Music Reviews, Reg Meuross

Reg Meuross – England Green And England Grey

On England Green And Grey Reg Meuross has put together a full band line-up including long term collaborators Jess Vincent (vocals) and Roy Dodds on drums and percussion. This is the satisfying sound of a group of musicians very much on the same wavelength, presenting a collection of songs that vary in style yet fit and belong together like the many and varied elements of a bespoke suit.

The opening three tracks set the tone of the album in that they relate aspects of England old and new in terms of both regret and celebration. Firstly, “What would William Morris say, if he could see England today?”, Meuross asks. The answer while not explicit is implied in a lyric describing the replacement of pianos in pubs with karaoke machines and the disappearance of farms to make way for big industry’s warehouses. The current trend towards mass disenchantment with politics (perhaps it was ever thus?) is encapsulated in the line, “Liars all speak politics with poison on their tongues”.

Balancing this take on the decline of communal culture and the lack of esteem in which politicians are held today is “Tony Benn’s Tribute To Emily Davison”, in which the writer’s admiration for these two pioneers of English society in the century just gone is evident. The swishy pitter-patter of brushes on drums and a piano picking its way lightly forward recreate the furtive movements of the suffragette as she crept through the Palace of Westminster to protest in support of universal suffrage by taking up residence in a broom cupboard on the night of the 1911 census in that House which back then admitted no female representation either in person or in votes.
Meuross is, like Ray Davies, a perceptive chronicler of the moments, events and characters who conspire to shape the great sweep of England’s social and cultural history. England Green And England Grey’s title track, for instance, could be put to work by innovative teachers up and down the land in the service of sparking debate among and firing the interest of drowsy teenagers who would otherwise be snoozing through their dull, dank Monday afternoon history class. Coincidentally, the writer’s soft, clear voice sounds not at all dissimilar to the that of the Kink as observations such as “Austerity and slavery – I thought they were behind us” trip off his tongue.
The music takes on an American, countryish sound for the middle chunk of the album. Given the influence that the States have had on English culture – music in particular – over the last sixty years and more, this is pleasingly apt. There’s the magically evocative tale of a traveller whose “future lies in ribbons of river, rail and road”, which with Mike Cosgrave’s piano bass notes rumbling forebodingly beneath warm layers of vocals and Phil Henry’s lush dobro, feels every bit like the latest incarnation of Cash, Jennings, Kristofferson and Nelson’s Highwayman.
Many’s the album that peters out with a few weaker songs towards the end. In the case of this one, though, the quality remains staggeringly high throughout and the emotional highlight arrives on the tenth track. The Band Played Sweet Marie is a touching, heartbreaking song imagining the thoughts and feelings of Maria Robinson, whose fiancée Wallace Hartley was one of the 1,500 people who drowned in the North Atlantic’s icy water when the Titanic went down. Hartley, the ship’s bandleader, had been given a violin  – engraved, as an engagement gift – by Maria, which was later found and returned to her in its leather bag that it’s thought he strapped to himself in his final moments. This beautiful, tender love song imagines and captures Maria’s almost unbearable sadness, and with it therefore the devastating sense of loss that thousands suffered following the ship’s demise. “Every note my darling played took further away my love from me.”
See the title track’s video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KdewAuU3nMc
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Music Reviews

Reg Meuross – My Name Is London Town

Saturday 28th September 2013

No finer setting could there have been. Reg Meuross launched his new single My Name Is London Town in St James’ Church, Piccadilly this evening. Tucked away inconspicuously only yards from the neon and bustle of London’s famous thoroughfare, this 17th century Christopher Wren church was the venue for a flawless, seamless concert by a master of storytelling in song. As did the craftsmen of old carve ornate designs into the oak pews from which his audience listened, so did tonight’s performer weave beautiful and varied melodies through each of his songs.
In his rich tenor voice Meuross sang songs from his 20 year solo career accompanied initially by just his stylish acoustic finger picking.
Later Emma Hooper and Bethany Porter added gorgeous colour, shade and rhythm on viola and cello respectively for the second half of of the concert. Jess Vincent, who earlier had played a fine support set of songs from her new album Seesaw Dreams, made the trio a quartet for the encore, augmenting the layers of music further with her vocals and baritone ukelele.
My Name Is London Town continues a tradition in English folk that every couple of decades comes up with a song capturing the ever changing nature of this city at a given moment in time. So to Ralph McTell’s 1960s Streets Of London and Richard Thompson’s Sights And Sounds Of London Town from the 90s we can now add this definitive portrait of life in London in the 21st century.
Like each song of London before it, this one provides an update on themes that remain constant through the generations. Multiculturalism is as much the heartbeat of London now as it’s always been: “I’m the Union Flag, I’m the red, green and gold… I’m the dome of St Paul’s and the Regent’s Park mosque.” Now, as ever, the financially rich and poor are thrown together daily: “I’m the sharp suited broker who steals like a fox, to the stock exchange floor to sell coffee and corn… I’m the bundle of rags in the Oxford Street doorway”. New as it is this song already has the feel of a classic to it and sits very comfortably alongside its great predecessors.
Reg Meuross is known for writing songs that trace the social history of England, both modern and olde. Dick Turpin, one of history’s favourite outlaws, had his reputation as a dashing hero shredded tonight in the revisionist tale Lizzie Loved A Highwayman, in which the infamous Essex man was revealed to be a brute and a murderer. The story was told through the eyes of the woman who loved him, who he let down and left behind, and in this song we heard the essence of why Meuross is so admired as a songwriter. What stays with you  is not so much what happens in the stories as how his characters are affected.
My own highlight tonight was the new, as yet unrecorded, Sweet Marie. This incredibly tender and poignant song based on the story behind a violin recovered from the wreckage of the Titanic is rooted in historical fact but again this is merely a means by which Meuross puts the listener in touch with the universal emotions of love, grief, joy and sorrow.
My Name Is London Town is taken from the album Leaves and Feathers
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