When Gary Carey called me a fat c*** in a Year 10 lesson in 1995, I wasn’t very happy. When I got home and Roo had seen a job at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton, I encouraged her to apply. I hadn’t really given much thought as to what I should do next. Understandably, Roo was annoyed when I said I wasn’t sure whether leaving Cambridgeshire was the correct decision after she was given the job. As it happens, my parents gave me money to pay the fees for an M.Sc. at The University of Brighton, we moved to Sussex and I went back to teaching after three years. I’m very pleased that we made the move. Sussex is beautiful. It’s lovely to even wander around Hassocks, which is not an archetypal cute Sussex village but to see the South Downs featuring on the horizon. We haven’t stopped dreaming about moving to Scotland but nothing is going to happen while Roo’s Mum needs her to be on hand.
In 2007, Mark asked me whether I would like to come with him to see The Imagined Village play a gig at The Brighton Dome. I had never heard of them but I said yes and I’m very glad that I did. The opening act was Chris Wood and he was brilliant – funny, sad, skillful, wry, intelligent and hugely entertaining. I have subsequently bought all his albums and each of them contains at least three exceptional songs. When the band came on, Chris Wood was playing again, but this time he was mainly playing fiddle instead of the acoustic guitar he had played previously. Also in the band were Eliza Carthy, Martin Carthy, Simon Emerson, The Copper Family, Billy Bragg, and two members of Transglobal Underground: Johnny Kalsi (percussion) and Sheema Mukherjee (sitar). In addition to live performances, we were treated to a film of Benjamin Zephaniah singing an updated version of “Tam Lin”.
The concept of The Imagined Village was formed by Simon Emmerson (of the Afro Celt Sound System). The idea was to form a multi-cultural group playing British folk music in order to emphasise the tolerant and outward looking viewpoint that was widespread in the country at the time. Remember, this was 2007 and Tony Blair was Prime Minister. The name “Imagined Village” comes from a book of the same name written by Georgina Boyes. The publicity for this book states that “”The Folk” were a convenient fiction. They and their culture were created and used in the cause of conflicting ideologies – from the Women’s Suffrage movement to British Fascism. Issues of Englishness, class and creativity are all dealt with in this fascinating history of the Folk, who existed only to sing and dance in an Imagined Village.”
Transglobal Underground are featured heavily on the album and they are an English electro-world music group, specializing in a fusion of Western, Asian and African music styles. Paul Weller sings on “John Barleycorn” and The Copper Family are featured on two songs.
The Copper Family are a multi-generational family of unaccompanied singers from Rottingdean and their lineage can be traced back to the brothers James and Thomas Copper who were born in the 1840s. The first song on the album is “‘Ouses, ‘Ouses, ‘Ouses” which is largely narrated by John Copper who is reminiscing about how his Granddad, Jimmy Copper, used to love farming on the chalk downs near Saltdean. This was his favourite spot and John’s Dad, Bob, scattered his ashes there after his death. In 1951, Jimmy Copper made a recording for the BBC about how things had changed over the years. In the old days all he could see were the lovely contours of the downs which reminded him of the grace and beauty of a female body. Nowadays (this is 1951), all he could see were houses, houses, houses or, rather ‘ouses, ‘ouses, ‘ouses. A lovely fiddle plays a solo and the sounds of a siren and crowds segue into a more frantic instrumental break before quietening down to a little bit of the actual 1951 recording. Finally, John Copper tells us that Jimmy Copper would be proud to know that the tradition of singing folk songs has been continued. Sheila Chandra sings lovely backing vocals as the song draws to a quiet conclusion.
“John Barleycorn” is a traditional British folk song which has been covered by almost everybody including Traffic, Steeleye Span, Jethro Tull and Fairport Convention. In the version on YouTube, Billy Bragg takes the place of Paul Weller.
Martin Carthy was in Steeleye Span and one of their most well known albums (which got to Number 45 in the album charts in 1971) was called “Please To See The King”. One of the tracks on this album is “Cold Haily, Windy Night”. Martin Carthy and his daughter Eliza were members of The Imagined Village and, for me, the standout track on this album (the first of three they released) is “Cold Hailey Rainy Night” (although they sing “windy” and not “rainy”). There are two amazing live versions of this song. One from “Later” and another from The Cambridge Folk Festival. They are both incredibly exciting. The song tells the story of a young girl who, on a stormy night, lets a soldier into her bedroom. After she loses her “maidenhead”, he leaves her. The song features great singing by Chris Wood and Eliza Carthy, some amazing sitar work (Sheema Mukherjee) and incredible percussion (Johnny Kalsi on dhol). Simon Emmerson is the guy with a shaven head (playing a mandolin), resolutely staying in the background until the excitement overtakes him and he starts jumping up and down, proudly aware of what a thrilling concept he has dreamed up. Whoever said folk music isn’t exciting!