So, what exactly is ‘folk’? Anyone doing anything that involves a banjo / ukulele / harmonica, right? Yeah, sadly the latest gabble of supposed ‘folk musicians’ haven’t given it much thought either.
One look into the supposed ‘folk revival’ currently spearheaded by your Jonny Flynns, Laura Marlings and Mumford and Sons’, to mention but a few, would be enough to put me off folk music for good. These are the fresh-faced, globe-trotting ‘folk artists’ of the present; duly bona fide by that smoochy sepia-tone bullshit they shot in some forest somewhere for Burberry Acoustic Sessions, or the collaboration they did with Noah and the Whale (you know the one about the unicorn, and the gypsy, and the rolling hills (of tailcoated, cobblestoned West London)). No ta, give me the cracked voices of The Copper Family of Rottingdean singing ‘Good Ale’, any day.
As a traditional folk enthusiast I’m going to try and play a part in steering folk, or at least the definition of, back towards its roots and original sentiment; aptly described below:
Any style of music which represents a community and can be sung/played by people who may or may not actually be trained musicians, using the instruments available to them.
So, when looking for current folk music, do I turn to the finely-tuned Laura Marling (whose Father, incidentally, runs a recording studio… and if that didn’t help she was also dry-humping Noah and the Whale, pre-fame) wittering on about a boy who “went crazy at nineteen”, or am I more drawn towards the musings of Jehst, say, who was ‘...fuelled by the bleak reality of the smack infested post-industrial North…’ ?
Jehst has offered us a tours de force of UK Hip-Hop for over a decade now, and may well not want an association with folk, but it’s current artists such as him that truly carry the mantle for folk music in its original form; so I’m at a quandary… I like a lot of UK Hip-Hop because it’s the closest current genre to folk, and I dislike the supposed folk music because it somehow managed to snide round the back of our musical pigeon holes from ‘juvenile tripe on a banjo’ to ‘traditional English folk music’.
Ok, so I’m starting to harp on one string here… what I’m slowly getting at is the crippling dilution of the term folk. None of these current ‘folk’ artists seem to be playing any traditional folk songs; which was the whole point of the previous folk revival of the 1950’s in which the likes of Martin Carthy took it upon himself to catalogue, recreate and popularise hundreds of ancient English / Celtic songs that would surely have been lost to the annuls of time without him. Somehow I just don’t see the work of the aforementioned ‘new folk’ artists enduring even the next five years; it’s quite simply plain old pop music, and it will be unceremoniously dispatched and forgotten as soon as the next profitable fad rears it’s ugly mug.
Folk music ought to be about lyrical content, not musical persuasion or how you wear your hair. Certain songs get adopted by certain communities because they have a real relevance and belonging to that place or situation — these are the real folk songs; not the garbled harpings of some eighteen year old clique of would-be yuppies trying to eek out a note between sucking themselves off and choking on Daddy’s wallet in some exclusive Chelsea wine bar.
Simply — if you’re into that contrived, industry-governed twaddle, just call it anything other than folk.
Martin Carthy — Geordie
Jehst — City of Industry
The Copper Family — Good Ale