”:

Behold His glory shines unto His jewels rare,/He visits them betimes, when they in darkness are./Behold His heart is bent towards His little ones;/His love their hearts hath rent, and in His virtue comes.

(Above is a typical 17th century English jail.  Stools are modern).

December 2016

Piers Anthony

Piers Anthony (b. 1934) is a prolific author of science fiction, fantasy and panthonyhistorical novels.  To date, he has written over 170 books.  He is the creator of several series, the most famous being the Xanth novels.  He has also been a pioneer: maintaining an Internet Publishers Survey online for writers; inspiring the DOS video game Companions of Xanth; and investing financially to start Xlibris, the print-on-demand company.  The 1999 Preditors and Editors Award was given to him as a special recognition for his services to writers, and the 2003 Friend of EPIC Award was presented to him for service to the electronic publishing community.

Anthony was born and raised a Friend, his ancestors having been Irish Quakers.  His parents ran a food kitchen in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War for the British Friends Service Committee.  After his family’s emigration to the United States, he attended Westtown School.  He did not like attending Meeting for Worship at Westtown, however, feeling he had been forced to go and disdaining many of those who offered ministry.  Later, rejecting the Peace Testimony, he joined the U.S. Army.  Presently he regards himself as an agnostic and is not a member of any Meeting.  He still retains many Friendly beliefs, though, especially the Integrity Testimony.

I have read a few Xanth novels and enjoyed them greatly.  They are quirky, Xanth being a land with a suspicious resemblance to Florida, though one where all the inhabitants have magical powers.  (And puns run riot, sometimes literally).  Very readable stories!

The Dahlia Gardens

“The Dahlia Gardens”, a poem by Amy Clampitt, recounts the story of Norman morrison2Morrison, a Baltimore Quaker who burned himself to death in protest of the Vietnam War at the Pentagon in 1965.  It is a long work in free verse.  Epic and mythic, it pictures Morrison’s act occurring against a system that devours everything.  (Including Morrison himself).  Asides refer to employees exiting the Pentagon, traffic leaving along the Potomac, troop trains rolling beside the Mekong.  Images of light and fire burst out midway in the piece: headlights, candles, kerosene-lit windows, rush lights, neon lights, napalm, burning ghats, saffron robes charring and others.  The poem is the final piece in her book The Kingfisher.

Amy Clampitt (1920-94) was one of the most highly regarded American poets.  Her works included Multitudes, Multitudes; The Isthmus; The Summer Solstice; The Kingfisher; What the Light Was Like; Archaic Figure; Westward: Poems; Manhattan: An Elegy, and Other Poems; As If; and A Silence Opens: Poems.  Other books were Predecessors, Et Cetera: Essays; The Essential Donne; and A Homage to John Keats.  She taught at the College of William and Mary; Amherst College; and Smith College. She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship; a McArthur Fellowship; a Lila Wallace Readers Digest Writer’s Award; and a Rockefeller Foundation Residency and was a member of the American Academy of Arts & Letters and the American Academy of Poets.

Clampitt was a Friend from rural Iowa.  For a time she was involved with the Episcopalian Church, even to the extent of considering becoming a nun.  Late in life she noted that she thought she was a Christian but she had trouble with dogma.

“The Dahlia Gardens” is a stunning poem.  It is full of rage and pain.  Elaborate, rich images abound.  Morrison’s act continues to be wrong.  But Clampitt explains it.  A quote regarding the moment just before the match is struck:

His mind/plunges like a derrick/into that pitch black as he uncorks the wine jug/and with a quick gesture not unlike/a signing with the cross (but he is a Quaker)/begins the anointing of himself with its contents/with the ostensible domestic Rhine wine/or chablis, which is not wine-which/in fact is gasoline.

October 2016