The Imagined Village

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  • 'Ouses, 'Ouses, 'Ouses - Listen
  • John Copper talks about the bond between the land and its inhabitants.
  • John Barleycorn - Listen
  • A number that's been a cornerstone of English folk music for the last century, also gets a definitive update. Back in the 1960s, folk trailblazers Martin Carthy and his brother-in-law Mike Waterson both renewed the song - a celebration of the fertility cycle (especially as it applies to the creation of ale) - on their early albums. Their versions in turn inspired rock band Traffic to cover it for 1969's John Barleycorn album, which is where Paul Weller picked up on it...the folk tradition in action. The version here brings Weller together with Martin Carthy and his daughter Eliza for a fiery tour de force that slips between acoustic and swirling beats.
  • Tam Lyn Retold - Listen
  • A ballad whose roots stretch into the fifteenth century is retold against a backdrop of hissing electro-reggae. The story of 'Tam Lyn' is likewise hauled into the modern age by dub poet Benjamin Zephaniah, its tale of a teenage girl seduced by a demon lover transposed to urban clubland. 'Instead of her lover coming from faerie land, I have him coming from a foreign country as an asylum seeker,' says Benjamin. 'Both ways he's an alien.'
  • Death And The Maiden Retold - Listen
  • Tunng, a leading light on the UK nu-folk scene, included a song about a woman being turned into a hare on their last album. Here they bring their quirky electronica and droll take on the pagan tradition to 'Death and Maiden', a lesson in how to survive an encounter with the Grim Reaper.
  • Cold Haily Rainy Night - Listen
  • 'After travelling the world as a producer and musician I thought it was time explore my own roots,' says Simon Emmerson, 'to look at the earth under my feet, dig the dirt of the homelands.'So it is that 'Cold Haily Rainy Night', a song first published 200 years ago arrives on a rippling sitar.
  • The Welcome Sailor - Listen
  • A sparse, moving duet with singer Sheila Chandra and folk stalwart Chris Wood. 'You can't grow up in England and not find yourself familiar with the folk tradition' says Sheila, who learned 'Scarborough Fair' at junior school. 'What's strange for an Indian musician is the snobbery surrounding folk. In the Indian classical tradition, using folk melodies is standard practice. I like the way old singers never sing a verse in the same way, a tradition I feel I belong to. When I heard 'Welcome Sailor' I decided I didn't want to give away the basic melody until the fourth verse. I don't think my interpretation is far from what those mythical old singers who never left Somerset might do.'
  • Acres Of Ground - Listen
  • Eliza Carthy's distinctive vocals and fiddle playing feature on her self penned re-working of the old 'Dilly Song': Acres of Ground.
  • Pilsdon Pen - Listen
  • Emmerson's 'Pilsden Pen' draws on another strand of English music, the lush, orchestral romanticism of Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten. Named after a Dorset Iron Age settlement, the track evokes the history-sodden Wessex landscape, a musical equivalent of the visionary paintings of Paul Nash and Eric Ravilious.
  • Hard Times of Old England Retold - Listen
  • A particular Copper favourite, gets a make-over from Billy Bragg (another Dorset resident), who brings the song's lament to bear on contemporary rural issues - empty holiday homes, closing post offices, the crisis in agriculture. Remarks Billy about his involvement with the project, 'In any village there's a meeting between the custodians of the past and the architects of the future, and The Imagined Village reflects just that.'
  • Kit Whites I & II - Listen
  • A rowdier side of tradition - the abandon of dance - is maintained by the ceilidh medley by Tiger Moth and The Gloworms, respectively elder and younger representatives of a thriving live scene. That word ceilidh is usually associated with Scotland and Ireland, but, as Gloworm Laurel Swift points out, country or barn dances are common to all. 'But in English ceilidh there's always a 'caller', the person telling you what to dance, and a very wide range of styles. What we play on The Imagined Village, 'Kit Whites 1 and 2' probably comes from the Eighteenth century'.
  • Sloe on the Uptake - Listen
  • Tiger Moth, English roots dance band world's answer to Bembeya Jazz or Buena Vista Social Club feature their unmistakable sound on the album's final track, 'Sloe On The Uptake'.


