English Scheme



O'er grassy dale, and lowland scene
Come see, come hear, the English Scheme.
The lower-class, want brass (2)
Bad chests, scrounge fags.
The clever ones tend to emigrate
Like your psychotic big brother, who left home
For jobs in Holland, Munich, Rome (3)
He's thick but he struck it rich, switch (4)
The commune crap, camp bop, middle class, flip-flop (5)
Guess that's why they end up in bands
He's the freak creep in us all (6)
He's the freak creep in us all
Condescends to black men
Very nice to them
They talk of Chile while driving through Haslingden (7)
You got sixty hour weeks, and stone toilet back-gardens
Peter Cook's jokes , bad dope,      (8)
Check shirts, fancy groups   (9)
Point their fingers at America
Down pokey quaint streets in Cambridge
Cycle our distant spastic heritage
Its a gay red, roundhead (10),
Army career, bread head
If we were smart we'd emigrate




1. A note from the Orange Lyrics Book in MES's hand:

RE: 'English Scheme'

"This was one of the songs that started it off, in a way, both 'Slates' E.P. and 'Lie Dream of a Casino Soul'. -'English Scheme' was one of the few songs I’ve written that have sparked off genuine reactions. Boys I’d known for years on and off but never talked to would come up and proclaim its accuracy. -This prompted me to look further into England's 'class' system. -Indeed, one of the few advantages of being in an impoverished sub-art group in England is that you get to see (If eyes are Peeled) all the different stratas of society--for free."


"Sic" throughout, as near as possible, including all quotation marks.


2. In other words, money.


3. It was common for building workers and others to go to Europe at the time as there was an economic slump and high unemployment in the UK. This was portrayed at the time in the TV series "Auf Wiedersehen, Pet."


4. At the word "switch," the subject of the lyrics changes from the "lower class" to the "middle class."


5. See also "2nd Dark Age" ("commune crapheads"). In a comment there, Mark Balance speculates that MES is thinking of Crass.


6. The orange lyrics book has "green piece," which may be some kind of pun on "Greenpeace" (which would fit the lyrics), but it does not sound like that at all. 


7. Haslingden is a town in Lancashire, about 20 miles north of Manchester. Note that "Neighbourhood of Infinity" mentions "Lancastrian patronization of blacks."


8. Peter Cook was an English actor and comedian who was at one time considered, if not a radical, at least a social critic. His comedy was risque and often directed at establishment figures but he also played working class archetypes.

The stone toilet might be literal, but Huckleberry suggests that "stone toilet might be a contemptuous description of concrete, imitation stone birdbaths which were fashionable in English gardens in the 1970s & 80s, and sometimes looked a bit like toilets?"

Could be actual toilets though, Dan and Dr. X O'Skeleton point out that "traditional working class terraced houses had toilets in a brick outhouse at the back" ("garden" in England means the lawn).


9. The orange lyrics book has "lousy groups." However, "fancy" seems to be what he always sings.


10. The Roundheads were the faction in the 17th century English Civil War that supported a constitutional monarchy, opposed to the absolutist claim of the "Cavaliers," or supporters of Charles I. More radical groups of the time, notably the Diggers and the Levellers, were also apparently associated with the Roundheads. Roundheads were "parliamentarians" and, furthermore, they were the proto-bourgeois opponents of the cross-class utpoian ideal of "Merrie England." They were driven by a presbytarian/puritanism which equated the efficient use of resourses with godliness (given that they believed the world was God-given, and thus goods and resources were not to be wasted in the manner of the aristocratic profligates). They were minimalist haters of the early Catholic baroque, and were against Christmas and theatre and decoration in churches. They were the forerunners of the Northern industrial barons who famously "knew the price of everything and the value of nothing," in Wilde's famous phrase. "Roundhead" is generally a term of abuse.  


Thanks to Frere Dupont for some of the above material.  



Comments (23)

  • 1. dannyno | 27/04/2013
The orange Lyrics book has "green piece" presumably the Parade is drawing on that, but given all the stuff in the lyrics about "commune crap" it's really either Greenpeace or a pun on Greenpeace.
  • 2. Martin | 29/05/2013
13 May 1981 Kijkhuis, Tilburg:

MES: "This is a loose description of the English class system."
  • 3. John | 02/08/2013
I hear "talk up cheerly while driving through Haslingden" on the live versions, but I'm not positive.
  • 4. dannyno | 14/11/2013
"green piece". Now I listen to this again, I'm hearing "creep creep". So "creep creep" is repeated.

And it's just "stone toilet" not "stone stone toilet".
  • 5. bzfgt | 08/04/2014
Yes, I don't hear "green piece/Greenpeace" at all, on checking.

