Empire And Love by Imagined Village


I turned 67 last week. On my actual birthday, Peter came to give me the best present ever: some Paul McCartney stamps. Rob had sent me a brilliant Abbey Road birthday card and I had bought myself seven second hand Paul McCartney CDs. Otherwise, my birthday was pretty quiet.

However, the two days beforehand were very sport intensive. The day before my birthday was a Sunday and I drove to my sister’s house where she gave me a lovely lunch and my brother-in-law and I watched England beat Croatia 1-0 in the European Championship. We then drove to Canterbury to watch Kent beat Gloucestershire in a pulsating T20 match in which each side was confident of victory until the last over when the visitors only needed 10 to win but Fred Klaasen, an honorary Man of Kent, only conceded 4 runs and took 3 wickets. The sun shone and an appreciative crowd of 1500 watched the whole game intensely. Throughout the entire 3 hours, as a bowler ran up to bowl, everyone was silent. When willow struck leather or leather struck wood, polite but enthusiastic applause ensued. It was a very traditional way to watch cricket. Significant events (boundaries or wickets) were accompanied by music playing over the PA. Not at a deafening volume but loud enough to mark the achievement. The atmosphere was perfectly sublime.

The atmosphere at Canterbury was in complete contrast to the atmosphere at Hove on Saturday evening. I always go to Sussex matches with Andy and, in the past, we have sat in the South-West stand. It’s always good fun there, people are ready for a good time and there’s plenty of crowd antics to look at if the cricket is dull. The bar and the burger stand are just a minute’s walk away. However, Andy and I don’t find cricket to be a dull game, especially not a T20 match. Neither of us eat burgers and we have our beers before the match starts. It can get very irritating to have to continually stand up to let people in our row leave or return to stock up with food and drink. Cricket etiquette decrees that there is no movement whilst an over is in progress but current practice suggests that these rules are for old gits and younger people can come and go as they please without worrying about getting in the way of two old men trying to watch the game. In recent years, Andy and I have moved our seats to the pavilion where we lower the average age of spectators. It’s a great view and the people around us have the same expectations of behaviour as we do. Last week was the first T20 game at Sussex to admit spectators and so I was very pleased to get a ticket anywhere. It was great to be back. We couldn’t get tickets in the Lower Pavilion but were pleased to be sitting in the Upper Pavilion. There were probably about 300 people in this area, most of whom were keenly watching the cricket, engaging in civilised conversation, applauding when a Sussex player did well and creating a nice atmosphere. “Most”, not “All”. There were six blokes sitting at the back of the Upper Pavilion who, to be fair, were paying attention to the game but as their beer intake increased, their behaviour deteriorated. During the second half of the game, they constantly (with no breaks whatsoever) shouted at the top of their voices or “sung” celebratory songs as Phil Salt and Ravi Bopara batted beautifully. It’s interesting that I don’t mind people singing at a football match but at a cricket match, it was terrible. I guess it’s another case of mismatched expectations. I was expecting the atmosphere at Hove to be civilised and restrained (as it was the following day in Canterbury). Because my expectations were not met, I felt that the evening was spoilt.

As the COVID restrictions are lifted, crowds are returning to live sporting events. Commentators keep using the phrase “it’s great to have the crowds back.” Players reiterate the point and say how much they prefer to play to a non-empty stadium. When England played India at Edgbaston just before the weekend, the cameras kept showing spectators in the Eric Hollies stand, in fancy dress, dancing in the aisles or carrying huge snakes of empty pint glasses. When the players were interviewed they all said how helpful it was to have a noise in the stadium. It seems that expectations of crowd behaviour at cricket matches are changing. The opportunity to sit in quiet contemplation, appreciating the technical skill and beauty of the best players in the world is being replaced by an opportunity to party, to create an ambience of constant excitement. Tradition has been usurped. The ebbs and flows of a game of cricket are no longer appreciated. Flows are more significant than ebbs.

For the match at Hove, I took a flask of tea and two KitKats bought at the supermarket. I’d never done this before. It seems like the sort of thing an old man does. Previously, I’ve gone to the tea bar but, bearing social distancing in mind, I thought it would be better to bring my own. Let’s look at my behaviour from the club’s point of view. I made very little noise and didn’t help to create a buzz in the ground apart from polite applause. I also clapped when a Hampshire player did well because I believe in appreciating good play. I didn’t spend any money at the bar or tea bar and so I made no extra contribution to the club coffers. Given a choice, Sussex County Cricket Club would rather my ticket go to someone half my age who made a noise and spent £30 at the bar. I have become a dinosaur, someone who is barely tolerated at a game. My ideals, expectations and attitudes are traditional and are outdated relics from the Sixties.

In my defence, it’s worth pointing out that of the 300 people sitting in the Upper Pavilion, most were behaving the same way as Andy and I. If 294 people decide never to go to a game again because they didn’t like the chanting, singing and boorishness of that small minority, the Club may have a problem. I don’t know what I want Sussex County Cricket Club to do. They can’t ban singing. They can’t ban shouting. A spectator is allowed to make a noise. I’ve shouted at a cricket match before: when I saw Steve Harmison get Michael Kasprowich out at Edgbaston in 2005, I screamed. When Adam Hollioake came in to bat at Canterbury one time, I booed. You can’t stop people making a noise. You could ask people to exercise restraint but that would have as much impact as invoking the mythical “spirit of cricket” before a Test match. There’s no answer. Just lots of questions.

