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A beard is not essential...
on 28 May 2013
I would consider myself to be a folk fan although my music taste is very eclectic. I seem to have been born at the wrong time as my large music collection seems to be predominantly made up of 60's and 70's music from Zeppelin to Zappa and a large chunk of both my vinyl and cd collection would come under the heading of "folk". Folk music is often wrongly categorised online and the genre subsequently seems to encompass singer songwriters, mellow acoustic and all manner of artists. Tesco are especially annoying in regards to this, having the audacity to place Daniel O'Donnell in their folk section. Traditionalists would reject anything that was not a recording of a song from the 18th century. For me folk music encompasses both tradition and modernity, after all the great Louis Armstrong once famously said " All music is folk music. I ain't never heard a horse sing a song". Quite right too.
English Folk music has a long and colourful history that has been handed down through the generations. Being "The people's music" it has been used to highlight political issues, tell stories, myths and legends. The older songs are windows to life in another time, but with issues and struggles that we can usually relate to today. This box set showcases three generations of folk musicians and bands from the 1950's up to present day.
THREE DISCS OF MUSIC:
Disc one could be said to explore the "roots" of folk music in the UK, Davy Graham, June Tabor, John Renbourne and Bert Jansch amongst others get an airing here. Discs two and three showcase the 1960's onwards highlighting some of the "new" folk artists who played their part on what has been called "the folk revival". There is a tracklist at the very end of this review.
I am generally not keen on compilations, especially in regards to folk music as the choice of tracks can sometimes be a bit suspect but in the case of this compilation it really is a good introduction to English folk music if you have no real knowledge of the genre. It features a wealth of talent from established and revered greats such as The Watersons and Bert Jansch (I challenge anybody to listen to him playing "Anji" and not be astounded as his skill), as well as some of the "new" wave of folk artists such as the brilliantly colourful Eliza Carthy (daughter of Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson - a pair with a long folk history spanning decades), and Jon Boden (he of the "Ratcatchers" with Eliza and the massive Bellowhead).
It is fair to say that I did know most of the tracks when I bought this but I grabbed it for the price and convenience, this is a THREE disc box set for a fiver. The selection of tracks is well chosen and features some lovely quirky inclusions such as "The Humblebums" who were a cracking 60's folkie outfit featuring no other than a Mr Billy Connolly.
This is an introduction to folk music in a box set which is enclosed in a card casing and has three slim card sleeves tucked inside it. Released on the Nascente label, a lot of thought has gone into balancing both the old and new, the traditional and modern. There are 45 individual tracks, 15 on each disc. The packaging is attractive, the front cover comprising several of the artists within the cd and some nice vintage nature pics laid out in a patchwork fashion.
If you have never really given folk music so much as a sniff then this is a good introduction to the genre although you may be surprised to hear that some of the more "twee" songs are actually hotbeds of death, heartbreak, sexual promiscuity and darkness. Take "Once I had a sweetheart", featured on this compilation and recorded by the wonderful Pentangle with Jacqui McShee. This song is a tragic tale of loss and false love and yet is sung in a sweet and crystal clear voice, it almost lulls you into a false sense of security and pleasant floaty fluff.
A lot of folk music is like this, a common theme in the older songs and "child ballads" is usually a dark and somewhat twisted one. "Child ballads" if you are new to them are the collected works of Francis James Child, a man who gathered together some 305 traditional ballads from England and Scotland (with some American inclusions) in the late nineteenth century. Many of today's folk artists record from the Child ballads and rework them to give them a new edge. The beauty of folk music is that it truly is the "music of the people" and therefore it can evolve and digress as time moves on. As I have noted, this does not make some traditionalists happy but if folk music is to be known to a new generation AND live on then it needs to be reinterpreted and recorded in different ways by different people. Eliza Carthy is somebody very known for doing just this.
So as a sampler this is good as an introduction to the individual artists. The down side of this of course is that it is very hard to sum up an artist with one track and if you do not care for it you may dismiss a wealth of amazing recordings based on the hearing of just one song. I would advise this collection as a starter but encourage you to branch out and check out the artists on Youtube to get a proper idea of their talents.
THE ARTISTS AND SONGS:
I am not going to list them all but on this great little set you will find seminal folkies such as Davy Graham, Ann Briggs, the incredible Mr Martin Carthy and of course Dave Swarbrick, a genius on the fiddle if ever there was one. Nic Jones is here too as well as Eliza Carthy's family -The Watersons. No folk compliation would be complete without Pentangle and Fairport Convention, the latter song "Matty Groves" is one of their most famous songs, an upbeat and rousing traditional number that has appeared in many guises and with a few different names and details.
AN EXAMPLE OF THE TRAD FOLK GENRE:
Taking "Matty" as an example of a typical folk song which ticks all of the right boxes- you have a Child ballad, adultery, a lovers tryst, murder, fighting for a Lady, a name change (it was known as "Little Musgrave and and Lady Barnard"), and antiquity in one. This song dates back to the 17th century.
You have the wife of a nobleman who has a romp with a servant, whose husband then returns home and finds the pair together. He challenges the servant "Matty" to a duel which Matty then loses. His wife then spurns the nobleman so he kills her too by stabbing her through the heart.
" A Grave a grave Lord Donald cried, to put these lovers in, but bury my lady at the top for she was of noble kin".....
Not a cheery ditty lyrically but in reality the recorded version by Fairport is a jaunty and Jiggy song with fantastic fiddle playing and a deep bouncy bassline. And indeed every August a crowd of some 20'000 folkies of all ages bounce around to this at Fairport's Cropredy Convention in Oxfordshire.
The humour, darkness and history is the paradox of folk music and one of the reasons that I love it.
If you are a Traditionalist then this collection will probably make your toes curl. But then if you are traditionalist then you probably already have most of the earlier artists featured in this set. This is a fine release to give a tiny taste of a genre of music which is vast and diverse. The set has snippets of info about each featured performer and is packaged tidily. It is cheap as chips for just a fiver and this is probably as good a way as any to get a taste of the huge spectrum of UK folk music without spending a fortune.