Back in the day, when he was signed to John Peel’s Dandelion label, Trevor Midgley was very much part of the 60s protest folk troubadour tradition, following in the footsteps of such names as Paxton, Ochs and Dylan. The past decades have, however, seen him take on more the role of of the political and social satirist, his work arguably more in the tradition of Jonathan Swift, offering pithy and incisive commentaries on topical issues. Indeed, in another world, he would have been a regular contributor to programmes such as The Frost Report.
Continuing his recent prolific rate of recording, he follows up last year’s Damascus Road with another collection of tunes for the times. I’m sure he’d not disagree when I say his melodies, strummed out on acoustic guitar, tend to follow very similar paths, with just a variation in the chords or the place here and there. But all the better to focus on the words. Here, as ever, there’s a range of deserving causes for his acerbic wit, opening with the title track’s take on PR spin, a celebration, if one can use such a term, of the way such consultancies are practised in the art of making shit smell like lavender, corporate and political shit in particular. As the lyrics say, “We all can promote, if we’re getting it right/The Devil himself in a favourable light”. And full marks for reviving the little used term of scroat referring to someone of despicable character.
Set to a whirligig shanty melody, a la Tom Lehrer, ‘The Ship’ slyly documents the progress of the Brexit negotiations before, inspired by the unearthing of WWI casualties (also the subject of Owen Shears’ poem Mametz Wood), he turns his attention to ‘Sergeant Warnock’, a sort of archetype British soldier’s pilgrim’s progress in the form of Cyrus Warnock, “a typical hard-nosed Dorset lad and a bastard through and through” who joins the Third Hussars and goes off first to India to fight for the Empire, then to take on the Boers and finally the Great War where he meets his end. Cut to a 100 years later and his skeleton and cigarette case is found by a couple of French detectorists and his body finally returned home.
On a similar wartime note, ‘Edna & Jack’, a storysong about a doomed romance between a young woman and one of the RAF’s Brycreem Boys, who goes off to fight in the French Resistance when he’s killed, was inspired by Odette Sansom, Sonya Butt and Francine Agazarian who joined the SOE (Special Operaions Executive) in WWII , the songs reflecting on events from Edna’s 100th birthday.
Wandering through, ‘Letters Of Life’ takes its cue from the aphorism “The road of life is paved with flat squirrels who couldn’t make a decision” , a saying first posted on the Democratic Underground blog on November 25, 2003, to pen a song about anonymous bloggers, Twitterati and their ilk, the “Banksy of verse”, in the form of an imaginary paperback titled Letters Of Life dispensing such advice as “if things don’t work out the way you expect you can always tilt the machine”.
By way of musical and lyrical departure, the puns littered ‘Luis ‘El Chapo’ Chihuahua’ is a flamenco (ahem) barkerolle drugs fable about a criminal canine trafficking chews to innocent puppies across County Lines while, drawing on Spanish guitar colours, Asking For A Friend skewers those lesser celebrities who make a point of eulogising those more famous than they for a shot at reflected glory.
Inspired, I suspect, by the Monty Python ‘Philosophers’ Song’, ‘Philosopher’s Retreat’ tells of a pub where Wittgenstein’s is the ale of the week and a brawl provoked by “controversial thoughts on Bertrand Russell”, making reference to his line “I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong”.
Back to real events and people, ‘A Tale Of Apollo 11’ is what it says on the capsule, the circling melody line couching a lyric based on how NASA selected the teams for their moon missions to ensure the crew gelled, the impetus being that the Apollo 11 crews had little in common other than their work and the fact that Neil Armstrong was given the option of ditching Buzz Aldrin in favour of James Lovell.
Heading into the final foray, ‘Where Is The Justice In That?’ offers up the cry of the flawed famous who get indignant when their peccadilloes are exposed (“made and betrayed by the Twitter brigade”), ‘Bettermorphosis’ is an amusing sketch of a McGonnagallesque poet going from bard to verse, ‘Hard, Hard Road (A Backbencher’s Lament)’ is a lament from failed politician who, you know, in his view, really,deserved to make it to cabinet level while the frisky, musically playful boogie ‘Sex, Drugs & Ballroom Dancing’ is about making crime pay, by becoming a lawyer and surely serves as a thematic companion piece to the title track.
It ends with, first, another political jibe in ‘Kicking The Can’ regarding the strategy of essentially avoiding the question, obfuscating and passing the buck (“a promise is never an oath of allegiance/But simply a nod and wink/’Course, that’s not what anyone seeing or hearing/Is ever encouraged to think”), and, finally the modesty’s my greatest virtue-themed ‘Burnishing My Credentials’ and how it’s really just not very English. He’d never say it himself, but this is absolute genius.
Artist’s website: www.trevormidgley.com
‘Sex, Drugs & Ballroom Dancing’ – official video: