What a room! It was my first time there and I have to say that the Albert Hall is worth a visit in its own right. Show of Hands put on a good evening's entertainment too, together with an assortment of guests (including Tom Robinson of TRB fame - an unexpected reminder of student days).
I went to see the concert entirely on the strength of Show of Hands' YouTube hit, "Roots" and their latest album, "Witness," but I enjoyed most of their other stuff too. Phil Beer is a great musician and Steve Knightley is a gently charismatic performer. The unofficial third member of the group, Miranda Sykes, is hugely talented. Her solo rendition of "Perfect" was an unexpected highlight. However, the evening left me with mixed feelings.
I have a weakness for folk music but am often repelled by the English variety. At its worst it tends to nostalgia, whingeing and naive soft-Leftishness. I love "Roots" in part because it is an assertive, if not actually an aggressive, song, It's not the usual maudlin lament for poorer, nobler times.
Reading through the posts on various folk websites, I can see the song provokes strong feelings. Many folk fundamentalists cannot mention it without dark and unjustified references to the BNP. These are people who can only love an England that was never there. The unhealthy confusion of patriotism with xenophobia is one of the main things wrong with modern England. She can never prosper until her people can love her again, without shame.
I had briefly hoped "Roots" was a sign that might be about to happen. Certainly, when Steve Knightley sings
I've lost St George in the Union Jack; it's my flag too and I want it back
there is a real frisson. The song almost has the potential to be a revolutionary anthem against the Scottish Raj. One could imagine Gordon Brown being lynched from a Westminster lampost while an English crowd sang
Haul away boys, let them go
Out in the wind and the rain and snow
We've lost more than we'll ever know
Round the rocky shores of England
Any revolutionary fantasies were soon quelled, however, by the sight of the crowd. The SOH fan-base is made up of all the Guardian-reading aunts you have ever known. It's a family entirely composed of be-fleeced or be-cardiganned mumsy teachers. And that's just the men. Our relief when the house lights went down turned to amusement as acres of steel-grey hair shimmered gently in the footlights. And then, dear God, they started to move to the music. The song that brought us there poses a question;
The Indians, Asians, Afro-Celts
It's in their blood, below their belt
They're playing and dancing all night long
So what have they got right that we've got wrong?
The answer seems to be that they have rhythm, while we twitch in an embarrassing manner.
Mrs P and I felt like intruders. We had sat down, uninvited, in an enormous staff room during an NUT strike meeting. We had a childish urge to shout obscenities, not least because these kindly, boring people were lamenting the loss of the country they had themselves destroyed. Is that harsh? Perhaps. But I would bet good money that a majority of those swaying spastically in the Albert Hall last night vote Labour. They were not girding their loins to retake England for free-minded yeomen, alas. I suspect their nostalgia is more for 1946, when the dreams of Labourism had yet to be shattered.
As we set off into the night to find a taxi, they boarded their buses back to the provinces, or picked up their Audis from the car parks. They were not comfortable in London. We know how that feels. We remember being just such awkward provincials once.We are glad we aren't any more.
They couldn't wait to get back to their England. The quest for ours continues.