Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music Paperback – 5 Aug 2010
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'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
Rob Young's Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music is 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.See all Product description
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En route he takes in Ewan McColl, Martin Carthy, Shirley Collins, Steeleye Span, The incredible String Band, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Marc Bolan, and Yes, the incidental introduction of which, due to a personal experience, allows him to segue into the challenge of punk (and the tale of how in 1977 Sid Vicious insulted John Martyn during a poker game, for which Martyn took him outside and gave him a duffing).
He has a sharp eye for the ridiculous, such as when he notes the criticisms by “traditionalists” of the use of electric guitars (by, inter alia, Bob Dylan), but that they nevertheless accept the use of concertinas and melodeons, which were themselves barely a century old at the time of the infamous “Judas” moment.
Usefully for me, he also delves into the obsessions of various folkies with Tolkien. While I enjoyed the films, I never got my head around this particular predilection, and tended to distance myself from those who took it seriously, sometimes to the point where they treated it as real history.
Another interesting sideroad takes him into an account of how outdoor music festivals such as the Isle of Wight, Windsor and Glastonbury (with further explorations of English mythology and legend) got started. In the case of the latter, it appears, through the hard work of a descendant of Winston Churchill.
At times, admittedly, Young gets it wrong. The Angel pub, former Fairport Convention HQ, is in Little Hadham, not Ware (on a wicked dogleg bend which, when you see it, helps you understand how a truck could crash into it). When I visited Camber Sands, which is in East Sussex, not Kent, earlier this year they must have temporarily moved the cliffs he mentions. He has a rather frazzled view of the chronology of some events at the 1970 Isle of Wight festival: he treats the intervention of an audience member on-stage as separate from Joni Mitchell’s performance, when in fact it was at the root of Mitchell’s distress. And The Strawbs’ Part Of The Union was emphatically not a celebration of union power, but a satire of it: in an interview at the time Dave Cousins explained it stemmed from his frustrations working in a unionised factory due to the restrictions the union placed on him, which he saw as destructive, hence “the rise of the company’s fall.”
These are minor points though in the scheme of things. This is an excellent book, constantly holding the interest with both its subject matter and the author’s extrovert style, and providing a valuable insight into British music and culture of the past hundred or so years.
I recommend the book to anyone who is interested in the development of folk music and folk-rock in the UK.
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.
This book gives you visions and links; it crunches together things you thought were disparate; it sets up chains of connection where none existed; it offers sweeping insights into music as a gate into different ways of thinking about our land and our beliefs. I've not come across another work that could introduce me to the music of Moeran and Comus and and Jonathan Cope in the same volume, and enable me to see them as somehow related. The book takes huge risks, braves ridicule and condescension from specialists and academic historians, and can give you a new vision of our times, and your relation to them. If music really matters to you for itself, not for a reflection of your own ego, or as a nostalgic thumb to suck, then I'm beginning to think this book might do what so many books promise and so very, very few actually do - change your life, in some significant ways.
It's a long time since I found myself writing all over a book - comments of delight, of outraged disagreement, of solidarity and relief. It is a Philosopher's Stone of a book. I'm deeply grateful for it.