Musicians find inspiration from all sorts of sources, from everyday dramas to their tuneful favourites long remembered from growing up.
Post-punk band The Futureheads have taken inspiration from an unlikely source for a track on their latest album – a medieval madrigal believed to be the oldest song in the English language, Summer Is Icumen In.
The Sunderland based band aren’t strangers to reworking external material into their work. Their name even comes from the title of The Flaming Lips album, Hit to Death in the Future Head, and many readers will be familiar with their highly successful cover version of Kate Bush’s ‘Hounds of Love’.
Whilst this new take on the madrigal may sound somewhat different to the original, written as it was in Middle English at Reading Abbey in Berkshire in around 1260, the band have tried their best to sing in a Middle English dialect.
Speaking to the BBC, guitarist and vocalist Ross Millard, said: “We’ve accepted we might put the cat among the pigeons with our fan base a little bit.
“But you can’t try and make an album that is a balance of contemporary stuff and heritage music without looking towards something like Sumer Is Icumen In.”
They first heard the song after watching 1973 horror film The Wickerman, but it has also been performed over the years by traditional choirs and madrigal groups.
Other modern covers of traditional British folk songs appear on the band’s album, Rant, but this one presents a greater challenge, not just because of the dialect but also because it is a round.
When faced with the prospect of singing in turn to create polyphonic harmony, Ross told the BBC that it will be “interesting” when performing live. They won’t have musical accompaniment or each other to support their line.
The manuscript, which has a mix of sacred and secular language, is housed in the British Library. Explaining its importance to the country’s musical heritage, Barbara Morris from Reading University, told the news provider that “at the time the Church was singing in Latin, the Royal Courts in French and this is the first piece of English music”.
Last week we covered how the extent of Britain’s known musical heritage may have been extended by around 1,000 years after archaeologists in Scotland found a burnt fragment of what could be the oldest stringed instrument in Europe on the Isle of Skye, dating back 1,500 years.
What do you think of modern artists putting their own spin on old classics, especially in such an extreme case as this?
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