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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delectable, especially if read interactively!
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...
Published on 28 July 2009 by Lady Fancifull

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not sure what it wants to be
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...
Published on 13 Aug 2009 by Peter Lee


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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
By 
Peter Lee (Manchester ,United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Ballad of Britain (Paperback)
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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 "Mary English" (Bath, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Ballad of Britain (Paperback)
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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 (scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Ballad of Britain (Paperback)
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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
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This review is from: The Ballad of Britain (Paperback)
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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 last.fm searching for the artists and playing 'their' radio (If you don't know last.fm 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.

His description of a particular island strain of melancholy in our make up, as evidenced by much of our musical history, from Vaughan Williams to his citing of Pink Floyd lyrics from a track on 'Dark Side of the Moon' : 'hanging on in quiet desperation is the English Way', also struck quite a profound chord. If you listen, for example to some Spanish or Slavonic traditional music, there's at times a deep grief, a visceral darkness running through it - our own folk music often tells dark stories of murder, tragic loss and mayhem, but the quality of loss is held in what he calls a 'controlled sadness' .

And yes, I hadn't ever considered Pink Floyd as a folk band, or Led Zeppelin either, but if you read this book you may find Hodgkinson redefines folk music, its origins, what is has been, and what it really is, for you!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An absorbing musical travelogue, 26 Aug 2009
By 
Kevin O'Keefe (Yorkshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Ballad of Britain (Paperback)
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This was an enjoyable, informative account that should appeal to most with a broad interest in - and passion for - music. Make no mistake; I doubt there's little here to hold the attention of those who aren't particularly enthusiastic and passionate about pop or folk music (so if that's you I can safely recommend that you steer clear). That said I suspect most reading these reviews would not fall into this category (otherwise why would you be here?)

Will Hodgkinson's odyssey begins when - after some encouragement from his wife - he decides to embark on a journey to find the 'authentic' voice of British music (in particular the folk tradition) to discover its history and heritage and consider its ongoing relevance and development (if any).

Armed with only half an idea and his portable recording device he sets off in his dilapidated old Astra to collect field recordings from artists and musicians scattered around the country in order to compile some sort of audio account or snapshot of the current state of 'folk' music. As someone who isn't too familiar with the history of 'folk' music I was somewhat apprehensive that this was to be too esoteric for my tastes but Hodginson draws on quite a wide range of references such as Heron, The Incredible String Band, Thomas Tallis, the origins and practice of morris dancing and Oasis (so, something for everyone then).

Based very loosely on the same mission and principles of early 1900's musicologist and historian Cecil Sharp, Will ambles around the country meeting up with various current folk practitioners (and a fair number of eccentrics) who play for him and share their thoughts about the meaning, history and relevance of their music. Hodgkinson clearly has a deep reverence and love for all things folk and the authentic 'oral tradition' of musical story telling and his enthusiasm is infectious. What emerges is a musical map of England that I didn't even realise existed populated by artists largely anonymous and hidden from the musical mainstream. I was particularly delighted with the section that described the music scene of Anstruther in Fyfe (aka The Fence Collective) and his interview and recording with Kenny Anderson (aka King Creosote) whose music I am quite familiar with anyway though knew nothing of the man or 'the scene'. Other incidental details fascinated me too: did you know that Scousers are obsessed with Pink Floyd , Captain Beefheart and Love for example? Me neither. And his interview with Pete Townsend is also worth noting and who has some genuinely interesting things to say (but why no field recording from him? Shame).

Hodgkinson has an easy-going yet literate writing style and he proves to be an agreeable companion throughout the trip, often employing a gentle wit and amusing turn of phrase. Despite the haphazard and (by design) unfocused nature of the enterprise what becomes clear is that there is a rich,living and breathing shared ancestry of music that remains alive and in rude health and we need only scratch beneath the surface of the corporate music industry to find it. Incidentally the results of his field recordings are compiled on a CD available through Heron Records: it is shame this fact is not announced at the beginning (rather than at the end) of the book as I would have liked to have been able to listen to the relevant pieces as they are being described in the text.