I share my birthday with a few musicians. Boy George, Julie Felix, Rod Argent (The Zombies, Argent), Barry Melton (Country Joe and the Fish), Alan White (Plastic Ono Band, Yes) and Jim Lea.

I never really liked Slade. I never really liked any glam rock. David Bowie’s “Hunky Dory” was good but he sold out when he went glam. “My People Were Fair And Had Sky In Their Hair…But Now They’re Content To Wear Stars On Their Brows” was much superior to “Electric Warrior”. I even dismissed Roxy Music. Now, my perceptions have changed and the recent Grapefruit box set, “Oh You Pretty Things”, has helped me to understand the great music that my prejudices prevented me from hearing at the time. But Slade were always too aggressively up for a good time for me to like. And the grammatical pedant in me disliked titles such as “Coz I Love You”, “Look Wot You Dun”, “Take Me Back Ome”, “Mama Weer All Crazee Now”, “Skweeze Me Pleeze Me” and “Cum On Feel The Noize”. The sleezy connotation of the word “cum” was offensive. The one dimensional non-thinking simplistic nature of the lyrics made them sound, frankly, a bit stupid.

Jim Lea was born in Wolverhampton on June 14th 1949. He attended auditions for a local band when he was 16 and became the bass player for Slade. He co-wrote most (including all of the aforementioned spelling abominations) of Slade’s hits with Noddy Holder.

At Hove on Saturday evening, I was encouraged to come on and feel the noise, if not add to it. I was not encouraged to adopt a self effacing persona which acknowledges my faults whilst simultaneously asking for respect from others. Because, amazingly, that’s what the lyrics on the song are all about. I would have had no idea about this unless I heard Martin Carthy’s wonderful version of the song on Imagined Village’s second album, “Empire And Love”. This was the follow up to the eponymous first album which was recorded after Simon Emmerson formed a multi-cultural group playing British folk music. The emphasis was on the cultural diversity of British folk music and the musicians on this album include Simon Emmerson (Afro-Celt Sound System), Martin Carthy (Steeleye Span), Eliza Carthy, Andy Gangadeen (Spice Girls, Duran Duran), Barney Morse-Brown (Duotone, Birdy), Ali Friend (Red Snapper), Johnny Kalsi, Simon Richmond and Sheena Mukherjee (all Tranglobal Underground and Afro-Celt Sound System) and the wonderful Chris Wood.

The version of “Cum On Feel The Noize” completely transforms the song from an arrogant and banal exhortation to get up and party to a somber reflection on the singer’s shortcomings whilst asking for understanding. Martin Carthy’s fragile, earthy voice introduce a sad strength to the mood of the song. He has “no worries” about being called a “scumbag”. When his daughter joins him for the chorus, the melancholy becomes overwhelming. Chris Wood’s fiddle and Andy Gangadeen’s drums add intensity to the last half of the song until Martin Carthy’s boast that he is going to “get wild ‘til dawn” becomes more of a frustrated wish than a statement of intent.

I find the opening song, “My Son John”, quite difficult to listen to. It’s beautifully played with Martin Carthy’s haunting voice set against guitar and sitar. However, the lyrics describe a soldier whose legs are blown off by a bomb. It was first sung during the Napoleonic wars and was particularly popular during World War I, when Irish volunteers sung it as a marching song. It is sometimes known as “My Son Tim” or “Mrs McGrath”. Imagined Village have updated the lyrics to include references to “Cool Britannia” and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. By the end of the song, the whole band is playing and a dramatic instrumental section is followed by Martin Carthy repeating the opening verse acapella.

Steeleye Span, along with Fairport Convention, were the primary movers in the development of folk/rock in the late Sixties. In the same way that The Band embraced traditional American folk music and synthesised it with a rock sensibility, these two English bands took traditional British folk music and added electric guitar and drums. Ashley Hutchings left Fairport Convention in 1969, after they recorded the seminal “Liege And Lief”, forming Steeleye Span with Tim Hart and Maddy Prior. As a couple, they had already released a double album called “Folk Songs Of Olde England”, which included their version of “My Son John”. They had probably learned the song from Cyril Tawney’s anthology of songs called “A Soldier’s Life For Me”. The personnel of Steeleye Span was completed by the addition of Gay and Terry Woods. However, when they all “got it together in the country”, the two married couples failed to get along and the Woods’ left to be replaced by Martin Carthy and Peter Knight. Terry Woods went on to become a member of The Pogues. Peter Knight subsequently appeared as Uncle Bulgaria on Top Of The Pops when The Wombles appeared. Whoops! I’ve travelled down a (fascinating) rabbit hole of music trivia. Suffice to say that it’s likely that Steeleye Span played “My Son John” and Martin Carthy updated it for this album.

