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.