Albion by Chris Wood

2009

There’s a Tory MP called Mark Francois. He is the MP for Rayleigh and Wickford which makes the this story even worse because I scored a century against Rayleigh in 1977 and a friend of mine was born there so I’ve always had a soft spot for it. Mark Francois is now chairman of the ERG, the European Research Group, whose sole purpose is to ensure the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. Mark Francois has started a crowdfunding bid to raise money to ensure that Big Ben chimes at the time that the UK leaves the EU. In April of last year, he addressed the European Council with these words “If you now try to hold on to us against our will, you will be facing Perfidious Albion on speed. It would therefore be much better for all our sakes if we were to pursue our separate destinies, in a spirit of mutual respect.” Isn’t Francois a name that clearly has a French ancestry? What is he doing? “Perfidious Albion on speed”? (I’m shaking my head in disbelief).

“Perfidious Albion” doesn’t actually seem to me to be something to boast about. In 1691, the Williamite War in Ireland was ended by the Treaty of Limerick which gave favourable terms to Irish Catholics. Four years later, the English parliament reneged on the treaty; this was the first use of the phrase “Perfidious Albion” which, in subsequent years, has been applied to any instance where the United Kingdom has acted treacherously. The Irish song “The Foggy Dew” concerns the Easter Rising of 1916, contrasting the United Kingdom’s fighting of the First World War so that small countries can be free whilst simultaneously suppressing Ireland’s struggles to be free. “Oh the night fell black and the rifle’s crack made perfidious Albion reel.

In the First Century AD,  Isidore of Charax used the name “Albion” to refer to Great Britain but later Greek writers preferred to use the name “Βρεττανία” which then became “Britain”. One argument is that the Indo-European word “alba”, which means white, refers to the white cliffs of Dover. Use of the word Albion has now tended to lie within the hands of romantic poets like William Blake (who used Albion to mean primeval man and who, in 1793, wrote a poem called “Visions Of The Daughters Of Albion” which may or may not advocate free love) and Tory MPs like Mark Francois (who recently wrote a letter to Michel Barnier and called his letter “A Missive From A Free Country”).

There are nine football teams in the UK that use Albion in their name. The lesser known clubs are Witton Albion (Cheshire), Tadcaster Albion and Ossett Albion (both in Yorkshire) and two clubs called Albion Rovers (one in Newport, Wales and one in Lanarkshire). Of the professional clubs, one is West Bromwich Albion – a lot of the players who originally played for the club, lived or worked in an area of Birmingham called Albion (now known as Greets Green). Another is Burton Albion and the introduction of the word Albion is unclear. There is a myth around the naming of Stirling Albion which is that the founder of the club, Thomas Fergusson who was a local businessman, owned coal trucks called Albion trucks. The truth appears to be simply that Thomas Fergusson liked the name Albion.

That, of course, brings me to Brighton And Hove Albion who are playing Crystal Palace this afternoon. By the time I finish writing this post, I will either be in a brilliantly sunny and optimistic mood or whether I have sunk into an irredeemable depression. Although they started as Brighton And Hove United, in 1901 they adopted the name Albion. It’s not clear why.

The Brighton – Crystal Palace rivalry is nicknamed the A23 or M23 derby but only by the media. It’s a terrible name; true you have to travel along the A23 and M23 to get from one to the other but I’ve never heard that Scunthorpe v Grimsby is the M180 derby. The rivalry started when Terry Venables was manager at Palace and Alan Mullery was manager at the Albion. These two had played together at Tottenham but the rivalry had started there when Venables felt that Mullery was a favourite of Bill Nicholson, the Tottenham manager. In the 1976-77 season, both Albion and Palace were in the Third Division and as well as two League matches, they were drawn to play each other in the FA Cup. With both of the first two games ending in draws, they played a second replay which Palace ended up winning after Albion missed a penalty. When Mullery approached the referee at the end of the match, he had to be escorted off the pitch and in his anger flicked some V signs at the Palace fans as well as audibly swearing at them. He then went into the Palace dressing room, threw five pounds at Venables and told him that his team wasn’t worth that much. At the end of the season, both teams were promoted and Albion changed their nickname from The Dolphins to The Seagulls in response to Palace’s nickname of The Eagles. The rivalry has continued ever since achieving an unreal apogee when human excrement was discovered smeared across the floor in the away (Palace) dressing room toilets. It transpired that the culprit was the Palace coach driver.

