#4 Dancing with the Moonlit Knight - SILVER-GILT
“Can You Tell Me Where My Country Lies"
In Medieval times, minstrels would travel from place to place entertaining their listeners with stories sung acapella so that their story was not drowned out by any accompanying instrumentation. So begins ‘Dancing with the Moonlit Knight’, a song whose strength resides in the blending of the gentle medieval sounds of ‘olde England’ with the frenetic powerhouse of the new world. It is well documented that Selling England By The Pound takes its name from a Labour Party document and the song is essentially a pastoral yearning, lamenting the loss of the old order. The early 70s were tumultuous times which witnessed the rise of the impersonal supermarket chains and the early decay of community life as exemplified by the demise of locally owned shops. This dramatic shift towards consumerism was to find its ultimate expression a decade later with the Friedman policies of Thatcher that ravaged communities in favour of individual freedoms. So, where does my county lie? Gabriel's cry is clearly an early warning but even the uncertainty of the direction of travel was not enough to stop ‘the trade’. ("It lies with me- cried the Queen of Maybe. For her merchandise, he traded in his prize.")
Contrast now the poignant passing of the old world ("Old man dies - the note he left was signed 'Old Father Thames' - it seems he's drowned. Selling England by the pound") with the corpulent new world. ("There's a fat old lady outside the saloon. Laying out the credit cards she plays fortune") Credit cards were relatively new back in 1973 offering easy credit and displacing those personal arrangements that one had with local tradesman and which helped bond a community together. With community centred transactions being replaced by faceless corporate credit, is it any wonder that it resulted in a mindless consumption of commodified products with a little bit of old England disappearing with each fast-food Wimpy (1) meal ordered? ("Chewing through your Wimpy dreams. They eat without a sound. Digesting England by the pound") Gratifying individual wants are what matters in these times not the social perceptions valued by their elders ("Young man says you are what you eat - eat well. Old man says you are what you wear - wear well")
Yet, this is a dance none can escape. The Arthurian legend of the Holy Grail is quintessential English heritage that is both romantic yet moribund, set in a mould like the sun that sets in the sky before sinking at the onslaught of the night sky. Yet is the rampant march towards consumerism so unstoppable? Few would choose to turn away from paths of gold even though gold is a cold metal offering little of the emotional succour that the nostalgia for past times can provide.
" - join the dance
Follow on! Till the Grail sun sets in the mould
Follow on! Till the gold is cold
Dancing out with the moonlit knight
Knights of the Green Shield stamp and shout"
This clever juxtaposition of the Arthurian legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight with the supermarket Green Shield stamp (2) saving schemes, so popular in 1970s England, gives way to a tussle as the two worlds 'stamp and shout' and a frenetic surge of electronic modernity displaces the delicate medieval arrangements of before. The vocals underscore this by lauding the arrival of the corpulent new world. To a powerful rhythmic backing we are introduced to the fat old lady with her credit cards and her world of anonymised credit as mentioned earlier. The narrative finally ends with Gabriel lamenting the changes. There is a sense of the inevitable in his line, "With a twist of the world we go!" before the modern powerhouse is allowed to play itself out. When the dance is finally over we find that what ultimately prevails is the medieval arrangement we started with. This quietly reasserts itself in a delicate ambient coda which lasts a full two minutes; a full quarter of the song. Yet it is barely noticeable. It's almost as if it's been there all along, playing quietly in the background; temporarily drowned out by the clamour of modernity yet marking, in its own quiet way, the timeless endurance of the past.
(1) Wimpy was England's first fast-food burger chain, pre-dating McDonalds who didn't open their first restaurant until 1974; a year after SEbtP was released. Ironically, it was in a Wimpy bar that Peter Gabriel first met his wife Jill.
(2) Collins recounts that back in the days of gigging around England in their van, fights would often break out over ownership of the Green Shield stamps that they would get when buying petrol from filling stations.