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Jan Gordon's Introduction to "...As Beggars, Tramp Through Spain"

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"...As Beggars, Tramp Through Spain," published in 1927 has an introduction by Jan Gordon.

Gordon concludes that "Mrs. Gordon and I, travelling across Spain with our donkey-cart, thought we had come into a fairly close contact with the Spanish people, but we are ready to admit that the Count and Countess Malmignati have gone far deeper than we did. Here is a new Lazarillo de Tormes and a Beggar's Opera with song and dance complete."




Gordon observes that since the war, the "newly-admitted pluck of women has been turned to exploration, and women travellers have shown themselves the equal of men in daring resourcefulness and energy, astonishing to the wild peoples amongst whom they have travelled."
He notes the attempted journey to reach the "Ruba-El-Kali" in 1914 (which was commented upon in 1926 by the explorer H. St. J. B. Philby), the story of which was published by the countess in 1925 as "Across the Inner Deserts to Medina." Af…

Jan and Cora Gordon, Guitars in London

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Jan and Cora Gordon were fascinated by guitars, lutes and other stringed musical instruments.

This interest was indulged during their 1920 visit to southern Spain (see: Guitars in Spain and "Poor Folk in Spain"), where they learned to play the instruments. The story of a very unusual guitar given to them on that first journey is told here: Jan and Cora Gordon in Spain.


Jan and Cora Gordon with their instruments, from the catalogue of their exhibition at London's Twenty One Gallery, which began on February 11th 1931.

In 1931 the Gordons were in London for an exhibition at the Twenty One Gallery.
Ashley Smith bought one of Jan Gordon's paintings, probably "New Forest Glade," priced at 16 guineas and later given to his son for his birthday.
The Gordons played a concert at the house of Doris and Ashley Smith and were reunited with an old acquaintance, Gluck (Hannah Gluckstein).
My father, then a small child, listened to the guitar playing from behind the door.




Jan and Cora Gordon, A 1922 First Edition Cover

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The Gordonsvisited Spain in 1920, exhibiting paintings from the journey in early 1921 at the Burlington galleries and publishing "Poor Folk in Spain" in 1922.

The dust jacket of the first edition has a delightfully simple design, showing a torero running from an enraged bull. Here it is:



The book was republished for American audiences, by Robert M. McBride & Co in 1923, as "Two Vagabonds in Spain" and the enjoyable dust cover for that edition is adorned with extracts from the numerous drawings that illustrate the book, including the running torero.

The image represents the "taunting of the unwilling bull" in a Murcian bullfight (pg 101). "The toreros flapped their faded cloaks at it, but whenever the bull was tempted to charge the man ran for safety and crammed himself through one of the bolt-holes in the palisade."

Reviews of Jan Gordon's "A Girl in the Art Class"

The Observer (1927, March 6th) published a review of "A Girl in the Art Class" (Hutchinson, 7s. 6d.) under the title "An Artist's Novel," noting how the author's knowledge of art adds to the sense of authenticity. Other reviews made the same observation and included the following.

"Jan Gordon's story has all the stamp of the real thing. A clever presentation of an instinct-personality. Raymonde Carpenter gives some delicious little sketches of her fellow students and their eccentricities. They strike one as having been done from life." Evening Standard.

"Vivid and veracious story. The standards of morality freely set forth will be amazing to the respectable ... nearly all have free views of sex" - English Review

"This book strikes one as a very true picture of the Artist life .... You can hear all Jan Gordon's characters talking." - The Queen.

"The studio life in Paris is written by one who knows it well and can g…

Jan and Cora Gordon: Mediterranean Impressions in Majorca

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A review (by Jean Silvin) of a show by Jan and Cora Gordon in Paris during December 1913 at the Galerie Henri Manuel praised Jan Gordon's Mediterranean impressions, as follows,

"Ses impressions méditerranéennes, par la richesse du couleur, le movement, l’atmosphère, le brio de facture et la limpidité des gris et des bleus légers nous permettent de donner à cet artiste toute notre sincère sympathie.

Cora Gordon (1950) described how they lived in Majorca for three months, "living on grapes, figs, rice and the golden fish that abounded in the incredibly blue sea."

