Mad Martins

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I Saw the Signs



I was a thirteenth child,
put out to nurse,
afraid of ghosts and goblins.

I drew on doors and school walls.
I sketched in sand on the riverbank.
I grew, and grew famous.

I slipped off to the City.
I saw the signs
and painted them,
all ways.

In London with Boniface,
I mixed paints with Lords.
I raged and thundered
warnings in my work.

I became a Radical,
hissing at anthems;
a snake of a painter
in oils, in awe.

And all the while
remained a child
alive on Barcombe Fell:

a child of Science,
a child of Reason
ahead of my time,
head filled with wonder,
wondrous dreams.

I died a beautiful man
on the Isle of Man,
on the Plains of Heaven:

a tranquil death,
last glorious breath,
hands still in the madding dawn.

(Words: Keith Armstrong / Tune: ‘Tweedside' Trad. arr. Ann Sessoms)

© 2017 Whippet Records

Copyright Control MCPS/PRS

Belshazzar's Feast [oil painting], John Martin, 1821. Yale Center for British Art.


Additional Text

In 1821, John exhibited one of his most popular and successful oil paintings, ‘Belshazzar’s Feast’. Amidst great public excitement, he went from being a painter of promise to being famous, literally overnight. The ‘European Magazine’ called the painting “a poetical and sublime conception in the grandest style of the art”. Meanwhile, ‘The Magazine of Fine Arts’ described it as a “most dazzling and extraordinary work… and one of the most original productions of British Art. The principle of this painter’s work differs from those of all preceding artists.” Despite such general public and critical acclaim at the time, however, his work did not always meet with universal approval. The writer and essayist Charles Lamb, for example, described ‘Belshazzar’s Feast’ as “vulgar and bombastic”.


Recording Credits

Keith Armstrong - Recitation
Ann Sessoms - Northumbrian Pipes