You might think you’d know what to expect of a book with this title. Its cover would surely show a delightful English landscape, perhaps in watercolour, and its pages would be devoted to exploring the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams, his fellow pastoralists and later composers whose work took inspiration from the countryside. One glance at the cover of Richard King’s new book, however, is enough to tell you that this is a bird of a very different feather. Against a black background with a slash of bright green across it rise four stylised birds rendered in bright psychedelic colours. It’s all very reminiscent of a 1960s album cover. Clearly this is not going to be a book devoted to the cowpat school (as Vaughan Williams and co were unkindly nicknamed).
What this book turns out to be is hard to describe. Parts of it amount to a kind of social history of the British countryside in the 20th century, with an emphasis on patterns of land ownership and currents of thought