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Sunday, 20 March 2011

England and St George

St George's Day falls on a Saturday this year and the piece of my soul that will be forever England takes a certain satisfaction in this. Even Dave "let's move Mayday to October" Cameron couldn't have a problem with us all having a day off in spring if it's on a Saturday, surely?

So with the state of the nation to the fore, here's something by a songwriter called Greg McDonald, who cites The Clash and Show of Hands among his influences. His first solo studio album, called Tomorrow England, has Phil Beer on fiddle and this video is a promo rather than a whole song, but there's enough to get a flavour of what he's up to. The official album launch is April 25, although I got a copy through the post with a press release and a handwritten note showing that he's read the blog. So flattery definitely pays.

There's going to be a single out in time for St George's Day called, um, St George's Day. It's about a British soldier who marries an Afghan woman who is then murdered by racists in Greenwich Park. Whether it's tasteful to invent murders in London parks for lyrical purposes is worth asking but since McDonald is from that neck of the woods it's his psycho-geography and I guess he can do with it as he will.

St George's Day is a bittersweet song that chimes in with the overall theme of the album, which I'd say is a kind of contemporary Englishness that's none too specific about its roots and is also alert to the many charges against said Englishness: racism, xenophobia and historical militarism. The album cover shows McDonald in a cherry red uniform with an accordian, like a toy soldier. This has its charms. But on a day when the main issue is why it's OK to bomb Libya in the name of democracy now but it wasn't OK to send groundtroops to Iraq for the same thing eight years ago ("not in my name" said a million Brits) you could be forgiven for musing that the modern English are more comfortable around toy soldiers than real ones. Perhaps he's on to something. 

There are some good lines. Singing the Reds starts "The devil came down to Lewisham..." and, with the borough's three syllables slurred into two, it's a homage to The Devil Went Down to Georgia by the Charlie Daniels Band. Louis Armstrong also gets a look in, with a knowing reference to his assertion that "It's all folk music. I aint never heard no horse sing a song". I also like the title, to say the least, of Fairytale of New Cross. When coupled with the fact that McDonald is playing several times in the coming months at The Trafalgar Tavern, Greenwich (one of my favourite places in the world, for the whitebait suppers and the spring tides lapping against its bay windows) it seems entirely possible that, since The Glamour Cave is in Bethnal Green, this is my psychogeography too and that perhaps I was always going to like the album for that reason. 

So it's geographically specific and a bit political without being prescriptive. I liked the title track the best, with its lyric "Tonight these dreaming streets, Tomorrow England" conjuring the glistening cobbles of Greenwich in the rain and a certain kind of incoherent ambition probably brought on by having had a few too many shandies. Allusive and poppy, this is useful folk aimed squarely at the mainstream. I wish him good luck.

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