Roots – Show of Hands – follow-up to previous post – with video

Here is the song I deconstructed in my last post. And just read the growing number of pretty nasty racist/nationalist comments current on disply underneath the video and tell me I was wrong in my analysis.

(My own fairly mild comment, to the effect that being born English is not, of itself, an achievement to be proud of, has disappeared under an avalanche of disapproving ‘thumbs down’ reactions. lol!)


‘Roots’ by Show of Hands. Of course the BNP love it..

Hello again..

Steve Knightley, one half of retro-folk duo, Show of Hands, recently had to resort to legal action to prevent his song ‘Roots’ from being used as a running soundtrack on the British National Party’s website.  I am only surprised that Mr Knightley should himself be surprised that the BNP believed the lyric – a hokey paean to supposedly lost English cultural identity – somehow represented their own views, since it exemplifies the kind of grievance, the sentimentality, the nationalism, self-pity and imaginary persecution that have been articulated by fascists through history, from the Third Reich to apartheid South Africa.

However, Emma Hartley (a regular ‘Polly Filler’ for the right-wing Telegraph) blogged on the controversy thus:

‘It’s a terrific song, political to its core, about loss of identity, insidious American cultural imperialism, liberal embarrassment about Englishness and the resulting loss of musical (and other) traditions. Earlier this week there was a reminder in the news pages, if it were needed, that these concerns will not soon be banished. As with all art, though, what you take from it is a personal matter. ‘

I will come to the song’s terrific-ness presently.  But first, if Roots ‘is political to it’s core’ then how can ‘what you take from it’ be ‘a personal matter’?  I suppose that just might be the case where a polemical sentiment is vaguely expressed, and in generalised abstractions (Think: Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’ whose blood-stirring appeal has, in its time, seen it claimed both by socialists and flag-waving nationalists. )  But there seems to me little in the way of ambiguity in the Roots lyric: it bemoans the passing  of a certain, romanticised brand of English cultural identity – implictly caused by an influx of malign foreign influences.  While not racist in intent, the song’s appeal to racists is predictable; prevented by ‘incitement’ legislation from campaigning against non-Aryan minorities, the BNP nowadays resort to doing it by proxy: attacking, instead, ethnically non-‘British’ culture, religion, values etc.

And there is, perhaps, a dangerously fine line between cultural and racial purism.  

Either way, the song’s lyric is, for me, the most ridiculous pile of twaddle yet to emerge from that ‘Anglo-archaic-sentimentalist’ school of folk writing (whose practitioners, mysteriously,  have no problem with performing on non-English, non-traditional and electric instruments).  I will concede, however, the Roots does have a strong tune and powerful singalong chorus that gets afficionados wetting themselves with delight at folk festivals.  But the lyrics? – oh dear…


Now it’s been 25 years or more
I’ve roamed this land from shore to shore
From Tyne to Tamar, Severn to Thames
From moor to vale, from peak to fen

[I think Knightley is merely saying here that he has toured the country as a working musican – but lovers of Anglo-archaic-sentimentalism demand something a little more affected. Thus, we get:  ‘From peak to fen’, my arse…]

Played in cafes, pubs and bars
I’ve stood in the street with my old guitar
But I’d be richer than all the rest
If I had a pound for each request

For ‘Duelling Banjos’, ‘American Pie’
It’s enough to make you cry
‘Rule Britannia’, or ‘Swing low…’
Are they the only songs we English know?

[Most English people actually know and even sing hundreds of true folk songs: nursery rhymes, Christmas carols, rugby songs, football chants, cockney music hall ditties etc…  songs genuinely handed on through oral tradition – but not the kind of long-forgotten museum pieces and obscurities that career-oriented folkies flog on CDs from websites.  Not that there is anything wrong with their traditional output, per se ; rather, it is Knightley’s wingeing that the ‘English’ (whoever they may be) ought to adhere to their own cultural roots in preference to foreign, imported material that is so bloody tiresome]

Seed, bud, flower, fruit
They’re never gonna grow without their roots
Branch, stem, shoot
They need roots

[What the hell is  the above  slice of banal fifth-form-poetry attempting to say, here?]

After the speeches, when the cake’s been cut
The disco’s over and the bar is shut
At christening, birthday, wedding or wake
What can we sing ’til the morning breaks

[How about ‘Knees up Mother Brown’ or ‘There were four and twenty virgins came down from Inverness..’?]

When the Indians, Asians, Afro-Celts
It’s in their blood, below their belt
They’re playing and dancing all night long
So what have they got right that we’ve got wrong?

 [Does the ‘we’ here, include British Indians and Asians?  If not, who does Knightley refer to by ‘we’ – Anglo-Saxons?  And the reference to ‘Afro-Celts’ is plain baffling, since the expression can only refer to this gang:, a talented and interesting, experimental world-music collective.  Perhaps what the Afro-Celts ‘got right that we’ve got wrong’, is, in fact, a broad-minded eclecticism that – get this many treacherous Anglo music fans seem to be quite keen on. 

And, hmm, given the subsequent BNP saga, that ‘in their blood’ line was perhaps ill-conceived?]

Seed, bud, flower, fruit
They’re never gonna grow without their roots

[Oh, stop it…!]

