One of the many things I really like about the Violence and Bugbears albums is that as well as the sound of the songs, we get words and pictures, even for the instrumental pieces!
In the seventeenth century too, if you bought a song you had heard and liked from a singer – perhaps in the street, at a market or in an alehouse or tavern – you would buy the words and pictures, printed on one side of a single sheet (known as a broadside ballad), and put it in your song collection. For example, Anthony Wood, in later life a scholar at Oxford University, began his ballad collection – of more than four hundred songs – as a young boy of 8 years old.
Incredibly, four hundred years later, ten thousand of these flimsy single-sheet songs still exist thanks to collectors like Anthony Wood. Many have been made freely available on the web by Oxford University: http://bodley24.bodley.ox.ac.uk/cgibin/acwwweng/maske.pl?db=ballads
And the University of California, Santa Barbara
I’ve been studying these songs for a long time now – in particular what we might today call ‘politopop’ – topical songs that tried to make political or religious messages. Interestingly, not only the Cavaliers used songs to get their points across. Puritans too had a way with words and music and merry morality was being sung in the towns and cities of Old England. Many broadside ballads supported parliamentarians and even Cromwell and his armies in the 1640s and 50s.
But Cavaliers won the war, and so they got to dictate the tune of history ever after. Today, the songs that are best remembered are the royalist ones – only historians like me know about the Puritan ones – while evidence shows that many ‘puritan’ songs were destroyed by their collectors after the King returned – perhaps because they were afraid that their loyalty would be questioned.
One of the longest lasting royalist songs was not in fact ‘When the King Enjoys is own again’ – though this was a popular tune. It was a song lamenting the death of Princess Elizabeth Stuart (b. 1635), sister to Charles II, in 1650, just a year after her father the King’s execution by Parliamentarian forces.
Though placed under house arrest throughout the period of the civil wars, Elizabeth was well-known as a stalwart supporter of the royalist cause and famously wrote an account of Charles I’s last meeting with his children. Among the gifts he distributed, he gave his young daughter a Bible.
Elizabeth proved a thorn in the side of Parliament, vigorously complaining about the treatment and housing she and her brothers endured. Parliament tried to break her spirit not only by moving her around but also by condemning her and her youngest brother to listen to two sermons a day. This, however, was just what she liked! Poems were published celebrating her pious scholarship and knowledge of languages, including Greek and Hebrew.
Her final move to the Isle of Wight when
I picked The Contented because the perspective of the lyric interested me, as if this was the voice of the downtrodden, exploited as a result of the ambitions of the rich and powerful. There’s a sardonic anger in the lyric but there’s also a sense of resignation or even apathy, not just at the powerful, but also those who would follow them. Sometimes it doesn’t matter whether you go left or right – then or now – you still end up being taken advantage of. On paper, the lyric reads like a somewhat world-weary warning, but I think this arrangement brings out the anger. I tried to keep all those things in mind with my drawing.
The lyric’s timeless and tone reminded me of early 20th century American folk (with which I’m more familiar), so hearing an old English folk song in that vein was pretty exciting. And I really liked the melody!
I’m a comic artist and musician. I write and draw a web comic strip called ‘Earthling Brains’. The comic is autobiographical (mostly) and tries to find humour in the mundane or idiotic. Just to confuse everyone, I also make music under the same name. I’m interested in combining comics and music; you’re able to explore the same story or idea using completely different perspectives. Plus it makes for sick merch!
I’ve got an album coming out on 10 June on Forward Defensive Records called ‘I’ll Leave A Light On For You’. It comes with a companion piece comic called ‘The Long Night Is Over’.
When I got Darren’s email inviting me to contribute an illustration to the booklet of Bugbears, my wife and I had only just returned from a short trip to Brussels. While over there, we had spent quite a few hours roaming the endless galleries of the Royal Museums of Art. Maybe it’s a sign of becoming middle-aged and one’s changing ideas of excitement, but we decided to leave their modern art collection to one side and concentrate on the slightly misguidingly named “Ancient Art” wing instead.
As expected, the place was full of Flemish Primitives, the most amazing Van Eycks, Van der Weydens, Bruegels and Boschs as well as equally brilliant paintings by many others whose names I had already forgotten the minute we walked out of the museum, dizzy with the emotional impact of these amazing images. It seems incredible to me how these painters of the 1400s to 1600s used Christian myth and everyday observations as a pretext to express themselves in aristically radical ways. A lot of what passed for God-fearing art, later generations would have found downright pornographic, gratuitously violent or just plain surreal.
So back in Canterbury all this was still going through my head as I read Darren’s message, which came with the liner notes to the album, including the lyrics of the songs he had chosen to interpret.
I was immediately drawn to “Babylon Has Fallen”, guessing that, to a reggae fan like Darren, the title itself must have been irresistible. But with all the pictures I’d seen in Brussels still present in my mind, it also brought out my buried memories of Bruegel the Elder’s “The Tower of Babel”.