  • Glasto was a real blasto
  • The Sun (UK)

THE IMAGINED VILLAGE - aka Martin Carthy, Billy Bragg and their band of multinational musical chums - seemed to get to the heart of Glastonbury. Shimmering violin sounds wafted over the burger bars as Billy bounced on to the Jazz World Stage to knock out England Half English Meets John Barleycorn. It may have been the refreshing Gaymer's cider but it looked like he was wearing a Marmite T-shirt.

  • Top-Notch
  • The Sun (UK)

...a top-notch list of collaborators...It's an album that grows on you given a chance and the highlights include versions of John Barleycorn and Death And The Maiden

  • The exotic music of.... England!
  • Taplas (UK)

Real World finally turn their attention to the exotic music of.... England!.... Notable of several stand-out tracks are Benjamin Zephaniah's dub'n'bass re-telling of Tam Lyn, and Chris Wood and Eliza Carthy's sitar drenched duet on Cold Haily Rainy Night, but the jewel in the crown is Sheila Chandra's extraordinary version of Welcome Sailor, accompanied by the moody - and very English - fiddle soundscapes of Chris Wood.... One of the most important albums of 2007? Probably... One of the most interesting? Definitely!

  • Diverse
  • Irish Post (Ireland)

This album certainly won't please traditionalists - it is not merely a light reworking of the traditional folk elements. In many instances, it completely transforms them into entirely new entities.

However, The Imaginary Village will find favour with fans of fusion, who will be drawn to the interesting sounds of many of the tracks.

  • Fast forward to the seventeeth century
  • Observer Music Magazine (UK)

A fine cast that includes Martin Carthy and Paul Weller give suave performances of sensibly chosen, sometimes epic songs of joy, defiance and anguish settled very gently into tentatively illuminated post-modern soundscapes. Tunng's deft 'Death and the Maiden' is the most focused sample of how and why folk is moving more and more out of the shadows. It's mischievous and tender, wry and wise, sad and surreal, but a folk that could only have been made in the 21st century.

  • Impressive
  • Rock'n'Reel (UK)

An impressive cross-generational multicultural rota of performers who, in various combinations, put a modern twist on the tradition and just about pull it off. There are moments when everything gels perfectly, such as John Copper's opening ''Ouses, 'Ouses, 'Ouses', a spoken-word lament for the rural idyll that develops into a powerfully evocative instrumental.

  • This Album Is A Tour De Force
  • York Press (UK)

A daring give English folk music a fresh new voice...The album is a tour de force.

  • Excellent album...
  • London Evening Standard (UK)

The re-imagined Willow Pattern with tower blocks on the cover suggests what this excellent album is all about - re-inventing English folk music for the 21st century. Many stars of the folk scene are here - Martin and Eliza Carthy and the Copper Family, but joined by Paul Weller, Sheila Chandra and the Dhol Foundation. Producer Simon Emmerson says that after years of traveling as a musician he wanted to explore his own roots. In Hard Times of Old England Retold, Billy Bragg laments the economic decline of the countryside and perhaps most memorably, in Tam Lyn Retold, Benjamin Zephaniah tells explicit details of an unplanned pregnancy with an "alien". There's great instrumental playing and a real engagement with what these songs are about.

  • Hugely Ambitious Undertaking
  • fRoots (UK)

It's never a bad idea to give folk song a good shake-up and Simon Emmerson has astutely assembled the people to do it with both love and a sense of mischief....bringing to the party, beats, bhangra and other weapons of global Britain and, stripped of all the theories, back stories and undercurrents of social history, it's still mostly a cracking album.

  • An English folk-rock landmark
  • Songlines (UK)

It's a brilliant idea - to reinterpret traditional English folk song for a multicultural 21st century society... Almost everything on this bold and ambitious album works... (A) breathtakingly imaginative record that is sure to become an English folk-rock landmark... The Imagined Village finally offers English roots music a meaningful new destination.

