An Exercise in Wordplay, and Precision Musical Arrangement
Peter Gabriel is quoted by Janis Schacht in his book:
Gabriel explored current events with his coverage of gang wars in London On The Battle Of Epping Forest. ‘I keep cuttings that interest me,’ Gabriel explained. ‘Battle of Epping Forest was taken from a genuine news story in the Times. When I went back to find the story I’d misplaced it, so I fabricated the whole thing around the story of two gangs fighting over protection rights in London’s East End.
The following is taken from an Italian pressing of Selling England found by Edward Antoniu which had a liner with the lyrics and some explanations in Italian. Since the explanations are as useful to Americans as to Italians, here they are translated into English. These are footnotes to the lyrics — the original lyric to which they belong can be inferred easily from the context.
(1) Epping is on the outskirts of London. East-End is the most London-typical residential zone in London, where tradition is beloved.
(2) Bar means either rod or front/rear bumper. And so, with cars and superscars, we get another pun, standing for butchery tools.
(3) Barking is a suburb, residential area.
(4) Billy is a calling name from Willy and William; hence, Willy Wright, William Wright, and Billy are just the same person.
(5) Chest in English means either breast, or a huge wooden box. In our case, it means breast, whereas, on the contrary, The Reverend looks for a piece of furniture.
(6) Staffordshire Plate: slang expression for sexual perversion (oral sex). Another pun for The Reverend, who might be really interested in a plate from the county of Stafford.
(7) Robbing Hood: Do not be confused by Robin Hood. Only translate to masqued thief.
(8) Karmacanic: The n-th double meaning – “karma” and “mechanic”. Sort of religious mechanism in the n-th of the puns so dear to Peter Gabriel and to Genesis.
(9) Bethnal Green: residential area in London.
(10) Silver Cloud and Rolls are, naturally, the Rolls Royce cars. Please note how Rolls joins Roy …”who doles out a lot”.
Above taken from The Genesis Discography January 1998 Edition by Scott McMahan
“Of course Gabriel kept the ending and the Blackcap Barons flick a coin to finish the song. It was, indeed, an anti-climactic termination to the day’s scuffle: a no-score draw. So who were the Blackcap Barons? In Epping Forest Through the Ages, Georgina Green writes that after the Civil War [i.e. 1651] the Forest gave sanctuary to a number of discharged soldiers turned outlaws, particularly a gang called the Waltham Blacks who blackened their faces when out robbing travellers or poaching the king’s deer. Ok, perhaps it is unlikely (especially since Green’s book was published in 1982), but could Gabriel have known this?”
The above text was taken from this great analysis of the history of the Battle of Epping Forest
The Musical Box perform The Battle of Epping Forest