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10/06/2012 EXCLUSIVE: Judge Smith Interview (Part Four)

Date Published: 10-06-2012

And so my mammoth conversation with Judge Smith about his songstory Curly's Airships trundles on.

Talking to Judge is always a pleasure, but my dear wife Corinna told me that transcribing interviews with him is so mucheasier than with some people whom I could mention, because he speaks slowly, in well-modulated tones, and is easy to follow.

Today's episode is quite possibly the most arcane interview we have ever posted as it covers so many peculiar, and disparate, things whilst always coming back to Curly McLeod and his airships..

Jon: So how did the idea for Curly come about in the first place

Judge: I wanted to do a long narrative piece because I thought it could be done and it was something that I’d always been interested in. You know that Van der Graaf Generator went in for the long song and it always irks me somewhat that rock music was still expected to fit into a relatively short timeframe and I wanted to do something that I could stretch out and tell a whole story. And so what I had to do was find a story to tell and I like airships, I knew the story of the R101 and thought it covered a lot of bases that appealed to me; airships, the 1920s, the British character, the language and slang of the first part of the 20th Century and the paranormal, all of which I am very interested in so that’s what led me to do it. So it was finding a subject to do the song story, it wasn’t I am desperate to tell the story of the R10, how can I possibly do it? I knew it had to be something that I found really, really interesting because I knew it was going to take a long time. I didn’t anticipate 7 years.

Jon: A project of yours which keeps on getting referenced whenever I’m writing anything about you is the Kibbo Kift musical.

Judge: That was one of the ones written with Maxwell Hutchinson. And in fact Mel Smith also directed a production of that musical as well.

Jon: Was that ever recorded?

Judge: There is a demo of most of the songs. But the only recording we have is a so called – a pair of microphones hung up on the ceiling and they record everything I think for legal purposes in case there is a disaster and I’ve got a tape of the show like that, but it’s not a listenable proper edition really

Jon: Oh what a pity, because again after talking to you I did some research into it. Very interesting. Particularly as I did some research into Ernest Thompson Seton some years ago.
I was writing about him 15 years ago because I did a lot of research into singing mice.

Judge: Singing mice?

Jon: They were things that were sold in pet shops in the late 19th and early 20th Century and there was a vogue for singing mice and dancing mice in late Victorian times. Singing mice were mice that were bred with lung conditions and squeaked like canaries, and dancing mice went round and round in circles because they were epileptic.

Judge: That’s awful

Jon: That’s terrible, but one of these singing mice became a star on the very early BBC and its name was Mickey, and having somewhat of a hatred for Walt Disney I spent about three years trying to build up a thesis which turned out not to be buildable that the whole Walt Disney empire was built on a piece of animal abuse around a mouse with tuberculosis. Then I got involved with Seton. He wrote a book called Ralph of the Woods and in that there is a red Indian who tells the story of the singing mouse..

Judge: Well John Hargrave, the founder of the Kibbo Kift was very much influenced by Thompson Seton and it was the beginning of the Kibbo Kift. As a result of writing this musical a lot of the old membership came out from the woodwork and the result was the formation of the Kibbo Kift foundation which is a body set up to gather in and preserve all the records and memorabilia of the movement and an amazing amount of material still existed and I was inducted as a trustee of the foundation – a very junior member, myself and Maxwell, because we had written this musical regenerated some interest in the movement and of course with the way of the world I am one of the few people left, most of the members have now passed on. And so I really am running the foundation more or less single handed.

Check out:

Jon: That’s a song story in itself.

Judge: Well we’ve achieved our aims in that all the collection of objects and regalia, robes, costumes, carvings, illuminated manuscripts are all in the Museum of London and the archive or written records is at the LSE Library. And it is now done and only recently I finished doing the cataloguing of the last part of the archives so our job is pretty well done now.

Jon: Are you going to being doing a book on it?

Judge: I was offered a commission to do Hargrave's biography by a grown-up Bloomsbury publisher years ago, but I turned it down. I am not a professional writer. I would have to become a professional writer – you know Jon, you are a writer...biographers....

Jon: It’s a horrible job

Judge: What a ghastly job, you know it just goes on and on and then you don’t make any money at the end of it – a bit like rock ‘n’ roll really ... but I thought it was better to have those working conditions and come out with stuff of my own rather than burying myself in another man’s past. There is a book there – a very good book there for somebody, an extraordinary story.

Jon: And I want to hear the Kibbo Kift songs.

Judge: Most certainly. I would be interested to know what you think. I can send you the script as well. But again, whether it would see the light of day again I don’t know. It’s half my project and so obviously I am more inclined to spend time on projects that are entirely mine.

Jon: I like the way that when you and I start talking about things, these are the least formal interviews that I do. We end up talking about different things.

And that was it. Judge and I chatted about non interview stuff for about ten minutes, we said our goodbyes and parted company. I am certain, however, that we shall be talking again soon.


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