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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Didn't get to Womad this year, but have just ordered my copy of 'The Imagined Village', which sounds like it would be just my thing and also has a link with Cultural Geography and 'Englishness'...

The following text is taken from the REAL WORLD / WOMAD website.

"Every age re-invents the past to its own fancy. When Edwardian song collector Cecil Sharp roamed England, he imagined the country’s history as a rural idyll, filled with flower meadows and genial shepherds, even though the songs he found were frequently about poverty, death and fornication with faeries. Later, when the rock generation embraced the folk tradition, it was precisely these sexual and supernatural elements that appealed to singers and players like Anne Briggs, Fairport Convention and Robert Plant. Albion became, as it was to William Blake, a land of mystery and wonder. Later, in the 1980s, with acts like Billy Bragg, The Levellers and The Pogues, folk became a defiant snub to an authoritarian government.

The resurgence of folk in the new century, a hundred years after Cecil Sharp became riveted by the sight of Morris dancers, remains a work in progress. Already, though, new times are finding fresh resonance within folk’s age-old contours. The music’s darker strains, its murder ballads and pirate yarns, have been pulled to the fore – witness the recent Rogue’s Gallery project - while in an age of corporate governance, the fact that folk is not ‘owned’ by anybody is cheering.

Folk has also become an inevitable part of the current search for English identity. That’s English as opposed to British, for once Wales and Scotland had reclaimed their flags and history – a process accelerated by an Eighties government largely elected by England that rode roughshod across the lands across the border – it was only a matter of time before the St. George’s flag superseded the Union Jack.

But what is Englishness? That question has already provoked a swathe of books, mostly by Tory diehards - Roger Scruton’s England, An Elegy and Peter Hitchens’ The Abolition of Britain for example - though Billy Bragg’s The Progressive Patriot has recently joined the fray, arguing, like Orwell before him, that patriotism is not necessarily the refuge of rascals. Bragg’s point is that there is a distinctly English tradition that belongs not to royalists and imperialists, but to the people, a tradition that runs from The Diggers to The Clash.

It is in this context that Simon Emmerson’s The Imagined Village arrives, its name borrowed from Georgina Boyes’ book about the Edwardian folk boom. The project – for once that over-worked term is appropriate – reflects Simon’s passions as both musician and cultural activist. Gathering together an array of brilliant and challenging voices, and setting them in a musical framework that honours the past while updating it with breathtaking confidence, The Imagined Village is arguably the most ambitious re-invention of the English folk tradition since Fairports’ Liege and Lief.

Re-awakening to the idea of an English tradition - a process fed by relocating from London to Dorset - Simon started assembling The Imagined Village, a record that would open the book of traditional song to honour modern-day England in all its diversity.

So it is that ‘Cold Hailey Rainy Night’, a song first published 200 years ago arrives on a rippling sitar and ‘Tam Lyn’, a ballad whose roots stretch into the fifteenth century, is retold against a backdrop of hissing electro-reggae. The story of ‘Tam Lyn’ is likewise hauled into the modern age by dub poet Benjamin Zephaniah, its tale of a teenage girl seduced by a demon lover transposed to urban clubland. ‘Instead of her lover coming from faerie land, I have him coming from a foreign country as an asylum seeker,’ says Benjamin. ‘Both ways he’s an alien.’

‘John Barleycorn’, a number that’s been a cornerstone of English folk music for the last century, also gets a definitive update. Back in the 1960s, folk trailblazers Martin Carthy and his brother-in-law Mike Waterson both renewed the song - a celebration of the fertility cycle (especially as it applies to the creation of ale) - on their early albums. Their versions in turn inspired rock band Traffic to cover it for 1969’s John Barleycorn album, which is where Paul Weller picked up on it…the folk tradition in action.

‘Hard Times of Old England’, a particular Copper favourite, gets a make-over from Billy Bragg (another Dorset resident), who brings the song’s lament to bear on contemporary rural issues – empty holiday homes, closing post offices, the crisis in agriculture.
The threat posed to such landscapes is made clear in the opening ‘’Ouses, ‘Ouses, ‘Ouses’, where John Copper talks about the bond between the land and its inhabitants."
Unfortunately, the tour doesn't come very close to Norfolk...

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