Saturday, 20 February 2010


We never went away
You always knew that we were here
Remember how to look for us
You'll see we were always here.

What I call the canon of the "new traditional" song includes some very haunting songs by our greatest English (song)writers.  I would include songs on Richard Thompson's first two albums, Mike and Lal Waterson's "Bright Phoebus", the early work of Steve Ashley and the "fake traddie" songs of Bill Caddick amongst that analysis. Unicorns is, arguably, Caddick's greatest - and he's written his fair share of wonderful songs.

I first heard it many moons ago on an album by Chris Foster - an excellent and long-forgotten English folk singer.  June Tabor recorded  almost the definitive version with Martin Simpson on A Cut Above.  It's a mournful song - I can't imagine an upbeat cajun version (although Michael Doucet and Beausoleil might be working on a version as we speak) - but uplifting too.  Foster's version was just him and his acoustic guitar.  June Tabor's version was stark but underpinned by Simpson's lush guitar arrangement with various synths and violins (never detracting from the song).

Bill Caddick - a gentleman if ever I've met one - re-recorded many of his songs a few years back.  Obviously Unicorns was one of them.  If you're not familiar with Caddick's ouevre then please avail yourself as soon as possible.  With just an acoustic guitar, Caddick sings this rather mystical song in a straightforward, unpretentious way.

The song was written because Bill had a dream whilst travelling the land with Magic Lantern.  They were a puppet and folk song-based Musical Theatre in the seventies.  Obliquely, this period of his life is covered in The Wild West Show - a much later song.  However, during a long journey, Bill fell asleep and dreamt of unicorns.  The song may cover some very deep and meaningful moments in his life, but here Bill uses the song to suggest that those creatures that have disappeared from our modern lives have never gone away.  The past never goes away.  We may forget - some of us may never be aware of it.  But it's there still.

If you ever watched the TV version of Merlin from about 10 - 12 years ago, you may remember Nimue saying that the old gods only disappeared because people merely forgot about them.  They are still there.  Such is the case with the unicorn.  Within our culture, we still mention them - witness Blade Runner, for instance.  I was also reminded of a great cartoon from Private Eye about their alleged sexuality.  I'm no expert on unicorns but it still amuses me.

Anyway, there are many hidden things in our modern world.  Just walk around a few woods and keep an eye out whilst walking in hills and on mountains.  Take care around water, too.  Have you ever been to Dozymere Pool?   I rest my case.

And I wept for the wild and dirty world
To which this beauty now was lost
And cursed the hungry mind of men
That feeds the future at such cost

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