Album: Chumbawamba

English Rebel Songs 1381-1984, Mutt
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The Independent Culture

Chumbawamba set out to remind us, with English Rebel Songs 1381-1984, that British history is actually a far more rebellious, uppity affair than is suggested by the monarchist tales with which schools promote the notion of a docile, acquiescent Albion. The album does exactly what it says on the tin, anthologising folk ballads celebrating rebellions such as the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 ("The Cutty Wren"), the Diggers movement of 1649 ("Diggers Song"), and the Luddite uprisings of 1812 ("The Triumph of General Ludd"), all delivered in rousing a cappella harmonies, some augmented by sparing guitar or percussive accompaniment. The standard of singing is excellent throughout. Worryingly, the most recent songdates from the 1984 miners' strike, suggesting a dearth of folk-protest anthems since then. That may reflect a change in the notion of "folk" music, with its function increasingly assumed by the more populist medium of pop music - except that the political conscience that was once such an intrinsic part of pop culture grows dimmer day by day. Or maybe it's a case of diminishing returns - one can imagine a folk-song treatment of the poll tax riots repeating the same story: protesters quelled by brutal state functionaries, but winning the moral battle. Which sometimes just isn't uplifting enough.