Sunday, March 24, 2024

Bird in the Belly: After the City

The opening of Richard Jefferies's After London is a remarkable piece of writing. In an early essay in science fiction - the book was published in 1885 - Jefferies describes how nature takes over when man stops tending the fields after some unnamed natural catastrophe.

We then see what human life has become after this change, and it's no rural idyll. Jefferies hero then goes on a journey and finds the remains of London covered by stagnant waters - it's as though Cobbett's 'Great Wen' has burst.

These later episodes fail to keep up the standard of the book's opening, but they still make you think of Conrad, Ballard and Tarkovsky's Stalker.

As I blogged a couple of years ago, After London has inspired a modern folk album. I quoted Folk Radio:

Brighton-based folk group Bird In The Belly (singer Ben ‘Jinnwoo’ Webb, Laura Ward on flute and vocals, guitarist and percussionist Adam Ronchetti and multi-instrumentalist Tom Pryor) have created a concept album that provides a kind of musical prequel or backstory to the novel, a creation myth for a future world, combining new lyrics with old ballads and poems as well as songs based on passages from the novel.

This is the title track of that album, After the City. It takes its lyrics from Jefferies opening of After London.

When the album came out, the Guardian asked, "In a culture steeped in dystopias, do we need another?" and concluded "Apparently so. An album of well-realised ambition."

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