Sunday, April 01, 2012

Still asking questions of the English

It's been a really busy week - teaching, another funeral and lots of other stuff along the way. Still, I managed to sustain myself for the tasks with a pasty or two (waiting for them to go cold before I bought them, so they were cheaper!) and queueing for petrol

So, I didn't get to comment on George Galloway's extraordinary win in Bradford West. I really can't work out what this says about the state of British politics, though I am drawn to the view that this was a victory of old labour over new. Old labour tended not to invade other people's countries and more importantly had broadly interventionist economic policies (that was the issue most referred to by Bradfordians in the aftermath of the vote). But it could be that it's a one-off coup by a celebrity politician.

Then as the weekend approached I was made aware that Jethro Tull are releasing a follow-up to Thick as a Brick - imaginatively named Thick as a Brick 2. Now I was a Tull fan back in the day. Forty years ago I was sitting in my lounge trying to work out what the album (a single song concept allegedly penned by 14 year old prodigy called Gerald Bostock) was all about. But I'm really not sure we need a follow-up after all this time.

But I listened to the record yesterday as I assembled our new BBQ and was struck by two things. The first was that musically it's held up pretty well. The tunes are typical Tull, the playing never short of wonderful and Ian Anderson's voice a thing of rare beauty. And the second is that the lyrics - which I gather from more recent interviews with band members were not to be taken entirely seriously - do offer a fascinating window into something that was a bit of an obsession with 70s rock bands: what does it mean to be English? From Selling England by the Pound to London's Calling, many bands ruminated on the nature of  Englishness. They were mainly staking their place in an art form that was seen to be quintessentially American by bringing in English folk traditions and cultural pre-occupations. Tull's contribution was to channel a pythonesque humour through folk lyricism and class satire.

Their output is not seen these days as that significant. But I couldn't help think of all this as I watched Diarmaid MacCulloch's final documentary about God and the English last night. I was struck by the simple fact that forty years after Thick as a Brick, we are still asking the question. And just as Anderson suggests in his ruminations on the class system and the place of faith in it, So MacCulloch concludes that God is a crucial part of English identity.

I wonder what that means for our mission in these interesting days....


Ben Fairhall said...

A really interesting post... Of course, my pet obsession with Mozza could be evoked again here. He is the English punk/bard par excellence, in my opinion. Also - channeling a very heady Ulsterman lyricism - Van Morrison (often found next to Moz in the record stores), whose music is all about identity: real and imagined, memory, mythology, the sense of place.

The song that most evokes all those things, for me, is Van's Avalon of the Heart. Probably my favourite song ever.

For some reason your rumination on Hockney seems relevant to this, too.

I tried to get along yesterday evening but circumstances conspired against me. I will do so next week.

simon said...

I guess it's true that English pop and rock is much taken with issues of identity. The Kinks and Blur are obvious contenders to put alongside your excellent choices.

I will have to go and give Van's Avalon of the heart a listen.

Next week we're at Manna House (well, I'm at Spring Harvest as it happens). It'd be good to catch up sometime.