Barnstormer 1649 – Restoration Tragedy

Album Review | Self Release | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5

If like me your knowledge on Attila The Stockbroker is sadly lacking and limited to his performance poetry, politics and music of the 1980s then prepare to be confounded and taken in by Restoration Tragedy. Barnstormer 1649 is the band who deliver what they describe as Roundhead Renaissancecore . The term aptly describing the mix of 17th Century instruments and musical ideas, riding headlong with a Rock backline and Punk energy. It also describes the light and shade of the music and this album, drawing in Folk voices, gentle almost sublime interludes and well observed humorous, but sharp satire to entertain as well as inform. Attila wanted to create the other side to his home town’s ‘Great Escape’ a festival from the Cavaliers perspective celebrating King Charles slipping away to France. This is the result a concept album for the eleven years of the world turned upside down from the perspective of a modern day ranter.

Right from the start this is arresting, powerful music. “The Levellers Trilogy” runs from “March Of The Levellers” a renaissance dance with period instruments, Jason Pegg’s slabs of raw guitar and MM McGhee’s rolling drums. Who would have thought Atilla The Stockbroker played such a fiery folk rock violin (apologies if everyone knew that and I’ve clearly been under a rock since seeing him live in Bradford in 1987). Think David Munrow or The Third Ear Band, with The Edgar Broughton Band as a rhythm section. Muscular Folk Rock with the attack of Metal as if Black Sabbath had played on Liege and Lief. Listen also to the raw instrumental power of “The Battle Of Worcester”, a striking creation of the energy and sound of battle. “The Diggers Song” and Leon Rosselson’s powerful “World Turned Upside Down” with Atilla’s poetry in the middle complete a punchy stunning opener. “Wellingborough & Wigan” is Atilla’s sequel to Leon’s song. The sharp guitar and Tim O’Tan’s Recorders are joined by a kind of festival Reggae skank. Dave Cook’s muscular bass punches alongside those ska guitar stabs and the track bounces along. This must be intoxicating live, I can imagine a tent or field of people shouting the chorus. “The Monarch’s Way/Kings Cottage”, again has that wonderful juxtaposition of Renaissance recorders, driving guitars and huge Marching drums. Lyrically Attila explorers the driving of King Charles to France by Cromwell’s New Model Army. His vocals are powerful and emotional on this track as indeed they are throughout this album. Barnstormer 1649’s Restoration Tragedy is full of historic perspective and messages, but it is also shot through with humour and touches of John Otway’s wry comic touches. “Abiezer Coppe” is Attila, ranting poet telling the story of ranter and radical Coppe. As Attila himself says his tale is somewhat more earthy than Rosselson’s 1977 tale of Abiezer. Every generation likes to think they invented protest, hellraising and irreverence, but as Attila tells it, on this excellent track, they were polite compared to Coppe. Making connections between past and present and the dangers of looking for answers in a personality cult, The Man They Called JC. Serious cautionary notes rub alongside Eric Innes humour in another strong song.

Similarly “The Voice” connects Thomas Rainsborough 17th Century Leveller with a more recent New Model Army leader. Prides Purge with a wonderful Metal chorus, successfully twists deselection in 1648 with current parliamentary corruption. Harrison is a potent piece of Folk balladry, well written and delivered by Attila, great vocal harmonies tell a tale of betrayal and a man who fought for what he believed in until the end. Burford Requiem is a beautiful meditative instrumental, played on mandola and recorder. Written for three Levellers killed by Cromwell’s forces in an Oxfordshire churchyard. That it sounds like it could be lifted from a John Renbourn album is testament to this album’s power to inform, entertain and surprise. “The Fisherman’s Tale” is dream inspired flight of fancy about King Charles’ escape to France. Its also in the classic Folk tradition of beer fuelled by alcohol addled misadventure. In tune and delivery it brought to my mind Steeleye Span’s relaxed version of “New York Girls” a tale of beer driven robbery. Lord Protector moves the story arc on, detailing the Levellers disillusionment with Cromwell. Typically for Attila’s band it is delivered with vim and humour over gritty music. “Cromwell’s Funeral” is another poignant instrumental, just needs a continuity announcer at the end to sound authentically Radio Three. Perhaps Late Junction, home of the quirky, striking and unexpected will play it. Closing track “Robina” mixes ancient and recent history, making the large scale again personal to give a tale weight. So the lives of two Robina’s, one Cromwell’s sister the other Attila’s wife are looked at, historic perspective and self deprecation as a close to this fascinating, surprising and stirring album. Protest and comment that is feisty, musically powerful and engaging throughout.