“charlie was a captive elephant (the then largest in captivity) who lived with his keeper and companion ibrahim at craigend zoo near milngavie.
when the zoo closed down in 1955 they moved to the butlins in ayr and then on to yorkshire where charlie became distraught and, eventually, violent after the death of ibrahim and was put down in 1961
i like to imagine that charley and ibrahim where at their happiest in craigend and their relationship shows that humans and other animals can have friendships which are deep and meaningful but, in the end, charlie’s story was tragic. charlie belonged in the wild, not in captivity.
‘work with animals is a source of suffering to all of us. we treat them like babies who cannot speak’ – oleg gazenko” – Elizabeth Veldon
The above is what elizabeth Veldon has to say about the album on her Bandcamp. Now then, I am friends with elizabeth – she is a pleasant person – and as I say in the About page of this Blog I do not review works that I do not like. However, I will try and split with sentiment and give a non-partizan account of the album – how I hear it.
Charlie was the largest Indian elephant in captivity at that time and he and his handler, Ibrahim, were inseparable. Charlie was with a circus in Singapore when the Japanese invaded. Ibrahim was forced at bayonet point to keep the majestic beast working when it struggled due to the fatigue of tree felling – a heart-breaking labour. Ibrahim used to sleep in the elephant’s enclosure, despite warnings about his charges massive size being able to crush him in his sleep. Examples of the affection shown by duo are the fact that Charlie is famous for trying to get into a Pub in Milngavie’s high street and getting stuck in the doorway. The local fire brigade was called to get Charlie out and it took them ages. Charlie caused a crack in the wall over the door and the incident is commemorated with a plaque. He was trying to get inside because his pal Ibrahim was in there, having a quiet little refreshment and Charlie did not approve. The pair were inseparable.
When the zoo in Milngavie closed, the animals were sold off. A businessman who wanted to buy Charlie for slaughter and transformation into pet food, was scared off by the elephant’s mahout, Singhn Ibrahim who warned him: ”You shoot Charlie, I shoot you!”
The opening track is not what I expected – most people associate elizabeth with long form, minimalist drone. This opening track, “charlie and ibrahim are walking in milngavie and a band is playing”, is a piano piece. And, a beautiful piano piece at that. Abstract and verging on Dada – I believe – but very on point and sentient. The opening track sets the emotion encumbered with such an album. The second track is a nostalgic look at fun times in the distant past. Almost the memory of a dream is evoked through the use of sparse timing and playful, water-like strokes of the keys.
However, it is the impossibly long titled final track (“we raised a tomb for charlie and ibrahim so they may lie together as they did in mugdock and know the joy of companionship until all things pass. and that we may know this also”) that steals the show. As the title of the track concludes, it is not a rag-time show stopper. This lament on a piano is a sparsely populated, almost silent track.
The outcome of Charlie the elephant is disputed – sources say he was put down after Ibrahim passed on due to the fact he turned violent. Some people say he is a stuffed exhibit in Brazil. Some say that he ended up in Yorkshire (as an adopted Yorkshireman I prefer this notion). However, it is a touching tribute to a majestic beast and a reminder that animals belong in the wild, not in captivity.