I’ve been watching ‘The Wicker Man’ a lot recently.
The reason being - other than having nothing else to do in my life - that it’s struck a kind of chord with me. I don’t know why, exactly, I’m not sure I want to know. But what I found interesting with it was the air of benign affability of the film’s islanders and a general pastoral tranquillity under which hummed hidden malevolence. Like: evil hidden under the best intentions: a dentist and his drill; the phrases ‘it’s for your own good’, ‘you won’t feel a thing’, ‘tell me if this hurts’; a politician kissing a baby; clowns generally...
Also the folk songs featured in ‘The Wicker Man’, of which there are many, are similarly skewed in that, though outwardly they are jaunty, quaint, olde-worlde ditties, they can't disguise the feeling of some sinister subtext. Which brings me on neatly to The Folk Orchestra.
‘Blood Stained Tears’ has also been doing some similar chord striking (in fact, the Romany-folk sound of opening track, ‘Full Metal Jacket (Ambitious Love Song)’, could fit neatly onto ‘The Wicker Man’s soundtrack).
These gentle sounding, though slightly doleful, acoustic country/folksy/indie numbers appear harmless enough at first (yeah sure, very friendly, you think - then you notice the claw-hammer dripping with gore!), then you realise... they’re not smiling. They’re sneering, snarling...
What is Folk Orchestra? A loose collective of twenty-one minor misfit musicians from bands such as Lowgold, Broken Dog, Chris TT, Candidate and Wolf. A ‘super-group’ made up of various nobodies; if you will, a Travelling Wilburys for indie minnows. They’re led by Chris TT’s Timothy Victor and they’re a bit good.
Here are eleven cynical songs about messy sex, messed up lives and missed chances, and, despite the country and European folk leanings, this still manages to be a very British affair. The sourpuss stance on these songs recalls Luke Haines, Billy Bragg, Robyn Hitchcock and Ian Dury. Songs of failure and bitterness shot through with (and saved by) a mordent wit; songs which battle against bad choices and ruined relationships but fail anyway and end up making things worse, hurting everyone even more in the process. These songs are... really, really... unhappy. That‘s okay, so am I, but the rain cloud that hangs omnipresent above the proceedings will inevitably dampen the enthusiasm of those who have a low tolerance for ink black, tar thick bleakness.
Not so for me. Take ‘Kinder Tot’, a song about infanticide. A widower, driven to distraction, brutally murders his children because they were making too much noise. This is ever such a funny song and it really cheered me up. Its matter-of-fact murderous misanthropy would suit Black Box Recorder or somesuch. I also smile at ‘Something Like Rain’, a song of finding comfort in the all-too-familiar sting of loss “Here comes the pain / to lift me again / I miss it whenever I’m happy“. Mmm.
And so on, through eleven short but sour songs, ending with ‘Noose of the World’ where the Orchestra almost develop a social conscious as they turn their spite onto the reactionary press and the moral panic, mob mentality they provoke in it’s readers. It’s the best thing Billy Bragg’s done in years. Or it would have been, if he had thought of it.
So this isolated group of out-of-time, out-of-step folkies cheerfully sing out their songs of sex and death as the straw edifice of comfy, conservative acoustic pop bursts aflame. I can see the look of terror on David Gray’s face now, as he is marched to his sacrificial doom, “Oh God! Oh Jesus Christ!“.
7David Merryweather's Score