PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

The Matthew Herbert Great Britain and Gibraltar European Union Membership Referendum Big Band: The State Between Us

Matthew Herbert's The State Between Us is an extraordinary album for extraordinary times, as it addresses Brexit and what it means to be British and European.

The State Between Us
The Matthew Herbert Great Britain and Gibraltar European Union Membership Referendum Big Band


29 March 2019

It's Saturday, the 23rd of March. Six days before the UK was supposed to divorce itself from the European Union. An estimated one million people are marching in London, asking the Government, Parliament and anyone who will listen to hold a People's Vote on this momentous decision. Meanwhile, an online petition, asking the Government to revoke Article 50, the legislation that will see the UK leave the European Union, has attracted over four million signatures. Further still, around two hundred marchers are marching from one end of the UK to London to demand we leave the European Union. And this is what is commonly known as Brexit. Or as most people across Europe now refer to it, #brexitshambles.

By any stretch of the imagination, it is an extraordinary time to be British and one that feels like the end of times is upon us.

In response to this, and to try and make some sort of sense and commentary on Brexit and what it means to be British today, acclaimed musician, artist, producer and writer Matthew Herbert is releasing his new album, The State Between Us pointedly on the 29th of March, Brexit day (which is currently looking more like Groundhog Day). For this release, Herbert is adopting a slightly different moniker for his band and therefore the album is being released under the name of the Matthew Herbert Great Britain and Gibraltar European Union Membership Referendum Big Band.

The State Between Us is a genuinely collaborative effort, featuring over one thousand musicians and singers drawn from across Europe with notable contributors such as Rahel Debebe-Dessalegne, Arto Lindsay, Merz, Patrick Clarke, and highly respected solo instrumentalists Enrico Rava, Byron Wallen, Sheila Maurice Gray, and Nathaniel Cross. A double album, the 16 tracks come in at a not often seen one hour and 58 minutes. Clearly, Herbert and colleagues have a lot to say.

With so many musicians involved you would be forgiven for worrying about the quality control exercised on the album, but fear not. This is an extraordinary and immensely moving album. Album opener "A Devotion Upon Emergent Occasions" sets the tone with birds tweeting, monks chanting and the sound of a huge buzz saw cutting down what one must presume to be an ancient oak tree. A symbol of Britain and a nice symbolic reference perhaps for the cutting of the UK's ties with mainland Europe. A reckless, feckless and needless act of vandalism. These evocations of Britain and British life pepper the album; teatime war dances and World War II planes, snippets of poetry, bubbling streams, birds and animal sounds, and cars being cut up are all thrown into the mix.

The heart of the album though can be found in track three, "You're Welcome Here". Ostensibly it's about migration, immigration, loneliness, and otherness (in my head I can only see images of desperate refugees washed up on Europe's beaches seeking somewhere safe and secure to live). But Herbert is asking deep philosophical questions of us with this song. Who are we? What, and where, is home? How can we reach out to those in need? What is it to be British, European, or even human? The world has veered sharply towards populism and nationalism over the last few years, and it strikes me that Herbert and the musicians gathered here on The State Between Us are desperately trying to pull us back to some sort of normalcy, whatever that may be.

It's refreshing to hear such an intelligent, thought-provoking and political album as this. The Matthew Herbert Great Britain and Gibraltar European Union Membership Referendum Big Band are to be applauded for making an album that really could only have been made by Europeans, in Europe. Let's hope that remains the case for future generations.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.