When I discovered that what was once my great-grandfather's furniture shop in Rotherhithe had been demolished as part of the area's redevelopment, I felt an unexpectedly strong pang. I told myself that I was being unreasonable: after all, places change and move on, and you can't expect them to become museums to local families' histories. It's a different matter, however, when thriving local places are being bought up and redeveloped all over England, a process in which, as Paul Kingsnorth shows in his marvellous new book Real England: The Battle Against the Bland, the authentic and irreplaceable is destroyed to make way for the kitsch and placeless, the everywhere and nowhere of national and multinational chains, in a heartbreaking substitution of homogeneity for diversity. He issues a rousing call for all English people, regardless of their origins, to feel confident and positive about their culture, identity, and local places, and to break the mainstream silence about Englishness. We were delighted when Kingsnorth took time out of his frenetic touring schedule to talk to us for our Spotlight feature.
Alex Flux, the Albion art writer who passed away last November, inherited his passion for art history from his father Paul Flux, who is the author of numerous books on art for schools. We thought it only fitting that Paul should take over the art section that his son started and nurtured. Paul has risen to the challenge of commemorating the ninetieth anniversary of the poet Isaac Rosenberg's death in World War I, in a number of articles which, taken together, form a special dossier: two articles on Rosenberg specifically --reviews of the recent Ben Uri Gallery exhibition and the new biography—and a feature on the Whitechapel Boys, the group of Cockney Jewish writers and artists with whom Rosenberg was associated.
We also welcome Jodie Fairclough, who contributes a thoughtful review of Anton Corbijn's film Control. To complement the Great War theme in Paul's articles, I put in my two pence about Siegfried Sassoon. There are heaps of CD reviews by James and Em in this edition, and I was lucky enough to interview Karen Lubbock of the lovely Karen magazine, which looks at life in a quiet English rural community. In addition to the Real England feature, there are a number of book reviews: I examine Daljit Nagra's superb Look We Have Coming to Dover! as well as a recent academic work on the relationship between Englishness, surrealism and documentary photography. I also take a belated look at Byron Rogers' charming The Green Lane to Nowhere, which came out in paperback in 2004 and was overlooked in the hurly-burly of setting up Albion. There are not as many book reviews as usual in this edition; that is because we are husbanding our energies for the January 2009 edition, which marks our fifth anniversary.
Despite the changes that Kingsnorth chronicles and the English silence that he diagnoses, I have noticed an increase in initiatives to investigate and celebrate Englishness and English culture in all their multifaceted richness, suggesting an upsurge in a nuanced English pride. The new BBC/Arts Council initiative, Made in England, takes an inclusive and positive look at how "art makes England and England makes art"—only a few years ago I couldn't have imagined the BBC doing anything like this. The Institute of Ideas have asked me to mention a forthcoming discussion of Englishness and folk music, to take place at London's Vibe bar on 29th July. There is perhaps no better example of English culture's interaction with foreign influences than English classical music, and this was recently discussed by Roger Scruton in aSpectator article about the English Music Festival, run by our own indefatigable Em Marshall. As Scruton remarks, "Our culture has been a generous host to other outlooks, other places, other faiths. That is part of what it is to be English, and part of what our English music conveys. You don't have to look very far to grasp the point. Names like Bax, Delius, Finzi, Dolmetsch and Holst bear witness to an immigrant-friendly island." You can read Em's report on this year's Festival in this edition. And let us give three very loud cheers for Alex Betts, who has founded the Albion Emporium, an independent shop in the heart of London which challenges the homogenising trends described by Kingsnorth. The shop specialises in a wide range of delicacies from all over the British Isles, including many uniquely English treats. If you ever find yourself in Covent Garden with a sinking feeling, therefore, look for the sign of the dragon.
Finally, we wish we had been able to read the kind words about Albion in the magazine Folk on Tap when they were published back in 2005: Graham Gurrin is blogging all his old columns, and had this to say about us. --Isabel Taylor