Saturday, November 1, 2014

We'll gather lilacs...

I was listening recently to Kirsty Young interview Sir Roy Strong (previous director of the National Portrait Gallery and V&A Museum) on Desert Island Discs, and was interested in one of his choices being an excerpt from Ivor Novello's King's Rhapsody. He said he loved the smaltzy romantic style of the Novello operetta.

Above: Mr Ivor Novello

I can remember first discovering and being captivated by Ivor Novello's music when Gosford Park was released in 2002. I was in London and spending Christmas with Peter, having met him less than a month before. He suggested that we watch a recently released movie while dinner was cooking. We watched Gosford Park, and along with the amazing set, costumes, and outstanding cast, was Jeremy Northam's portrayal of the young Ivor Novello.

The sweeping melodies of "Land of might have been", "Waltz of my heart", "I can give you the starlight", and the more comical "And her mother came too" were my foray into this nostalgic world of my grandparent's time.

There was clearly more Novello out there to be had, I decided after Sir Roy's interview, so I went in search of it and I came across a BBC Proms concert from 2012 celebrating the life and works of Novello. The 90 minute affair was narrated by Simon Callow, who led One on a journey of Mr Novello's life - I was not aware (although hardly surprised) that the Welsh songsmith (originally David Ivor Davies) was gay and had a partner of some 35 years, the actor Bobbie Andrews. The orchestra, along with soprano Sophie Bevan and tenor Toby Spence, performed many opuses unknown to me, but very popular in their day. One I had heard of was "We'll gather lilacs (in the Spring)".

Having enjoyed the song I reflected - why haven't We lilacs to gather this Spring? So I decided to do something about it…

Lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) are a fragrant flowering member of the Olive family, which although a native of the Bulkan mountains, are thought of as being very English. They were introduced to the British Isles sometime in the 16th century. 

They come in an array of colours, from white and cream to pink, purple and blue...

We have decided to plant a thicket of them in Little Hollows, the name we have given to the southwest corner of the garden. We've chosen the cultivar Katherine Havemeyer, a lavender flower fading to pink:

When I pick them I shall think of the Ivor Novello song, We'll gather lilacs...

We'll gather lilacs in the Spring again,
And walk together down an English lane,
Until our hearts have learnt to sing again,
When you come home once more.

And in the evening by the firelight's glow
You'll hold me close and never let me go,
Your eyes will tell me all I long to know,
When you come home once more.

from Perchance to dream, by Ivor Novello.

Ivor's ashes are interred beneath a lilac bush at Golders Green Crematorium.


  1. What a lovely post this is, and reminds me that I too have no lilacs. Perhaps Mr. Novello's tune will spur me into planting one or two in my garden.

    The photograph at the top of this post of Mr. Novello bears a striking resemblance to Rupert Everett. Wouldn't you agree?

    1. Yes, there is a similarity. It also captures something sad and pensive in his countenance, which is something that I have thought of Rupert Everett having heard interviews with him where he has spoken of his life and career, sometimes quite bitterly.


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