Food for Remembrance Day thought. The Dicemen tell the story of the Buckinghamshire church that inspired a young soldier through the horrors of The Western Front.
Release Date: 3rd November 2023
Label: Self Release
Released to coincide with Remembrance Day, Church on a Hill is, according to The Dicemen’s Richard Brandon, “A song that needed to be written.” The song’s poignant lyrics tell the true story of how a young soldier, traveling to join his unit at The Western Front in 1916, spotted a church on top of a hill, above a Buckinghamshire village from the window of his train, and how the memory of that sight provided the soldier with the hope, comfort and inspiration that helped him to survive the horrors of the Battle of the Somme.
The church in question is, actually, St Mary’s in the village of Edlesborough in the Ayelesbury Vale, not far from Dunstable. Parts of the church date back to the late 1200s and it still plays a highly active role in the local community. Indeed, St Mary’s is the focal point EdleFest, the annual music festival that takes place each June (the 2024 event is scheduled for 7-8 June, and you can find out more here). The Dicemen are regulars on the festival bill.
Hailing from Watford, The Dicemen are: Richard Brandon (mandolin, bouzouki, banjo and vocals), Kevin O’Brien (guitar) and Millwall-supporting Ken Spearpoint (bass). If you’re a regular on the folk scenes around Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire or Bedfordshire, you’ll surely have come across them – they’re making significant waves, are regular faces at the local festivals and have even caught the eye of Squeezemeister Chris Difford, who they are proud to have recently supported.
Church on a Hill is a fine song. The tune is a slow march, entirely in keeping with the sombre lyrical subject matter. The band’s acoustic instruments have been given a strong presence and the evocative imagery of the song is strengthened by a quasi-military drumbeat and the inspired inclusion of a bugle playing The Last Post. But, of course, it’s the lyrics that are really important, and Richard does a great job in delivering them.
Richard recollects how the song came about: “We heard [the] story from an elderly [EdleFest] goer. Years ago, he’d met an older man who told him that he knew the village because he’d always remember its church. As a young man, he’d seen it from his train window, bathed in sunlight, as he was on his way to The Western Front. He’d held that image in his head throughout the horror of his time in the trenches as a reminder of what he was fighting for, and why he needed to get home alive.”
And that amazing story is retold in respectful, sympathetic detail in the song’s lyrics. The first sighting of the church is followed by recollections of the devastation at The Somme, regret at the loss of his friends and comrades, images of vast graveyards and the subsequent commemorative plaques and contemplation of the waste of human life – and, always, memories of the sight of St Mary’s, perched upon its hill – “For me it was England, for me it was home,” sings Richard in the song’s refrain.
There’s no glorification, no triumphalism. Just poignant observation.
Church on a Hill is the first single to be taken from The Dicemen’s forthcoming album, Double Six, the follow-up to their 2020 debut, Last Throw Of The Dice. Expect to see our detailed review of Double Six in these pages very soon…
Listen to Church on a Hill here: