Not for nothing has the unusual and beautiful folk collaboration Nightsong picked the winter solstice to release their debut album, The Peasants’ Revolt. It is a time for snuggling together and sharing stories as a buffer against the aggressive environment. And they’ve pulled on the evocative medieval memories of poll tax collectors, land clearances, witch trials, and hard winters. We’re sure there’s hope in there somewhere, and they’ve definitely captured some midwinter magic.
Nightsong magic is created through the form of producer/musician Ali Karim Esmaiil, historian/songwriter folk musician John Reed (The Folded Arms) and songwriter/musician Jo Beth Young (Talitha Rise).
Resonate with our times
2020 brought them together and they have been creating Nightsong distantly during lockdown. The trio have worked diligently in both the UK and Ireland on 10 tracks of folk tales and 6 interludes that resonate with our times.
Life in 2020
Nightsong’s debut album blends urban, folk, electro and progressive music, lifting the lid on the ordinary lives of English (and sometimes Scottish) medieval peasantry, highlighting curious and resonant parallels with life in 2020.
Collaborator Johnn Reed said: “Medieval life is often portrayed through its pageantry and costume, its battles and political machinations, its intrigue and its danger.
“Yet most people (between 80% or 90%) lived off the land. Winters were long and hard, cold and hungry. In the summer months, they would wake at first light and work until the light faded. Peasants were mainly tied to the service of a local lord: the church, a baron, and through them to the king.”
The songs of The Peasants’ Revolt show that the lot of peasants varied across the country: The King’s Feast provides a commentary on forest crafts of middle England and subservience to both Lord and King; Offoldfal on the comparatively wealthy fenland communities; The Spell on the witch trials of the Scottish borders.
Fabric of medieval society
The songs give an insight into the fabric of medieval society: the collapse of Roman infrastructure is referenced in The Bridge, a fictitious story of revenge against thieves; St Mary Magdalene is about the terror of leprosy; Wharram describes the North Yorkshire village of Wharram Percy deserted due to enclosure of the area for sheep farming; the challenges of working in the dark are considered in Rushlight; then The Shroud and Bury Me Deep allude to how they lived and died.
And then there is the opening track Pauper’s Son, where this wonderful journey began: a story taken from a print depicting an attack on the house of his medieval tax collecting namesake that had been on John’s office wall for 26 years.
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