34. Heimat – India Electric Co.

Threehundredsongs was lucky enough to catch India Electric Co. live at Colchester Arts Centre earlier this year. I think I was officially supposed to be working, but it may well have been one of those nights where tools are downed early, and the show just simply enjoyed.

Heimat hails from India Electric Co.’s 2015 album The Girl I Left Behind Me, and is heavily based on the 1939 W. H. Auden poem Refugee Blues, the lyrics having been sensitively adapted and set to music by the multi-talented multi-instrumentalists Cole Stacey and Joseph O’Keefe.

The word “Heimat” is part of a sizeable vocabulary borrowed into English from German; borrowed because we don’t have a satisfyingly direct English translation which fits the bill. Perhaps the nearest we have is “homeland”, although “Heimat” isn’t merely geographical: it communicates not just a country, but a sense of place and belonging. A safe haven.

Well, with the benefit of hindsight, we all know what was happening in Europe in 1939. Of course, back then, even W. H. Auden couldn’t possibly have known the full scale of the horrors that were to unfold. The poem gives voice to Jewish emigrés fleeing Nazi Germany…

Once we had a country and we thought it fair

…yet being turned away from other countries where they sought refuge:

“If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread”

That kind of paranoid sentiment will be familiar to anyone British right now: the racist xenophobia and alarmism of the “small boats” headlines being fomented relentlessly by politicians of all colours.

Back in 1939, Heimat, that sense of place and belonging, that homeland, was denied to countless individuals and families. Cole and Joseph deftly co-opt as the refrain the line:

Where shall we go today, my dear, where shall we go?

It sums the situation up rather well, I feel.

Writing about this subject takes on an added poignancy in present times, our thoughts illuminated against a backdrop of countless more innocent humans being displaced in the Middle East and across the globe.

In a bitterly ironic twist, the oppressed has now become the oppressor. What does it say about human beings that the response to finding oneself on the receiving end of a holocaust is apparently to precipitate a further holocaust of one’s own a few decades later? That to create a “safe haven”, a Heimat dare I say it, for one group of people somehow justifies the wholesale massacre and ethnic cleansing of another?

It’s difficult to stay optimistic sometimes: man’s inhumanity to man should make us all mourn.

It isn’t terribly easy to find a great deal of information about India Electric Co. What we do know is that they hail from South West England, specifically Devon. Much like your author, in fact.

There’s a fascinating interview with the band on Electricity Club about their time as Midge Ure’s backing band. The bit where India Electric Co. evolve from traditional instrumentation to full-on synth bashing came as a surprise to me.

As for the playlist, I’ve added a few India Electric Co. songs, as well as a couple from other artists, such as The Brothers Gillespie, Lady Maisery and Kris Drever, all of whom I was also lucky enough to see live in my early days working volunteer shifts at the Colchester Folk Club. In some cases, I’ve tended towards tracks that have some sort of thematic overlap with Heimat, at least in my mind.

Artist: India Electric Co.
Album: The Girl I Left Behind Me
Writer: Cole Stacey and Joseph O’Keefe; W. H. Auden
Producer: Joseph O’Keefe
Released: 2015; label unknown

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