Friday, June 25, 2010

Spades & Hoes & Plows

Spades & Hoes & Plows by David Wrench is a 64 minute album that contains just four tracks. One is an instrumental while the other three are traditional folk songs. Eschewing genteel folkey-dokey interpretations of his chosen works, Wrench prefers instead to reconnect them with their original radical intent. As the album cover states, these are songs of insurrection, defiance and rebellion.

Living, as we do, in an era where political ballads are out of fashion it comes as a shock to read the subversive lyrics of A Radical Song (1816). Vehemently anti-Christian in its revolutionary message, Satan is readily invoked and violence called for to achieve aims. The doom-laden production and Wrench's intimate vocal undoubtedly lend the song a sinister quality, but also present is an almost masonic sense of the passing on of old and dangerous knowledge.

The Blackleg Miner is a much more widely-known folk song. Here it is given several doomy interpretations, the incantatory repetition serving to underline the hatred of the scab. No sympathy at all for the blackleg worker - just resolve to stay solid. Although set in the north east of England, the song will have strong resonance for listeners in the former industrial heartlands of Wales.

A Digger's Song was written at the time of the first English Civil War. Here it becomes a chant that advocates violence against the gentry, lawyers, priests, and monarchists. Amen to that. The Black Sheep chorus (who include Deri's own Julian Cope) provide able vocal support. The album's final track Helynation Beca is an apocalyptic instrumental that summons up the ghosts of the Rebecca Rioters. These Welsh cross-dressers smashed up toll booths used to fund corrupt landowners.

The historical backgrounds of each of the four tracks are comprehensively outlined in the fascinating sleevenotes. But all of these songs have contemporary relevance. With a Tory government again in power punishing the poor for a recession caused by greedy bankers, these ballads are loaded with timely insurrectionist potency. Spades & Hoes & Plows is a fine album and worthy of your investigation. Play it before you go on your next riot.

*Spades & Hoes & Plows on Invada Records is on sale now.