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.
As Ian Carter of Stick in the Wheel said in our interview last week, in the hands of Martin Carthy ‘The Bedmaking’ is one of those songs that makes guitarists sit up and wonder what the hell he’s doing. You’ll commonly read of his influence, but his prowess really shows through whenever he sits down to this tune, marking him out as a fingerpicking ninja of sublime syncopation and subtlety.
This is how folk music should be heard.
Stick in the Wheel barely need an introduction these days. On the folk scene, they’re as known for their stark and direct debut album as they are for their similarly unflinching performances, and their leap from local pubs to festival stages has been swift. Meeting singer Nicola Kearey and guitarist Ian Carter in the basement cafe of Cecil Sharp House, their conversation is politically charged and urgent, although they’re not above self-deprecation, and they bounce off one another in a witty repartee familiar to anyone who has been playing in bands for most of their lives.
I doubt Eliza Carthy would take too kindly to being called ‘Folk Royalty’ – it seems a little too hoity-toity, somehow – but there’s no denying her influence. I’m due to interview her over Skype one Friday lunchtime in early February, and five minutes before the agreed time, I’m still trying to find a quiet corner of Cecil Sharp House in which to crank up the laptop and get the old dictaphone out. With only seconds to spare, it occurs to me that her name might open doors – quite literally. “I’ve got an interview with Eliza Carthy,” I mention in […]
‘Shallow Brown’ (Roud 2621) is a fascinating song for so many reasons. Is it a sea shanty? A slave song? Who is singing to who, and where in the world were they singing? There’s as much here to love as there is to be heart-broken by. Quite simply, another traditional folk song of fare-thee-wells and loved ones being transported over the sea that feels, in some ways, as prescient now as it ever must have done.
Lynched or Lankum; Lankum or Lynched? Rumours have been doing the rounds for some time that the acclaimed Dublin four-piece would be changing their name, and sure enough, in the days following this interview, they published the following statement, confirming that from here on in, Lankum they would be:
It’s a late January evening and you join us as we’re being turned away from a Thai restaurant in Andover, Hampshire. “We have nothing available,” they tell us, doing their best to hide a room full of entirely empty tables. Undeterred, if a little confused, we opt for Plan B. One of our party – a folk guitarist of some renown and pedigree – has had the forethought to pre-book a table at a restaurant back on the high street. The trouble is, he’s not going to find the high street without some assistance. Not that he’s the worse for wear, of […]
Sit ye down, weary internet traveller, for I bring to you a tale of epic proportions. In the first weeks of this blog’s existence, I interviewed the singer-songwriter, Ange Hardy, to find out more about the story behind her song, ‘What May You Do for the JAM?’ Within a few hours of its publication, I received a message from Daria Kulesh, a folk singer of Russian origin, very sweetly explaining that she had a few songs with interesting stories, too, and that she’d love to tell me all about them.