"For the first few days we wandered round - falling more and more in love with the character of the place, sometimes scribbling possible compositions in minute sketch books. Without hesitation or erasure Jan could, in a four-inch sketch book, set down panoramas of mountains, olive groves, or perhaps whole towns seen from an altitude."

A town in Majorca, ca 1913, etching by Jan Gordon, University o…

Cora Gordon on "The Artist as a Traveller" 1950

ANTHONY HUXLEY, writing in The Spectator of December 29th, 1950, discussed a compilation of essays, "Traveller's Quest" (William Hodge).

"Some of the essays have turned into rather discursive and auto- biographical reminiscences, not all of which are very satisfying. But many retain their interest despite condensation, such as Alec Waugh's rendering of Russia in 1934 (all too like 1984 even then), or Cora Gordon's evocation of a night of noxious smells in Dalmatia. This is a digressive book, admirable for the armchair traveller, and a book also of natural philosophy, of the determination of individuals not only against physical obstacles but against the almost irresistible force of the collective. A change from the usual collection of travellers' tales."

Cora Gordon's chapter in the book serves as a wonderful epitaph for the lives the Gordons lived.

It begins with, "The artist is a privileged traveller, for his is the only quest that is al…

Jan and Cora Gordon with Luise and Heinrich Fürmann in pre-WW1 Munich

Jan and Cora Gordon remembered their pre-WW1 time in Munich upon meeting, in 1927, a tattoed German performer at Coney Island. Cora Gordon much later (1950) wrote about those days as follows,

"The Pension Fürmann was then famous as the abode of the liveliest and most impoverished students, sub-editors, teachers and cranks of the city [Dering 1998]. Fürmann, a fatherly man with a kind eye and a formidable chin, had in his youth emigrated to America. On returning he inherited a small farm situated in the bohemian and formerly outlying part of the town. He added to the building and for three marks (2s. 6d.) a day you got a room and excellent board with high jinks and dancing on Saturday evenings. Once a month we paid two marks each towards the fee of a little peasant dance orchestra and also enjoyed a barrel of beer in the kitchen."

"Those monthly balls were treated by us as great occasions for which we designed fancy dresses and made quite elaborate decorations."

In …

Jan Gordon and Doctors Lepper and Hare

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"Piping George" (1930) by Jan Gordon is dedicated to:

MISS DOROTHY HARE
AND
MISS ELIZABETH LEPPER
in recognition of their talents, admiration for their kindness and pleasure in their friendship.
THE AUTHOR
Dorothy Hare and Elizabeth Lepper were a very interesting pair of doctors. Dorothy Christian Hare (1876-1967) became assistant physician and physician to the Royal Free Hospital and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital and was the third woman to be elected FRCP. She retired in 1937 to go round the world and then settled in Falmouth with her life-long friend, Elizabeth Herdman Lepper (1883-1971), who was also a distinguished physician.

"All her life Dorothy took a great interest in the arts and was in her youth a singer. In late middle age she went round the world and sent back a periodical journal with illustrations which rejoiced her friends. She was a skilled and talented artist and worked in various media - oils, water colours, scraper-board and the like.In Falmout…

Jan Gordon and The Coventry Repertory Company present "Piping George", 1934

I haven't read "Piping George" by Jan Gordon (one of his novels) for many years now, but recently looked at this extract I had placed on the website back in early 2012:

Eirene Fearon (Millar) turned "Piping George" into a play and offered it to an agent. The Gordons (in The London Roundabout) made the following extract from a response about the offered play:

"To Mr FEARON 
I herewith return your 'play' ... 
I think the less said about it the better. Surely the fire would be the best place to put it. 
I cannot understand the mentality that could consider anything so vulgar and so sordid ... 
The person who wrote Piping George would be better employed sweeping the streets. 
     Yours truly, 
     MAY MARLOWE"

The play was, however, broadcast on Midland Regional at 8.30 pm on November 30th 1934, performed by the Coventry Repertory Company (Manchester Guardian, November 30th, page 12).

Delightfully, the BBC Genome pages carry further details, as follo…

Exhibits by Jan and Cora Gordon in a Canteen, 1941

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The Times of May 2nd 1941 reports on an experimental exhibition of contemporary painters in the canteen of the Ministries of Shipping and Economic Warfare, Berkeley Square House.

