In 2015 Martyn took part in Sweet Liberties: a commission by Folk by the Oak and the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS), in partnership with the House of Commons as part of the 2015 Anniversaries: Parliament in the Making programme, to write and perform new and original songs to celebrate 800 years of the pursuit of democracy.
Sweet Liberties features a line up of musicians with a strong pedigree. Among the tracks, Martyn pays tributes to fellow countrymen Nye Bevan and Dic Penderyn, and 2015 BBC Folk Singer of the Year Nancy Kerr weaves subjects including the Magna Carta, Human Rights Act, women’s suffrage and slavery into compelling and heartfelt songs.
Sam Carter showcases his storytelling skills to examine the struggle against slavery. One of the freshest voices on the contemporary folk scene Maz O’Connor brings history firmly into the present day with her reflections on the Poor Law and race relations.
Backed by talented instrumentalists Patsy Reid (formerly of Breabach) and Nick Cooke (Mawkin, Kate Rusby Band), this is a unique album of thought provoking, highly original and relevant new music that was recorded in response to overwhelming demand from audiences during the project tour.
Sweet Liberties has already received coverage on BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio 2, The Independent, Morning Star, The Times, R2, and Songlines, as well as receiving radio play across the country.
Sweet Liberties was supported by the Houses of Parliament and by PRS for Music Foundation.
1. Kingdom (N. Kerr) A song about the original intent of the Magna Carta that evolved to look at the ownership and management of land for profit, and the resulting loss of habitat for vulnerable species.
2. Rich Man’s Hill (M. O’Connor) Inspired by the Poor Law of 1601, this is a reflection on the rich/poor divide through the eyes of a homeless man wandering the streets of Maz’s home town, London
3. Am I Not A Man (S. Carter) This song is influenced by the lives and efforts of the ‘Sons Of Africa’, a group of freed slaves whose campaigning contributed to the eventual Abolition Of Slavery Act. The detail comes from the story of Olaudah Equiano whose autobiography ‘Interesting Narrative Of The Life Of Olaudah Equiano’ is considered a seminal slave narrative.
4. Dic Penderyn (M. Joseph) Martyn’s heartfelt tribute to fellow countryman Dic Penderyn who was hung following The Merthyr Riots of 1831, which stemmed from the struggle for the basic rights of workers in the early 19th century and many years of simmering unrest.
S. Seven Notes (N. Kerr) The idea for this song came from the Race Relations Act banner, in which scrolls of coloured fabrics represent the vibrancy of Britain’s mixed cultures. It examines migration and colonialism, love and the universality of musical language, and was greatly influenced by the poem `If My Homeland is Coloured’ by Angolan-Portuguese poet Mauricio De Almeida Gomes.
6. This Old House (M. O’Connor) A light-hearted take on democracy and compromise with a nod to the crumbling walls of the Palace of Westminster.
7. Twelve Years Old (M. Joseph) Based on the Factory Act of 1833 that set out to improve working conditions for children, this compares the world of a 12-year-old then and now, suggesting that important social aspects of their lives may have declined.
8. Lila (N. Kerr) This song draws on the themes of women’s suffrage and the abolition of slavery and is in memory of Adelaide-born Muriel Lila Matters who went up in a hot air balloon to scatter Votes for Women leaflets on Parliament and Mary Prince whose autobiography was a crucial narrative of slavery.
9. Broad Waters (M. O’Connor) A narrative between a policeman and young witness, illustrating a miscarriage of justice in 1985, which saw three men wrongfully convicted for the killing of a police constable Keith Blakelock on Broadwater Farm in Tottenham.
10. Nye (M. Joseph) A tribute to Nye Bevan and his efforts to secure the Health Act 1946 as well as all its workers.
11. Dark Days S. Carter Voicing a sense of frustration with the political process in recent times.
12. Written On My Skin (N. Kerr) Written in memory of several women who were forced to invoke the Human Rights Act to have sexual assault cases justly tried, this also references that acts of Parliament are written on scrolls of vellum.
13. Broken Things (M. O’Connor) Sampling Wilfred Owen’s ‘Anthem for a Doomed Youth’ the song remembers those who gave their lives for better working conditions, especially David Jones, who was killed when violence broke out around the picket lines of the Miners’ Strikes in 1984.
14. One More River (S. Carter) Marking the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, this tells the journey from slavery to freedom across the Atlantic from Sam’s own family history.
The album is available from http://www.folkbytheoak.com/line-up/sweet-liberties.aspx or www.amazon.co.uk
“A rousing tribute to democracy” (The Guardian)
“These are some of the best songs of the 21st century – listen to them carefully” (R2 magazine)
“Polished. thoughtful and compassionate songs” (fRoots)