The Imagined Village - Empire and Love

· culture ·

Mr. Bsag recently saw The Imagined Village play in Birmingham. I was intensely jealous, because I couldn't join him due to a work commitment. However, he brought me back their latest album — Empire and Love — which I'm really enjoying. The Imagined Village are a kind of folk/world music collective, involving several talented musicians including Chris Wood, Eliza Carthy and Martin Carthy, along with parts of Chris Wood's 'Best Band in the World' (Barney Morse-Brown and Andy Gangadeen).

Here they tackle a wide range of songs, some traditional and some modern, but they manage to give each a unique and fresh feel, combining traditional English acoustic instruments with Indian sitars, tabla and dhol. I've listened to the album a lot recently, and I love all the tracks, but I'm particularly fond of 'Space Girl' (sung by Eliza Carthy) — a cautionary tale set to 1950s sci-fi sounds, and 'My Son John', sung by Martin Carthy. The latter is a traditional song about a young man losing his legs to a cannon ball, but they have very cleverly updated it to weave in references to Iraq and Afghanistan, and John getting a set of carbon fibre 'blades' to replace his legs. This works very well and reinforces the sad point that young men continue to lose life or limb while fighting other peoples' wars.

Chris Wood sings 'Scarborough Fair', rescuing it from folk cliché, and also leads on the lovely track 'Sweet Jane', accompanied by Indian instruments. However, the standout track for me is a cover of Slade's 'Cum on Feel the Noize'. A folk version of Cum on Feel the Noize? It seems like (and for all I know was) the outcome of a somewhat drunken bet to see who could come up with the most unlikely song to cover in a folk style. However, much like Apple products, it somehow Just Works™.

Martin Carthy sings the lead vocals, and the whole song is taken at a much slower tempo than usual. This makes it sound like a sad, regretful lament, rather than the roaring party track that Slade recorded. I was so struck by this complete change in tone that I started imagining the music video that might accompany it.

Scene: Interior. Night. We are in a very gloomy, down-at-heel, shabby pub: the kind of place where people go to drink and try to forget their troubles.

We focus on Martin Carthy, dressed and made up to look like someone down on his luck, oppressed by his life. He is staring into his pint disconsolately, then looks up and starts to sing:

You think I've got an evil mind I'll tell you honey
I don't know why
Don't know why\

He could be addressing us, the viewer, or alternatively complaining to someone who isn't there. The pub is the kind where people tend to have conversations with invisible interlocutors, so it's not clear which it is. At any rate, his voice is querulous and indignant. He can't understand why he has been so misunderstood.

He sings a brief, quiet version of the chorus, in the manner of someone who knows he will never get wild, wild, wild again, or — for that matter — ever feel the noize.

Then the camera pulls out to reveal the other band members occupying the pub. All are seated at separate tables, nursing their drinks and not looking at one another. As the next chorus begins, they join in, quietly:

So come on feel the noise
Girls grab your boys
We'll get wild, wild, wild
We'll wild, wild, wild
Come on feel the noise
Girls rock your boys
We get wild, wild, wild
Til dawn\

Every 'wild' is sung slowly on a sad, descending intonation, like a sigh or a dying breath.

Later, the barman picks up his sitar from behind the bar^1^. There's an instrumental bridge, and everyone has that unfocussed look of people remembering their past glories and knowing that they have gone, never to return. No one smiles.


Seriously, it's a cracking track, and has reversed my hatred of the Slade song, which is no small feat.

^1^ Did I mention that there's a sitar? Well there is, and it rocks. \oo/ \oo/