In conclusion I enjoyed Hodgkinson's book although I did feel it flagged at times when he was covering particular styles of folk I have little interest in (though I concede that's not his fault).What prevents me from giving the book four stars is the rather narrow appeal of the book: as I say, it is not for everyone but 'good' it nevertheless is. Still recommended however.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fairly strong read for the music enthusiast, 15 Aug 2009
By 
Picard (USS Enterprise) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Ballad of Britain (Paperback)
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Hodgkinson takes us on a journey (literally) through Britain to discover the roots of our familiar and not-so-familiar sounds which have taken us from Folk Music, through 'Northern Soul', to now. On the way, he reveals much about himself and takes the time to interview various individuals who have catalyzed the movements of popular music and culture through the recent century. Although it's full of well explained facts, I did find it at times a little drawn out, but this might be because I'm used to reading fast for University. Never the less, as a Popular Music Studies student, this is an interesting read that will bode well in my collection, but for contextual analysis there are better books out there which reference more fluidly.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Above-and-Beyond the Call., 4 Aug 2009
This review is from: The Ballad of Britain (Paperback)
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Despite being terrified by the initial academic appearance of the first page, by paragraph 2 of the second page I knew Will Hodgkinson was my kind of writer.
Armed only with his trusty portable recording device and his increasingly moribund, and somewhat less than trusty, conveyance he challenges the accepted norms in search of the elusive knowledge and dares to go where angels, and the less foolhardy, fear to tread - a village full of morris dancers, very risky indeed - never mind beautiful downtown Chatham.
Up hill and down dale, risking death by Salt and Vinegar, I was with him all the way (well in spirit at least), I only have one minor carp (no not the fish!);beautiful though it undoubtedly is, Robin Hood's Bay is hard pressed to make it as a village (that's me for the pitchfork and flaming torch treatment next time then)
and can't seriously be regarded as a town, it must have been all that walking up and down the main street sans crampons.
Braving all that the elements, and locals, could throw at him our hero proves that the music of the people is alive, even well, and being nurtured by brilliant professional musicians, no-less brilliant amateur musicians,in almost bucolically rustic settlements,and seething hot-beds of urban deprivation, this is probably as it should be after all you're hardly likely to find an evenings do-it-yourself music among the bejewelled county set or their metropolitan hyper-stylish, minimalist cousins. No! It appears that it is being nurtured by ordinary men and women, no less than real musicians, such as you and me (now where did I leave that tambourine?). I for one shall not fear to enter a folkie pub in future, I already sing - as the ASBOs testify.
In closing (at last!) this was one of the best three hundred plus pages I have had the pleasure of reading in a long time (and I've read some stuff let me tell you). Will Hodgkinson has done us proud with this musicalogical extravaganza and deserves a knighthood - People have been given one for less.
Look! Just buy the book, you'll enjoy it and that's a promise.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars where's the cd?, 29 July 2009
By 
J. Turner (Wales) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Ballad of Britain (Paperback)
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This is a great, informative read that takes a walk on the wild side of folk music, around Britain. Cutting through the - often precious - intellectualism that surrounds elder folk music, Hodgkinson travels in his battered and doomed car recording most of his material al fresco. From the ubiquitous Child ballads & morris dancing to the 'grime' craze of the inner cities, this is a fabulous, fresh and quirky look at the state of 'roots' music today. He even gets as far as Wales and checks out the happening 'Green Man' festival in Brecon, though some of his Welsh spelling is a bit erratic! This book is going straight on my shelves, it's so good, but I do feel it would have been better if there had been a cd accompanying it. Oh and kudos to the author for namechecking Bob Stewart, and mentioning the fact that Led Zep did actually have some folk roots themselves. I've even gone as far as getting a 'Heron' cd, after they got a mention in the early part of this book! Well done that man!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating exploration of the music of the people, 22 July 2009
By 
A Common Reader "Committed to reading" (Sussex, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Ballad of Britain (Paperback)
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This fascinating book charts the journeys of Will Hodgkinson around Britain as he travels around Britain tracking down the answer to the question, What is the "music of the people" today? As he loaded his state-of-the-art recording equipment into his beaten up old Vauhall Astra, his goal was to "capture the spirit of the land and its people through music".

The book is both travelogue and also music research, and Will is at pains to find out what happened to the old songs form the 19th century and before, but also what moves people today. He has ended up with a highly eclectic book in which in one chapter he dances at night with gypsies in a Sussex wood and then, in another chapter, travels to Richmond to conduct an extended interview with Pete Townsend of The Who (Will is an established musical journalist and is able to pull in a few favours from time to time!).

I particularly enjoyed the vast range of music covered in this book. Its easy to forget that music is like a flowing stream - new things don't just arrive, but rather build on or diverge from what went before. Will is particularly good at bringing out the links between Cecil Sharp and Vaughan Williams who went around Britain collecting folk songs over 100 years ago, and modern song writers and bands who draw on more recent traditions.

There's quite a lot of discussion about what music means in this book. I think many folk-revival people would be bothered by various views put across that modern "folk music" is actually about historical re-enactment than the passing on of a living tradition. Will suggests that the "wild spirit" which gave birth to these earthy elemental songs about fertility writes, drinking and war cannot really found in performances of the songs centuries later. He quotes musicologist Charles Hazelwood who says that documenting traditional songs is like pinning a butterfly. The butterfly is only valuable when its flying around.

The range of this book is vast and its purpose is achieved. By the end you have a very good overview of how music affects the British people today. Whether its bopping in a London club singing pop anthems, or going to Sheffield to find out how this town produced so many hugely popular bands, Will has a humorous style which sets this book between the "humorous travelogue" and "serious investigation" genres, but it achieves both rather well. This book will remain on my shelves as a useful reference for years to come
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too big an issue for this writer, 5 Sep 2009
By 
roger (Barcelona -Spain-) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Ballad of Britain (Paperback)
Will Hodgkinson's book, for all its good intentions, only comes to show that it takes a really good writer to tackle an issue as ellusive as this one. "The ballad of Britain" basically falls short to shed any light on its subject and makes for a predictable, boring and aimless read.

You could argue he aims at such a dfficult target it's only fair he can't reach it, but books like "Haunted weather" by David Toop show that you can actually write about music's nature in a passionate, informative, thrilling and enlightening way, and using the research process -the journey, the doubts, the triumphs and defeats- as a thread to shape the book.

Hodgkinson's book misses to reach any rellevant conclusion, and has is flawed by a serious lack of rigour, a worring naivity and very limited resources as a story teller. Is it really that amazing to come across people who are into music for reasons other than fame, as Hodgkinson's depictions of some of his characters suggest? Is free improvisation really such a weird, laughable form of expression, as it comes across through his description of the Sheffield improv scene? -and incidentally, not even knowing who Derek Bailey was is a serious knowledge gap for a professional music writer working in the UK-. His descriptions of some of the places he visits as being wild and scary and are basically fuelled by what appears to be this great fear of getting mugged -which actually, never happens to him in any of these rough, dangerous places he goes to-. His choice of characters seems so random that even the author seems to realise it and feels to need to remind us the purpose of the whole trip after almost every encounter with a musician, as if he, like us, has no clue as for why he's there.
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The Ballad of Britain
The Ballad of Britain by Will Hodgkinson (Paperback - 1 Aug 2009)
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