The sonics on “Sweet Jane” are very similar to “My Son John”, which was co-written by Chris Wood (who takes lead vocals) and Sheena Mukherjee, whose sitar is an insistent presence throughout the song. Lyrically, there is a sharp contrast with “My Son John”. In “Sweet Jane”, the hero returns home, having earned a fortune by working away for seven years. His betrothed (Jane) is waiting for him and in the last verse, they get married and live happily ever after.

Sheena Mukherjee is the niece of Nikhil Banerjee who, along with Ravi Shankhar and Vilayat Khan, was one of the leading sitar players of the Fifties and Sixties. Sheena Mukherjee composed a piece of music called “Bending The Dark” which was performed at the 2012 Olympics and became the title track for Imagined Village’s third album, released in 2012.

“The Ghost Soldier Song” was a popular song with American soldiers during World War I and in 1952, Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger wrote a parody of it called “Space Girl”. It refers to hyperspace and a time warp in the context of a mother warning her daughter not to venture into space and certainly not to trust Martians.

In 1945, a young musician from Great Yarmouth called Ken Colyer joined the Merchant Navy with the intention of jumping ship in New Orleans so that he could learn how to play trumpet from the maestros. After he was deported back to the U.K., he joined Chris Barber’s band. The physical demands of playing trumpet for the whole of a live set saw the introduction of an acoustic set from the members of the band in the middle of a performance so that Ken Colyer could have a break. Lonnie Donegan was a member of Chris Barber’s band and his innovations during this interlude saw the formation of skiffle. Without skiffle there would be no Beatles and without The Beatles, the progress of the human race would be completely different. Ken Colyer has a lot to answer for. His instrumental version of “Ghost Soldier” is fantastic.

Martin Carthy has released 17 solo albums along with 38 albums as a member of Steeleye Span, The Albion Band, Waterson-Carthy, The Waterson, Brass Monkey and The Imagined Village. His third album, released in 1967, was called “Byker Hill” and featured Dave Swarbrick on fiddle. “Byker Hill” is the fourth song on “Empire And Love” and is a traditional song about Newcastle coal miners.

Chris Wood is one of my favourite artists. He has a very gentle, warm melodic voice and he either interprets traditional folk songs or writes incisive songs of his own. On his 2013 album, “None The Wiser” he sings a beautiful version of “Jerusalem”. He wrote a new melody in order to take attention away from the traditional melody and allow us to focus on the wonderful inspirational words. On “Empire And Love”, there are two versions of “Scarborough Fair”, one with guitars and another with strings and both are sung beautifully by Chris Wood. The melody is similar to the version made familiar by Simon & Garfunkel but is somehow gentler and more soothing.

“The Hand Weaver And The Factory Maid” was released on Steeleye Span’s 1973 album, “Parcel Of Rogues”. The song was collected by both Cecil Sharp and A.L. Lloyd and originates from the industrial Revolution of the late 18th century. A hand weaver, with specialised skills, finds his work is being taken over by machines which are operated by unskilled young girls. Despite himself, he finds that he has fallen in love with one of the girls. The song has had many lyrical variations over the years and has had a mainstream release at least a dozen times in the last fifty years. If any song reflects the philosophy of The Imagined Village, it’s this one. The uniquely lovely variation that they bring to this version is the contrast between the sitar, fiddle and cello along with the sublimely sensuous singing from Chris Wood. It’s utterly beautiful.

Jackie Oates was a member of The Unthanks between 2003 and 2007. In 2008, she released her second solo album, “The Violet Hour”, which included her version of “The Lark In The Morning”. She guests on “Empire And Love” to sing this song as a duet with Eliza Carthy. It’s a widely recorded song and the first printed version appeared in an Edinburgh publication in 1778. The Copper family, who appeared on the first Imagined Village album (but not “Empire And Love”), included a version on “Traditional Songs From Rottingdean” in 1963. As with a huge number of traditional songs, there appear to be no definitive version of the lyrics and the geographical origin is uncertain. Suffice to say that this version is truly lovely.

“Rosebuds In June” was released by Steeleye Span on their 1972 album, “Below The Salt”. It was sung on the stage of a play called “The Custom Of The Manor” in 1715. Dick Dewy sings this song at the beginning of Thomas Hardy’s “Under The Greenwood Tree”. The Imagined Village incorporate a jig called “Mrs Preston’s Hornpipe” into the middle of the song.

The Imagined Village have taken an hour’s worth of traditional songs and adapted them using the current cultural environment to make something fresh, new and invigorating. They have not simply remained stuck in tradition but have moved on. Maybe I should remember this the next time I go to a cricket match. I should not insist that traditions are immutable but acknowledge the zeitgeist and change my attitudes accordingly. OH PHILIP SALT!!

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

3 thoughts on “Empire And Love by Imagined Village

  1. What a fascinating album. It really extends the meaning of “folk”. It’s great to hear something that respects traditional forms, but doesn’t think they have to be preserved in aspic.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. it’s good to offer alternatives and updates. This album seems to offer varied, acceptable and pleasant tunes.
    To go to cricket and suffer LOUD drunken renditions of football chants is neither pleasant or acceptable, I will probably be one of the 294 not to go again!

    Liked by 1 person

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