Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Hey nonny no?

[APPENDIX 7/2/08: It's a bit rubbish, this post. I assure you it started with great intentions about folk music and its place in the wider scheme of 'cool' music and its selling points within and without the indie scene, but somewhere between mind and laptop the fully reasoned argument went missing, and I might as well have brought Norwegian black metal in to bolster the argument as anti-folk. Sorry. I'm on antibiotics, you understand. - Simon STN]

Folk music. That's a barrier for the bloggingly minded, isn't it?

We don't mean the modern acoustic wielders in this, by the way, only tangentially. See, we can get along perfectly well with internal histories of most genres - seconds into the post-punk revival everyone was all over the Gang Of Four, XTC, Josef K, Orange Juice and so forth, while when anything with four to the floor attitude emerges from New York the populace reaches for its well-thumbed Little Book Of Television, Stooges And Richard Hell.

But folk isn't the same, is it? For one thing folk for most people in Britain, where we don't have the coffee shop buffers of the Greenwich Village legend beyond Phoebe from Friends, is still your laugh into your sleeve Morris dancing/finger in ear/beards/real ale pictorial stereotype. Fairport Convention and Pentangle's names are more often than not in these blog circles circulated to make the writer seem as if they have an enormous musical knowledge - hell, we've doubtless done it - but these are not bands commemorated on the whole in the same way as their electrified bretheren. What's regarded as the most significant moment of Bob Dylan's career? When he picked up an amp and The Band.

We've mentioned a lot of new young folk-influenced singer-songwriters on here and will do so long into the future - that Jonquil album is still tremendous and on its own in its subgenre, by the way - but we suspect for a lot of people trying to explain them is throwing straws into the wind. It's a regular occurrence to praise Laura Marling for her echoes of Joni Mitchell without being really aware of what Mitchell really does. Same with Johnny Flynn and Richard Thompson. Anything beyond that in terms of profile - Adele/Laura Nyro is workable in much the same way - and it's best left to people who know a thing or two, and for anyone to join the pantheon requires a sort of leap of faith on someone else's behalf, such as when Bert Jansch briefly became folksman du jour when Pete Doherty started dropping his name every which way.

Anti-folk is different, as we'll gladly wrap their arms around the Moldy Peaches, Jeffrey Lewis and to a lesser extent Diane Cluck (whose star we're going to have to watch in this company, by the way, now Marling has followed Emmy The Great into dropping her name on a regular basis), but to quote Lewis "I think it’s a cool title. The fact that no one knows what it means, including me, makes it kind of mysterious and more interesting". Who is anti-folk and who isn't? Last we looked it was anyone Everett True saw in the 12 Bar Club, a span ranging from The Bobby McGees' sweary twee Ivor Cutlerisms via shouting post-punk post-poet Spinmaster Plantpot to Paul Hawkins' wandering Waitsian discord. Also, it's not actually folk music apart from wanting to go against that whole ingrained ethos (we may have discussed this before), so it's kind of safer territory for writers looking for the offbeat, although it does have as many potential borderline cases as 'proper' folk? Are Herman Dune anti-folk? Is Robert Wyatt really a folkie? Are Half Man Half Biscuit really, as Andy Kershaw once put it, Britain's greatest folk tale writers?

The Radio 2 Folk Awards were on the other night and didn't clear the distinctions up much. John Martyn won the lifetime achievement award - OK, fair enough. After that it's fairly traditional English songsmithery all the way, the type only the specialist and Folk Roots brigand would run with any further, apart from a Horizon Award to Rachel Unthank & the Winterset. As much Will Oldham and Sufjan Stevens influenced as Waterson/Carthy, there's both plainsong and nu-folk at play, as well as the thickest Northumbrian female accent ever committed to mastertape (and a Wyatt cover), but 'we', by which we mean us in the young people's music game, aren't going to be guided this way by crossover press attention. In the end, it's the same reason why Adele is being sold to the indie masses - there's no reason why we should follow Marling's rise or recall Beth Orton while ignoring the less publicised but equally so Cara Dillon, Thea Gilmore or the East Village likes of Rachael Sage.

To round off this festival off unjoined thinking, Kate Rusby's cover of the Kinks' Village Green Preservation Society. We doubt this is the actual video, but we'd like to think it is.


Anonymous said...

the alpha and the omega of antifolk

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