Branch, stem, shoot
They need roots and

[Now here comes the BIG CHORUS.  More hokey Anglo-romanticism with an ill-fitting and preposterous, seafaring flavour:]

Haul away boys, let them go
Out in the wind and the rain and snow
We’ve lost more than we’ll ever know
‘Round the rocky shores of England
We need roots

[The only things I can think of that have been lost ’round the rocky shores of England’ are wrecking-gangs, lighthouses, cod stocks, bathing machines and fishing fleets.  But if the lyric is veridical, I guess we’ll never know what else has gone, unless Mr Knightley cares to tell us.  Or perhaps, as claimed, he won’t ever know either.]

 And a minister said his vision of hell
Is three folk singers in a pub near Wells

[This is a reference to Kim Howells, MP, who in 2001 said his ‘idea of hell was three folk singers in a pub in Somerset’.  Fair enough –  not everyone likes folk music. So what?]

Well, I’ve got a vision of urban sprawl
There’s pubs where no-one ever sings at all

[Oh get over it, you great bleating pranny!  Anyway, the singing of traditional songs in pubs, has, in my lifetime, always been much more of an Irish than English phenomenon.  The English just sing on the way home.  But if anything, there are more opportunities nowadays than at one time, with dozens of alehouses up here on Merseyside – urban sprawl notwithstanding – that run ‘open mic’ nights where all-comers are welcome to get up and perform anything they like, from Duelling Banjos to Afro-Celtic fusion to embarrassing Show of Hands songs…]

And everyone stares at a great big screen
Overpaid soccer stars, prancing teens
Australian soap, American rap
Estuary English, baseball caps

[‘Estuary English’, indeed? – Disgusting!  As Basil Fawlty might say.]

And we learn to be ashamed before we walk
Of the way we look, and the way we talk
Without our stories or our songs

[Speak for yourself, Steve, and less of that ‘we’ please.]

How will we know where we come from?

[History lessons?]

I’ve lost St. George in the Union Jack
It’s my flag too and I want it back

[Presumably a figurative way of saying that ‘true’ Englishness has been somehow subsumed by a greater, more cosmopolitan Britishness, or something.  Who actually stole the flag and why is not reported, but no wonder the BNP are keen: they want to claim it ‘back’, too.]

Seed, bud, flower, fruit
Never gonna grow without their roots
Branch, stem, shoot
We need roots

[Yes, yes, the roots..]

Haul away boys, let them go
Out in the wind and the rain and snow
We’ve lost more than we’ll ever know
‘Round the rocky shores of England
We need roots…


Mike Harding played this  foolishness for the umpteenth time on last week’s Radio 2 ‘Folk, Roots and Accoustic’ show – this time a live, festival recording with the crowd roaring along to the anthemic chorus like nuns on shore leave.  An effect that was vaguely reminiscent of that scene in the park in Cabaret, when the young sweet-voiced, swastika’d youth sings ‘Tomorrow belongs to me’ and in minutes the whole thing erupts into a spontaneous Nurnberg rally. 

Yes, I know, an over-the-top comparision, and of course all those typically mild-mannered, woolly-bearded folkies aren’t fascists – but a dumb lyric is still a dumb lyric.

Richard Lewontin review…

This guy is such a good writer..

Dermot O’Leary

I understand Dermot O’Leary is some kind of TV personality, but I wouldn’t know, since I don’t watch television.  But he does some DJ-ing on Radio 2, Saturday PM, and boy does he irritate.  On the face of it, he ought to be better than the others because he obviously likes and cares about decent music.  BUT, how do I put it..?

He has this overbearing and tooth-curling presence.  Like someone you think will be good to go to the pub with, but insists on sitting next to you and grinning whilst leaning over and talking intimately right into your ear, gushing and effusive…   As if Bob Harris weren’t bad enough.

By all ye Gods, I miss Peelie.

Fitzroy’s Crap Theories back online with new articles

I have relaunched Crap Theories with half-a-dozen new articles to entertain or bore  the faithful. 

One essay has been removed (that on ‘ECT’) due to objections from a knowledgeable reader to the effect that I was misrepresenting electro-convulsive therapy as it is practiced today.  Apparently the treatment is altogether more humane than you’ll find in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and can indeed have therapeutic benefits.  I still think the practice looks like thumping the telly to try and get the picture back, but will happily concede that I have limited knowledge of the matter, so will write no more about it, at least until better informed…

Basically, it comes down to this…

…anyone who declines to bow down to the Wolf and pay tribute may find themselves excised from my christmas card list.

A curious fandango fact…

A few years back, Radio 2 conducted one of those listener polls to find the 100 best ever pop singles.  The overall winner was Procol Harum’s Whiter Shade of Pale, with Bohemian Rhapsody close behind.  No big surprises there, but here’s a couple of interesting links between the two.  First, both have unfathomable (and probably nonsense) lyrics; this in itself is unusual in any hit record.  More remarkable is the fact that both include the word ‘fandango’. 

The immortal words of Reid/Brooker: ‘We skipped a light fandango…’
Those of Mr Mercury et al: ‘Mama Mia, will you do the the fandango…?’

So there you have it.  Or not quite – for there is more intriguing evidence:

Roxy Music’s opening track of their no. 1 album, ‘For Your Pleasure’, entitled ‘Do the Strand’, and similarly eliptic,  includes the lyric: ‘Fed up with fandango…?’

In fact I have never heard a ‘fandango’ song that made sense or failed to top a music chart.