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Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music [Paperback]

Rob Young
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 Aug 2010
Electric Eden documents one of the great untold stories of British music over the past century. While ostensibly purporting to be a history of that much derided (though currently fashionable) four-letter word, 'folk', Electric Eden will be a magnificent survey of the visionary, topographic and esoteric impulses that have driven the margins of British visionary folk music from Vaughan Williams and Holst to The Incredible String Band, Nick Drake, John Martyn and Aphex Twin. For the first time the full story of the extraordinary period of folk rock from the mid 1960s to the mid 1970s will be told in a book with the breadth of a social history touching on sonic worship, pagan architecture, land art, ley lines and ther outer fringes of the avant garde. Electric Eden identifies a particularly English wellspring of imagery and imagination, an undercurrent that has fed into the creative and organic strand of Britain's music over the past century. From Edwardian composers assimilations of folk song and visionary poetry, via folk rock of the 60s and 70s, the story is brought up to date by placing these earlier movements in a continuum that links through significant figures in 21st century pastoral electronica.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (5 Aug 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571237525
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571237524
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 15.2 x 5.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 251,827 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Rob Young was born in Bristol in 1968. He has worked as a music writer and editor since 1993, when he joined the staff of The Wire magazine. He was Editor of the title between 2000-04 and continues to be a Contributing Editor and co-owner. He edited the collections of Wire articles, 'Undercurrents: The Hidden Wiring of Modern Music' (Continuum 2002), 'The Wire Primers: A Guide to Modern Music' (Verso 2009), and a selection of newly commissioned pieces on a legendary musical genius, 'No Regrets: Writings On Scott Walker' (Orion 2012).

He also wrote the first two in Black Dog Publishing's Labels Unlimited series of illustrated record company biographies: 'Warp' (2005) and 'Rough Trade' (2006). In 2010 he published his 650-page history of folk music and the British imagination, from the late 19th century to the present, 'Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music' (Faber and Faber).

He has contributed to many publications including Uncut, Sight & Sound, The Word, The Guardian, Frieze and Art Review, as well as art catalogues on Jeremy Deller, Carsten Nicolai and Seb Patane.

Blog: electriceden.net
Twitter: @polyalbion

Product Description


'A passionately researched, carefully written and compulsively readable map of the leys and songlines of an oral culture with its roots in pre-Roman times and its branches in the charts ... Young s grasp of context is enviable, his knowledge encyclopaedic ... Electric Eden constructs a new mythography out of old threads, making antiquity glow with an eerie hue. It can sit proudly on any bookshelf beside Alan Lomax s The Land Where Blues Began, Greil Marcus s Invisible Republic, Nick Tosches Where Dead Voices Gather or Jon Savage s England s Dreaming. If Mr Young never writes another word, he can count this epic book as the fruit of a beautiful labour.' --Peter Murphy, Sunday Business Post<br /><br />Beginning with a striking riff on how music and image open up wormholes into past times, Electric Eden joins a multiplicity of dots. Moving from the folk revival of the early 20th century onto what the author calls Albion-centric, historically resonant folk-rock of the 60s and 70s, music fans will enjoy comprehensive analyses of Fairport Convention, Comus, Nick Drake and many others. Where Young takes more esoteric flight is when he convincingly works such disparate concepts as the free festival scene, Bagpuss and The Wicker Man into his meditations on an agrarian past that survives in the imagination. Fascinating. --Ian Harrison, Q Magazine<br /><br />Stunning ... The thread of mapping modern instruments on to traditional folk tunes leads Young from Peter Warlock to Bert Jansch, Steeleye Span and the Aphex Twin, via the bucolic psychedelia of the Incredible String Band, the Beatles and Pink Floyd. This is no easy path to navigate but Young rarely wavers. --Bob Stanley, Sunday Times

'A comprehensive and absorbing exploration of Britain's folk music, which serves, too, as a robust defence of the genre ... What [folk music] emerges as, in this impassioned and infectious rallying cry of a book, is a musical tradition that is about so much more than morris dancing and a determination to hold onto the past. Folk, be it traditional, mystical, mythical, radical or experimental, is a living, breathing form, Young believes. It is everywhere, in all the music we hear, in every song we sing. Electric Eden defies you to disagree.' --Dan Cairns, Sunday Times

'Hugely ambitious ... What keeps it consistently readable is the happy marriage between Young s incisive observation and his talent for a vivid phrase ... A thoroughly enjoyable read and likely to remain the best-written overview [of the modern British folk phenomenon] for a long time ... I ve already made several precious musical discoveries thanks to this book and I expect to make more.' --Michel Faber, Guardian Book of the Week

Book Description

A seminal book on British music and cultural heritage, that spans the visionary classical and folk tradition from the nineteenth-century to the present day.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Observation 22 Sep 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Now I must confess that I'm still only part way through the book but I can see both sides of the reviews listed. I too was disturbed to see the errors about the Donovan recordings and took the trouble to write to Rob Young about the errors that I'd found. I am, afraid to say, old enough to have bought the original albums at their time of issue!
That said, I do like the way that the works of Arnold Bax, Granville Bantock and others of the period is linked into the exploration of the folk influence. So I'm prepared to give the author the benefit of the doubt as I am definitely enjoying the book and it has got me thinking even if I don't necessarily agree with every word.
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51 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magical History 30 Aug 2010
Have you ever had this experience? You really want to read a certain book; you look for it; you spend a certain amount of time investigating obscure titles; in the end you decide that the book just doesn't exist. Perhaps you even consider writing it. Then one day it turns up on the shelves.

