Cally Callomon commends the debut album from Nettlebone; a journey through England’s largely neglected social and political history
As an avid listener to The Long View on BBC Radio 4 – a programme that tells us that nothing is new when it picks a previous event in history that mirrors current events – I waited for the recent General Election to be the topic and it never came. Perplexed at the current affair I turned to the magnificent weighty tome The English Civil War by Diane Purkiss and waded through a human history lesson of both the mid 17th Century and today; the musket and shot held sway then, whereas a deadly barrage of words take their place now.
Alongside the true birth of ‘the newspaper’, there were plenty of topical ballads in the 1640s – yet less so today. Until, towards the end of the year, along came the debut Nettlebone album: a modern take on any Civil War.
It’s a masterful, imaginative set; should Ben Wheatley have made his film A Field In England as an album, it would have sounded like this. Two brothers (seemingly not at odds) plus two make up Nettlebone, and though there are conventional instruments and song, the secret weapons come in the much underrated English pipes, shawm, crumhorn, and hurdy-gurdy as well as support vocals delivered with gusto by Jude Rees. It’s as if Gryphon and The Third Ear Band never left us, and it’s dark in there.
Who wrote the laws now carved in stone
That stands one above another
Where one is born to sink so low
While raising up his brother
We’re not the first, nor be the last,
To hear the rhyme in reason,
Raise up your voices, crack the stone
And the world turns upside down…
This release is not going to settle any disputes or make the turmoil less oily, and I don’t expect to see ‘This machine kills fascists’ written on the front of a mandolin – but apart from having a new album of beguiling tunes, Revel And Rhyme has given me a soundtrack to the confusion of today and yesterday, a time of not so long ago. Whilst the grown-ups in government can gamble at the top tables, at least us children can learn from the past, and this collection of tunes provides a suitable soundtrack.
Available on the electrified Bandcamp, iTunes, Tidal, Spotify, or a beautifully dressed real Compact Disc you can hold and read the lyrics from.