Sunday, 14 September 2008
A Beery Epiphany In The Imagined Village
I had an epiphany in a taxi home on Friday night after a number of pints of Boddington's beer. The beer wasn't to blame though; this epiphany had been gestating since I discovered the Imagined Village project. It features artistes like Paul Weller, Billy Bragg and Martin Carthy and seeks to rework English traditional songs in a modern idiom.
'Hasn't that been done before by people like Fairport Convention?' I hear you ask not unreasonably. And the answer is no, not really. In the past folk songs have been given a modern musical treatment but leaving any modern interpretation of context and meaning to the listener.
In the imagined village, centuries old songs of poverty, hardship and oppression are transformed. I've thought for some time that Billy Bragg was about the closest thing we have to a modern folk writer, so I wasn't surprised by his version of Hard Times of Old England where he brilliantly sets farmers' struggles to eke a living beneath the yoke of the oppresor - Tesco. But it wasn't Billy Bragg that caused my epiphany, it was something Benjamin Zephania said.
He was talking about what holds communities together and gives a sense of oneness - and of course, gives birth to songs that come from the heart of a nation. He was pointing out that The Imagined Village contains musicians with very diverse origins yet it is their common shared experiences of living in the UK that binds them, despite their differences or backgrounds.
Sat in the taxi on Friday me and the driver chatted amiably about the weather, the price of diesel, the goings-on at Oldham Council and about how Latics were playing at the start of the current season (he actually knew rather more than me about that one). Then we got on to how the town had changed over the last twenty years or so and whether we thought much had changed since the Oldham riots a few years ago.
That was when I had my epiphany in his taxi - this was what Benjamin Zephania was on about. Despite the driver being a dark skinned Muslim with a long black beard, we had more in common than we did not. Then it struck me - if we had compared him with someone from Alaska say, someone whom vice presidential candidate Sarah Pallin might want to appeal to perhaps, a white middle class blue collar worker maybe - someone, on paper at least, like me; who would we have said I had more in common with?
It's not the difference, that makes the difference is it?