I’ve a small confession to make. It seems that for quite a while now I’ve been on a bit of a folk music bender. no, wait don’t run away! come back!
Anyway as I was saying, this happens every so often. i do listen to my favourite albums and my banging electronic music, but then I find myself getting drawn towards the open sounds and wide pastures of yore, etc.
It probably started off slowly when i reviewed that Benni Hemm Hemm album at the end of last year. Damn thing is still great and definitely the hallmark of a musician who has matured and now making music for adults to be listen to by adults. Since then there’s been a gradual but sudden surge in the albums I’ve been listening to that have been of the definitely folky variety. Alasdair Robert’s latest albums collaboration, The Hirta Songs, which had a true calling of home I have to admit I haven’t felt in a while. Then there was that debut EP from local artist ADDA, one of the few Icelandic pieces of music I’ve actually played on a repeat basis on my CD player in 2014.
And then over the last month or so I’ve inadvertently found myself checking out some of the people I’ve known from way back in the old country (Shetland). People like Inge Thompson and Kevin Henderson, whose performance at this year’s live streaming of Shetland Folk Festival as part of the Nordic Fiddlers Bloc I checked out on the internet. I was actually taken aback a little with how good the fiddling was in terms of melodies, rhythms and textures. It was rather stirring stuff.Probably will need to send him a line to tell him that.
I do admit that in my younger years I was definitely a little turned off a bit by what they call the heuchter cheuchter old-time reel-based folk stuff. I mean, why would you want to listen to that when you have indie music groove and rave music to dance to? But perhaps it’s the maturing and advancing of my years that have caused me to look back and realise that even back then, folk music left its indelible mark inside me. Like a cultural sleeper cell waiting to explode in your mind once you were ready to take on its liminal qualities, as well as the wonders of a good eightsome reel
I mean take this album, I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, the second album from folk legends, RICHARD AND LINDA THOMPSON. I first heard this album, what, only a couple of years ago. But even though the fact that it’s forty fucking years old, it still manages to sound more vital than a lot of the modern folk music that I hear these days. You hear a lot of what is classed as folk music today, and it’s all clean and well to do and proper, but it seems to have this “lack,” as if it they are merely taking the components of what people would call a “folk” sound without it being connected to anything really tangible in terms of placing it to what made the music folky in the first place. People. Places. Events. that sort of thing. I do admit I have some fairly stringent ideas about what folk music should be about and i find that this lack of connect to the world around us turns me off a lot of what I do hear these days.
People have always fought over the idea and soul of folk music through the ages, whether it was Cecil Sharp and his notions of the rural Arcadia, or the purist dogma of Ewan MacColl et al versus the expansive aesthetics of the folk movement of the late ’60s. These days, the quest for purity has led to a lot of really bad stuff, such as the putrid neo-folk movement. a bunch of wannable nationalists harking over a false romantic utopia of history that never existed, or the truly conservative sound and boundaries of the new folk movement of Mumford, etc, and whatever they’re playing over in Williamsburg these days.
But then you look at Richard and Linda with this album and you can see just how good folk was, is, and can still be. What you have to remember is that at this time, they were blazing a similar path made by the like of the incredible String Band and mixing Celtic, North African, and Indian raga sounds with their own English singing sounds. It had one foot in the past and a foot in more than one world in the present. The fact that they ended up the end of the decade as practitioners of the Islamic sufi faith (apparently Richard is still a practicing Muslim), flies in the face of the cheesy, UKIP poisoned, ruddy-faced nationalism that you see in so much of today societal discourse.
All of the songs are so spare, rough and ready, but everything is there in its place and is used for full effect, whether it´s a celtic accordion, a dulcimer, or Richard’s scratchy electric guitar. but it’s Linda’s voice that is the winner here. Songs such as “Withered and Died” and. “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight” and “Has He Got a Friend for Me” have that sheer simplicity in their execution that sometimes makes you do a slight aural double take. Especially with their country sound where today people often insist of using an Americana twang, even if they come from somewhere, like Lincoln for instance. The album is just pure class, one of the great folk albums of it´s time. Ohhhh yeah. I’m off to have several beers….