/Tuesday Ten/475/In A Big Country

For the majority of my life, I’ve never really lived in the country. I’ve always been in urban environments, where the nearest green space is a local park, and the only wildlife I got to see were urban birdlife, or urban foxes for the most part.

/Tuesday Ten/475/In A Big Country

/Subject /Countryside
/Playlists /Spotify / /YouTube
/Related /277/Here Comes The Flood
/Assistance /Suggestions/84 /Used Prior/11 /Unique Songs/75 /People Suggesting/50
/Details /Tracks this week/10 /Tracks on Spotify Playlist/10 /Duration/57:52

So moving to a small town on the coast has, really, been my first experience of truly living in the country for a long, long time. I can be in the quiet of the country here, away from the roar of traffic and the bustle of urban life, within five or ten minutes, and the contrast is striking (and has probably done wonders for my health, both physical and mentally). And now, after nine months or so of living down here, it’s time to consider songs about the countryside.

Not everything is idyllic here – there are issues with poverty, unemployment, access to housing and a great many other things to consider – so this is by no means a set of songs glorifying the countryside, and interestingly, there weren’t many songs that did in the suggestions, either.

Anyway – thanks to everyone who submitted suggestions – the stats around those have now moved to the info box above.

A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.

Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound me. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).

There is now a /Tuesday Ten/Index, which lists every /Tuesday Ten ever, with links, playlists and subjects detailed. Once I find a way to make it work, there will also be a fully searchable database of all entries, but that’s going to take a while!

/Julian Cope
/Reynard The Fox

Remarkably, my records tell me that I’ve never featured Julian Cope – that bastion of weird England, in so many ways – in the fifteen years of this series, so perhaps it is apt that he features first with one of his most “out-there” songs. Referencing part of an ancient literary cycle about a cunning fox – and his own disturbing, stomach-slashing incident onstage the year before – there is a clear nod to the ever-questionable British upper-class – and countryside – habit of fox hunting.

Foxes have long been opportunistic predators of a variety of animals in the English countryside, and fox hunting with hounds goes back as an organised event back to the sixteenth century and was finally outlawed in 2005, even if reports are that enforcement is lax. It remains a barbaric act, and continues to hark back to a past that should be left there.

Well worth reading, by the way – especially as looks at the history of the use of the land in Britain, especially in terms of the landed gentry and their control of it, which of course includes such hunts – is the recent book by Nick Hayes, The Book of Trespass: Crossing the Lines that Divide Us.

/Love on a Farmboy’s Wages

Continuing the move into more pastoral styles begun on the still-brilliant English Settlement – and freed from the regimen of touring for good – Mummer is still a lovely album, and certainly benefits from some fantastic singles. One of them – which only just scraped into the Top 50 in the UK, mystifyingly – was this song, a gentle acoustic piece that plays out like a folksong, which I’m sure was the point. Andy Partridge imagines himself as a country farm boy, dreaming of a better future where he can afford to marry, while in the meantime he continues the backbreaking manual work of a farmhand, a job perhaps not as common as it used to be in the United Kingdom of 2022.

/Show of Hands
/Country Life
/Country Life

Longstanding modern folk duo Show of Hands have more to say – and with rather more anger – on a similar subject to XTC. Here, they look at modern-day rural life without rose-tinted spectacles, and the picture painted is one of struggle. Poverty, injury and manual labour take their toll on physical condition and family, while city types sweep in and buy the pretty houses as second homes, pricing out the locals forever, and the demands for cheap food push farming to make ever more economies of scale, farmers being strictly business rather than custodians of the land.

Moving to a small town, we made a point of ensuring that we were going to be part of the local community. We will not be those that simply live here, but spend elsewhere. What others do, mind, I can’t control…

/Gazelle Twin
/Tea Rooms

Gazelle Twin’s extraordinary, furious album Pastoral has had a surprisingly long life, especially now parts of it have been reworked into the downright terrifying Deep England with the NYX drone choir along for the ride. And to think that we thought Pastoral was dark enough, but frankly that’s the daytime compared to the creepy dark night of Deep England.

Back to Pastoral we go, though, where Elizabeth Bernholz continued to peel back the idyllic vision of the English Countryside – in parallel with a move to a rural village from Brighton, where she quickly discovered an environment of distrust and dislike for the “other”, even if that were other white people from another city. That bitterness that pervaded the album like rotten fruit bubbles over here, as Bernholz questions her decision to move to the country, to a village she hates, filled with narrow-minded people she can’t stand either.

