So I walk through Manser's Shaw
I don't see you anymore
Footpath from Pevensey to Rye via Battle, c 2009
(thanks, Simon Carey)
The band Keane hails from a small village in the south of England called Battle. It’s a strange name for a village until you learn a bit about its history. It was named after a famous fight that took place in the 11th century between the Normans under William the Conqueror and the Anglo-Saxons under the English King Harold, called the Battle of Hastings. The fight has made its way into the history books thanks to what is colloquially known as the first ever comic strip; the Bayeux Tapestry is over 70 meters long and tells the story in pictures of the lead-up to the battle, the battle, and the aftermath.
The B-Side (or so it was known in days gone by) to Keane’s first breakthrough hit, "Somewhere Only We Know," is a balled called "Snowed Under." And both tunes are about places, so to speak. The place only Keane knows is either a physical location - perhaps the woods outside their small village, where the members might walk and talk with their girlfriends - or a metaphysical one, meaning a state of mind or being, for instance, in love. It could always be both. But the woods outside of Battle in East Sussex (near Brighton) is actually mentioned by name in the B-Side cut. Manser’s Shaw is a wooded area where the band spent much of their childhood. And it is also the site of the Battle of Hastings.
Site of the Battle of Hastings
(thanks LW Favaloro)
The short version of the story is that there was a power struggle for the crown of England after the death of the king, Edward the Confessor. Two of his relatives decided they wanted to be king and the great battle was fought. William the Conqueror, who ultimately won the battle with his superior forces (including cavalry and archers), crossed the English channel from Normandy (in France) with hundreds of French-speaking knights and a blessing from the current Pope in Rome. His enemy, Harold, who held a seat on the throne at the time, mustered a group of infantry with spears, swords, and rocks. They held the higher ground, but weren’t strong enough to hold back the Normans. Interestingly, the Normans helped to change the language of the region from Old English (virtually unrecognizable to today’s English speakers) to Middle English (much more recognizable) bringing over many words from French into the English peasant vernacular.
Battle Abbey in Battle, East Sussex
It is doubtful that any remnants of the thousand-year-old fight can still be seen in the woods of Manser’s Shaw today. But to be raised in a town named Battle one would think might cultivate a certain level of aggression and violence in its people. Not so with Keane, whose sound is anything but aggressive. They’ve been compared to other British greats like the Beatles and Oasis, and rightly so. They are known for using a piano or synth-driven lead instead of guitars, much like Radiohead. And many of their songs are mellow and melodic ballads. Lyrically, they write reflective songs where the narrator – lead singer Tom Chaplin – considers love and other metaphysical conditions. For example, in "Snowed Under," he is singing primarily about escaping from a suffocating relationship where the feelings either changed or were never there to begin with.
“Getting snowed under with the things you say, when I open my eyes and it's a lovely day.” One has to imagine that the members of Keane had many lovely days in their quaint village of Battle and the surrounding woods of Manser’s Shaw during their youth, even if they had to occasionally break a girl’s heart to enjoy themselves. They certainly lived a more peaceful existence in southern England than the serfs did in the 11th century during the Battle of Hastings.
~ Justin Novelli