Friday 19 October 2012

The Duendeist - A Job Description / Neglected Nugget #2: Morning Brings the Light

In English texts, the Spanish word ‘Duende’ always comes with the stock phrase - “this word is untranslatable in English,” which only goes to show that they haven’t tried. Here is a definition in Spanish, from a documentary about the late great flamenco singer Enrique Morente, extracted on youtube  : “duende es el misterio de la transmision del arte”. Or, in English, “duende is the mystery of the transmission of art.” 

It occurred to me that, minus the mystery, the business of the transmission of art has been my chief occupation. I’ve been a duendeist all my life without knowing it. It unifies all those diverse and seemingly random activities: the music journalism, the composing. editing the small arts magazine GRR, painting, selling records on a Camden Town stall, promoting Abner Burnett. If you’re lucky the underlying pattern of life reveals itself, at any point from middle age on. For me, it’s all encapsulated in the single word ‘duende’. 

I wonder if this self-knowledge will help at my next Job Centre interview. “What is your occupation, Mr Butler?” “I’m a duendeist.”…  

And the eBay trading is all of a piece, being at much concerned with spreading rare and good music as earning a livelihood. Naturally, duendeism can sometimes be a thankless task. Which brings me to my next neglected nugget, Morning Brings the Light (TRA 219, 1970) by John James. 

Described on the sleeve as “a shy unassuming Welshman”, James was/is the arch exponent of a style that flourished briefly in the early seventies, when acoustic, ragtime-tinged guitar accompanied sensitive self-penned songs, and, for a while at least, the world seemed a more gentle and romantic place. Morning Brings the Light is the classic of the genre, and can be guaranteed to warm the cockles of the sternest heart. It scarcely registers that James’ voice is on the weak side. Oddly, his vocals got more frail as his instrumental virtuosity grew. He finally became another Stefan Grossman, but I liked him much better as another Ralph McTell. Morning Brings the Light is his masterpiece. Its eponymous successor, with a Hipgnosis cover, is only marginally less good. Significantly, the only non-originals were some Scott Joplin rags transcribed for guitar (this before The Sting inspired a Scott Joplin revival). He was already flexing his fingers for guitarist distinction.

And no-one was buying! Even offering the two together as a job lot for £10! And I actually have five surplus copies of Morning Brings the Light, courtesy of the Ian Chappell collection! Looking on the bright side, it solves my Christmas present problem this year.      


  1. Mike Butler is the most dedicated duendist that I know. Thanks a lot for your writings and inspiration.

  2. Mike made my life a better one with some dear experiences and memories I would not have otherwise had. If you are looking to hire a duende, he has my highest recommendation.


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