I’m still marvelling that our choice to move has been one, broadly, of positivity. We’ve had to adapt aspects of our life, sure, but they were changes worth making for a happier, more contented future.

/Bigod 20
/The Bog
/Steel Works!

One of those classic pieces of early-90s EBM – and appropriately, considering the recruitment of Jean-Luc De Meyer on guest vocals – that is easily mistaken for Front 242 by the uninitiated, seems an unusual choice of song in a piece about the countryside. Industrial music – and EBM – is so much an urban concern, for the most part, concerned with cities, futurist pursuits, and so on. So The Bog feels like an outlier. The thundering, powerful rhythm seems to drag the feet, as if sloshing through standing water and the mud, while the lyrics consider times spent in the meadows of a European country, with the wind singing in your ears and otherwise all is quiet. There are also allusions to hunting ducks in here, too, but as far as I can tell, the protagonist is watching someone else.

We were – in the poor weather the week after Christmas – squelching through a similar landscape down here, at RSPB Dungeness, peering through the murk to catch glimpses of the vast variety of birdlife that spends time in the area. While on a better day we might have seen more, it was still a thrill to see two Marsh Harriers and some Egrets…

/Mercury Rev feat. Hope Sandoval
/Big Boss Man
/Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete Revisited

Bobbie Gentry made her name with the still-striking Ode to Billie Joe, but not much beyond a decade after, she’d vanished from the public eye (and indeed has not made any public appearance, statement or anything since 1982 – and all power to her). The Delta Sweete was a commercial failure when released, but the influence of it has certainly filtered down through the years, and Mercury Rev taking it on, with a host of guest vocalists (all women, too) felt like a tip of a hat to an artist that without, their own critical and commercial hit, Deserter’s Songs, may never have happened.

This song – like the rest of the album, steeped in rural Mississippi that Gentry grew up in – was originally a hit for Jimmy Reed, and Gentry made some subtle changes that changed the feel of the song a little (not least, making it from a female point of view), and those are continued here, as Hope Sandoval gently seethes at the titular boss who keeps them working all hours without respite, the fate of too many going back centuries in Mississippi and the rest of the Deep South – most of the workers in the region being, of course, black slaves, until after the Civil War (not that much changed immediately).

/PJ Harvey
/The Glorious Land
/Let England Shake

Let England Shake was PJ Harvey’s second Mercury Prize triumph, and in the wake of a decade of war led by both the US and UK, felt like a timely comment on such unjust wars, even as it seemed initially that Harvey was looking at war through the prism of history. The Glorious Land changed that view somewhat, as it became uncomfortably clear that this song was bang up to date, as it gave a voice to the Afghans whose land had been tilled and crushed by tanks and artillery of yet more foreign invaders, rather than their own agricultural machinery to allow them to have a living.

/Current 93
/Falling Back in Fields of Rape
/Dogs Blood Rising

Wars – and particularly major battles – often occur in the countryside, in those large open spaces where enormous numbers of people and machinery can kill each other in vast, unfathomable numbers (and yes, I know urban warfare happens). The “Rape” here is Rapeseed, a colourful cash crop that is unmistakable thanks to the yellow colour of their flowers in the spring and summer, and those fields across Northern Europe have been the location of so many battles, such as the Western Front across France and into the Low Countries in both World War I and World War II, and in northern France, the récolte de fer is still part of the harvest, where unexploded ordnance, shrapnel and more still gets found over a century on. Some legacy.

/Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou
/The Valley
/May Our Chambers Be Full

The closing track to the eye-opening album that finally saw me understand the fuss about Emma Ruth Rundle among my friends (yes, I was late to the party again), in some ways this song, with hindsight, feels like the stepping stone to the stark, acoustic power of Rundle’s more recent album. Amid a gothic blues take on post-metal that feels like an imminent, humid storm for much of the song, Rundle stands amid a deep isolated valley she knows well, considering those that came before her, and what has been sacrificed for her to be there, before realising her own power of the self as the storm breaks in that wild valley.

/The Trees
/We Love Life

The final Pulp album, produced by none other than Scott Walker, was something of a pastoral, relaxed album – especially following the neurotic, nervous darkness of This Is Hardcore – and the sound of a band who had absolutely nothing else to prove. The Trees sees Jarvis wander off into the woods, thinking about the end of a relationship while the cycle of life in nature goes on regardless – perhaps Jarvis reminding us that our own existences are essentially a tiny, insignificant cog in the bigger scheme of things.

Hmm. Not quite the happier, more positive note I was planning on ending on, but hey ho!

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