I haven’t been to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna in decades, but this painting made a huge impression on me when I saw it as a child, maybe on a school trip or on some rainy weekend family outing. Growing up in an agnostic household I was (and still am) woefully ill-equipped to understand the biblical subtext, but what stuck in my head was the vague idea of human hubris punished as the mighty tower falls.
Quite how this fit in with the English Civil War I was not too sure, but then neither were Darren’s sleeve notes:
“This powerful song presents something of a problem. It is nowadays usually associated with the Roundheads, and its biblical imagery – of Church and King as Babylon – certainly accords with the usage of the puritan radicals like the Diggers and the Levellers, but research has failed to reveal its source.”
I decided this historical ambiguity was the perfect excuse to take some liberties and draw lots of naked humans in mid-orgy at the moment of the tower’s collapse as they are attacked from above by angels brandishing swords. Darren’s basic requirement was that the illustration had to be black-and-white, so I used a nib and black ink, which was a
A video preview from Bugbears…
There are several ways of approaching the noun ‘folk’, and we use it carelessly and variously. We use it with prefix when it strays too far from its perceived meaning (alt, new, weird etc), and we’ll add things to the end when it gets even further away from us (-tronica, or just -ie or -y). This aside, there are perhaps two useful routes into the noun. One being that music of unknown authorship, passed on aurally through the generations, or at least that music that survived the scrupulous moral agency of Cecil Sharp and his contemporaries, and the other, best described as a vernacular or popular music that voices the identity of a community (contemporary or otherwise). These two approaches might well contain each other, or be some way distant.
Mostly, I suppose, that what we call folk is music that sounds like folk. For the most part this works for us, but when presented with a project such as Darren’s here, we are forced to acknowledge, and to some degree reconcile the chasms of ideological, aesthetic, technical and methodological difference between various contemporary practices. And even in writing that sentence, my use of ‘us’ and ‘we’ in this text so far suddenly becomes problematic. Who is this ‘we’? Or to put it rather better by using the words of poet John Hall, ‘Who are you a we with?’ Indeed, who am I, or is Darren, a we with? ‘Bugbears’ is an album of traditional songs, but then so is ‘Broadside’ by Bellowhead, and yet, the two are not siblings. Likewise, Darren is at once doing the same thing and not the same thing as Jackie Oates. The difference, I think, lies in re/deconstruction and appropriation. It also lies in a variable take on the idea of authenticity. And thus, ultimately, the cultural resonance of any practitioner of folk music comes down to the generation and reception of meaning.
In the circles that encompass Bellowhead, Oates et al, there is much talk of authenticity, and it seems that instrumentation, arrangement, language, voice and repertoire play a big part (Bellowhead’s incongruous brass players notwithstanding). The voice is of particular interest here, where delivery will often take on the form of a regionless, quasi-pastoral timbre and ‘accent’, which you will also find rife in the singers on historical dramas from the television (think of Sharpe’s Daniel Hagman, or someone taking up a song at the end of an episode of Larkrise to Candleford). Technique and ornamentation play a large role here (instrumentally as well as in the voice). Production for these kinds of traditional players plays to those notions of transparency that manufacturers of recording equipment have been promising for decades. Things are clean and allow us to bathe in the skill, dexterity and knowledge of the players. The set of more problematic performers that might include Darren seem to understand and embrace the idea that recording, production and fidelity have compositional value in and of themselves. Furthermore, the voice is unaffected (or
When playing the song Impossible Times from the Violence live, I have been introducing it with a speech about how every age views itself as the nadir of history. That things have never been as bad as they have in the present.
During the English Civil Wars in the seventeenth century this manifested itself as the idea of ‘The World Turned Upside Down’. On my collection of Bugbears this is illustrated in the song ‘Impossibilities’ a list of incongruities and …well impossibilities.
Here are some woodcuts from the era via The New Inquiry.
Original article here
The World Turned Upside Down
By THE PUBLIC DOMAIN REVIEW
The Public Domain Review is an online journal and not-for-profit project dedicated to showcasing the most interesting and unusual out-of-copyright works available on the web. You can explore our curated collections of curiosities and our fortnightly articles from leading scholars, writers, and artists at publicdomainreview.org
A series of woodcuts from an 18th century chapbook entitled The World Turned Upside Down or The Folly of Man, Exemplified in Twelve Comical Relations upon Uncommon Subjects. As well as the amusing woodcuts showing various reversals (many revolving around the inversion of animal and human relations) there is also included a poem on the topic. The chapbook is reproduced in the wonderful Chapbooks of the Eighteenth Century (1882) edited by John Ashton, which brings together hundreds of facsimiles of 18th century chapbooks upon a huge range of subjects. All images are from the book housed at the Internet Archive, donated by University of Pittsburgh Library System. Click images to enlarge.
The ox turned farmer
Old Soldier Turned Nurse
The mad squire and his fatal hunting
The sun, moon, stars, and earth transposed
The horse turned groom
The Honest Ass and the Miller
The Ox Turned Butcher