sun 19/05/2024

Album: Reg Meuross - Stolen from God | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Reg Meuross - Stolen from God

Album: Reg Meuross - Stolen from God

Tales of slavery from the history man of folk music

The truth will set us free

Anyone who’s heard even a smidgin of Reg Meuross’s music will know what a wonderful writer he is, homing in on often painful aspects of our shared history and retelling it in powerful and poignant songs that make any half-sentient listener want to explore further – both the history and his music.

The weekend before lockdown, Meuross played a concert at Green Note in Camden Town, sharing the small stage with David Massengill, another extraordinary writer. Among the songs he sang that day – to a packed audience that had not yet heard of social distancing – was “The Boundary Stone,” a song about Eyam, the Derbyshire village that selflessly locked down during the great plague of 1665. It was an extraordinary moment.

In the four decades since the Stockton-on-Tees-born Meuross made his recording debut with The Panic Brothers before going solo in 1996 with The Goodbye Hat, he’s tackled a range of subjects, from the Great War to the 7 July bombings, from Dick Turpin to Emily Dickinson, Titanic bandleader Wallace Hartley to Ann Lee, founder of the Shakers, not to mention William Morris and Victor Jara.

Now living in the West Country, his latest album deals with the painful subject that is a formative part of so many port cities: slavery. Stolen from God is a song cycle, a form with which he previously worked in 2018 when he told the story of the Hull trawler tragedy in Silk Handkerchiefs. ”I realised how little I knew about Black History in Britain; how little I’d been taught growing up; how little I knew of Empire and how it was made,” Meuross has explained, “how little I knew of the grand mansions and sprawling estates and the enormous handed-down wealth, and the great men and women of history who symbolised greatness and colonial and racial superiority and to a large extent how their greatness was achieved, and at what cost to others.”

The power of the songs, and the tragedy of which they tell, are in direct contrast to their gentle-sounding delivery, Meuross’s uninflected vocals accompanied by his skilful finger-picking and occasional organ and harmonica, with Jali Fily Cissokho on kora, a 21-string West African instrument, plus bassist Tom Jobling, Roy Does on percussion, and Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne on concertina.

Cissokho, born in Senegal, is no stranger to British festival audiences and he has scored music for films and television, including David Attenborough’s documentary Elephants. His vocals add a great deal to “I Bought Myself an African”, a plaintive call across the plains interpolated into Meuross’s versifying and undulating guitar, which veers between major and minor, while the inhuman statement that gives the song its title hangs in the air.

From the opening track, “The Jesus of Lubeck”, which tells the story of John Hawkins, a Tavistock naval commander determined to corner a lucrative slice of the slave trade which, in the 1560s was dominated by the Portuguese, to “Stranger in a Strange Land”, the closing track in which Pierre Courpon, a black servant marries a local Devon girl the year following Abolition, Stolen from God takes the listener on a remarkable journey.

They waystations include “Good Morning, Mr Colston” and the hymnic title track (a beautiful string arrangement an addition here) which tell the story of Edward Colston, the Tory MP thought to have transported some 80,000 slaves in the most inhumane conditions and who defended Bristolians’ right to own them. The city was, of course, built on his wealth – and in the summer of 2020 Black Lives Matter activists protesting in the wake of George Floyd’s brutal murder toppled his statue and rolled it into the river. Colston Hall, the celebrated concert venue, was among those subsequently renamed. “When will your soul be saved?” asks the slave of the God-fearing, Bible-reading Mr Colston. John Newton at least repented.

“Bridgwater”, which takes its cue from the “There’s a Man Going Round Taking Names”, sung by the great Paul Robeson among others, is a rhythmic and upbeat telling of the Somerset town whose mayor, in 1785, was the first to petition against slavery. He didn’t succeed but two years later William Wilberforce took on the Abolitionist cause. As I recall, we were taught about him at school but in something of a vacuum.

Folk music has always chronicled the great stories of history, the tragedies and the triumphs, in ways that are immediately accessible and approachable, and which should send any half-engaged listener off to explore further. Stolen from God is a beautiful, powerful and important album which deserves the widest possible audience – including schoolchildren and students.

It's a beautiful, powerful and important album which deserves the widest possible audience


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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