Reimagining the village at Bridport

IT is nearly 20 years since The Imagined Village burst onto the British folk scene, energising the burgeoning folk-world-jazz fusion scene and bringing together stars of both traditional folk and musicians from many different cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

It was an extraordinary line-up that included folk celebrities Eliza Carthy and Martin Carthy, Simon Emmerson (of Afro-Celt Sound System fame), sitar exponent Sheema Mujherjee, dhol and tabla percussionist Johnny Kalsi and drummer Andy Gangadeen.

After recording their album Bending The Dark in 2012, they took an unexpectedly lengthy break. Now, after a gap of about ten years, they are making a long overdue comeback, at Bridport’s Electric Palace, on Thursday, 21st July at 8pm, when they will be joined by Billy Bragg.

The Imagined Village project was founded in 2004 by Simon Emmerson. It was intended to produce contemporary folk music that represented modern multiculturalism in the UK. The name came from the 1993 book The Imagined Village by Georgina Boyes. Acclaimed as the most ambitious folk band of the 21st century, it set out to match and reinvent traditional songs with contemporary multi-cultural sounds and influences from Asia, the Caribbean and elsewhere.

The first eponymous album was released in 2007 by a collective of artists on Real World Records. Some of the tracks on it are modern re-interpretations of traditional folk songs. They recorded three albums, played at major festivals from Glastonbury to Cambridge, headlined at concert halls and appeared on Later…With Jools Holland, performing a stomping, percussive re-working of Cold Haily Rainy Night (the song that won them Best Traditional Track at the 2008 BBC Folk Awards).

So why has it taken them so long?

They have all been busy with other projects, of course  – though Simon says that Eliza has constantly been pestering him to organise a reunion. But the real catalyst came during the Covid lockdown, when the band recorded a glorious (and socially-distanced) new version of Sandy Denny’s setting for The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood, which can be heard on the 2021 compilation The Electric Muse Revisited.