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Singing from the Floor: A History of British Folk Clubs Paperback – 6 Mar 2014
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'What a great story this is . . . JP Bean has put together something definitive.' (Mojo, * * * * *)
'There are tales a-plenty . . . of penury and hardship, of sleeping on couches, floors, under tables and bridges, in doorways, even the most celebrated of the scene's performers often living like dossers . . . "It was magic, an astonishing moment," recalls Martin Carthy, without overstatement.' (Uncut, 9/10)
'An impressive list of contributors . . . In true folk tradition, a story worth handing on.' (Q, * * * *)
'Takes the reader from the revival's earliest stirrings to gigs at the hipsterish Magpie's Nest in present-day East London . . . there is a telling story or unforgettable vignette on almost every page.' (Guardian)
'Summons up the mottled charm of a different era . . . this was a time when the English Folk Dance and Song Society had Princess Margaret as a president. When singer Ian Campbell told her he lived in Birmingham, she replied: "How unfortunate." ' (Daily Telegraph)
Singing from the Floor: A History of British Folk Clubs, by J. P. Bean, is the remarkable history of British folk clubs, brought to Faber by Editor-at-Large Jarvis Cocker.See all Product description
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As one who was too young to be there and came to folk music when the archetypal club model was already in decline, the history outlined and the tales told in 'Singing From The Floor' are endlessly rewarding and fascinating. Not all reputations survive unscathed - there is a good deal of criticism, for example, of Ewan MacColl, although Peggy Seeger is also represented to give her side of the story. The role of also Bert Lloyd is made more peripheral than might have been thought from other sources (notably Dave Arthur's fascinating recent biography of Lloyd, 'Bert').
Bean has made a fine continuum out of the multitude of voices he has amassed; there is great skill throughout the book in the way the story is progressed through multiple viewpoints of the same events or strands of the tale. It is to be hoped that the raw material of all those interviews is available for future researchers, because the very effect of such skilful and light-touch editing is that other stories must remain to be extracted from the source interviews. There are also individual contributions that are striking - one that particularly remains with me is John Tams' evocative and consciously semi-mythologising account of Tony Capstick's funeral.
It is not an original point to note that, despite the title, one of the major voices that is missing from the selection is that of the ordinary floor singer - all the interviews are with either those who toured the clubs as artists themselves, or in some cases are the parents of those who have themselves become known names. It is also inevitable that those who came through the 60s folk club circuit are sometimes less than entirely complimentary in the latter chapters about the musicians and singers of the 90s revival and beyond who have tended to bypass the remaining folk club circuit.
This is an essential read for anyone interested in British folk music (although the emphasis is very much upon the English folk club movement). It is not a complete history, but no one volume could ever be.
The book confirms some things that I did know and tells of many things I didn't know and puts it all into perspective. Obviously, it tells of the Folk Club scene but it's also a marvellous record of Britain's social history from the 50s, too.
I'm only 20% through and can't wait to read the rest. Brilliantly put together and a 'must' for anyone who was around 'back in the day'. I have a feeling it would also be of interest to the current crop of young folkies, too.
I'm surprised though that in the comments about the future of folk clubs, nobody mentioned the purely practical issues of trying to run a club these days. It's not just that the organisers are getting too old or can't cope with newcomers. The venues are disappearing as pubs close down or turn their function rooms into restaurants, or meeting rooms with carpets and drapes which ruin the acoustics. Then there are the public entertainment licences, PRS fees, health & safety assessments and countless other bureaucratic hindrances to anyone wanting to run a music venue these days.
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