'England Green & England Grey' from Reg Meuross - an English folk milestone(September 05, 2014)
For many, the songs of Reg Meuross are the hinges upon which swing the doors of perceptive English folk. We have accompanied him along paths less travelled exploring echoes of society, politics, history, people and places. Now with ‘England Green & England Grey’ his deft lyrical touch and moving vocals lead us through more opening doors to show what lies behind. There remains the accustomed perception and unnerving fearlessness to examine the minutiae and bring it to the surface. There are no obscure touch-line observations but out-on-the-pitch, down and dirty in the mud empathy. It’s easy to identify with these songs because they strike where we live, some with acid-sharp observations that hit harder than expected.
The intense poignancy of social and historical observation flowing through ‘What Would William Morris Say?’ evokes a feeling of irreplaceable loss, especially with the inclusion of quotes from ‘The Message of the March Wind’. The sense of laying waste is palpable - combine a melody to die for, evocative vocals and the undiluted power of the lyrics ‘… they smashed the piano, no money for bands, karaoke led the way, bland leading the bland’and you have a true folk milestone. The theme repeats through the title track ‘England Green and England Grey’ – an eternally English folk song, and a sad indictment of a nation losing or forgetting its cultural heritage, but laced with a tinge of faith. If ever there was a song to make us want to fight for ‘what’s right’ then this is the one.
With a precise poetic touch and a rich vein of storytelling, his songs form imageries to be remembered. ‘Tony Benn’s Tribute to Emily Davison’ is a perfect example, telling the tale of a secretly-erected plaque respecting the memory of a dedicated suffragette. ‘The Band Played Sweet Marie’ is no less powerful, were the loss of the Titanic not sad enough, permeating down to the personal narrative of bandleader Wallace Hartley tears at your heart. Meuross also espouses narratives of personal tragedy, from ‘They Changed Her Mind’, an incredibly sad tale of individuals confined in institutions by a society that refused to understand and ‘Counting My Footsteps To You’ reflectingthe overwhelming desperation of dementia. These narratives carry characters and relate experiences that create such powerful visual impressions they make this album theatre for your ears. Writing of this calibre demands a deep understanding of a myriad facets within the human condition.
Meuross doesn’t simply write songs raging against the powers that be, he doesn’t adopt injured political ire or preach pointless platitudes. He recalls sacrifice forgotten, rights lost, the rule of injustice, personal pain and resolute hope. And if we don’t listen, the erosion might continue unabated. Aside from being a stunning album, ‘England Green & England Grey’ prompts us to save what’s going before it’s gone forever.
Find ‘England Green & England Grey’ here: www.regmeuross.com
Reviewer: Tim Carroll