One of my favourite artists in the folk singer-songwriter genre is Talis Kimberley, whose songs range from fresh takes on classical or folk legends, to modern-day protest songs. She’s released a special free/”pay what you think it’s worth” album on Bandcamp, called Next Week, We Hear From the Ladies. Listen to it, and if you’re able you should pay something.
The theme is, of course, women’s voices through the ages. It seems a shame for some of them to give spoilers, since figuring out which famous figure is being presented is part of the fun. “Cecilia’s Face”, the opening track, never tells you who she is but gives plenty of clues along the way. The arrangement is very apt, drawing to mind the era and the mood to complete the puzzle.
“Nine Days” is rather more direct in the lyrics, telling the story of Lady Jane Grey, who was declared Queen of England for that long, and then denounced by others as a treasonous usurper. The tragic end is, alas, inevitable for mid-16th Century royalty found thus guilty. for me, this song dovetails neatly with the episode of the “Sarah Jane Adventures” that also visits the story and presents a point of view for Lady Jane Grey – and that leads back to a song (not on this album) also written by Talis: “Goodnight, Sarah-Jane” – written in memory of Elisabeth Sladen, who died in 2011 and was the actress who played Sarah-Jane Smith in Doctor Who and the eponymous series.
The other famous name in the album (on the track “Ten Years”) is again, not mentioned, and my knowledge of classical myth and legend is too rusty to fill in the blank. It is deeply ironic that I could tell you her husband’s name, when the song itself is about how the men choose what gets recorded in song and remembered in ages to come – and how they spin the story to suit their narrative. Far from being the meek and dutiful wife, waiting at home, this woman sings of her achievements – and her lovers – while her husband is away doing Manly Things for “ten years, and ten years more”.
The spoken word piece “The Lock”, and the song “Juliet’s House”, are much more individual to the artist, setting a scene and inviting the listener into a little snippet of her life, as it has been shaped by impressive women. Both have a theme of arts and crafts activities, and perhaps the most fun and light-hearted piece on the album is on that theme. It is, for want of a better description, a knitting shanty. “Cast On, Jenny” is an unaccompanied solo voice recording in the style of a sea shanty, and it is all about knitting. It’s been a while since I knitted anything, and never anything useful, but knitting seems to be a thread (heh) through my social groupings: the musical crowd through which I know Talis has a devoted knitting bunch in there. The local BDSM scene also has a corps of knitters (as I discovered at the “arts and crafts” themed munch a month or so back). So this was a song that brought a big, happy smile to my face, thinking of all the friends I have who knit and, once again, making me wonder about re-learning the skill and maybe learning how to make something recognisable.
“Cleaning The Kitchen Floor” was one of the most interesting tracks for me to listen to, because there were enough references and parallels to make me think of archaeology (the story is basically, that an old Edwardian house had had the original floor concreted over, and now the owner is pulling up the concrete to get at the original tiles) and from there, I got to Raksha Dave, one of the archaeologists on Time Team. She, like all the diggers, gets to enthuse to Tony Robinson about the latest bit of pottery or bone or metal that she’s just dug up. And sometimes, the archaeologists (including Raksha) find – floor tiles, or mosaics, and then they (as the song says) clean carefully away to unearth the surface that used to be there. Talis sings of feeling a connection to the hard work of the servant women who would have had the job of daily brushing dirt away just as she brushes away the concrete dust and rubble now.
From digging up the past, to our failure to sweep it away: “Equal”, a feminist protest song and an anthem to remind us that feminism is still relevant, and there s still a need for it. Talking about exclusion in religion, lack of representation in politics, on television and in film (you’ve got to love a song that namechecks the Bechdel Test in the lyrics) and spits, “Aren’t I nearly equal, Why go on about this equal, You don’t hear men ask to be equal, after all?” The final reminder in the song, though, is that Patriarchy harms (most) men, and – yes – feminism can be for everyone. And with that little footnote, the album ends.