A Single Biplane in a Clear Blue Sky

A couple of nights ago I referred to “Fields of France”, a poignant song by Al Stewart about a doomed aviator and his lover during the Great War. The following YouTube of the studio version of the song is accompanied by appropriate footage from an old war movie. If anyone can identify it, please leave details in the comments.

The lyrics are posted here.

18 thoughts on “A Single Biplane in a Clear Blue Sky

      • Yes, I have attended concerts by both.

        An outdoor concert by Be Bop Deluxe in Georgetown in 1977. Al Stewart: solo acoustic in Bryn Mawr, PA in 2002.

        I had a nice chat with Mr. Stewart during the break. He was kind, pleasant, and gracious to Dymphna, the future Baron, and me.

        The fB had the opportunity to perform with AS during the second half of the show — our boy (who was then not yet 18) sang “Joe the Georgian” a cappella with only slight accompaniment from Mr. Stewart. A memorable occasion. I think Dymphna blogged about it, years and years ago.

        So I can’t agree with you. Your experience was obviously different from mine.

        • Glad to hear your experience with AS was different. I saw him at the Birchmere in Alexandria, VA in the mid-80s. Several times from the stage he presumptuously expressed his disappointment that people living (there) in close proximity to so many important sites in American history fail to appreciate their significance, nor feel compelled to familiarize themselves with such glories of our past and their ongoing relevance. Such a dismissive and condescending attitude I’d never encountered prior from a performer, nor since. He was like Lou Reed–but, with a wine glass a cravat…and a pocket borough to inherit.

          • Ho! I know the Birchmere! I heard the Seldom Scene there ca. 1975.

            A lot of water under the bridge for Mr. Stewart by 2002. Maybe he mellowed out.

            But he was right about most Americans and their ignorance of history. However, it was tactless and gauche of him to point it out. Not the proper behavior for a visitor from foreign climes (or had he already relocated to the Pacific Northwest by then?).

  1. Thanks to both of you for your prompt and informative responses! The distributed intelligence of the internet is a wonder to behold…

  2. The video’s first film images are of David Niven and Kim Hunter in the breathtakingly lovely 1946 Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger film ‘A Matter of Life and Death’: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0038733/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_135

    The Niven & Hunter images are followed by aerial footage:

    1st shot: long shot of unidentifiable biplane

    2nd shot: blue Townend-ring-cowled biplane of unidentifiable interwar type

    3rd shot: Curtiss JN4 “Jenny,” two-seat U.S. trainer that did not see WWI service in France

    4th shot: B&W & hand-painted-color footage that looks to be from the 1927 William Wellman feature film ‘Wings’: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0018578/?ref_=fn_tt_tt_2

    5th shot: aerobatic team flight of jets of unidentifiable type

    Closing shot: close-up of Kim Hunter in ‘A Matter of Life and Death.’

  3. Baron:

    I hope you checked out the two other Al songs about biplanes that I posted under your previous article.

    I’ve had several oddly delightful encounters with Al. I find him a nice character with a waspish wit. If someone else thought him condescending… well, it depends on what sort of day a person’s having and what’s just set him off. There are people will tell you that I am a stubborn, unforgiving jackass, and others who will tell you that I’m an easygoing fellow who will extinguish an argument before it starts.

    It all depends on the situation and what put me in the current mood.

  4. I also left a comment at the previous post. I’ve seen Al Stewart twice, this past April and back in 2007 (it doesn’t seem that long ago). Both times he engaged in plenty of lighthearted banter with the crowd during the show and spent lots of time interacting with the fans afterwards, chatting, signing autographs, and posing for photos.

    He had a brief brush with superstardom in the mid-70s with “Year of the Cat” but nowadays seems to be content with a small yet devoted cult following.

  5. Originally titled “Stairway to Heaven”, then changed to “A Matter of Life and Death”. Why do they do that?

    • Because it was thought that the US public wouldn’t like a film with “death” in its title. Go figure…

  6. I guess it was the other way ’round. Like “Stairway to Heaven” better, though.

  7. A pleasure to be reminded of possibly my favourite film. Director Michael Powell was a proud son of Kent and England, which he particularly celebrated in “A Canterbury Tale” (1944), also ostensibly a propaganda piece to reinforce the Anglo-American alliance, and also so much more.

    The scriptwriter, Emeric Pressburger, was a central European Jew, and like other outsiders, eg Wilde and Shaw, brilliant at puncturing the pretensions of we English, though affectionately.

    Kim Hunter was of course in “A Streetcar named Desire”, and later “Planet of the Apes”. David Niven in his memoirs tells us something of his hellraising exploits with friend Errol Flynn, but with (what used to be) typical British understatement glosses over his distinguished war service. A story I’ve heard, possibly apocryphal, is that when approaching the D-Day beaches he told his men, “It’s all right for you buggers; I’ve got to do the whole bloody thing again with Errol Flynn!”

    Certainly following the Normandy invasion, he led lightly-armed reconnaissance missions behind enemy lines. The character he plays in this film (a bomber pilot) is similarly self-deprecating.

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