The Imagined Village
14 November 2007
The Imagined Village have been described as the most important move in English Folk since Liege and Lief by Fairport Convention. The band has strong parallels with Levon Helm’s current Dirt Farmer, where Amy Helm revived her father’s interest in traditional material. At its core is Martin Carthy and his daughter Eliza Carthy. They’re augmented by Billy Bragg, Simon Emmerson as producer and on cittern and guitar, Sheila Chandra on vocals, Chris Wood on vocals and violin, and Francis Hylton, a dreadlocked electric bass player, Barney Morse Brown on cello, Andy Gangadeen on drums, Johnny Kalso on percussion / indian drums, Sheema Mukerjee on sitar and in the south only, the four Young Coppers on additional vocals. The names and instrumentation give a clue. It’s traditional English folk rejigged for the multicultural England of the 21st century. An example is Martin Carthy playing Scarborough Fair, accompanied by brilliant sitar on the melody line, while Billy Bragg narrated how he got to meet real English folk only via Simon & Garfunkel.
Billy Bragg used to be classed with Pete Seeger for me … while admiring his political stands, I never liked his singing voice. But onstage he was brimming with charisma and good humour, and on the two occasions he strapped on the Telecaster, a good rhythm guitarist too.
When it comes to charisma, Eliza Carthy is in the genuine Premier League. Her personality makes her the de facto leader … she did the band role call at the end. As well as playing brilliant electric viola and singing, she managed to dance all at the same time with infectious energy. No wonder the labels thought they could launch her as a huge crossover star a few years back. They should try again. The closing reels at the end must have been ten minutes long, with Eliza Carthy centre stage on viola. A highlight for me was seeing Billy Bragg and Martin Carthy do the Status Quo back to back guitar pose during it, laughing all over their faces.
It was a folky night … Chris Wood’s opening set (on guitar rather than violin) took me back to 1964 and 1965, as he spent as much time explaining the songs as singing them. I bought his album in the interval though, even walking outside in the cold to a cash machine to get the money.
Benjamin Zephaniah (on film) duetted with Eliza Carthy (live) on Tam Lyn (Retold) with brilliant updated words and a reggae feel. The folk club mood continued in the concert hall when, after Simon Emmerson’s film of West Dorset was played while the band did his instrumental “Pilsdon Pen”, Billy Bragg conducted a bird-spotting contest about the three birds filmed at different seasons. Then disqualified people who couldn’t give the Latin name.