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This weekend I’ll mostly be listening to… Ultramarine. October 24, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....

We’re still linked to prog, however tenuously, for here is Ultramarine. Lovely is an odd word to use, but really, how else to describe a ‘pastoral electronica’ or ‘ambient house’ band, consisting of Paul Hammond and Ian Cooper from (natch) Canterbury, that merged with folk (and prog by extension) by having Robert Wyatt sing for them on a number of tracks on “United Kingdoms”, that had keyboards and effects that burbled along, that were technolike in places but then weren’t in others? Loads of samples, 1993 written all over them and really, what more can one say?

Now some will probably be more familiar with their album “Every Man and Woman is a Star”, which is pretty great, but “United Kingdoms” for me has the edge. It’s probably my liking for genre crossing, but this I think works remarkably well.

And there was a strong political edge on their album United Kingdoms…as discogs notes:

The booklet features the lyrics to tracks 2 and 5. The lyrics to Kingdom were adapted from The Song Of The Lower Classes by Ernest Jones (c. 1848) while the lyrics to Happy Land were adapted from a parody of a popular patriotic Victorian song of the same name.

(lyrics adapted from ‘The Song Of The Lower Classes’ by Ernest Jones)
We’re low – we’re low – mere rabble, we know
But, at our plastic power,
The mould at the lording’s feet will grow
Into palace and church and tower
Then prostrate fall – in the rich man’s hall,
And cringe at the rich man’s door;
We’re not too low to build the wall,
But too low to tread the floor.
Down, down we go – we’re so very low,
To the hell of the deep sunk mines,
But we gather the proudest gems that glow,
When the crown of a despot shines.
And whenever he lacks – upon our backs
Fresh loads he designs to lay;
We’re far too low to vote the tax,
But not too low to pay.
We’re low – we’re low – we’re very very low,
Yet from our fingers glide
The silken flow – and the robes that glow
Round the limbs of the sons of pride.
And what we get – and what we give -
We know, and we know our share;
We’re not too low the cloth to weave,
But too low the cloth to wear!
Happy Land
(Lyrics adapted from a parody of a popular patriotic Victorian song)
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!’
I’ve taken these from the Robert Wyatt site, I hope that appropriation isn’t inappropriate (so to speak).

As one comment on YouTube puts it, the lyrics are still as pertinent today as when written. I still get a chill down my spine listening to the interplay of Wyatt’s voice and the music. Somehow the electronic setting adds rather than detracts from it.

Not sure what if anything they’ve done in the 2000s. I’ve a couple of their later albums from the 1990s which are also good but don’t delve into the folk area.

Happy Land (w. Robert Wyatt)

Kingdom (w. Robert Wyatt)


Queen of the Moon


1. Vabian - October 24, 2009

I knew the name, but I wasn’t familar with the band.

Thanks for this-it’s interesting.


2. WorldbyStorm - October 24, 2009

Thanks, I was hoping someone would pick up on it, well worth exploring further.


3. Phil - October 24, 2009

Wire played “Kingdom” to June Tabor for their “Invisible Jukebox” feature; she recognised Robert Wyatt (as you would) but said she found his singing dreary. But the combination of Ultramarine and June Tabor got me thinking, and “Song of the Working Class” was one of the first songs I sang at a folk club (I’ve hardly stopped since).


WorldbyStorm - October 25, 2009

Dreary… hmmm got to think about thay. What do you think of it?


4. Phil - October 25, 2009

Well, he hits the notes and holds them, and he certainly gets a certain kind of emotion across – you could call the sound pure, plangent, plaintive (especially plaintive). But it’s not the sound of someone telling you something passionately interesting about their life – or if it is, it’s filtered through so many layers of ironic disengagement and painful disillusion that all that’s left is the plaint. He’s still a great singer (and a hero of mine), but in that respect at least he is quite limited.


WorldbyStorm - October 25, 2009

In a way who could blame him, but I don’t know, when I think of how unique his voice is, while agreeing with you I think he transcends his limitations. One thing I really admire about him is his willingness to give it a go in any genre.

By the by, have you heard the Robyn Hitchcock/Pocket collaboration? Pockets some dancey producer who is roping in people like Hitchcock, Steve Kilbey, Mark Burgess to do danceyish tracks with loads of remixes. Check em out. Hitchcock’s voice is brilliant.


5. Phil - October 26, 2009

I think in the 60s, with the folk revival going strong, there was a lot of reaction against the “folk voice” – the kind of thing June T. does very well but lots of people do very badly; perhaps this was particularly the case among people who’d listened to jazz singing, where in general the notes are the thing. The voice Robert Wyatt settled on may be an extreme example of that.


WorldbyStorm - October 26, 2009

That’s an interesting thought. But for Wyatt the lyrics are clearly also of profound importance.


6. This weekend I’ll mostly be listening to… Robert Wyatt « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - December 18, 2010

[…] single in ’85. More recently, he’s cropped up on Ultramine’s United Kingdoms [see here – WBS] to produce ’the most unlikely but exhilarating fusion of nineties’ drum patterns with […]


7. Nemmon Dommeg - August 2, 2011

Hi from Hungary!

Known this band and this particular album for looong ages. Sadly, it’s virtually unobtainable now, even amazon won’t help…

Also, the lyrics of the two songs – and especially that of Happy land seem to exist on this site alone 🙂 Huge thanks for that!



WorldbyStorm - August 3, 2011

No problem. Yes, it’s a great great album. Check out Wyatt’s site for more info. It’s great too.


8. This weekend I’ll mostly be listening to… Kwes. « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - December 1, 2012

[…] In interview he quotes Brian Wilson and Robert Wyatt as influences (it may be me, but I also hear Toro Y Moi), and I think the latter is quite evident in the tricksy melody lines and the wavering vocals – particularly on Bashful (Wyatt’s work on United Kingdoms by Ultramarine springs to mind.) […]


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