28 August 2018

My ‘Autumn Almanac’ on
an afternoon in Askeaton

Autumn colours in the Rectory Garden in Askeaton this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

As I go for my afternoon walks around Askeaton or in the fields behind the rectory gardens, I notice since the heavy rain last weekend that the trees are now turning to autumn colours, the skies are grey for a considerable part of the day, and already the evenings are beginning to close in.

Earlier today, at lunchtime, I heard Ronan Collins on RTÉ play ‘Autumn Almanac’ and although this was a hit for the Kinks back in 1967, it seemed so appropriate on an autumn afternoon.

There are some songs remain with me despite the passing of the decades, and even half a century later I found myself singing along to the lyrics of ‘Autumn Almanac,’ remembering all the words, and associating it with so many places I knew in the years immediately after this was a hit.

For people of my generation, the 1960s are still recalled with more than a twinkle. For me, 1969 was the year I finished school, and if 1968 was the year of revolution, then 1967 gave us ‘the Summer of Love.’

I can recall how much fun I got from the songs of the Kinks in my late teens in the late 1960s, at school, and then as I set out on the road to become a journalist, making freelance contributions to the Lichfield Mercury and using Lichfield as a base as I hitch-hiked across England before joining the staff of the Wexford People.

Morning lights on a stroll along Beacon Street in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

‘Autumn Almanac’ still sounds so English that this afternoon it instantly brought back all those memories.

The song was written by Ray Davies and recorded by the Kinks in 1967. Some writers have placed this and other songs by Davies in the pastoral-Romantic tradition of the poetry of Wordsworth, among others.

The years 1964-1967 marked the most successful period for the Kinks. Ray Davies became something of a social commentator, with his observations on Swinging London in ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion,’ the urban environment in ‘Waterloo Sunset,’ the impact of Harold Wilson’s taxation policies on the rich in ‘Sunny Afternoon,’ and his description of traditional working-class lifestyles in ‘Autumn Almanac.’

His songs from that period are so English, that Ray Davies performed ‘Waterloo Station’ at the closing ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics, describing it as his love letter to the city.

Ray Davies later said Autumn Almanac’ was inspired by a local hunchbacked gardener in Muswell Hill, where he grew up in North London. It was a big success in the UK, reaching No 3 on the singles chart, but in the US it failed to reach the Billboard Hot 100.

‘Autumn Almanac’ captures perfectly working-class English life in the autumn in the late 1960s: tending the garden, never moving away too far from where you grew up, holidays in Blackpool, meeting your friends in the pub on a rainy Friday evening, enjoying football on a Saturday afternoon, roast beef on Sundays, tea and toasted buttered currant buns … and bemoaning the fact that we never had a proper summer this year.

As I heard those words, ‘This is my street, and I’m never going to leave it,’ I instantly found myself transported back to Beacon Street, my favourite street in Lichfield. But I moved on, and I think the singer is saying that everyone who hears his song needs to move on too.

And this evening, as I remember my holidays in Greece this summer, I also know that ‘tea and toasted, buttered currant buns can’t compensate for lack of sun.’

From the dew-soaked hedge creeps a crawly caterpillar
When the dawn begins to crack,
It’s all part of my autumn almanac
Breeze blows leaves of a musty-coloured yellow
So I sweep them in my sack,
Yes, yes, yes, it’s my autumn almanac

Friday evenings, people get together
Hiding from the weather,
Tea and toasted buttered currant buns,
Can’t compensate for lack of sun
Because the summer’s all gone

La la la la, oh my poor rheumatic back
Yes, yes, yes, it’s my autumn almanac
La la la la, oh my autumn almanac
Yes, yes, yes, it’s my autumn almanac

I like my football on a Saturday
Roast beef on Sundays, all right
I go to Blackpool for my holidays
Sit in the open sunlight

This is my street and I’m never gonna to leave it
And I’m always gonna to stay here if I live to be ninety-nine
’Cause all the people I meet,
Seem to come from my street
And I can’t get away because it’s calling me, come on home
Hear it calling me, come on home

La la la la, oh my autumn almanac
Yes, yes, yes, it’s my autumn almanac
La la la la, oh my autumn almanac
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes
Bop bop bop bop bop, whoa
Bop bop bop bop bop, whoa

Autumn colours in the fields behind the Rectory in Askeaton this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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