How a piece of music about

Bletchley Park inspired a

search for lost war time sites

A beach on the south east corner of England. Summer. Mid 70’s and two young lads imagine they’re part of the Canterbury Scene. [1]
One is a talented musician (the one with the hat); a multi-instrumentalist, proficient on a variety of both keyboards and fretboards, and in a range of musical styles. Let’s call him Kevin. The other: a nurdler [2]. We’ll call him the author.

We move on some forty years or more. I lost my hair and (more pleasingly) the sideburns. Furthermore, I eventually took the hints and gave up the nurdling. By contrast, over that same period of time, Kev became ever more proficient in mastering more instruments, notably of the bowed variety. Later, he branched into repairing and constructing said instruments: a man proficient and committed to his love of music and happy with his lot.

Sadly, first cancer and then multiple sclerosis grabbed the old boy and he was forced to slowly, and in stages, withdraw from active playing and performing. But not without a damn good fight. When Kevin could no longer play, he trawled through his backlog of half-finished projects and added sampled instruments to his older recordings. He then stored the tracks, as music files, onto his computer, and mixed them down into complete crafted compositions; a task he can still achieve today with assured aplomb, despite his debility.

A Crossword War CD cover; link to CD page

His most recent creation, entitled A Crossword War, is a concept album woven around the tales of Bletchley Park, the secretive wartime decryption facility. And here’s where your author, the ex-nurdler, re-enters the story, for I have had, for quite some time, an interest in the activities that went on there. And so Kev approached me for an honest critique of his anthem.

Perhaps what I found most impressive about his composition is that Kevin appears to have taken no artistic liberties with what must have been the day-to-day realities of life at Bletchley Park over those warring years. The lyrics are as true to the factual circumstance and spirit of the place as one can imagine. By way of an example, he describes the personal human toll on the everyday activities of the operators, as they endeavoured to continually hide one of the war’s greatest secrets, even from their nearest and dearest. He also tells of how the very special and rare skills required of the operators resulted in the military masters assembling an unusually diverse workforce for that period.
You can hear the resulting magnum opus in its entirety here, or watch this trailer.

However, in the spirit of all concept albums, one should listen to each track in the correct order while, at the same time, reading the lyrics. Obviously, buying the CD (with its gorgeously informative insert booklet and lyrics included) from the site for just a tad over a tenner makes for a far more comforting experience. Go on. It seems churlish not to.

In an effort to inform a wider audience I contacted a respected journalist from a regional paper. His response really should have been foreseen; “What we need here is a West Country angle”.
And so began my treasure hunt for the Y-Stations of the South West.

[1] Canterbury Scene: A genre of progressive rock music involving elements of psychedelia, free-form improvisational jazz elements and abstruse lyrics. Key proponents included: Steve Hillage, Kevin Ayres and Dave Stewart. Bands were a loose association of musicians and included such groups as: Soft Machine, Gong, Caravan, Hatfield and the North and Matching Mole. Sadly, our two protagonists held no close affiliations to any of them.

[2] A nurdler (n):, one who nurdles. Not a musician, but one who appears to hold the instrument with authority. Body language suggests he is a confident proponent of his chosen tool. An expert on tonal nuances, nurdlers can do many things with their chosen instrument but, for all that, he is not, nor ever will be, a musician.