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ARTS DIARY: ARTS DIARY: MUSIC The Imagined Village/ Philharmonic Hall.

Byline: LEW BAXTER

THERE is a widely held perception, that the English folk music tradition has been overshadowed and even overwhelmed by its close Celtic neighbours, thus rendering it sterile and hidebound.

That view has frequently been shown to be nonsense over the last40-odd years as the torch was carried by the likes of Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson, Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span.

But nothing can prepare one for the shattering concept and reality of this eclectic ensemble that literally shapes those songs and stories into a symphonic evocation of the culture of "old"

England, translating it into something quite stunning.

Performers such as Martin Carthy and his daughter Eliza have forged what many would consider an unlikely alliance with the likes of cellist Barney Morse Brown, sitar player Sheema Mukherjee, bass guitarist Francis Hylton, fiddler Chris Wood and drummer Andy Gangadeen to create an astonishing melange of sounds and interpretations that spans many divides.

The concept was dreamed up by Simon Emmerson whose masterstroke was to persuade the prince of political polemic, one Billy Bragg, to share in this joyous rendition of such historical tales as Strawberry Fair and The Hard Times of Old England, thus ensuring that the legacy of the working people is protected.

They referred with reverence to the early recordings of the Copper Family, and this largely is the essence of what gives Imagined Village its heartbeat.

Yet this is only part of the tapestry to unfold as Carthy embarks on an explanation of the famous folk tale of Tam Lin, a song that was culled from the repertoire of Mike Waterson, and a favourite of Fairport and others.

The masterstroke, and surely an indication they have unleashed a new musical format on an unsuspecting world, is the delivery of the lyrics in rap form by the poet Benjamin Zephaniah, all delivered in his glorious baritone from a giant screen while the music drives the tale along at a frenetic pace.

This was a tour de force of interpretation, performance and style, delivering English folk music into the 21st century with passion, power and panache.

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Billy Bragg
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Nov 21, 2007
Words:355
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