Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Yet more "Hard Times of Old England"

After Tam Lyn and Cold, Haily, Rainy Nights, this is the last in the trilogy of tunes that I’m reviewing from "The Imagined Village" CD. It features this blog’s unofficial mascot, Billy Bragg, in his finest whingiest form covering a song which is over three hundred years old.

Both the original and Bill’s 2007 version speak of the hardness and suffering of rural life and in that there lies a paradox- Bragg’s version looks back with affection to an earlier innocent countrified England, which if you read the lyrics of the 18th century predecessor and historical records of the time you soon realise has only ever existed in his own imagination.

Whilst it’s all very well, Bragg reminiscing from the rural idyll of Barking about the times when folk had to get up at 4 in the morning and walk 10 miles to plough one acre, to be rewarded at the end of the day with a hamshank, a mug of ale and very little else- he should try asking some of those who actually had to do the dirty work, I really don’t think you’ll get much nostalgia or looking back with affection to those halcyon old times.

Similarly, the whole concept of “The Imagined Village”, the fusion of the old and the modern, a celebration of the mixture of cultures and people in the England of the 21st Century, would never have arisen if there had been none of Bill’s other bugbear, globalisation- it’s sometimes conveniently forgotten that it has brought, not only McDonalds, but also the sitar and the constant upgrading of technology which allows music like this to be listened to by an hitherto unimagined number of people. Also, the same Tesco’s Bill is pissed off with for preventing him from selling his carrots, allows him and I to sit down and sample our fellow Brits' cuisine from all over the world and (while I’m on the rant) those nasty folk from the city who buy up all that rundown village property for holiday homes, well, who exactly is it selling them all this property then?

To put it all into an urban and more personal context, if you were to ask me personally, would I like to have followed my great-grandfather, grandfather and father (until Maggie sacked him) and sign up for 40 years honest and honourable toil in the shipyard, rather than sitting behind my present desk and computer, with my white collar, picking my nose, pumping out sarky posts, then I would really have to think about my answer- for all of probably 10 seconds. Those who eulogise most over the good ol’ times tend to be those who see them in the comfort of their armchair and from a very safe distance.

Now, admitedly I do remember fondly the times before places like the Castlereagh Hills were colonised by "education professionals", social workers and assorted quangoists sitting in their customized rabbit-hutches- but even then, when I was walking there regularly with my father, we would very, very rarely see anyone (apart from the odd paramilitary out on shooting practice from Braniel or wherever), enjoying the cleanish air and greenery. If more people care about keeping the past than paving and building it over with the future, then things stay the same, if they don’t- then, they don’t, simple as that.

Anyone back to Poor Old England; despite all the prior reservations, anyone who has a go at the w*nkers of Countryside Alliance ("They said not a word, when our post-office closed") has to have their heart in the right place and for that reason alone, the video is still well worth the watch.
But Billy should really think about giving up on the dancing.

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