As promised, another track from The Imagined Village today, "Tam Lyn Retold" by the rastafarian dub poet Benjamin Zephaniah (probably the only poet to have ever turned down an OBE).
Ironically, the original Tam Lyn is a six hundred years old Scottish ballad, Tam Lyn being an elf who collected either a possession, or the virginity of any ladies who passed through the forest of Carterhaugh. A young maiden, Margaret, came to Carterhaugh and picked a rose; of course Tam appeared and asked why she was in Carterhaugh without his permission taking his flowers. Margaret was a bit put out (as you would be meeting an elf I suppose) and she told him that she, in fact, owned Carterhaugh- her father had given it to her.
Anyway off home she went and lo and behold she fell heavy with child. She returned to Carterhaugh picking the same roses as she had when they'd first met. Tam arrived in a puff of smoke.She was naturally curious to discover whether the father of her impending child had ever been human and he answered that yes, he’d once been a mortal man, who, after falling from his horse had been rescued and captured by the Queen of the Fairies. That night he was to ride with a group of elf-knights and Margaret would recognise him by the white horse upon which he'd be riding. He told her that if and when she caught him, he would turn into a burning coal, after which she was to throw him into a well. He would later reappear as a naked man and she should then hide him. Margaret did as she was asked, and won Tam over from the Queen of the Fairies.
Benjamin Zephaniah has rewritten the song, making the forest the concrete urban jungle and Tam a clubbing asylum seeker who seduces a teenage girl, who’s been knocking back the "holy herb"(I'm guessing we're not talking about a sprig of rosemary here). The "beasty-boys" from immigration grab hold of him, threatening to send him back to his war-torn land; on the morning of his court-case his woman passes on the requisite positive vibes from the Almighty to him, making him "a cool human-being" and finally persuading the judge to let him stay.
Not only did he become a British citizen and his angel a wife, their son grew up to be a Dub DJ- a modern happy ending to warm everyone (except Jack Straw and the Daily Mail readership)’s heart.
Zephaniah’s rapping occasionally grates (especially the infernal repeated line: "It was the First of May, A righteous holiday, when the workers, they celebrate fertility"), but otherwise it is lyrically a very clever reworking ,with a brilliant backing of electro-reggae from Transglobal Underground and a haunting accompagnying melody from Eliza Carthy. All in all,a pretty good way to start the month.