An argument for folk music…


I have a love of folk music.

There I said it.

In some circles it is a confession that leaves a bad smell. I hope that this is less so than it used to be- people seem to be more eclectic in their tastes these days. But the dominance of mass produced music packaged up with an airbrushed image remains, despite the apparent freedoms brought by the internet.

I like most folk music- even some of the finger-in-the-ear-quavery-voice kind. I think I like it because it carries something authentic along with it- the real voices of generations past and present. Seen this way, folk music is a chance to reflect on who we are, and were we come from.

Here are a couple of quotes pinched from the English Acoustic Collective’s website.

Kazuo Ishiguro
“The way I see it is like this … There is this kind of treasure chest you have sitting in front of you, and if you were American or perhaps Irish you might have opened it by now, but because you live here it probably hasn’t occurred to you to do so yet. Well, I would urge you to open that thing up and delve inside it, because I believe you’ll find there a sublime vision of life in the British Isles at it has been lived over the last few centuries; and it’s the kind of vision that you can’t readily get from the works of say, Dickens or Shakespeare or Elgar or Sir Christopher Wren. If you don’t open that treasure box I think you are going to miss a certain dimension, a whole dimension of cultural life in this country so I urge you to do it.”
Speaking at the 2003 BBC Folk Awards, London

Dr John Sentamu
“What is it to be English? It is a very serious question. The English are somehow embarrassed about some of the good things they have done. Multiculturalism has seemed to imply, wrongly for me, ‘Let other cultures be allowed to express themselves but do not let the majority culture at all tell us its glories, its struggles, its joys, its pains’. A failure to rediscover English culture would fuel greater political extremism.”
Speaking before his enthronement as Archbishop of York, November 2005


I have blogged before about this thing called Englishness– how it has become a word that belongs to football supporters and a particularly loathsome kind of politician. Folk music connects me with another older England- which for the sake of differentiation, I have decided to call Albion.

Albion has roots that go deep into these rocky islands. And for centuries, around the camp fire,

and the haystacks,

and the factory floors,

and the shipyards,

and the old folks homes,

and the nurseries,

and the churches-

The people of Albion have been singing. Singing of their loves and sorrows, of injustice and of good food and wine, celebrating their hero’s- otherwise lost to history. Pricking the pomposity of those in power.

It is the poetry of the people, transmitted on a tune from town to town.

It may be speak of a version of ourselves that is overly romanticised and be shaped by unreliable oral traditions, but for all of that, the voices are real.

I love the folk from other places- where it is often valued more- but most of all, I love the voices of old Albion…

And for those Scottish friends of mine who think that I am forsaking my chosen place of residence, as well as my Irish roots- remember that the old word for Scotland (and parts of Ireland), ALBA- also comes from the word Albion. We share more than would seperate us, we children of these islands.

So, time for a bit of music I reckon…

And I reckon, in this wide world of wonders- there should always be room for the odd bit of Morris Dancing.

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