"The idea of holding such an exhibition originated with the canteen committee and has been carried through by the Artists' International Association."

"The pictures, which will remain in the canteen for six weeks, include several which have been admired at recent exhibitions, such as Mr. Jan Gordon's gay and decorative view of The Citadel, Argyrocastro.." Several pictures of GynoKastro (or Gjirokastër) by the Gordons can be seen here.

Gynokastro citadel, Bazar and mosque by Cora J. Gordon.

Cora Gordon was another of the exhibitors, but no artworks by her are mentioned specifically.

"The main aim of the exhibition is to enable the Civil servants who use the canteen to get to know the paintings shown not as pictures in a public gallery are known but with the familiarity of thing…

Obituary of Cora Gordon in The Times

The Times, July 5th 1950 carries the following obituary for Cora Gordon:

"Mrs. Cora Gordon, who died at her home in London on Saturday after a long illness, was a writer and painter who will perhaps be best remembered for the series of informal travel-books which she and her husband, the late Jan Gordon, wrote together and illustrated with their own paintings and drawings.

"She was Cora Josephine, daughter of the late Fredric Turner, M.R.C.S., and was educated in London and Brussels. She had her artistic training at the Slade School. During the 1914-18 war she and her husband, who for some time had both worked in Paris, went to Serbia to take part in medical relief work. In their first book, The Luck of Thirteen, published in 1916, they told the story of their adventures there. Jan then joined the R.N.V.R., but after the war ended husband and wife resumed their joint travels and resulting books, visiting, among other places, Spain, Portugal, the Balkans (which inspired many…

Jan and Cora Gordon, a 1931 Exhibition at the XXI Gallery

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The Times of February 21st, 1931, reports on an exhibition by the Gordons in the Twenty One Gallery (which had opened on February 11th).

"What distinguishes the drawings and paintings of Spain, Portugal, Sweden, U.S.A., England, and Germany by Mr. and Mrs. Jan Gordon at the Twenty-One Gallery, 15, Mill-street, Conduit-Street, is the effort to combine topographical and human interest with artistic arrangement. They take a middle place between records of fact and the kind of impression which pretends that it does not know where it came from. By this time it would be an affectation to ignore that "Jan and Cora Gordon" are habitual globe-trotters, as apt with the pen as with the brush and pencil, and this exhibition may be supposed to represent many adventures which have been described in print. It shows that one secret of the success of the artists is that they are interested in what they see for its own sake. Most of the paintings and drawings have some definite artistic…

Jan and Cora Gordon in L'Homme Libre, December 1913

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I recently came across the following brief review (by Jean Silvin) in L'Homme Libre (December 8th 1913) of a show by Jan and Cora Gordon in Paris.


The show was at Galerie Henri Manuel, 27, rue du Faubourg-Montmartre. Silvin enjoyed the lively and original character of Jan Gordon's works, especially the watercolours. He admired the rich colours, movement and atmosphere of his Mediterranean impressions. He also enjoyed Cora Gordon's "delicious fantasies" - see this review in The Observer for a different perspective!  Édouard de Max had a similar view to Silvin of Cora Gordon's "rather exotic art." 
Very interestingly, this edition of L'Homme Libre also contains a discussion of the ministerial crisis ongoing at the time (one of the two possibilities I mentioned here), which makes the show referred to consistent with the account of the Gordon's exhibition at Galerie Manuel in "Gradus ad ... Montparnassum" (1929). The chronology of tha…

Jan Gordon's Art Ain't All Paint, 1944

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Jan Gordon's last book, "Art Ain't All Paint" was published in January 1944, in the month before his death.

His collaborator on the book was H.M. Bateman and there is a lovely page with a caricature of each of the two friends.



The Manchester Guardian (1944, July 14th) provides the following brief review:

"Artistic Licence is the keynote of Art Ain't All Paint, by Jan Gordon and H.M. Bateman (Feature Books, pp. 85. 12s. 6d.). Mr. Gordon supplies potted estimates of many of the world's famous artists in determined doggerel - 


If you want to know all about Art, Try this book ; it may give you a start -
and Mr. Bateman an illustrated commentary in his own comic style. An earnest attempt is also made to supply a rhyme or near-rhyme for the name of every artist mentioned. The prose notes at the end offer more serious estimates of the same artists, but a wayward cheerfulness creeps in."