I've been looking for years for a good volume on British folk music, which took the tradition from the first, Edwardian revival right through to the present, with a particular emphasis on the revivals of the 50s/60s and 70s. Even better if it could link them with that strain in British culture which turns naturally towards the past, and is also interested in everything from ley lines, Wicca and folklore to real ale, self sufficiency and the preservation of rural crafts.

Well, here it is. Rob Young has done us all an enormous favour. This is a fabulous book, and, in the current climate, is destined to attract huge attention. One of those sprawling works that truly deserve the description `panoramic survey', it takes us from the early collecting activities of Cecil Sharp, Ralph Vaughan Williams and the Edwardian collectors, through to the rediscovery of folk in the 50s and 60s (Davy Graham, Shirley Collins, Pentangle/Jansch/John Renbourn, Martin Carthy etc) and its metamorphosis into folk rock and acid folk (Fairport Convention/Sandy Denny, Steeleye Span, Incredible String Band, Mr Fox, Trees etc). Along the way different chapters take us off into such diversions as modern witchcraft and the free festival movement. The trip is exciting, interesting and enlightening.

As a guide to this material, Rob Young has got to be hard to beat.
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46 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A delight 10 Aug 2010
By emma who reads a lot TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a handsome, heavy book, but don't worry, it's delightful reading that speeds by. English music is the subject matter, but one strain of English music in particular: the folky, countryside-ish music which spans the arc between Vaughan Williams, Kate Bush and Julian Cope. Rob Young has written extensively on the subject, most notably for Wire, and he has a lovely, idiosyncratic style of writing, bringing in elements from outside music and weaving together a wonderful tapestry. John Michell and his leylines, for example, in the chapter on Vashti Bunyan. Ssections pondering the influence of the country retreat on bands such as Traffic. A long meander into the world of William Morris. (In fact, one of the few criticisms I could make of the book would be that sometimes, he'll concentrate on social and cultural stuff at the expense of talking more about the music.)

As well as the main text, there's a carefully-chosen, interesting-to-argue-with-in-your-head discography, a fantastic index and copious footnotes. Highly, highly recommended.

(PS I should mention that for those who really want a book about folk, there is also plenty on Sandy Denny, Comus, Pentangle, Fairport Convention, etc.)
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Difficult to put down - a book to contemplate 7 Sep 2010
By Joolz
I agree with everyone who is praising this book, and also with some of the niggles, though of course there could be no such book without some. I'd much rather have something to disagree with than nothing at all...and there is nothing else out there like this. Just to add my own niggle or two: The Unthanks deserve a section, as they pick up all of the threads examined here, and take them further, and Eliza Carthy deserves much more than a passing reference. Also worth a prominent mention would have been Gerald van Waes' monumental psychedelicfolk.com website- those looking for that comprehensive discography need look no further. (And perhaps "Britain's...music" should have been "England's"? No sign of Runrig of Capercaillie here...).

Most of the quibbles seem to be about detail and omissions, but I enjoyed much of the theory. For example the observation that when Americans contemplate their landscape, it is often expressed in a physical journey - Kerouac, Steinbeck, Two Lane Blacktop, Easy Rider etc.- but when English contemplate their countryside, the inspiration is often expressed as an inward, mental journey - having lived in both countries, this seems right to me. This may also explain why English attempts to adopt the American vision, whether "Radio On" or Fairport's "Heyday", seemed to be forced, whereas songs like "Fat old sun", "Rising for the Moon", "Strawberry Fields" or "Sad February" affect us so strongly, beyond what they logically should, as they stimulate an inward journey in us.

I am grateful to the author for perceptions like this, and will stay with him as he straightens out the plants in his garden of eden.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
This is brilliant !
Published 6 days ago by Mrs. G. M. Emery
4.0 out of 5 stars I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of ...
I don't think I can add anything more to the other positive reviews here, but it makes fascinating reading. Read more
Published 21 days ago by Cat lover
3.0 out of 5 stars MOSTLY GOOD - BUT TOO LONG
For about two-thirds of this book I was enthralled - but the latter part to me seemed to go off track and just be a vehicle to show how much the author knew. Read more
Published 1 month ago by ronnie goodyer
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting subject...
....but beware the purple prose.

I wanted to like this book, but the writer's style defeated me, and I finally gave up halfway through a particularly pretentious passage... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Take me back to dear old blighty
Short review. Fantastic. A must read. As much about England from agrarian communities to the industrial revolution and beyond as it is about the (superbly evoked) music. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Jonathan Martin
4.0 out of 5 stars A highly readable and meditative history
I grew up at a time when British folk music had long since been relegated to the sidelines of popular culture as an object of ridicule, as personified by the comedians Trevor and... Read more
Published 11 months ago by A.C.
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking and illuminating
Wonderfully written, by an author who has a genuine love of the subject. Made me feel incredibly proud of the influence British music had and continues to have around the world.
Published 11 months ago by Mr. Sj Gould
5.0 out of 5 stars Good learning experience
I had a lot of fun reading this book and it joined up a lot of dots for me in the way that different artists relate to each other. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Ben Collins
5.0 out of 5 stars Brits at their best
A beautiful,knowledgeable book.any music lover will adore this book.I know I will keep visiting it again and again.a lush vision of folk
Published 13 months ago by mark harris
4.0 out of 5 stars Electric Eden
A very stimulating and thought provoking piece of work.Very knowledgeable and erudite in its` execution.A little long winded in places but overall an excellent read.
Published 13 months ago by david tomlinson
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