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The Ballad of Britain

The Ballad of Britain [Kindle Edition]

Will Hodgkinson
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)

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Product Description


'The Ballad of Britain is an enthusiast's jaunt, frothy armchair ethnomusicology, but Hodgkinson understands what very few music writers seem to: simply that music is about flesh and blood.' --The Times

'A brilliant travelogue' --The London Paper

Product Description

In 1903, the Victorian composer Cecil Sharp began a decade-long journey to collect folk songs that, he believed, captured the spirit of Great Britain. A century later, with the musical and cultural map of the country transformed, writer and journalist Will Hodgkinson sets out on a similar journey to find the songs that make up modern Britain. He looks at the unique relationship the British have with music, and tries to understand how the country has represented itself through song. He visits remote pubs in the West Country where families have been passing down local songs for generations, monasteries in Oxfordshire where monks use plainsong to commune with God, sits in with Hindu devotional singers in the suburbs of Birmingham and learns an ancient folk tune from a Sussex farmer. Will goes from the heart of the mainstream music scenes to the very fringes as part of his quest, visiting in turn remote musical heartlands and great urban musical cities. London (The Kinks, The Who and Blur), Liverpool (The Teardrop Explodes, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Beatles), Manchester (Joy Division, Stone Roses, Oasis) and Sheffield (Cabaret Voltaire, The Human League, Pulp and more recently, The Arctic Monkeys) all feature prominently as the respective homes of clusters of great bands that have helped shape the British musical landscape. An engaging blend of humour and musical scholarship, 'The British Sound' is as much a portrait of Britain as an adventure into lyric and melody. The project forced the author into an itinerant life, scouring the length and breadth of the country for singers and songwriters in an attempt to discover whether songs still travel the way they once did, to find out whether folk music still exists in a meaningful sense, and to see how regional variations contribute to a collective musical ''Britishness''. 'The British Sound' promises to be the most interesting, funny and original travel book for years, capturing the unique musical mentality of our island nation.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 592 KB
  • Print Length: 324 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1906032548
  • Publisher: Portico; 1 edition (1 May 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S. r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007ZRYO6W
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #80,010 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not sure what it wants to be 13 Aug 2009
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
A few years ago I read Dave Haslam's book about Manchester, and it was superb - diving into the history of the city but focusing on the musical aspects, explaining why certain types of music were more popular in the city. I was hoping that this book would be similar, albeit bigger in scale, but it didn't quite meet my expectations.

Will Hodgkinson writes in a light and enjoyable style, almost chatty in fact, but whilst the book advertises itself as an exploration of music in Britain it doesn't really achieve this goal. Instead he seems to spend more time writing about the places he visits, how he gets there, the somewhat dilapidated car he drives, and also the "Zoom" portable recording studio he takes with him in a carrier bag. He concentrates on the folkier styles of music, and sadly he fails to draw any real conclusions apart from that a certain type of song is popular in a particular place because that's how it has always been. At one stage he visits Liverpool and concentrates on why Pink Floyd, Captain Beefheart and Love are so popular there (answer: they all played concerts there) yet scarcely mentions the whole Merseybeat sound, then travels to Manchester (briefly) and concentrates on how the city itself has changed since his last visit, before decamping to the suburbs to listen to a band.

The overwhelming feeling I got from this book was that it was an extended thesis, almost every chapter the same length, as though they were written to read a particular word count, and that he didn't really draw any conclusions at all, and instead turned it into something of a travelogue where he could spend more time writing about his car's declining health.

There are, however, enjoyable sections, particularly the chapter set in Sheffield where he describes Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley's friendship, and from time to time I laughed out loud. It's a light, enjoyable read, but not the exploration of music I'd expected and looked forward to.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Short Folk Singing Travel-blog 14 Aug 2009
By Miss M. L. English VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
It took me a few days to get 'into' this book. I wasn't too sure what it was all about. I originally was attracted by the title as I've been running an acoustic club for 19years+ and I thought it might offer some insights.

Yes, Will was inspired by Cecil Sharp's life-time quest to record all the 'old songs' in the UK, before they 'died-out'.....but I couldn't quite square Will's journey as being even a teeny bit the same. This is an account of Will driving around the UK in his battered and 'extremely unpleasant white Vauxhall Astra' to get 'field recordings' of various singers and players he is 'guided to' meet over a few months.
A lot of his meetings are random to say the least and I got the feeling that he must have been more bored with his life in Peckham SE London than inspired to 'discover' the music hidden away in little,local crevices.
I suppose my disappointment was there was nothing 'new' in what he was doing and that the people he describes are what every folk/acoustic club in the UK comprises of. A variety of singing styles as different and unique as people are.....But not one of the meetings stuck in my memory, or made me want to know more about them. Maybe it's Will's rather 'English' style of writing, more restrained and self-deprecating. I got to the end of the book.....and felt rather flat.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Underwhelming 14 Sep 2009
By doublegone TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The best I can say is that this is a mildly interesting collection of essays. Like so many books of its sort it comes across as a magazine article which has been stretched to book length.

