Looking for a New England


Posted by in July's Magazine

The Imagined Village has just resurfaced…making the imagined corporeal, it has returned with tales of Empire & Love on the new CD of that title. What you may ask is the Imagined Village? It is an inspired response to reclaiming English identity. Even more importantly it is a conscious attempt to wrest that identity from the stunted and unrepresentative version lauded by the Right and in particular Nick Griffin and the BNP.

Billy Bragg says, “The key to appreciating it is understanding how all these things come to be here at this particular time. Imagined Vil- lage is a snapshot of this, because it attempts to draw together some of the things that are part of the culture of England, in both a traditional and a contemporary sense.” For a man who sang about ‘throwing bombs at the last night of the Proms’ this is a more considered response to the bastardisation of his culture. Check out his album England, Half English and his book The Progressive Patriot for a personal and erudite take on what it is like to be as he brilliantly puts it “an Anglo hyphen Saxon in england.co.uk.”

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Gypsies and Nick Griffin
In turn Eliza Carthy was horrified to find that Nick Griffin was a fan, citing her music as being representative of his preferred version of English culture. She asked her dad Martin Carthy – the man who taught a young Paul Simon Scarborough Fair – for advice on how to respond to the commendations of this particular fan. I’d like to have heard Carthy’s reply, for his family hails from a long line of gypsies and I would bet that gypsies do not feature heavily in Griffin’s version of Englishness.

At the same time producer and DJ Simon Emmerson, from the excellent Afro/Celt Soundsystem was ruminating on a point put to him by a musician. “Why do you play everybody else’s music except your own, where is your music?” A point well made. Having played at World Music festivals, he was conscious that English music was often absent from the stage.

Inspiration for all the above came from an academic book by Georgina Boyes titled: The Imagined Village: Culture, Ideology and the English Folk Revival’. Simon Emmerson brought together these various interested musicians in the Real World studios under the banner of The Imagined Village. The eponymously titled first outing came into being and was released in 2007.

Anglo hyphen Saxon
And what life it brought. The Carthy’s reimagine John Barleycorn with the help of Paul Weller who also assists Tuung on Death and the Maiden. There is fun aplenty as Tiger Moth meet the Glowworms and rampage through Kit WhitesI&II and Sloe on the Uptake. Billy Bragg brings Hard times of Old England up to date with references to Tesco and the closing of local shops as well as the Iraq war. The whole project would have been worthwhile even if its only product were the superb version of Tam Lyn. Benjamin Zephaniah, Eliza Carthy, Emmerson and Trans- Global Underground modernise it by making it a tale about an immigrant about to be deported. Reggae style, Zephaniah raps:

“There’s no peace in my nation/ I’m a war refugee/There are people in uniforms/Out to get me . . ./If you really do love me/Will you stay by my side?” English teachers at Leith and Trinity Academies should be using the original alongside this version as a teaching tool to show how organic and relevant culture can and should be.

Empire & Love finds Martin Carthy bringing My Son John up to date by again referencing the Iraq war. New and old are revisited, a version of Slade’s Cum on Feel the Noize sees it turned into a melancholic lovelorn song. The English tradition is reinvigorated by the inclusion of dhol drumming and sitar. Here is a multi-cultural England more than making up for the jingoism of the football commentators and the more strident version pedalled by the BNP.

Eliza Carthy puts it well. “I think Englishness is to do with mongrelness. This country has always been a nation of travellers. I actually think that being English is about living in a transient nation: about people who live together and make this place their own.” This takes us right back to Billy Bragg’s point about an Anglo hyphen Saxon. Here is a version of Englishness which is way more appealing than a sunburnt topless man with a pint of lager in his hand shouting “Eng-ur-land” at the top of his voice. Like Eliza Carthy I can find common cause with this version. Village idiot or Imagined Village, I know what I prefer. Take a daunder around the Imagined Village (see links on this page). You’ll also find a whisper of it at the upcoming Mela. You’ll like what you find. Gordon Munro

Mela Festival

6-8th August

Leith Links

One response to “Looking for a New England”

  1. […] of Paul Reekie? Along with an overview of the Edinburgh Film Fest, 450 years of Leith Academy, music project The Imagined Village, North Bridge Brasserie… all are available for your delectation or, far more likely, to eat your […]

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