Jan and Cora Gordon, Pictures of Southern Spain at the Burlington Gallery 1921

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Jan and Cora Gordon exhibited their pictures of Southern Spain at the Burlington Gallery in early 1921 (Observer, February 6th 1921, page 8): "Mr. and Mrs. Jan Gordon's Pictures of Southern Spain are on view at the Burlington Gallery." The same paragraph contains a note on "That inimitable humourist, Mr. H.M. Bateman," collaborator on Jan Gordon's last book, "Art Ain't All Paint."

The Times (October 13, 1922) contains a note on the impending release of the book describing that journey.

""Poor Folk in Spain," by Jan and Cora Gordon, which Messrs. John Lane have nearly ready, contains the unconventional record of a vagabond journey made by two artists, who, feeling an imperative need of escape to some sunny place where the war had not been, were finally decided by an exhibition of Spanish landscapes by Wyndham Tryon. Their narrative is not a book about Spain in the ordinary sense of the word : it is a book about themselves, with S…

The Jan Gordon Memorial Exhibition 1944

A memorial exhibition for Jan Gordon was held between April 14th and May13th 1944. Accounts in the Manchester Guardian and The Observer are summarised below.

The Manchester Guardian, April 18th 1944, page 3:

"It matters very little whether one thinks of Jan Gordon as a critic who painted or a painter who wrote, or even as an author of travel-books who used his brush as freely as his pen to describe his adventures and still had time to spare for writing about other men's pictures. What matters is that whatever he did was done in the same spirit - the holiday spirit. To visit the memorial exhibition of his pictures at the Modern Gallery in Charles II Street is to find oneself sharing and enjoying Gordon's holiday mood."

"There are pictures of windmills in Portugal, churches in Albania, back streets in France, hillsides in Lapland, and Pussyfoot meetings in New York, all seen through a pair of eyes on the look-out for the picturesque and colourful and aimed ready …

Obituary of Jan Gordon in The Observer

The Observer of February 6, 1944 page 2, carried the following obituary of Jan Gordon:

"We regret to record the death in London last week of Mr. Godfrey Jervis (Jan) Gordon, who was Art Critic of THE OBSERVER from January, 1934, until the summer of 1942."

"Jan Gordon was born in Berkshire in 1882. He was (writes a colleague) what some art critics are not - a writer who could handle a brush and handle it freely. To a practical knowledge of more than one branch of technique he added a singularly varied experience of life, having travelled and sketched far and wide in the company of his talented wife, Cora Gordon. His opinions on art were informed with knowledge, sincerity, and a genuine grasp of essentials."

"At Press views and the like Jan Gordon's tall and picturesque figure was almost invariably prominent. He wrote with authority and commanded respect. He had seen life as an artist sees it and, what is more, recorded it as only an artist can do. As a tea…

Obituary of Jan Gordon in the Manchester Guardian

The Manchester Guardian ran a not entirely accurate obituary of Jan Gordon on February 3rd 1944, page 6:

"Mr. Godfrey Jervis Gordon (Jan Gordon) died in London yesterday at the age of 62.
He was the son of the Rev. A. Gordon and was educated at Marlborough College and the Truro School of mines. After the Great War, in which he served as a lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, he took up art, and was equally interested in folk-music and in studying life abroad. With his wife, Cora (who survives him), he wandered in out-of-the-way corners of Europe and America, and when abroad always made a point of learning to play a national instrument of the country they happened to be exploring and learning the national dance. Thus Gordon played not only the guitar but exotic instruments such as the bezaka, the grizla, and the zither."

"The results of their travels were a number of interesting books which they illustrated themselves, lectures interspersed with folk-music wh…

Jan and Cora Gordon: an Exhibition of London Art, 1937

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A distinctive style of London tempera paintings by Jan Gordon featured in an exhibition held at the Lefevre Galleries in March-April1937 (The Observer, 1937, March 14th), together with a series of oil paintings and sketches by Cora Gordon. Douglas P. Bliss wrote the review.

