The Ghosts’ High Noon!

I plop my just-delivered CD in, hit “play,” and get back to work, nose to the grindstone. A few songs go by and then:

“The ghosts’ high noon”? What a great phrase! What great fantasy lyrics!

I immediately drop my pressing work to track down this howling of wind, moonlit bats, funeral shrouds, black dogs, and spectres on holiday!

(I wonder, could Neil Gaiman have turned his marvelous turn-of-phrases genius to lyric writing?)

It all started with a poem written in Fun magazine.

Fair phantom, come I
The moon’s awake
The owl hoots gaily from its brake,
The blithesome bat’s a-wing
Come, soar to yonder silent clouds
The other teems with peopled shrouds:
We’ll fly the lightsome spectre crowds,
Thou cloudy, clammy thing!

Not Neil Gaiman but Sir William Schwenck Gilbert, of Gilbert & Sullivan fame. “Fair phantom” morphed into “When the night wind howls” in the musical/opera Ruddigore, aka The Witch’s Curse.

[Used with permission. Credit: Moy Williams, from Opera North’s 2010 production of Ruddigore.]

I’m with Ursula Le Guin when she says that the celebration of language in fantasy delights the ear and inspires the heart. So for those who, like me, have never stumbled across “When the night wind howls,” here are the song lyrics. Enjoy!

The Ghosts’ High Noon!

When the night wind howls
In the chimney cowls
And the bat in the moonlight flies,
And inky clouds
Like funeral shrouds
Sail over the midnight skies

When the footpads quail
At the night-bird’s wail
And black dogs bay at the moon,
Then is the spectres’ holiday
Then is the ghosts’ high noon!

Ha! ha!
Then is the ghosts’ high noon!

As the sob of the breeze
Sweeps over the trees
And the mists lie low on the fen
From grey tomb-stones
Are gathered the bones
That once were women and men

And away they go
With a mop and a mow
To the revel that ends too soon
For cockcrow limits our holiday
The dead of the night’s high noon!

Ha! ha!
Then is the ghosts’ high noon!

And then each ghost
With his ladye-toast
To their churchyard beds take flight
With a kiss, perhaps
On her lantern chaps
And a grisly grim “good night”!

Till the welcome knell
Of the midnight bell
Rings forth its jolliest tune
And ushers in our next high holiday
The dead of the night’s high noon!
Ha! ha!
The dead of the night’s high noon!
Ha! ha! ha! ha!

If you’re looking for a great (and rousing) version of “When the night wind howls”…

After searching possible YouTube and online-audio links to post here, I was disappointed to find nothing held a candle to the “Ghosts’ high noon” rendition that had wrenched me from my work. So with no further ado…

Get thee to thy local library and check out Bryn Terfel’s Bad Boys. St. Louis Today(.com)’s take on Bryn is spot on:

Bryn Terfel is a force of nature, a big, even overpowering, man in terms of voice, physique, and personality.

With his huge, dark bass-baritone and menacing physiognomy, Terfel is usually cast as the heavy. That makes this album, a compendium of operatic and quasi-operatic bad chaps, a natural project for a singer who demonstrates just how versatile he is.

He doesn’t just snarl and howl; each individual villain, from the devil himself to the con man Dr. Dulcamara, is sketched out with careful vocal and textual attention to detail.

St. Louis Today notes, “[Terfel] brings an excellent sense of fun to Gilbert & Sullivan, with ‘When the night wind howls,’ from Ruddigore.”

Absolutely! Great fun!

And if you enjoy aria collections (I do, my wife doesn’t), sit back and enjoy dark fantasy sung by a bad, bad boy!

Dr. Kirtland C. Peterson—“Cat” to his friends and colleagues—has Bad Boys on repeat.


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