British songwriter and musician Adrian Renton decided it was time to confront the outrages of our time by resurrecting a classic form – folk protest music. Inspired by a 1960s album, “Moving On,” by Scottish musician Nigel Denver, Renton pulled together some friends from Essex, Berkshire and London to re-record some very old English songs. They also wrote some new songs in the same spirit of protest.
The result is the recent album Albion’s Darkness, a moving history lesson and contemporary political commentary wrapped in some haunting music. The album draws a straight line from the peasants’ revolt in Essex in 1381 to contemporary struggles against neoliberal capitalism and Boris Johnson. The dynamics of enclosure are brutally similar then and now, even if the means used today – international trade law, intellectual property law -- are sometimes different.
One song, “Goblins,” is particularly timely even though it was inspired by a Piers Plowman song, “a complex and satirical allegory written by William Langland around 1370, which denounces the greed, falsehood and hypocrisy of the Church and State in England, and also gives the first recorded mention of Robin Hood.” In the new lyrics, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and several Cabinet members are ridiculed as “this troupe of clowns, dressed in friars and wise men gowns / Lying to people to profit to themselves and to keep…/ The Bumpkins down.”