Ultramarine (Paul Hammond and Ian Cooper) peaked creatively in the early nineteen-nineties with their excellent albums Every Man and Woman is a Star (1991) and United Kingdoms (1993).
This single, 'Kingdom', came from the United Kingdoms album, and featured the voice of Robert Wyatt, something that made Ultramarine stand out from many of the electronic, ambient acts of the time.
Wyatt, who still has one of the more interesting and provocative voices in 'alternative' music, first appeared on the Every Man and Woman is a Star project, searched out by the pair as they were both keen fans and inspired by his own brand of idiosyncratic music.
It was a brilliant choice to juxtapose their own new sounds with; making ambient house music accessible to, and of interest to, many that had yet to experience it.
'Kingdom' is a great example of what Ultramarine were so good at: fusing ambient sounds with other genres. And having already mixed up ambient with house, reggae and rock, on this release they went for a folky mix; using Wyatt's vulnerable falsetto to superb effect.
The reedy, flutey sounds created here make for a baroque flavour; a style that perfectly accompanies the nineteenth-century inspired lyrics, originally penned by the protosocialist (friend of both Marx and Engels) and Chartist (a political and social reform movement from the mid-eighteen-hundreds, said to be the first working class labour movement in the world) Ernest Jones.
A hardened campaigner who often incited those who would listen to commit acts of violence on behalf of the cause, Jones was considered subversive and dangerous (there had been a lot of paranoia in Britain ever since the French Revolution; Jones and his Chartist movement [Chartists because they demanded a charter, a declaration of rights, something Britain has never had, still] heightened the paranoia, and many cities and towns across Britain were ruled by marshall law and curfews due to acts of rebellion and civil disobedience inspired by the likes of Jones) and was imprisoned for sedition in 1848 for two years; the only form of expression left to him being to 'write in his own blood on leaves torn from a common prayer-book'.
No wonder Socialism is so attractive to the young.
It's soooooo Romantic!
But that doesn't detract from this being a great lyric.
Very cynical; wonderfully satirical; deeply meaningful and as dangerous as... well, any other poem, I guess...
The Chartists are history; along with the Levellers and the Diggers and the Ranters and the Ravers...
But the moment is captured. The attitude is crystallized.
And Ultramarine and Robert Wyatt did a fine job in bringing it back to our attention.
Kingdom - Ernest Jones (circa 1848)
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 deigns 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.
Ultramarine - Kingdom (1993)
Kingdom (extended mix)
12" Vinyl rip @320kbs
Get down, dirty and low here