Fri, 26 April 19
Released 15 October 2007
‘Englishness is the final frontier of world music.’ – Simon Emmerson, head man of The Imagined Village
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that rode roughshod across the lands across the border – it was only a matter of time before the St. George’s flag superseded the Union Jack.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 Fairport Convention’ Liege and Lief.
‘It’s a record that, in the time-honoured way of folk, is about sex and death,’ says Simon,’ but it’s also about honouring England’s own distinctive traditions.’
In part, the album reflects Simon’s extraordinary journey as a musician. With his roots in the political, post-punk era, Simon first created the acoustic trio Weekend, with singer Alison Stratton, and then Working Week, whose blend of jazz, soul and Latin helped define an Eighties whose intelligence was at odds with the decade’s Duran-style pop. As a mover and shaker in London’s clubland he co-produced two albums of ‘Acid Jazz’ alongside Gilles Peterson before producing world musicians like Baaba Maal and Manu Dibango. After this he founded the Afro Celt Sound System, a daring fusion of musical cultures and an ensemble that remains a festival favourite to this day. Simon has three Grammy nominations to his credit.
Simon’s interest in folk goes back to his days as a Camden town squatter, when he and fellow squatters Scritti Politti would go to nearby Cecil Sharp House to see Martin Carthy play. More recently, the African and Asian musicians with whom Simon worked often quizzed him about his musical roots. 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.
‘After travelling the world as a producer and musician I thought it was time explore my own roots,’ says Simon, ‘to look at the earth under my feet, dig the dirt of the homelands.’
Released 06 September 2010
Released 28 July 2008
Fri, 26 April 19
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