  • It works surprisingly well!
  • Folk London (UK)

The highlight of the CD however has to be the contemporary retelling of the magical ballad 'Tam Lyn' by the Rastafarian writer and poet Benjamin Zephaniah over a reggae bassline. Amazing, truly amazing.

  • A star-studded musical collaboration is bringing English folk into the 21st century
  • New Statesman (UK)

Phil Meadley goes behind the scenes at the first rehearsal of The Imagined Village band. Read more at

  • Bold and ambitious new direction for English folk
  • HMV Choice (UK)

It's now 38 years since Fairport Convention took English folk-rock to its high-water mark with the astonishing 'Liege & Leaf'... Now finally comes The Imagined Village to reinvent English roots music for a pluralist 21st-century society and offer folk-rock an ambitious and meaningful new destination.... The results are dazzling on an album that is surely destined to become a major landmark in the history of English folk music.

  • Bold
  • Record Collector (UK)

The CD opens with John Copper's touching spoken reminiscences of the rural Sussex life which inspired the songs that passed through his family for so many generations. It sets the emotional context for the roll call of widely varying artists, from Transglobal Underground to acid folkies Tunng to dance outfit Gloworms, all providing their own stylistic stamp.

John Barleycorn, one of the oldest and most covered traditional songs, stirs gloriously again with its tale of beer and regeneration in a mighty collaboration between Paul Weller and Martin Carthy... authenticity and invention on a bold, worthy enterprise.

  • An impressive line-up has been assembled for a folk CD and tour
  • Financial Times (UK)

The concert starts with the recorded voice of John Copper reminiscing about his grandfather Jimmy's love of the Sussex Downs and how (in 1951) the view had become filled with "'ouses, 'ouses, 'ouses". Then the beat kicks in and Eliza Carthy plays sweeping violin lines, as English as Vaughan Williams... Chandra sings "Welcome Sailor" while Eliza Carthy performs "Acres of Ground", a recasting of an old counting song. A heavily acoustic front end (sitar, violins, cittern, cello) sits atop thundering drums and bass. Kalsi comes forward to belabour a dhol, a double-skinned Punjabi drum, with curved sticks while his band mates insert earplugs.

The most unconventional reading is "Tam Lyn", an old ballad about a faery knight rescued by his human lover. Here the story takes on skittering dub reggae rhythms, with the poet Benjamin Zephania toasting over the top... Eliza Carthy sings along, jigging on one leg, her long hair and violin both flying.

  • The beats change. The context changes. The story stays the same
  • Fly - Global Music Culture (UK)

As well as acting as a short who's who of English folk The Imagined Village sees another superb collection of English folk songs given a modern twist an interpreted by some of the strongest voices in folk... The consistent quality Emmerson achieves (makes) this feel like an album held together by a producer with a plan and a vision for folk music.

Zephania retelling the otherworldly tale of 'Tam Lyn' with an industrial modern setting is followed by Tunng's distinctive folktronica and Emmerson's Afro-Celt influences are evident in the dubby reworking of 'John Barleycorn' and more subtly in other numbers.

Listening over the tracks things haven't moved on much since these tales were written down: the stories are still about sex and death and they are still strong enough to be told and retold.

The beats change. The context changes. The story stays the same

  • Artistically Thrilling
  • The Telegraph online (UK)

Simon Emmerson's tour de force, as producer and musician, injects the ethnic variety of modern society into the British folk tradition. The line-up tells its own story: Martin and Eliza Carthy, but also Billy Bragg and Paul Weller, Sheila Chandra, Benjamin Zephaniah and Trans-Global Underground. The results are as heartwarming as they are artistically thrilling.

  • The birth of something new and exciting
  • The Telegraph (UK)

Live Review: WOMAD, Charlton Park 2007

Britain and Asia met again in the Imagined Village, an attempt to reinterpret English folk song in the light of what Britain now is, with veteran folkie Martin Carthy joined by Billy Bragg and various British Asian musicians... There was a sense of being in on the birth of something new and exciting.

  • Righteous Fire...
  • The Independent (Live review: WOMAD, Charlton Park 2007) (UK)

A swirling, English ceilidh, stitched together by electric guitar and Indian drums and angry lyrics about current rural life, has righteous fire.

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