Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Why Folk Music

We are off to the Shrewsbury Folk Festival this weekend - hurrah!!!! 4 days of great music, food, weird stalls (and smells!), workshops and Professor Panic's circus for the kids. I have been wondering - although I love a lot of music from many genres, folk music holds a particular appeal. Perhaps I should use the more acceptable word of 'roots' music as my interest is really in many form of traditional music from around the world - Cuban, African, blues, bluegrass etc.

However, as a resident of this Island I am particularly interested in the roots music of Britain and, as I live here, England (Bellowhead and Eliza Carthy have both played Womad and Bellowhead even describe themselves as 'English World Music'). Folk music has had a rough deal in the last few decades - I guess the memory of Ewan MacColl singing with his finger in his ear is too deep in culture - but there is a revival going on right now with a number of great young artists such as Eliza Carthy (daughter of Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy - probably one of the best guitarists in the world and inspiration to Bob Dylan and Paul Simon), Kate Rusby, Seth Lakeman, Tim van Eyken, Spiers and Boden and their incredible aforementioned Ensemble Bellowhead. In fact, here they are on Jools Holland:

It may seem anachronistic and backwards looking to be doing this, but I really don't see it that way. Why do I like it:

  1. I like the fact that event when writing new songs there is a sense of respect for the tradition of songs passed down through the ages.
  2. Being rooted in culture is important - I can rejoice when I see any new musician connecting with those who have gone before him by exploring his cultural and musical roots.
  3. The songs are narrative - Post-modern before it existed - they tell stories that deserved to be remembered, and we should be telling more stories of life. I think of Billy Bragg's songs, such as 'Tender Comrade' as a good example of this.
  4. It is about community - whether it is singing along, playing or dancing - rather than just a spectator event.
Show of Hands wrote a song recently, Roots, with these lyrics:

'ROOTS' by Steve Knightley.

"Now it's been twenty-five years or more
I've roamed this land from shore to shore
From Tyne to Tamar, Severn to Thames
From moor to vale, from peak to fen
Played in cafes and pubs and bars
I've stood in the street with my old guitar
But I'd be richer than all the rest
If I had a pound for each request
For 'Duelling Banjos' 'American Pie'
Its enough to make you cry
'Rule Britannia' or 'Swing Low'
Are they the only songs the English know?

Seed, bud, flower, fruit
They're never gonna grow without their roots
Branch, stem, shoots - they need roots

After the speeches when the cake's been cut
The disco is over and the bar is shut
At christening, birthday, wedding or wake
What can we sing until the morning breaks?
When the Indian, Asians, Afro, Celts
It's in their blood, below the belt
They're playing and dancing all night long
So what have they got right that we've got wrong?

Seed, bud, flower, fruit
Never gonna grow without their roots
Branch, stem, shoots - we need roots

Haul away boys let them go
Out in the wind and the rain and snow
We've lost more than well ever know
Round the rocky shores of England

And a minister said his vision of hell
Is three folk singers in a pub near Wells
Well I've got a vision of urban sprawl
It's pubs where no one ever sings at all
And everyone stares at a great big screen
Over-paid soccer stars, prancing teens
Australian soap, American rap
Estuary English, baseball caps
And we learn to be ashamed before we walk
Of the way we look and the way we talk
Without our stories or our songs
How will we know where we've come from?
I've lost St George in the Union Jack
It's my flag too and I want it back

Seed, bud, flower, fruit
Never gonna grow without their roots
Branch, stem, shoots - we need roots

Haul away boys let them go
Out in the wind and the rain and snow
We've lost more than we'll ever know
Round the rocky shores of England"

Here is the song - it says it all really.


  1. Hmm, seen Beelowhead for the first time thanks the link you left.

    Not massively impressed

    However, Show of Hands deserve to be massive, great lyrics, great voice, accesible band etc. Saw them at the Big Session festivl in Leicestyer and they were great.

    Not as good as Trans-Global Underground mind, but superb nonetheless.

    I share your enjoyment of roots music but leaven that with a dose of U2, Rockpile, AC/DC and Steve Lawson. If you like music, you really shouldn't preclude anything. Even Britney has her moments and Amy Winehouse has a voice that amny a chanteuse would envy.

    As for me, I'm off to investigate Bat For Lashes. Very peculiar and therefore worthy of investigation.

  2. Apologies for my dreadful typing on the preceding comment, there is no excuse whatsoever!

    I will definitelt trt to ipromve in the fturue, henost!

  3. Hey Bob. No problem. I like U2 - most of the time :-)

    Amy has a great voice - I just dislike the over-compressed sound she has adopted for Radio 1 airplay.

  4. Hey, loving the blog, it's nice to find fellow folkies in the blogosphere! I'm very new to it but hope to be reviewing gigs/CDs etc as well as just generally enthusing about folk!
    Would you mind if I put a link to your blog on mine?
    In the meantime do take a look at my blog if you get the chance,
    Thanks! :-)


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