A review of ‘A sweet, wild note’ by Richard Smyth
If you don’t remember ‘going for a song’, then I shall need to tell you that it was the forerunner of popular antique shows like ‘bargain hunt’ or ‘cash in the attic’ and hosted by that old gentleman of antiques, Arthur Negus. My particular interest here was the closing frames of the opening sequence: a mechanical caged bird whose role was to underline the programme’s title. The bird, as I recall, had a slightly ‘tired’ air – and could never have been mistaken for the real thing.
The first few pages of Richard Smyth’s book made me wonder quite what sort of creature was on display within its pages. Was this a scientific analysis, a poetic deconstruction, a nostalgic bird-hunt or a whimsical paean of praise? In truth, it is probably all of them. Like an elusive warbler whose song entices you that bit further into the woods and then flits to the next tree and the next without ever giving you a proper look – it keeps drawing you in. In truth. Smyth neither deconstructs the poetry nor romanticises the science. Rather, as he points out: ‘there’s poetry in the science and science in the poetry’.
Have a listen to the audio below –recorded on a morning walk in Wales. What do you actually hear? Do you hear song, or chatter, or gossip or just noise? Smyth will not give you an answer, but he will make you listen differently:
Consider this book a bit like the ‘tasting notes’ on a fine wine. Words can never capture the flavour within – but they might just make you appreciate the bottle’s contents a little more.