Enough of that – the game has ended one all – Albion dominated but gave away a soft penalty and equalised near the end. Their captain was sent off. It’s only a game.

Chris Wood has released twenty one albums in the thirty years since 1990. This double CD is a compilation of the best twenty one songs from his first seventeen albums. The title track “Albion” is taken from an album called “The Lark Descending”, released in 2005. Here are the words to this remarkable song. “Sunday morning. Me and my son walk in the park. Found a young man hanging from a tree. His hands by his sides morning sun in his eyes. I told my little boy he was asleep while a hundred yards away young children play. Parents twitter round the children’s apparatus with Prospectus in their hands for their little darlings. Education in the precious years to come. Albion I’m homesick now. Though I live in the town I was born“. As an observation on Albion, it’s pretty damming. I’m guessing he is homesick for a past that he feels was better and more pure (but possibly not the Albion that existed before the UK joined the EU – I hope not). Mind you, when Peter and I went to see him earlier this year (possibly the last gig I’ll ever go to), Chris Wood’s pessimism and misery had accelerated to the point of abject despair.

Hugh Lupton is a storyteller with a particular emphasis on the tradition of oral storytelling. Chris Wood got in touch with him in 2005 because he wanted to develop the narrative skill in his songwriting and the result was “One In A Million” which won “Best New Song” at the 2006 BBC Folk Awards. The song tells the story of (spoiler alert) Billy who fries fish in a fish and chips shop where Peggy is serving. He saves money over the course of eight years and buys an expensive diamond ring. One day he proposes to Peggy but she thinks it is a cheap plastic ring which she throws into the sea. They carry on working together until one day Peggy is cutting up some freshly caught fish and she finds the ring inside. Realising that his love for her was genuine, she sees what she has overlooked in Billy. If this all sounds a bit coincidental, remember that the song is called “One In A Million”. It’s a brilliant song.

Tucker Zimmerman is an American singer-songwriter who lives in Belgium and he wrote a brilliant song called “The Taoist Tale” in 1983. The song tells the tale of a farmer who sent his son to look after his horse in the mountains. However, his son fell asleep and the horse bolted. “And all the neighbours said ‘What bad luck’. And the farmer replied ‘How do you know?’“. The next day, the farmer sent his son to try and find the horse. Not only did he find the horse but he also found seven other wild horses. “And all the neighbours said ‘What good luck’. And the farmer replied ‘How do you know?’” The next day, the farmer sent his son to tame one of the wild horses but the son was thrown to the ground and broke his arm. “And all the neighbours said ‘What bad luck’. And the farmer replied ‘How do you know?’” The next day a war was declared and an Army man came looking for men but he couldn’t take anyone with a broken arm. “And all the neighbours said ‘What good luck’. And the farmer replied ‘How do you know?’” As with all of Chris Wood’s songs, the singing is wonderfully sardonic, the guitar playing is excellent and, on this track, the fiddle playing is brilliant.

“The History Man/Roseville Fair” is a medley of an instrumental and a traditional song. Chris Wood’s career got its impetus from some tracks he recorded with Andy Cutting who is an outstanding accordion player. He played with Kate Rusby for many years but was culled from her backing group when she and John McCusker split up. Andy Kershaw played “The History Man” on his program and that kick started Chris Wood’s career. I first heard “Roseville Fair” on “Once In A Very Blue Moon” which is Nanci Griffith’s second album. Finally, a connection between two of my favourite female singers – Kate Rusby and NAci Griffith. The YouTube clip shows Chris Wood playing fiddle which is what he was doing when I first saw him, playing with Imagined Village. This song starts “Oh, the night was clear and the stars were shinin’” and tells the story of two people meeting and falling in love at The Roseville Fair. It’s a lovely, sunny, optimistic song, written by Bill Staines, a singer and songwriter from from New Hampshire. The first line makes for a good comparison with “The Foggy Dew” “Oh the night fell black and the rifle’s crack made perfidious Albion reel.

So, what does the future hold for Albion? I fear that expectations have been too high in the past and a misguided sense of entitlement is likely to result in failure. A once great Albion may well sink without trace. And the football club is likely to fail too.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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