Who knows who said it but it is true that a patriot is someone who loves their own country and a nationalist is someone who hates everyone else’s country. Love is a complicated thing. It requires honesty and a willingness to say things that may cause some hurt but that, ultimately, allow for the sometimes troubled waters of a relationship to be stilled. I’m not sure that one can lay claim to loving someone, or something, if one is unwilling to see all sides of the object of our affection.
I was born in Scotland but I am British.
That is primarily because I am an Anglophile.
I love England.
The problem with a statement like “I love England” is that it can be said by ugly people for ugly reasons, it can be used as a sub-rosa call to the hateful. When those people say they love England what they actually mean is that they hate people of colour. If you are black, brown, Asian…you are not English, you are the other and the “love” that these people declare is, in reality, a proclamation of their hatred of you. This isn’t the sort of romanticised, Romantic, vision of England as captured by Powell and Pressburger in “A Matter of Life and Death” where the country is Blake’s “Jerusalem”…Albion. This is the fevered rant of bitter, broken, brutish, souls.
In that world England is not so much a garden but is, instead, a front lawn with brown grass, a broken washing machine, dog shit and shattered bottles of beer.
A better England does exist, even if only in memory and hope, and it is one of good manners, inclusion, cricket, fair play, rooting for the underdog, aspiration and eccentricity. Roses in bloom, cucumber sandwiches and Kathy Burke on the television twnety-four hours a day, every day. It is Cool Britannia without the lads or loaded. It is The Smiths and not Morrissey.
That better version of England, that purer vision of England, requires the country to listen to someone who wants it to become that place, who wants to be able to love but who cannot for obvious reasons; a critical voice is required to effect change.
Cornershop are that voice.
“England is a Garden” is the joy of love and the quiet voice of reason in hateful and noisy times. A sonic representation of what the country could be; a beautiful blend of voices, cultures, experiences and hopes all working to create something better, stronger and purer than what surrounds us.
Sixties pop, hip-hop beats, funk, seventies glam rock, rat-a-tat drums duelling with winsome flute, politics and personal, love and anger, pastoral and urban…this is all things to all people. In so many ways this is the perfect pop record…except it may not be a pop record at all, it may be a manifesto of some sort. The righteous anger that saw Jesus chase the money lenders from the Temple with a cry of “In my Fathers house?” is the same anger that caused the ‘Shop to attempt to chase Morrissey from his place as darling of the music press in the early nineties; just like Jesus they were prophets, unlike Jesus their is evidence that they exist. That same anger is still here at the heart of this incredible collection of songs.
An album to enjoy, to sing along to, to dance to…but, most importantly, this is an album to hear, not listen to, but hear.