by Harry on April 25, 2007

Three days late, this one’s for Daniel (youtube). Who else but S of H would use a song lamenting a lost England to celebrate our immigrants? Me, I’m a rootless cosmpolitan, if an ultra-English one (CB’s adjective, not mine). More enthusiasm about Show of Hands here.

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Crooked Timber » » In search of the Volk
05.05.07 at 8:20 am



Chris Bertram 04.25.07 at 6:33 pm

The place shown right at the end of the video is Port Isaac in north Cornwall, where I was just on my hols. I wonder if they have any particular connection there?


antirealist 04.25.07 at 8:46 pm

One of the things apparantly lost from England is the ability to sing even a patriotic song without the occasional slip into a North American accent. How sad.


Chris Bertram 04.25.07 at 9:01 pm

I don’t think antirealist has a solid grasp of the range of English accents….there was nothing North American there to my (English) ears.


antirealist 04.25.07 at 9:31 pm

I’m English too, as it happens, and so are my ears. But the influence I had in mind was that particularly N American form of lenition, as in “pubs where nobody sings ad all..” which has become pervasive in English musical vocal performance since the 60s. Singers with stronger regional accents – Kate Rusby for example -don’t exhibit it, but nearly everyone seems to.


Chris Bertram 04.26.07 at 6:40 am

Changing the subject … I wonder if Harry has the same sense of ambivalence and discomfort that I have when I listen to “Roots”.

It isn’t as clear to me as it is to Harry that the song is a celebration of “our immigrants” . When SoH sing that whatever they’ve “got right” we’ve got wrong, “they” aren’t included in the “we”. Googling around it seems clear both that SoH have sort-of lefty-anarchist affiliations (and odd heroes – Napoleon and Nelson Mandela), but their _intentions_ hardly define the song’s meaning. It also seems to have been taken up by assorted “white nationalists”, “English nationalists” and the like. There is a really odd discussion on one particularly unpleasant website about whether it is ok for racists to like “Roots” despite the dodgy (by their lights) politics of the song’s author. The Daily Telegraph seemed to have liked the song because it celebrates “Englishness” when we are all, supposedly, under the thumb of the “Scottish” Labour government.

Thoughts Harry?


jay bee 04.26.07 at 10:25 am

Don’t really know too much about SoH but their contribution to “Rubber Folk” (all the songs on Rubber Soul covered by various English folk arttists plus guests) is probably one of the best tracks on the album – They give “If I Needed Someone” the full sitar treatment that the boys didn’t get to use until Revolver (but you think they probably wanted to do)


harry b 04.26.07 at 12:51 pm

Hi Chris,

well that’s interesting. The first couple of times I heard it I did feel discomfort, yes, but it dissipated after the second time. Do you know their other work? Knowing it completely reassures me about their intentions, and remember that I am listening to it in the context of their work (and their roots — Carthy, Rosselson, et al) but NOT in the context of contemporary England, which may make a big difference. Its also the case that, as with Rosselson etc, I have a built-in ambivalence, seeing them as basically on the side of the angels but wrong abouot enoguh things that I don’t feel completely at ease.

I agree that their intentions don’t define the meaning (hence the reference to the context within which I’m listening). Did the DT like “Country Life?” (a song I feel more permanently ambivalent about, despite loving the way it skewers the shits in the country alliance).

AH — now I realise why the comments section on youtube was shut down!


harry b 04.26.07 at 12:56 pm

PS they have a whoile album of covers, including the best version of Waterloo Sunset ever, and a wonderful version of Dylan’s Is your love in vain.


Chris Bertram 04.26.07 at 4:21 pm

Don’t know what the DT thought about that ….

Seem to me that something like the following is going on … (glib and oversimplistic summary follows)

SoH regret that the things they value about England are being squeezed out by a crass commercialism (partly of US origin, partly not). They also regret that English people are ignorant of their own folk traditions. This is also true though a good deal (though not all) of the loss happened with 19th C industrialization and a good deal (though not all) of the “folk tradition” is a manufactured response to the same. Lots of stuff that strikes a chord there – loss of authenticity, commodification etc etc.

Lots of people who also feel, with them, the loss of that sense of place and belonging also (unlike them) blame their own anomie, alienation, etc on immigrants, the EU and so on.

A rallying cry to defend English culture attracts a lot of the same people, unfortunately.

This kind of dialectic has been played out since the dawn of industrialization and, of course, it leads the market-utopians to want to tar all the particularists (for want of a better word) with the same brush. That’s a charge that should be rejected because William Morris ain’t the BNP (or even UKIP). But we’ll carry on squirming and feeling uncomfortable because the left and the right both share a discontent with modernity.


Seth Edenbaum 04.27.07 at 1:21 pm

The music is awful, nothing but cheap sentiment and kitsch volkishness, but the sentiment such as it is is “conservative” Burkean/Blakean: opposed to the sort of technocratic liberalism that CT is so fond of. SofH defending “tradition” against modernism. Brian Leiter would say they’re defending a philosophy from a spurious notion of “depth.” Odd that people wouldn’t see how the right could take them up.
Village Green was wistful and Ironic. This stuff is cheap by comparison. Still it’s a celebration of tribalism as such, not celtic tribalism. The International Brotherhood of Football Hooligans, and not just the the Glasgow Rangers, Manchester or Milan.
A little Laibach in there too.
Not a bad thing all in all.


Seth Edenbaum 04.27.07 at 1:23 pm

Skipped to the bottom too quickly.
CB got it


harry b 04.27.07 at 2:52 pm

Well, I like it. But then I make no pretence about being anything other than lower-middle-brow in my tastes (or lower?). That’s my roots showing. But I think CB and SE are basically right, and (though it took me a while to figure out this was what you were saying, seth), the celebration of tribalism as such rather than the superiority of the english tribalism is, I think, what I found reassuring after my first uneasy reaction. There is, in fact, a particular hostility to a certain part of their audience (the people who come to their gigs and ask for duelling banjos or American Pie, both of which, frankly, I like, but wouldn’t ask them to do).
Just to assure seth that I’m not completely crass, I wouldn’t compare it with village green, or parklife for that matter.


Chris Bertram 04.27.07 at 3:48 pm

(As it happens, I quite like it too.)


s.e. 04.27.07 at 9:17 pm

Probably the only thing that bugs me is the overproduced and generalized funkiness. World-beat tends to be unspecific and soft around the edges, the music isn’t rooted enough and nostalgia and wishful thinking stands in for tensile integrity and formal rigor.
As someone said here recently: “Send in the Pogues.”

“(though it took me a while to figure out this was what you were saying, seth)”

I was enjoyng myself too much.


novakant 04.27.07 at 11:34 pm

guess the music is a matter of taste, but they definitely need a better video editor – that was like 57 or whatever cross-dissolves in three minutes and the blue-screen stuff was really rough too :)


nick s 04.28.07 at 5:30 am

It sounded like ‘mid-life crisis Levellers’ to me, I’m afraid to say. And I’m not quite sure why, because I’ve plenty of time for Kate Rusby, Kathryn Tickell and of course Richard Thompson, while glad that Paul Rodgers and Joe Cocker embraced the blues/soul tradition in an era of finger-in-ear folkies.

(I’m living in bluegrass and alt-country territory these days. That offers its own interesting take on where tradition and authenticity lies.)

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