"Jan Gordon has one room and Cora Gordon another. He exhibits tempera paintings of everyday compositions, and she oil paintings of sunny towns. Both are essentially designers rather than draughtsmen in the Slade School sense. They like broad, squarish pattern, clear-cut, and forms with a line round them. And they like colour, lots of it, sonorous reds, shrill yellows, and exhilarating blues. In pattern and colour they believe in no half measures."

"Cora Gordon's sunny Spanish towns afford her, of course, every justification for brilliant colour, and she whole-heartedly responds to the challenge of her subjects. She screws up her colour to such a pitch that she sometimes ends with pure vermilion …

An Exhibition by Jan and Cora Gordon at the XXI Gallery, 1925

I found this note (The Observer, February 22, 1925) on a 1925 show by Jan and Cora Gordon pleasing since it is also recorded in the diaries of my grandfather.

"Mr. Jan Gordon and Mrs. Cora Gordon, who are holding an exhibition of drawings and water-colours at the Twenty-one Gallery, are evidently possessed of the travel fever and of an insatiable curiosity which lures them to the most neglected parts of the globe. If they have chosen this nomad life, which takes them from Spain to Bosnia and from Bosnia to the Lofoden Islands and Lapland, the reason can only be their wanderlust, and not the craving for new material for picture-making ; for their art is of the kind that does not need the stimulant of ever new experiences in strange lands. The topographical interest is quite subordinate both in Mr. Gordon's bold and brilliant water-colours and in his wife's pencil drawings. The qualities on which they rely appertain to abstract organisation, and a Sussex village or a Londo…

Jan Gordon and the "Dazzleship" at the Little Art Rooms, 1919

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P.G. Konody, Jan Gordon's mentor at "The Observer", reported on Jan Gordon's 1919 "War and Peace" exhibition of water-colours at the Little Art Rooms, next door to the Adelphi Gallery (The Observer, March 16, page 9).

"He, too, has been attracted by the witchery of the "Dazzleship" which seems to draw every painter - every painter, at least, who has as pronounced a feeling for definite form, effective pattern, and emphatic colour as Lieut. Gordon. When he recorded his impressions of Serbia, at the time when he was doing Red Cross service with the defeated Serbian armies, he embodied his love of definition and bright colour in a series of drawings, some of which figure in the present show. That his preoccupation with broad decorative effects does not preclude subtle observation of significant details is proved by such touches as the nervous action of the hand holding a cigarette in the character study, "Albanian Merchants in Scutari."…

Jan and Cora Gordon at the Baillie Gallery 1912

The Baillie Gallery at 13 Bruton Street, London exhibited art by Jan and Cora Gordon in late 1912 (The Observer, Nov 17, page 17). The reviewer was not impressed.

"Bizarrerie is the key-note of Mrs. Jan Gordon's designs..."

"She seems to have made a special study of the erotic suggestiveness of the Eastern dance. It is clear that this lady has received her training in Paris, and that she has imbibed the principles of the later Post-impressionists. In several of her water colours, and especially in the Fan design (No. 26), she proclaims herself a follower of Henri-Matisse. Her synthesis of the human figure in the act of dancing might be directly derived from that artist's decorative panel at the Grafton Galleries. But her whole style, her emphatic design and flat, strong colour, are singularly ill suited to the art of fan-painting, to which her energies are largely devoted, the very use of the fan should establish a fixed rule for the artistic treatment of this …

Jan Gordon on "Guernica" 1938

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In the Observer of 9th October 1938 (page 16), Jan Gordon writes:

"Almost too poignant at the moment, Picasso's decoration on the bombing of Guernica, painted for the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris Exhibition, has just been put on show, together with over sixty drawings, at the New Burlington Galleries."

Picasso had expressed "the disintegration of a world, prey to the horrors of war."



"Picasso calls up the resources of abstraction, expressionism, and surrealism. Abstraction supplies the urgent angular pattern against which the expressionist figures ply their part, surrealism poses suggestions of myth."

"The first, striking feature of this large work is the black, white, and tones of grey that have only been used, a flight of genius in a question of taste."

"A hideous sense of shock, of horror, and of despair is conveyed by this painting. Only when one considers the canvas as a whole does the bull seem a mysterious intruder, not only in…

Jan and Cora Gordon and the Chestertons

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In "The Chestertons" by Mrs. Cecil Chesterton (Chapman & Hall 1941), Jan and Cora Gordon were remembered as follows:

".... new writers continued to arrive.

