Over the eight months I’ve been running this blog, I have – because it genuinely interests me – repeatedly asked interviewees for their folk music definition. It hasn’t been terribly easy, to be honest with you. Some react well, clearly delighted to be asked the very question they’ve been secretly pondering for years themselves, while others insist it’s a pointless task and seem rather put out to have been bothered by something so apparently trivial.
When we first came to traditional folk music, we stood at the foot of the mountain and wondered at the sheer size of what loomed ahead. There’s just so much of it – we can fully understand why many people might find it daunting and put it on the bucket list for much later. As most of our readers will have experienced themselves, however, if you can find an initial foothold then you’ve found your way onto a joyful exploration and adventure that will likely last you a lifetime.
If you’re a fan of the contemporary folk scene, the chances are that you’ve been listening to Andy Bell’s work for some time. A kind of unsung hero, he has been working with some of the genre’s biggest artists for a decade or more, and his relatively new label – Hudson Records – is home to The Furrow Collective, Jon Boden, The Transports and an ever-growing roster of well-loved artists.
There are so many ways to interview musicians these days – phone, Skype, WhatsApp (yes, it’s possible) – but nothing beats sitting backstage at a festival, face to face, with the music from the main stage pounding away in the background. That’s the setting for the second half of this double interview with Ross Couper and Tom Oakes, two musicians who come together to play music heavily influenced by a variety of traditions (Scottish, Irish, Shetland, Scandinavian), mixed together with driving contemporary rhythms and a smattering of jazz, all played on stripped-down fiddle and guitar. If that sounds remarkably complex, […]
In the seven or eight months I’ve been exploring traditional songs, or perhaps trying to find a folk music definition, one thing that crops up again and again is the importance of stories. When I play live, and when I see other traditional singers play live, the passing on of stories is a really important part of what takes place. And the more you can find out about the original singers, the collectors, the conditions in which the songs were collected, the more you can bring these songs to life. Read More
The life of a folk musician in 2017 is something of a nomadic ritual. In search of audiences, you spend huge amounts of time traversing A-roads, B-roads, deserted night motorways lit in murky orange and country lanes lit by nothing at all. It’s time spent thinking, working things out, meandering down half forgotten memory lanes, wondering how many times you’ve known this road before or whether it’s a new one that just looks like all the rest of them. Many musicians find inspiration in the journey – others are driven round and round the bend.
Wickham Festival is a decade and a half old, so you get the sense it ought to be better known. At the same time, you kinda hope it stays as intimate as currently is. Set on the southwesterly tip of the South Downs, it’s a real gem of a festival – a gorgeous location, an easy size to get around, a not-too-big-but-definitely-not-small audience, three well-sized stages… and performers that make you wonder just how the organisers can afford it all. Ours not to reason why, though. Ours but to get stuck in.
In the months that I’ve been interviewing folk singers for this blog, one thing that tends to come across perhaps more strongly than anything else is the sense of enthusiasm for the subject. It doesn’t seem as though traditional folk music, in England at least, is something you get into lightly. It becomes a bit of an obsession. You suddenly find yourself with a head full of stories and a library (you never had a library before!) full of obscure books and archaic biographers of people who were once as caught up in it all as you now find yourself.
The great ‘lost’ folk album, Bright Phoebus, means a huge amount to a lot of people, most of whom assumed that it would remain lost given that its two central figures – Lal and Mike Waterson – have now passed away. But a springtime announcement changed all that when it was revealed that Lal’s daughter, the artist and singer Marry Waterson, had been working on a Bright Phoebus re-release in conjunction with David Suff and Domino Records.
And so, here we are – my second Martin Simpson interview in the space of half a year. Is Grizzly Folk turning into a Martin Simpson fansite, you might wonder? The answer’s no. While I’m amazed as any other guitarist by what the man does, I think both of us would feel a little uneasy if I started documenting his every move. In short, I love chatting with musicians whose work clearly consumes them, and not in an ego-driven way – people who (you get the sense) feel as though they’re in the service of music, rather than it being […]