U.K. roots trio Bear’s Den draw on a chilling history of modern-day slavery in “Magdalene,” a slow-burning fire of helplessness and outrage.
Fueled by a banjo, the track arrives on the band’s upcoming album, Islands, set for release Oct. 21, and follows a young couple being torn apart by family shame and a so-called Magdalene laundry.
These secretive institutions were like orphanages for “fallen women” run by Catholic nuns. Originally intended to help women out of prostitution and other bad situations, they evolved into sweatshops where women would be forced to live and work, unpaid, for the rest of their lives.
“I’ve always been really horrified by the stories from the Magdalene laundries that have emerged in the news as I’ve grown up,” explained singer-songwriter Andrew Davie via email. “The storyline was of a couple who are lost and trying to reach and help each other but can’t. The Magdalene laundry is the backdrop of their story.”
The houses were named after the biblical Mary Magdalene — often described as a reformed prostitute — and were often run as a laundry service for other institutions, like prisons. Incredibly, the last remaining Magdalene laundry wasn’t closed until 1996.
“I think that Mary Magdalene as a symbol of repentance and reconquered purity is really interesting to me,” Davie said. “The Magdalene laundries perhaps show how easily ideas from scripture can be misconstrued and how devastating the effect of that can be.”
Written just as the album was being finished, Davie recalls that Joey Haynes’ simmering banjo melody gave the song the perfect blend of sorrow and strength.
“He only learnt how to play banjo two years ago, but he comes up with such unique ideas all the time,” Davie said. “Sometimes without even realizing it, and we have to tell him.”
Immerse yourself in a history that seems stranger than fiction with the CMT Edge premiere of Bear’s Den’s “Magdalene.”