John, I'm not sure about "talk up cheerly" on live versions, here it does sound like "Chile" and that fits well with the theme of the lyrics, whereas the former just sounds like a filler line.
  • 6. dannyno | 13/08/2014
From Steve Hanley's The Big Midweek (p72):

""one day Mark comes into the rehearsal space waving a tape at us. 'Listen to this!' he says, slipping it into his portable cassette player. It's a rough recording of chirping birds with an ice cream van in the distance. 'I was getting the milk off my window ledge and I thought, "Listen. That's the sound of the lower-class English summer, is that." We need to build a song out of it. Get on with it lads! ... <snip> Marc Riley started by inverting the sound of the ice cream van into a keyboard riff and we played along, creating an ironically golly little gem. Mark seems quite please. "English Scheme!" he says. "Play it again and I'll sing."...."
Hugo Lane
  • 7. Hugo Lane | 16/05/2015
It seems to me there may be something worth footnoting regarding the reference to Haslingden for those of us who are not well grounded in Lancashire political and socioeconomic geography. Just a thought
  • 8. Huckleberry | 06/07/2016
Only a thought - stone toilet might be a contemptuous description of concrete, imitation stone birdbaths which were fashionable in English gardens in the 1970s & 80s, and sometimes looked a bit like toilets?
  • 9. dannyno | 16/07/2016
I always thought it was referring to outdoor terraced-house toilets, but it could work that way too, I suppose.
  • 10. Zack | 11/01/2017
The meter and theme of the lyrics here were likely inspired by the poem "Slough" by John Betjeman. You can practically sing "Slough" on top of the Fall's tune:

Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!
It isn't fit for humans now,
There isn't grass to graze a cow.
Swarm over, Death!

Come, bombs and blow to smithereens
Those air-conditioned, bright canteens,
Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans,
Tinned minds, tinned breath. [...]
  • 11. dannyno | 22/01/2017
Zack, comment 10: the theme seems different to me. The rhyme scheme is very different too.
  • 12. Zack | 04/02/2017
Dannyno, comment 11: In a very broad sense, "English Scheme" and "Slough" are both about how 20th century England was not all it was cracked up to be. The rhyme scheme is different, sure, but the meter is a perfect match in places - too perfect to have been a coincidence. Read the "tinned fruit, tinned meat" part and tell me you don't hear Paul Hanley's drum fills.
  • 13. bzfgt | 04/02/2017
Zack, it's plausible, but it's iambic tetrameter which is hardly uncommon, no?
  • 14. bzfgt | 04/02/2017
Go and catch a falling star,
Get with child a mandrake root,
Tell me where all past years are,
Or who cleft the devil's foot,
Teach me to hear mermaids singing,

  • 15. bzfgt | 11/02/2017
Fuck, bad example, the stress is on the first syllable in those lines! Hoist on my own petard!!
  • 16. Lloyd | 24/03/2017
Fancy groups, isn't it?
  • 17. bzfgt (link) | 01/04/2017
Yes it seems not to be "lousy" as far as I can tell. I checked 5 or 6 versions and I'm pretty sure you're right. It contradicts the book of orange, though, so I had to put a note. If anyone hears any different let me know, I'm bad at hearing lyrics but as I say I hear what you do.
Dr X O'Skeleton
  • 18. Dr X O'Skeleton | 17/05/2017
I always heard "talk of telly while driving through Haslingdon", which is more banal and in keeping with the proletarian drudgery in other lines. Chile might have been a subject for left-wing intellectuals.
Dr X O'Skeleton
  • 19. Dr X O'Skeleton | 17/05/2017
Stone toilet back gardens is a reference to the fact that traditional working class terraced houses had toilets in a brick outhouse at the back
  • 20. dannyno | 17/05/2017
Comment #19: see my comment #9.

Comment #18 - sounds like Chile to me, and fits with the condescension in the previous line. This is not in fact a song that is only or primarily about proletarian drudgery at all. In fact the "lower class" appear explicitly only once, early on, and much of the rest of the songs is actually a comment on a certain kind of middle class type in bands.
  • 21. bzfgt (link) | 16/09/2017
Yes well I think when he says "switch" he switches off the poles and onto the middle class. I should probably put that in the note.
  • 22. Neil | 27/01/2018
A couple of things I've always heard differently: the wonderfully scathing 'freak creep' in line 11, and 'army career breadhead' towards the end. The final section does seem to be a semi-realised attempt to describe the social elite, or upper classes (in typically sardonic terms.) Or maybe it's just great poetry.
  • 23. bzfgt (link) | 12/02/2018
Yeah those sound right and I changed a few more words too (it's "if we were smart," not "if we was smart," and there was something else).

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