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Extraordinary account of English music as secret door into the past,
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This review is from: Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music (Paperback)
This is a brilliant book which occasionally is overwhelmed by the plethora of material and the subtlety of the theme. Young writes wonderfully about music, capturing in a few words the essence of Nick Drake's guitar playing, and the archaic, communal quality of the Watersons' vocal sound. But Young's book is nothing if nor ambitious. He seeks to chart the culture of Albion, a vision of English traditional culture as a portal into a lost world - "a secret garden: the gate that swings open to reveal a time-locked pastoral haven". He writes about music as a portal into various versions of England's history. We encounter William Morris's hatred of industrial society, Cecil Sharp bowdlerising the songs he collected, Ewan MacColl's earnest, communist critics' group, the "getting it together in the country" of Traffic, Incredible String Band, Fairport Convention and Led Zeppelin. There are brilliant moments of cultural archaeology. I was thrilled by the way he analyses the cover photo of Fairport's Unhalfbricking, and explains the crucial role of Winston Churchill's grand-daughter in the creation of the Glastonbury Festival and its attendant mythology. Occasionally I was puzzled or bored. The opening chapter on Vashti Bunyan gives little hint of the riches to follow; the tracing of folk-rock's trajectory through Thatcher's Britain feels a little dogged. But the writing, the range of political and cultural references, Young's wonderful visual sensitivity to photos and films, add up to one of the most unusual and impressive books about English music yet published. This book does justice to how music is not simply rooted in society, it also re-invents it.