The Imagined Village

Philharmonic Hall, Hope Street
18th January 2010

Reviewed by Tommy Calderbank

In the Philharmonic Hall,
There are nudies on the wall,
And you get a funny feeling
That you want to shag the ceiling…

Sorry. It’s been this way ever since I was a kid. Every time I come here to arguably our greatest concert hall, all highbrow and that, I can’t help thinking about that rhyme; the same one that tickled me as a boy does the job just as well today. Try it next time you’re there and see for yourself. Hee hee!

Ahem. Anyway, to the review at hand: The Imagined Village. This was a great gig. Nick Griffin would have hated it. It was English folk music as you’ve never heard it before, unless you’d got onto this band of brothers and sisters on their last tour. That time they were joined by the Big Nosed Bard of Barking, Sir William Bragg, in his original pearly king get up; Benjamin Zephaniah joining us by the miracle of video recording for a booming retelling of 'Tam Lyn', and Sheila Chandra singing a version of 'Welcome Sailor' that moved us beyond words and confirming, as if such confirmation were needed, that she is one of the finest artists to ever bless this world.

This time, touring to promote their second album ‘Empire and Love’, the lineup had changed a bit, but with no let up in the sheer quality of the outfit. But we lucky lucky people were treated to the company of folk legends Eliza Carthy and her dad Martin; Simon Emmerson (all-round top geezer and force of nature behind both these and the legendary Afro-Celt Sound System); the incredible Johnny Kalsi from The Dhol Foundation (who deserves highest praise of all, not only for giving a customary earth-shaking performance, but for doing it while feeling really ill – a fact I only found out afterwards, which shows the sheer professionalism of the man).

The show opened, as last time, with the remarkable Chris Wood. Being your own support can be a mixed blessing. A friend of mine thought he had a pole stuck up his arse, and a chip on his shoulder. I reckon he’s good enough to pull off a juggle of that magnitude, should the need ever arise. For me, though, he was simply sensational. He didn’t do last year’s cracker ‘The Cottager’s Reply’, as this was a whole new set for everyone, both showcasing new albums (on sale in the foyer folks!). He did an accomplished set, showcasing his new material. Of particular note is ‘Hollow Point’, which Chris told me afterwards was the song he wanted to write that he’d be able to perform in front of both the family of Jean Charles de Menezes and the officers who shot him. Powerful stuff. The whole album ‘Handmade Life’ is fantastic, and should join his last one ‘Trespasser’ on your shelf or iDickhead Library. And he was right: we WERE a great audience for a Monday. See what happens when next time, you make Liverpool your final show, rather than one of the first. Ohh, we’d party like it’s 1649.

After a brief interval, the rest of the boys of girls of this incarnation of the band hit the stage. The overall feeling we had was the musical arrangement. Folk isn’t about sticking a finger in your ear and caterwauling with a hey nonny no. It’s dynamic, charged and vibrant.

'Space Girl' saw Eliza do her finest out-of-metaphoric - space tale of men doing her wrong. You need a blaster AND a freezer gun out there, Eliza, girl! Also surely the only time this year you’ll get to hear a theramin played live. The only instrument you play without touching it, it was played as hauntingly as nature intends.

I must just make comment on the continued bollocks surrounding what exactly constitutes The Phil’s Dance Policy. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked to sit down by staff during performances that plainly warranted a dance to. To me, cutting a rug is mandatory, and shows respect for the artist. To deny us this time and again is an insult. THIS TIME, I got told off for holding me lighter aloft. Cliché be damned. The Imagined Village deserve a thousand lights tonight! Or at least a little boogie, for fox sake. But no. A single flame in the Phil now constitutes a fire hazard. Remember the days when the Tocky Massive brought it good style with all spliffs a-blazin’? Ahhh, those heady days…it brings to light the utter shite talked by the stewards now. Don’t worry, officer, I’m in complete control of the lighter in my hand, and the feet at the end of me legs…and yes, someone I know IS minding my children…

I must just mention the bit Martin drew attention to a recent article in The Guardian which gave us a ‘light-hearted view’ of which musicians were popular with the World’s Most Evil Men. Included in the list was an ignorant reference to Griffin being a fan of our Eliza! No wonder Martin was livid! Simon asked that we all give a two-finger salute to Nick Griffin, whilst shouting 'Bollocks to Nick Griffin'! Simon asked for the house lights to go up, and took a photo of the whole Philharmonic shouting those exact, somehow natural, words. The photo should adorn this review, really. Eliza later wrote a fantastic piece for the Guardian Response column read it here.

These beautiful people do indeed give English folk music a fresh voice, a strident, melancholic, celebratory mélange.

Give The Imagined Village a listen. Read the book. Download the discussion on English identity from last year’s WOMAD festival (see their website for details) for some good stuff from Simon, Billy, Chris and the audience.

For bringing us the good times of New England, Imagined Village, we salute you!

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Sorry Comments Closed

Comment left by Graham Holland on 22nd May, 2010 at 13:28
Many thanks for the fab review, Amanda. Graham