The Imagined Village, Birmingham 21/5/12

The Imagined Village was originally a music project started in 2004 by Simon Emmerson of Afro Celt Sound System. The basic idea seems to have been to produce a kind of ‘folk’ music for today, with modern social and multicultural references, using musicians from a variety of backgrounds and incorporating a variety of musical styles and multi-instrumentation.

The Imagined Village, Birmingham 21/5/12

The recordings on the first album in 2007 were in a similar vein to the famous This Mortal Coil albums on 4AD records. That is the album contained diverse tracks from a loose collective of artists, as wide ranging as Billy Bragg and Benjamin Zephaniah. Other key members were traditional-folk legend Martin Carthy and his daughter Eliza. Martin originally taught Paul Simon his arrangement of ‘Scarborough Fair’, and Simon then famously pinched that version of the song and made it famous.

The Imagined Village, Birmingham 21/5/12

The first Imagined Village album was a big success and resulted in a more permanent touring band. A well-known on-line encyclopaedia describes the genre as ‘nu folk, dub poetry and world fusion’. Well maybe! But the band are difficult to classify, as their output ranges from re-workings of traditional English folksongs to ambitious instrumentals, featuring dub, Indian drumming, fiddles and a sitar, among other instruments.

Their new album ‘Bending the Dark’, just out, is selling well, and their innovation really deserves a wider audience. Their show tonight, as always, is pretty wide ranging and spectacular, at one point even involving a pair of Indian dancers in full costume.

The Imagined Village, Birmingham 21/5/12

The evening starts with a short first half where individual band members do their own thing. An early highlight is Jackie Oates performing a stark version of ‘Birthday’ by The Sugar Cubes (it was sung by Bjork, when she was in that band). The song was always a little weird, but to hear it performed virtually unaccompanied is really something. Then Martin and Eliza Carthy perform a great traditional song (I didn’t get the title) accompanied by Sheema Mukherjee on sitar, where there is a superb interplay of instruments. It was a stroke of genius to incorporate Sheema and Indian drummer Johnny Kalsi (both originally in Transglobal Underground) in the band. They really bring something special to the sound of the Imagined Village.

The Imagined Village, Birmingham 21/5/12

The first half ends with an enormous bang, when Martin Carthy’s guitar string appears to suddenly snap – fortunately on the last note of the song. Throughout the evening you can see that father and daughter have a great musical rapport. Also Eliza, with her rich singing voice and accomplished fiddle playing, seems to be taking on a bigger role in the band than previous. One of her highlights of the evening is ‘Space Girl’, a humourous science fiction romance with a catchy tune.

The Imagined Village, Birmingham 21/5/12

Imagined Village are a pretty democratic outfit and different members get to take the spotlight. The evening starts with new member Jackie Oates singing ‘The Captain’s Apprentice’. Along with most of tonight’s gig, this is a track from the new album. It’s quite ambitious to mostly play material that the audience haven’t heard (the album has only been out a week), but it seems to work and the crowd seem to like it.

Fortunately there is also a good bit of material from the previous albums, including ‘Hard Times of Old England’, which was cleverly updated by Billy Bragg to set the song in modern times (it even has references to Tesco and The Countryside Alliance). However, Billy doesn’t regularly tour with the band and tonight the song is well handled by Martin.
Martin also performs his own version of Slade’s ‘Cum on feel the Noize’. Like ‘Birthday’ earlier, the performance really emphasises the words, which comes as a real surprise to the listener. At the end of the song, Johnny Kalsi creeps up behind Martin and surprises him with a birthday cake complete with candles. It’s a nice touch and everyone sings ‘Happy Birthday’.

The Imagined Village, Birmingham 21/5/12

The new album material seems quite musically complex and features more instrumental work, with the band telling the audience that the lengthy new track ‘Bending the Dark’ has taken them a while to learn to play live. Since influential band member Chris Wood left (only a temporary absence we are told), the chemistry has changed and the style has moved on quite a bit. Certainly having two female singers and fiddlers taking more of a lead has significantly altered the sound of the band.

Good as the new material is, Imagined Village are best (in my opinion!) on noisy wig-outs like the encore,‘Cold Haily Rainy Night’, a traditional song given a whole new spin (and the closest the band has come to a ‘hit’). The band really takes-off and the song features Johnny Kalsi prowling the stage and really whacking his dhol drum. However, Imagined Village’s material is incredibly diverse and works on a number of levels and they are real innovators in whatever genre it is that that are in!

Photos and Review by John Bentley

One Response to “The Imagined Village @ The Town Hall, Birmingham, UK – 21st May 2012”

  1. Gig Reviews | Gig Photography | Interviews | Competitions from Gig Junkies » Blog Archive » Martin Carthy + Oli Jobes at the Kitchen Garden Cafe, King’s Heath, Birmingham, UK – 21st January 2013 Says:

    […] for a couple of photos and we have a brief conversation about his work with his current band, ‘The Imagined Village’, whose Birmingham concert Gig Junkies covered last year. It’s great when artists are so […]

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