Of these the most interesting and delightful were Cora Gordon and her husband Jan. They had gone to Serbia in 1914 with a Red Cross detachment and had experienced exciting food and adventures, all of which are set down in the first of their many books, "The Luck of Thirteen." Painters as well as writers, the fascinating thing about their work and their life is that Jo—as Cora is called— is the perfect feminine complement of the masculinity of Jan. They learn languages as other people smoke cigarettes, in an unbroken chain, and will set off to the other side of the world with nothing but a change of boots and a cooking pot, or load themselves, like camels, with all their worldly possessions, including tables and chairs. They wrote for us for years—on their travels, their life in France, their reactions t…

Jan and Cora Gordon with Charles Bennett, Paris 1925

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"Hitchcock's Partner in Suspense: The Life of Screenwriter Charles Bennett" (Bennet, 2014) has an interesting brief account of Jan and Cora Gordon in Paris, 1925.

Reminiscing about "Keith" Chesterton, Bennett wrote:

"Keith's close pals Jan and Cora Gordon were only just around the corner on the Rue du Cherche Midi. Both painters and writers of great talent, they lived in a small studio in the heart of the Latin Quarter, but they spent more than half of each year wandering across Europe, painting and writing. Their books (with reproductions of their paintings) always sold well. This didn't mean that they were rich, but in the Latin Quarter in the mid-1920s, nobody gave a damn how much money one had.

Through Jan and Cora Gordon I saw the Latin Quarter as it really was. I dined at tiny, superb, but cheap restaurants; the Rotonde and the Dome became my local pubs. I met Picasso and Utrillo and Diego Rivera, and dozens of others."

"Keith"…

Jan Gordon (as Salis) on Paul Nash's War Art, 1918

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A 1918 edition of a series on "BRITISH ARTISTS AT THE FRONT" ("Country Life") is dedicated to the works of Paul Nash (1889-1946).

There is an introduction by Jan Gordon, writing under his pseudonym of John Salis.

The cover shows Nash's painting, "Sunrise: Inverness Copse," purchased for the Imperial War Museum. "Inverness Copse, through which the famous Ypres-Menin road runs. North-West of Gheluvelt, was one of the most stubbornly contested patches of ground along that much battled highway. A quite appreciable portion of its present surface soil has walked the earth in Germany, Great Britain or Australia."

Gordon writes:

"Mr. Nash sees nature, not for its poetic sensuality, but for its poetic truths. Hitherto painters have seen landscape merely as a background ; the early landscapists as a background for humanity, the impressionists as a background and mirror of the sun, Corot and his school as a background for a delicate sensuality, T…

Jan and Cora Gordon: "A Lecture Recital" on Radio, 17th January 1927

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The Nottingham Evening Post of Monday 17 January 1927 presented an "Attractive Programme" of broadcasting for that evening, on Nottingham 5NG (275.2 metres).

At 8.00 there was "A Lecture Recital: The Folk Music of Spain, illustrated with the Spanish Guitar and lute by Jan and Cora Gordon." (see)

Here they are with the above mentioned instruments:


On Wednesday 19th and Thursday 20th January they were on again, this time discussing "Wandering in the Balkans."

Jan and Cora Gordon on "Lapland's Pagan Music", 1925

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The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Wednesday 18 February 1925 reports an interview with Jan and Cora Gordon under the title "Lapland's Pagan Music":

"Jan and Cora Gordon, who combine a love of wandering in the more primitive and inaccessible parts of the earth with enviable literary and artistic talent, have just returned from Lapland, which, they tell me, is infected with mosquitoes in summer, in spite of its position far above the Arctic Circle. They tramped all over the country, sleeping in turf huts in conditions of great privation and discomfort, but they are full of enthusiasm at the discovery of hundreds of pagan songs which have been collected orally by a Swedish railway official during the last forty years.

The Laplanders were ostensibly converted to Christianity in the seventeenth century, but the old pagan custom died hard, and it is in quite recent times that they have made serious efforts to extirpate the remaining traces, the efforts being sp…