Sunday, February 1, 2015

C.O.B. - 1972 - Moyshe McStiff And The Tartan Lancers Of The Sacred Heart

Moyshe McStiff And The Tartan Lancers Of The Sacred Heart

01. Sheba's Return / Lion of Judah (4:30)
02. Let It Be You (3:51)
03. Solomon's Song (3:05)
04. Eleven Willows (2:26)
05. I Told Her (4:04)
06. Oh Bright Eyed One (3:42)
07. Chain of Love (4:26)
08. Pretty Kerry (4:33)
09. Martha and Mary (4:36)
10. Heart Dancer (2:52)

Bonus tracks:
11. Falconer's Glove (2:11)
12. Summer's Night (4:08)
13. Solomon's Song (Version 2) (4:18)
14. Child of the Season (2:56)
15. Sweet Spring (4:07)
16. Blue Morning (3:08)
17. Bones (3:11)

- Clive Palmer / clarinet, violin, banjo, balalaika, guitar, vocals
- John Bidwell / organ, guitar, dulcitar, whistle, vocals, balalaika
- Mick Bennett / vocals, percussion, whistle, gong
- Danny Thompson / bass (1, 7)
- Demelza Val Baker / drums, percussion, backing vocals (1, 4, 5, 10)
- Genny Val Baker / drums, percussion, backing vocals (1, 4, 5, 7, 10)

This second LP by C.O.B is among the most complex and challenging items ever produced by the British folk scene. Crude chants and delicate ballads stand side by side; religious brooding leads into pastoral hymn, then back again. But running through it a certain mood, or world-view, emerges, a unique experience which is not easy to describe.

I've spent years trying to uncover the layers that constitute "Moyshe McStiff", as the album title is commonly shortened. The closest I've come is the image of a late-medieval crusader-knight who at the end of his career has returned to England, where he contemplates upon the many years of travel, his Christian faith and the Church, as well as family life at his rural homestead, with faint echoes of a long-gone childhood. His mind moves freely along these axis of space and time.

The protagonist's complex nature is further indicated by his name, combining the uncommon but obviously anglo-saxon "McStiff" with the hebrew "Moyshe". The cross-cultural theme extends into the LP artwork with its scene of three knights slaying a dragon to rescue a fair lady; the prevalence of Judeo-Christian symbols such as crosses, a star of David and a grail, and the surrounding desert landscape, suggests that this is no mere Camelot fantasy image. The cover painting was commissioned by Polydor with no input from the band, yet in a case of fortunate synergy similar to that of CA Quintet, it both supports and expands the listener's interpretation of the music inside. The overall impression is that of layers of time atop each other, like cultural sediment, England in 1972 and the 14th Century; Jerusalem in the 14th Century but also in the days of the earliest Christians.

Opening with the earthy, dirge-like tones of a harmonium organ that dominate "Sheba's Return", the brief instrumental soon segues into the vocal "Lion Of Judah". Listed side by side on the back cover, these are apparently to be seen as one track in two parts. The title "Sheba's Return" is a reference to the time of King Solomon, whose name appears again later on the LP. Sheba was a queen from ancient Ethiopia whose visit brought Israel to heights of unseen glory, and her return to her own country began a deterioration of Solomon's reign and religious practice. The phrase "Lion Of Judah" may today be known mainly as a rastafari reference to Haile Selassie, but of course its original meaning was the Messiah. The words occur in the prophecies of Isaiah, but there is no explicit link in either direction to King Solomon or the Book Of Kings. A speculative connection is the son given birth to by Sheba, who appears as both a descendant of the line of Judah, from which the Messiah will come, and as the first king of the pre-Islamic Ethiopian dynasty, which still today traces its roots to the Solomonic kings.

While the intersection of Jewish, Christian and Islamic elements in this story is interesting, it is probably not the main point of C.O.B:s opening song. Rather, the lyrics of "Lion Of Judah" focus upon the resurrection of the Church and the coming of Christ in a time of profane decadence, artfully compressed into the image of a "golden chain"

1 comment: