Hello and welcome to my Sunday Recommendation. Thanks for joining me. Every week I read great wildlife and nature books, stumble upon engrossing websites and hear wonderful new music. This is my chance to bring you carefully curated recommendations of all the best I’ve experienced – every Sunday. If it’s folk, or independent, or about wildlife, nature or Orkney, I may love it, and so may you.
After the City – Bird in the Belly
A constant companion for me this summer has been Bird in the Belly‘s album After the City. From the very first bars of the opening song, Tragic Hearts of Towns, you feel the musicians have fully committed themselves to their performance. They mean it, and it shows in every aspect of the singing, music and songs. Their commitment reminds me of one of my favourite albums, Pierre De Grenoble by Gabriel Et Marie Yacoub, from 50 or so years ago.
The concept behind this collection of songs is the oldest and the newest; that of the destruction of civilisation and nature taking over. It’s inspired by ‘After London or Wild England’ from 1885 by Richard Jefferies which is a little-known post-apocalyptic fiction classic, where cities decay and collapse, feral dogs and cats take over, and the country is returned to nature. Jefferies wasn’t specific about the disaster, but with nuclear threats, climate destruction, food poverty and Covid we can add our own modern causes for the death of civilisation.
Bird in the Belly conjure drama from pandemic gloom, in a full-realised world of destruction. The album tackles the apocalypse, with songs representing each of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Plague, War, Famine and Death, followed by songs directly adapted from Jefferies’s novel.
Here’s my personal favourite, Smokeless Chimneys, which deals with a subject close to my own heart, the Lancashire Cotton Famine, a time in the 1860s when Lancashire cotton workers starved because of the collapse in cotton prices.
“Is it true that all through strangers,
We must starve in our own land?”
The voices have a sublime mixture of tone. It’s chilling.
Another song, Pale Horse give an impression of the portentous subject and allows the glorious harmonies to take centre-stage. It’s beautiful, pastoral and, again, fully realised in its ambition.
Obviously I’ll love anything with banjo, flute, obscure 19th Century lyrics and themes of apocalypse. It’s as if they made it for me. A special note must be made of the quality of arrangement, production and recording. It’s exceptional, even as loud as I’ve been playing it in the kitchen while making mushroom and cannelloni bean stroganoff.
It’s folk-noire so intense you’ll want to play it again and again. Read the lyrics and go on an apocalyptic journey with Bird in the Belly. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
You can buy it direct from Cargo Records here.
That’s it for this week. I’ll be back with more recommendations of things you might adore next Sunday. In the meantime, I wish you a great week. Keep safe, everyone.