The Fatima Mansions’ Berties Brochures is one of the strangest records I’ve ever loved, I think. A sort of pause for reflection between the scabrous Viva Dead Ponies and the somehow even more scabrous Valhalla Avenue, it’s barely a full LP, three of the tracks are covers (of Scott Walker, Richard Thompson and, ah, REM), one’s an instrumental, and the centrepiece is this, which is simultaneously sardonic and heartfelt in a very distinctly Cathal Coughlan-ish way (“it’s the North European / peasant experience…”)
YouTube commentator Gerard Lynch says: “It’s about conservatism threatened by the underclass. Art and liberalism are ok as long as they remain in the domain of the inept middle classes who are ineffective and inoffensive, But if the underclass realise their power and intelligence well the establishment don’t like that”, which seems a fair summary.
I’ve never quite known whether “For he still believes / that everyone’s a poet / and that all he has to do / is set it down” is empathising with “Bertie” or mocking him. Maybe both at once: how naive to think that just anybody can make art, and yet how essential and inextinguishable that belief is. What about technique, all the things you have to do that aren’t just “setting it down”? “Bertie’s Brochures” is itself a portrait of an individual, but as a cryptic self-portrait, or an image of some conflicting feelings about oneself, it’s anything but straightforward. When you come to “set it down”, you find that “it” is intrinsically complex and demanding: only those for whom “the milkman, the waitress and the gunman” are never fully imaginable as human witnesses in their own right would ever expect otherwise.