Its clear that what Hodgkinson set out on was not the mission to take a musical snapshot of Britain, but a wheeze for a book he could write. The result came across to me therefore a bit hollow and soulless. It was all a bit aimless. The travelogue portions in the ailing Astra were largely redundant. The sections were clumsily linked. Each chapter seems to end with a paragraph beginning "But it was time...." as we were lead by the nose to the topic over the page. I became more and more irritated as he kept using this pointless device.

I also have a problem with his belief that he was in some way following in the footsteps of the great field musicologists of the past. Song collectors of yore did not put themselves in the picture. They were interested in the music for its own sake, rather than telling the world how the music made them feel. It perhaps reflects that Hodgkinson is from the 21st Century media village that this book is considerably more about him than it is about the musicians and songs he encounters. That worked very well in his previous book, Guitar Man, but here it seems to do his subjects a real disservice.

And when those old-time song collectors jotted down transcriptions or made rudimentary recordings they were genuinely preserving a snapshot of heritage which might otherwise be lost. But this author points his microphone at performers who have Myspace profiles and access to digital technology which they themselves can use to preserve their every utterance.

Which left me thinking of this book - what is the point?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delectable, especially if read interactively! 28 July 2009
By Lady Fancifull TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is an enchanting and educative stroll through folk and storytelling British music. Hodgkinson, who has a prose style which is conversational and not at all dry, has written a highly informative and educational book, which is great fun.

He takes as his premise that there is a tradition of folk music, which was linked to a way we told stories, an oral rather than a written tradition, often particular to region. He embarks on a journey through pockets of England, in his clapped out patchwork Astra. He's examining the music which individuals, often wonderfully eccentric individuals, are making about their roots. Armed with a Zoom recorder he sets out to record the music, whether it's the jingles of Morris dancers bells and thwacks of their sticks outside a pub in Headington Quarry in Oxfordshire; the early, Dylanesque style warblings of Chatham based/sometime Greenwich village resident folkie Pete Molinari, rather dangerously received on the street in Chatham (I suspect residents of Chatham may be feeling a little murderously towards Hodgkinson as he paints a far from appealing picture of the majority of locals!); or accounts of Romany Travellers magically singing and dancing in the woods in deepest Sussex.

So what's the Interactive nod in my title? Well I was so entranced and engaged by Hodgkinson's amusing and warmly observant accounts of a whole raft of rather quirky musicians that I read a lot of this in front of my PC, logged into searching for the artists and playing 'their' radio (If you don't know its a great site to get to hear artists etc who may not always be available to stream/hear samples from on Amazon) So, I now know what Thistletown, Clive Palmer, Billy Childish and many more names which were unfamiliar to me sound like.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Great idea but difficult to get into
You will either get this writer or not.
Very conversational and casual in approach, I think I would have preferred a more analytical and intellectual approach to the subject... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Lilyfae
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
As another reviewer has commented, this feels like it is a magazine article that has been stretched. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Man in uniform
4.0 out of 5 stars Most enjoyable on it's own terms
A quick look at the reviews of this book on Amazon show quite a few detractors. But I can't help thinking that they must have been academics or hardcore trad folk fans who have... Read more
Published on 2 Jun 2011 by R. Turner
5.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent, funny and interesting
Having seen that Will Hodgkinson became the chief rock critic of the Times recently, I dug out a couple of his books to see what all the fuss is about. Read more
Published on 12 Nov 2010 by S. Armstrong
1.0 out of 5 stars JOURNALISM'S LOWER END
The author was a journalist wanting 'a story'. Nothing more.

The general tone reflects a disillusioned gutter press journalist trying to prove a sorry point rather than... Read more
Published on 2 Nov 2010 by Jb Drury
4.0 out of 5 stars A joy born of a situation
By no means a scholarly or comprehensive study - as it latterly admits - and prone to some fuzzy or unsubstantiated thinking here and there, "The Ballad of Britain" IS however an... Read more
Published on 19 Nov 2009 by Olde Mr Clattertwang
5.0 out of 5 stars A musical travel guide, with anthropology and antitude
One of my favourite books a while back was A Fete Worse Than Death by Iaian Aitch. This is the muscial version - a trip around Britain meeting people who are making music for now. Read more
Published on 9 Nov 2009 by Herbie Green
4.0 out of 5 stars Good travelogue, bad musicology
The third part of a sort of trilogy I suppose, following as it does Mr. Hodgkinson's previous 2 pop-based books (on learning to play the guitar and attempting to become a... Read more
Published on 29 Sep 2009 by A. Miles
4.0 out of 5 stars A Pleasant Meander around Eccentric Britian
Am surprised at how critical people are of this amiable book, which I thoughly enjoyed. It sent me off to buy a few CDs most notably "Moyshe Mcstiff And The Tartan Lancers Of The... Read more
Published on 28 Sep 2009 by Three Chord Trick
4.0 out of 5 stars thoroughly enjoyable
A very amiable account of the author's search for the 'folk' music of modern Britain. Traveling around the country with his Zoom recorder in an ailing car, he meets many... Read more
Published on 16 Sep 2009 by bethnoir
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