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Electric Folk: The Changing Face of English Traditional Music [Paperback]

Britta Sweers
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
Price: 16.00 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

1 Jan 2005
, Britta Sweers chronicles the history of the genre and explores its cultural implications. She characterizes electric folk as both a result of the American folk revival of the early 1960s and a reaction against the dominance of American pop music abroad. Sweers creates a detailed portrait of the folk rock scene - as cultural phenomenon, commercial entity, and performance style.

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Electric Folk: The Changing Face of English Traditional Music + The British Folk Revival 1944-2002 (Ashgate Popular and Folk Music Series) + Folk Music: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (1 Jan 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019517478X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195174786
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16 x 1.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 508,326 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Sweers has compiled a fascinating examination of electric folk- or folk rock- in the UK since the 1960s." --CHOICE

About the Author

Britta Sweers is Junior Professor in Ethnomusicology at the Hochschule fur Musik und Theater, Rostock (Germany)."

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not a moment too soon... 12 July 2007
Format:Paperback
A scholarly exploration of English folk-rock and its historical context has been long overdue, and Britta Sweers offers a comprehensive assessment of the diversity and iconoclasm of this curious and extraordinary postwar phenomenon. Thoroughly buttressed with extensive research, including some enlightening interviews with surviving artists, Electric Folk will undoubtedly become an indispensable work of pop culture criticism.
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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars pioneering ethnomusicology 30 Jun 2005
By David Bratman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is apparently the first book about English electric folk in thirty years, and the first ever to take an ethnomusicological approach to the subject. Most books about British folk music, or about "folk-rock" (a term usually taken to mean an American genre of slightly earlier date) don't distinguish the electric folk bands or else relegate the whole idea to a corner.

But Sweers puts front and center four bands: Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Pentangle, and the Oyster Band, with plenty of discussion of acoustic performers allied to electric folk (e.g. Martin Carthy, Shirley Collins) and some excursions into "Celtic lounge music" (Clannad, Enya) and American bands doing English electric folk. Nor is this a casual anecdotal history. Despite some occasionally sloppy writing and copyediting (what has happened to the OUP, anyway?), Sweers has delved deeply into primary sources and interviewed almost everybody, and written a good analysis of how the "scene" developed, what it meant to the people performing and listening to it (even discussing social class issues), and into what the music is actually like and how it got that way. I especially appreciated the meaty technical sections, like the chart showing some of the unusual chord progressions that characterize these songs (Fairport's "Tam Lin", for instance, is i-VII-III-i).

One might also learn a lot. Every history and interview of these performers says that many of them came out of "the folk clubs," obviously venues where folk music was performed, but Sweers is the first to actually describe these things. It turns out that "'venue' can actually be misleading, for the clubs were more like events - weekly meetings that were located in one of the small back rooms of a pub, easily missed by outsiders" (p. 112). Folk clubs tended to be run by people who took Ewan MacColl's every suggestion as iron-clad gospel, and thus were bastions for what Tom Lehrer once called "the peculiar hard core who equate authenticity with charm." Now one begins to understand why people like Tim Hart and Maddy Prior found them stultifying and found a way out.

Sweers's interviewing and research were done around 1996-97 and the book is largely written from the perspective of that time period, although there's an epilogue dated 2003 when the text was finalized. It's still a long enough perspective to tell the primary history of a movement whose golden age was 1969-75 but still carries on.

This is a pioneering secondary study of considerable value, to ethnomusicologists seeking uncharted fields to read about, and especially to anyone who actually likes the music.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars British folk into rock: 20c evolution 16 Feb 2007
By John L Murphy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Britta Sweers, in her dissertation expanded into a book, offers a refreshing change from the usual thesis packaged between harder covers. Her own experiences as a curious listener drew her in to the electric-folk British scene. Her training as a musicologist allowed her to chart the innovations the musicians brought to this fusion of rock attitude and folk sensibility. Or vice versa. This conundrum generates the contents of her study and the tension of the genre.

Added to this, as the first reviewer explains, are interviews with many of the key players. This is valuable, as informants like Ashley Hutchings, Martin Carthy, Norma Waterson, and especially Maddy Prior share their memories-- or such as survive as they readily admit. Added to this is Sweers' best touch, for me. She trawls Melody Maker & Sounds (less so NME as she explains) for mentions of folk-rock as Fairport began to be marketed beyond the limited folk scene, and the counterculture took up the freak folk flag more readily by the time of "Liege & Lief." The analysis Sweers constructs shows how with less heralded (compared to Sandy Denny & Richard Thompson in hindsight!) Dave Mattacks on drums crafted the signature sound that enabled a genre to flourish, traditional material played by those who had grown up with rock and pop. Out of the folk club ghetto Prior captures in her comments so well, her Steeleye Span and its comrades pursued success into American stadiums and amplified concerts and grand productions on record. This phase, the earlier 70s, Sweers re-creates effectively from the point of view of the band.

I wish the constraint she places around her definition (somewhat flexible necessarily as she carefully accounts for) would have widened to include the rockers who donned folk trappings but were never placed among the folksters. The drift into prog rock and what's been called "elf opera" or 'sci-fi medievalism' is followed, but if Sweers had gone further, the wider relevance of her study upon the larger rock and pop worlds of the 70s might have been better established.

Still, a welcome book. Musicians, fans, scholars all should take from this thoughtful account a lesson in how to approach this wonderfully diversified fusion genre in a suitably eclectic, yet disciplined and carefully researched manner. As did the best of its musicians, so its critics: the preparation shows who merely puts on the garish costume vs. those adepts who come to wear its bold hues well as if a second skin.
5.0 out of 5 stars Not a moment too soon... 13 July 2007
By Dean A. Hoffman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A scholarly exploration of English folk-rock and its historical context has been long overdue, and Britta Sweers offers a comprehensive assessment of the diversity and iconoclasm of this curious and extraordinary postwar phenomenon. Thoroughly buttressed with extensive research, including some enlightening interviews with surviving artists, Electric Folk will undoubtedly become an indispensable work of pop culture criticism.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Should have been great, but... 6 April 2013
By WhattheDickens! - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Yes, it should have been great, but...

It reads more like a Ph.D candidate trying to impress the academic supervisor with academic register and form rather than just getting on with it and telling the story. A tough, really tough read.
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