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August 11, 2016

Book Notes - Magnus Mills "The Field of the Cloth of Gold"

The Field of the Cloth of Gold

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

The Field of the Cloth of Gold is another pitch-perfect deadpan comedy from Magnus Mills, a brilliant and allegorical work.

Literary Review wrote of the book:

"[Mills] has created another mythic, mercurial world, a utopia that increasingly reveals its own fragility . . . Mills's devoted fans will revel in his bone-dry comic prose."

In his own words, here is Magnus Mills's Book Notes music playlist for his novel The Field of the Cloth of Gold:

The Field of the Cloth of Gold is about a bunch of tent-dwellers spending a halcyon summer in a field by a river.

My own tent-dwelling days began in 1964 when I received a pocket tent for my birthday. After that I spent as many nights as possible sleeping in the garden. A couple of years previously my parents took my brother and I camping to a place called World's End in north Wales. Over that weekend, an entire corner of the site was dominated by a large encampment of Boy Scouts. On the Sunday morning their leader sent round a message saying they had a surplus of rice pudding which they were prepared to share with all the other children on the site. I remember going over to their field tent and been given a dollop of pudding from a huge cauldron. Meanwhile, all the boy scouts stood rigidly to attention. The image stuck in my mind for decades, and I eventually used it as the introduction to the new book.

Musically at that time I only listened to British beat groups, but later in 1964 my mother brought home a record by an American artist. Reluctantly my brother and I listened to "Keep Searchin' (we'll follow the sun)" by Del Shannon, and we were soon convinced of its merits. Lovely simple introduction and classic sixties fade-out at the end.

The following year my horizons were further broadened when I heard "Mr Tambourine Man" by The Byrds. Although I was only eleven, I knew the song was about something more than just sailing ships and tambourines. It's my all-time favourite record.

The summer of 1966 was a long one, starting with "Sloop John B" by The Beachboys; then "Sunny Afternoon" by The Kinks. I remember the weather was sweltering hot when I bought Yellow Submarine by The Beatles. In the meantime, I continued to pass night after night in my tent.

In 1968 I went on my first hitch-hiking expedition to Tenby on the Welsh coast. The vehicle that stopped for my friend as I was a 1000cc (yes!) Morris pick-up truck.

In the nearby sand dunes that summer I heard (on a transistor radio) "The Universal" by the Small Faces (apparently recorded out-of-doors) and On The Road by Canned Heat.

In June 1970 I attended the Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music. The event was headlined by Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Jefferson Airplane, so I eagerly bought a ticket. Several of my friends said they would be coming too, but one by one they dropped out so eventually I went on my own (I was sixteen.)

I had planned to sit in the doorway of my tent and watch Led Zeppelin performing a few yards away. As it turned out, however, there was barely room to stand let alone erect a tent, and I ended up in the middle of the crowd next to a huge orange India Tyres flag (the only landmark amidst 200,000 people.) The first night I spent in the open, waiting for Pink Floyd to come on stage. It was past midnight when they finally appeared, and I fell asleep sometime during "A Saucerful of Secrets." When I awoke it was dawn and the whole gigantic field was shrouded in mist. As the day progressed the sun returned. More bands played, and by late afternoon the sunshine had got too much for me so I went to a neighbouring field and erected my tent. An hour later I was awoken by the distant sound of a pulsing harmonica over the PA and I realized Robert Plant was playing the intro to "Bring it on Home." Quickly I left my tent and dashed back to the India Tyres flag, arriving just as jimmy Page played the crashing guitar break.

Later that evening it rained and rained, and I vaguely remember Grace Slick shouting insults at the soaking wet crowd. I finally went home on the Monday morning.

In 1972 four of us left school and hitchhiked to St Ives in Cornwall. We all had our own separate tent, the plan being to each find an accommodating girl to share the space with. As it turned out we didn't meet any girls and were forced to drink beer instead. Meanwhile, Alice Cooper serenaded us with "School's Out."

Later that summer, Hawkwind released "Silver Machine," a song about an ElectraGlide motorcycle. My own bike was a blue and grey Greeves 250cc twin, and I rode it up to Ullswater in the north of England.

Slowly I graduated from a tent to a small caravan, then a stone cottage, and the song for that period was "Cool Meditation" by Third World, about making a break for the countryside. (The record was actually released in January 1979 in the UK when it was snowing, but you probably get the picture.)

By 1980 I was living in vans and caravans in Scotland, and my only link with civilization was the late night radio. One night I heard "Caimanera" by Robert Wyatt (the legendary drummer from Soft Machine). The song originated in the southern hemisphere, but somehow it drifted through to my northern outpost.

Still in Scotland, I was parked in my van inside an immense corrugated iron shed when I heard "Ganja Smuggling" by Eek-a-Mouse. As the shed creaked in the wind it was odd to hear this lilting reggae song all the way from Jamaica.

Sometime in the mid-nineties I stood in a large tent at the Reading Rock Festival in Berkshire and watched Ash perform "Girl from Mars."

Since then the only tents have been at Book Festivals (Edinburgh, Hay-on-Wye etc), so that's the end of my tent-related playlist.

Magnus Mills and The Field of the Cloth of Gold links:

the author's Wikipedia entry

Financial Times review
Guardian review
Independent review
Spectator review
Telegraph review

BOMB interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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