Fascinating how many young people in Denmark – I’m talking 18-25 year olds – know surprising amounts of Irish folk and derivatives (particularly Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys but also the Pogues). I get requests for Seven drunken nights, Paddy works the railroad, Rocky road to Dublin, Finegan’s Wake, Carrickfergus and all sorts while playing pub gigs here. I have no idea why they know this stuff, but who cares…if it means I play folk music instead of Wonderwall, then I’m all smiles. Next we need to teach them some English folk songs!
Still messed up about David Bowie not being with us any more, but here’s my top 10 Bowie albums:
top 10 Bowie albums
1. hunky dory
2. space oddity
3. ziggy stardust
4. let’s dance
5. the man who sold the world
8. Scary monsters
10. aladin sane
Twelfth Day. Folky fiddly stuff with harps and unusual rhythms.
Houndmouth: Sometimes rocking sometimes acoustically. Great songs well presented.
This week’s recommended album: Fay Hield and the Hurricane Party – Old Adam
To capture so perfectly all the details and nuances of a bunch of acoustic instruments is a feat for which we have to take our collective hats off to Andy Bell, producer of the first Fay Hield album since the terrific Full English project.
But a great sound alone makes not a great album. Next up the musicians: Some of the top heavyweights of the current folk scene – Sam Sweeny, John Boden, Martin Simpson, and I’m going to have to add to these category Ben Nicholls, who I saw with Kings of the South Seas, singing and playing concertina, last year, not realising he was the bassist in, amongst others, the Full English. His double bass playing on Old Adam is stunning, particularly on the opening track. Rob Harbron, Roger Wilson and Toby Kearney all play fabulously too.
Add to this the ever able singing of Fay Hield herself, and an excellent selection of songs – varied in style, mood and content. All in all a terrific album, and so far album of the year…although it is only February.
So…I’m a folk singer. Which begs the age old question…
What IS folk music?
The word is everywhere in the music world. I use it frequently to describe what I do. And I’ve heard it used to describe Show of Hands, Mumford and Sons, Bellowhead, Bombay Bicycle Club (!), The Waterboys, Martin Carthy, James Blunt, Liam Clancy and Pete Seeger amongst thousands of others, who may have very little in common.
From the traditional music of the Balkans to the Dylan-wannabe singer-songwriter, the label “folk” is, if not the preferred term, the most used one. This causes a marketing dilemma for all who come under this all embracing umbrella of a description. Playing polkas on hurdygurdies isn’t necessarily going to endear you to Joni Mitchell’s audience. At the moment, if it uses acoustic instruments – it’s folk. That seems to be the only connecting element. No wonder folk clubs are struggling some places to promote themselves. Try asking Spotify for folk music – it’s all bundled in under Americana or lost in the world of pop.
What I propose we need is to make new categories that divide the “genre” into more fitting “genres”. Then we can give them names so that anyone looking for Scottish reels isn’t going to be inundated with Neil Young songs. Then we can try and persuade record companies, streaming services, booking agents and PR companies to start using them to target audiences better and promote all aspects of the “genre” better. Here’s some ideas:
1) Ethnic traditional music split into song based and tune/dance based music, and further spilt into region of origin. Eg. Swedish Trad Instrumental etc.
2) Singer songwriter. Split into pop based acoustic pop, Americana and traditional story based original songs.
3) Rock music using traditional music as a base. eg Fairport Convention, Wolfstone etc.
4) Traditional music in a contemporary setting. So…more Eliza Carthy than Waterson Carthy…
5) Rock music with traditional instruments. There’s nothing “folk” about the songs of The Great Malarkey, but their instrumentation flings them into our midst (and bloomin fab they are too!)
Many many artists will still fall outside of these boxes (me for a start!) but it may prevent us from being lost in the world music or country section of the record shop (online or otherwise). I’ll leave others to come up with the catchy names, and there is space in the comments section to let me know what you think of the idea and what I’ve missed out.
Tuesday’s top ten. The band that created the most songs that deserve to go into any top ten…here are…(according to me)
the top 10 Beatles songs:
10: Here there and everywhere
9: Hide your love away
8: All you need is love
7: For no-one
6: And I love her
5: While my guitar gently weeps
4: Hey Jude
3: Let it be