It has been a while since we last heard from Tony Wakeford and Sol Invictus. Indeed an announcement came that the prolific singer songwriter who has been steering this band through an ever-intriguing path since 1987 and practically inventing the neo-folk or folk-noir genre was going into hibernation at the end of last year. Back he is though with an album dedicated to a subject close to many hearts especially those that live in it, the decline of London and its history. This is an album you may well learn a fair bit from as tales unfold along the way, if it wasn’t quite so far I would be tempted to take off to Brookwood cemetery, pick a gravestone to respectfully sit on and listen as it is there that the story partly takes place and culminates. For those not knowing, the Necropolis line which is now defunct in London ran from here to Brookwood in Surrey and transporting the dead from an overcrowded London. This was certainly a necessity during the two world wars and is a fascinating part of history which is well worth reading up on from the various books about the subject.
We move not so much with the train, although from Portal to Egress, through 15 tracks and tales from Wakeford’s ever descriptive narrative touch describing “a city haunted by the customs and crimes of the dead and the living.” From rich choral harmonies that would no doubt have an Ulver fan salivating we twist our way ever onwards through a rich and fertile landscape that although one that has changed significantly is one that we are told in no uncertain terms “will rise again.” I was recently asked to think of a calming voice and Wakeford along with John Peel and Genesis P’ Orridge was one that immediately came to mind. The way he richly narrates is done so in such a fashion you cannot help but fall under his charm and completely immerse yourself in the tales he tells and when his voice booms forth at first stop Nine Elms you know that you are in for a fascinating journey. Of course he is not alone and I have not the details at my disposal telling me who exactly does what other than the inclusion the Green Army Choir. A spoken word piece with gorgeous guitar accompaniment tells all about “Old Father Thames” and the history practically comes alive with it as “the serpent in the bosom of London” flows. The likes of ‘See Them’ and ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ have more of a linear structure in song-writing style. The acoustic caress of the instruments gently entwined round male and female vocals and very much sounding like bygone folk numbers. There are parts that are even more traditional in nature and go right back in time with our cities history, look out for the familiar sounds of ‘London Bridge Is Falling Down’ and ‘Oranges and Lemons.’
Tales of tramps being strangled and fed to the Thames so the city can be reborn may well derive from the past but are we not in effect doing the same now in a metaphorical way? I am not going into what exactly Wakeford is referring to here and why he considers London in such dire-straights but it is becoming more and more a place for the wealthy and gentrification is very much destroying it, our traditions and way of life. Musically there is a very good book here not that you need to read one with Wakeford telling the tales but if you were this would fit in very well with Christopher Fowler’s excellent Bryant And May series with a splash Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers Of London. The tracks all vary in length but everything flows perfectly a bit like walking from one neighbourhood to another within the city. It can be a cruel and unforgiving place as we move from songs about God’s Banker and other nefarious murders our City has seen through to great fires and plagues but there is definitely hope for the future and the ravens are not ready to move out quite yet.
Perhaps those of us that live here are all too complacent, taking it all for granted and never moving out of comfort zones. There is much to explore within our city and Sol Invictus have done so brilliantly within musical form and with Wakeford as your guide if you are visiting from abroad, your journey will be all the more interesting for it.
(8/10 Pete Woods)