It’s been said before but it bears repeating that Trevor Midgley is a sociopolitical satirist cut from the same cloth and of the same mettle as Jonathan Swift and Jake Thakray and Al Killem’s Final Show, his thirteenth album for Cherry Red and the second born during the pandemic, is arguably his most pointed and caustic yet, fourteen songs skewering his targets and leaving them to wriggle on the hook and crisp on the spit.
As anyone familiar with his work will know, he doesn’t go in for complex arrangements or embellishments, the songs just an acoustic 12 string guitar and his distinctive semi-spoken vocals, kicking off here with ‘Here We Go Again!’, a wry commentary on nonconformity and fitting in that basically reworks Groucho’s Marx’s observation about not wanting to belong to any club who’d have him as a member, in this case the Society Of Hermits and the Anarchists’ Club. The title track follows, an amusing account of a show business legend, the titular (fictional) West Yorkshire ventriloquist and his dummy Willie Eckerslyke and, after 40 years, his swansong at the Ace Of Spades (an actual London cabaret club where music hall star Wee Georgie Wood once performed) where he literally dies on stage, of the subsequent funeral and, borrowing from horror tropes, the priest being possessed by the dummy to deliver a eulogy as “blue as blue could be”.
Described as a tale of triumph over adversity, and surely inspired by struggling through the pandemic, ‘Bells Beyond The Stars’ is cast as a battle between optimism and pessimism (“The voice inside my head is on its mission to confuse: ‘An optimist is somebody who hasn’t heard the news!’/I don’t know where he gets that from; it surely isn’t me! I only see the sunny side, you have my guarantee”).
A song about being open to new ideas, the jaunty ‘Socrates’ is deftly summed up in its refrain “It’s a wise man that’s knowing how little he knows” and how “certainty’s such a disquieting thing” that opens out to take a swipe at how we vote for those politicians who claim to have all the answers whereas “‘Beliefs’ we all know bring about crucifixions/When ‘leanings’ leave room for a deal, as it were”. It pays to remember the philosopher was condemned to drink hemlock.
‘The Euphemism Song’ is just that as he amusingly runs through a series of examples of how we British prefer not to call a spade a spade, especially in matters concerning the nether regions when Percy can’t perform and “the old man is not the chap he used to be”.
From flippancy he turns to more serious concerns with ‘Nothing Worse’, which, set to the tune of ‘For Those In Peril On The Sea’ by 19th century hymn writer John Bacchus Dyke, balances superficial niggles like being kept on hold for half an hour while some voice tells you how valuable your custom is or slack clichéd journalism with more weighty issues like genocide, the song being inspired by the Chinese government’s actions against the Uyghur people.
Specifically related to the pandemic, told against a stark guitar backing, ‘Don Giuseppe Berardelli’ relates the true hero story of the Italian cleric of the title from the Lombardy town of Casnigo who, aged 72, died, in early 2020 as a result of the virus, declining a ventilator in favour of a younger fellow patient, but, with the hospital in Lovere overwhelmed it remains uncertain whether it was on March 15 or 16 or whether the man he sacrificed himself for lived.
Hinting at Ralph McTell, ‘A To B’ is another lighthearted number, this one about those recurring dreams we all have where you need to get somewhere but don’t know how or why, though it’s not difficult to also read it as a commentary on life in general, then it’s back to storytelling for the cautionary tale of ‘Hildegard Of Bingo’, which has the feel of an old musical hall monologue filtered through The Fast and the Furious wherein, “six-foot high with a green glass eye” and “like a cross between Stirling Moss and the ghost of Marie Lloyd”, our titular heroine is challenged to repeat how, screaming to a halt in her sports machine, she left the Mayor decapitated by a piece of shale, everyone taking bets on whether she can do the same to the Mayoress.
Of course, you can’t take a poke at others if you can’t take a poke at yourself, hence the whimsically bouncy ‘The Proper Folk Tradition’ which, of course entails proving your worth as a real folk singer by having your guitar out of tune, sticking your finger in the ear, playing interminable banjo solos and droning out a flat rendition of John Barleycorn in the pursuit of “boring people rigid in the proper folk tradition”. So, that’s the traditional folk club bookings scuppered then.
Heading to the end, ‘The Tiger’s Tale’ is a waltzing “Chaucerian saga of wokery and ruthless opportunism” inspired by Harry and Megan’s sympathy (and cash) seeking tell all button pressing on Oprah Winfrey, ‘Deadly Nightshade’ explores the different Orwellian shades of truth (“truth as mere interpretations/Lies are what our opponent tells”), reminding that “time was when coherent thinking/Steadfastly would cut across” but “now it tiptoes; downcast, dismayed”, giving way to the cancel culture-themed ‘Immaculate Deception’ and those who “ try to suppress everything that is contrary” to their opinions because “their “expertise can be shown with ease; it’s laid out for all to see/From end of life, through cultural strife, to epidermilogy”.
He ends, quoting Bob Monkhouse that if you can fake sincerity you’ve got it made, with ‘I’m Sorry!’, a tongue in cheek apology for their supposed ‘indiscretions’ by those targeted by the wokerati lynch mob (“I must share that I’ve been made aware/How my hurtful, incendiary tweet/Was offensive to masochists everywhere”), submitting themselves to opinion rehab to so they can join “the self-righteous inane”, ending with a punch line you’ll just have to discover for yourself.
In an age where the baying mob is socially burning anyone who they deem the slightest non-pc in their eyes at the metaphorical stake, he’s exactly the voice we need to hear right now, like the way medieval fools would often use a puppet to speak their truths, whatever may be on the cover Midgley is no dummy.
Artist’s website: www.trevormidgley.com
‘Don Giuseppe Berardelli’ – official video: