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Date: 12/01/16

"Happy Land"

This is another track which I would almost certainly never have heard had it not been played by the legendary John Peel.

Ultramarine are a duo comprising Ian Cooper and Paul Hammond who started releasing music in what one observer described as a 'pastoral techno' vein at the turn of the 1990s.

This track comes from their 1993 album United Kingdoms, and features the voice and lyrics of the equally storied Robert Wyatt. The lyrics - adapted from a parody of one of those appalling "Rah-rah! Up the Empire!" songs which were as much a feature of the Victorian age as the widespread poverty, malnutrition, child prostitution and malevolent neglect which were the inevitable consequences of believing your own national self-delusions (cf. the US today) - were sharp at the time of release, in the days of a far-right government striking out with viciousness at all who dared to challenge the patriotic self-image. They seem even more waspish today, when we have a régime in power which adds an all-consuming self-righteousness and couldn't-give-a-fuck-ism to the mix.

Wyatt's words follow the video. Read them whilst you luxuriate in the experience of inhabiting so blessèd a country:

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Happy Land

Happy land! happy land! Thy fame resounds shore to shore
Happy land! where 'tis a crime, they tell us, to be poor.
If you shelter cannot find, of you they'll soon take care:
Most likely send you to grind wind - For sleeping in the air.

"Happy land! happy land! To praise thee, who will cease?
To guard us, pray, now ain't we got a precious New Police?
A passport we shall soon require, which by them must be scanned,
If we to take a walk desire - Oh, ain't this happy land?

"Happy land! happy land! Ne'er from thee I will stray,
The soldier cries, because, y'see, he cannot get away.
For nothing flogged, with grief he sighs, while probably the band,
Strike up to drown the wretch's cries - To the tune of 'Happy Land!'

"Happy land! happy land! is now the chant in every street.
Happy land! happy land! Sings everyone you meet.
The ballad-singer, minus clothes; shirtless, coatless,
And with buckets none to shield his toes - He warbles 'Happy land!'"

(© Robert Wyatt)

(For the ever-estimable Philip Challinor)