Like most modern performers, I think I first heard ‘When First I Came to Caledonia’ sung by Norma Waterson, Martin Carthy and Eliza Carthy on their first Waterson:Carthy album. For years, in fact, it was pretty much the only song I’d return to again and again. The melody is haunting, and given that I was in my early twenties and living in southern Japan – an old mining and coastal region, warmer but not dissimilar to the place in the song – there was something very familiar about the story of a young man working far from my family, homesick but fascinated in […]
When we met Doc Rowe earlier this year, we turned up with a list of questions and an hour set aside. We’d have been better advised to burn the notepad and clear our diary for the next month. Boy, that man can talk. But, then, when you have so much to say, it’s hardly surprising. The wealth of knowledge and experience Doc has amassed over the best part of 60 years documenting folk culture and heritage is staggering, and his stories as varied, engaging and downright daft as the events he has so diligently attended over so many years. Make no […]
If there was ever a case of a folk song hiding in plain sight, this was it. I first heard ‘My Old Hat That I Got On‘ as a recording on Voice of the People, performed by an old Oxfordshire chap named Tom Newman. It struck me as a song with potential for a slightly bluesy guitar arrangement so I began hacking away at it, slowly chiseling it into something performable, much to the annoyance of my family (that chorus played 20 times a day will wear down the hardiest of people).
I first heard Lisa Knapp when I came back from living in Japan. In the decade I’d been there, I’d found myself drawn into a musical scene that centred around a duo called Tenniscoats – a couple who mix fragments of acoustic performance into weird and wonderful soundscapes. I was keen to find someone in the UK doing something similar, and Lisa’s name kept cropping up. I was instantly taken with her wonderful sound poem, ‘Shipping Song‘, which takes the words to the old shipping forecast and places them into something that verges on the avant garde.
There’s an irony to ‘The Unquiet Grave’ that I find delicious. Here we have a traditional folk song that warns its listeners that excessive grief and ghost-bothering can really piss off the dead. That’s pretty rich advice, coming from a genre that spends most of its time wallowing in death and misery. It can be a contrary beast, this folk music – yet another reason to love it so.
It took yonks to track Sam Sweeney down, but only a few minutes to realise why that was. Just take a look at this interview. The man is involved in a million things at once and incredibly passionate about doing them without half-measures. He joined Bellowhead on the cusp of adulthood, and he seems to have been involved in pretty much every folk-related project over the following decade. His current obsessions, as you’re about to find out, include his work with Leveret and his position as artistic director with the National Youth Folk Ensemble (NYFE) – his first ever ‘proper job’, about […]
Forgive me if it feels like I’m just doing the folk Greatest Hits here, but certain songs I just can’t resist. This week’s ‘Folk from the Attic’ is ‘Ye Mariners All’, a song I first heard when I was at university in the mid-90s, back when I was the only person on campus with a copy of Martin Carthy’s debut album and very much the lonelier for it. Sorry Martin – the other kids didn’t think you were as hip as Boyzone. Who’s laughing now? (Answers on a postcard…)
This week’s folk conversation is sprawling to say the least, but that’s to be expected when your chatting with a man who has been a fiddle and oboe player in Bellowhead, a musicologist, one of the blokes in Faustus, one of two Pauls in Belshazzar’s Feast and the musical director of the triumphant recent production of The Transports. Suffice to say, it’s a wonder Paul Sartin ever has time to sleep, let alone time to sit down and discuss it all. Best that we get down to it immediately then, before he ups and starts a new project.
If Martin Simpson is to be believed (and I’ve no reason not to), one of the definitions of a folk song (or a traditional folk song, at least) is that nobody can remember who wrote it. If that’s the case then this article is not about a folk song at all. It’s about a song by one Robert Nunn, a blind fiddler from Newcastle who died in 1853, which was subsequently adapted over 100 years later by Stan Kelly-Bootle, a folk singer/songwriter (presumably with 20-20 vision) who moonlighted as a computer scientist at Cambridge and Warwick Universities.
A folk music conversation with Emily Portman is a many splendored thing. A prominent part of the contemporary scene as an in-demand performer and songwriter, she is also deeply fascinated by the academic side of the tradition – willing and eager to talk at length on everything from the lives of the collectors to the themes and tropes that crop up in songs across the country.