Get folked

Save yourself from pap pop with accordions and violins.

January can be a bit quiet when it comes to music. A lot of it is taken up by people in the industry predicting what will be popular in the year ahead. I'm not all that fussed about knowing what you or I are going to listen to this year. I'd like to think my favourite records of 2011 will
be by people I have yet to hear, or that perhaps some new form of alien sound is going to descend on the planet and change music for ever.

I do know, however, what I will be listening to for the next couple of months because I am already listening to it and have been for quite some time. I listen to music quite erratically and in quite an unprofessional and childish way - perhaps not listening to anything for a day or two, then a sack of albums in just a few hours. When I find something I like, I tend to listen to it over and over again until I get it so thoroughly stuck in my head that I don't want to listen to anything else. Over the years I have managed to train my brain to be able to pick out very quickly the things it might like to get stuck in it. I thought perhaps I could suggest some new things you might like to get stuck in yours.

My most recent obsession is an American folk band called Dark Dark Dark, a rather lost- looking bunch whose numbers fluctuate and who briefly claimed they met as a result of choosing to sleep under the same bridge. I met them recently at a gig in London and they are a slightly odd and, by their own admission, pretentious lot. Their songs contain a great deal of accordion and piano, sitting often quite dramatically at the front of most of their songs. Those instruments alone could make even the most bitter heart swoon before anyone has sung a word.

I gush a little when I talk about Dark Dark Dark and this is because the noise they make is stupendously beautiful. It is also tragic and has a tendency to make me cry a bit, which makes them quite hard to introduce on the radio. Despite their ability to bring out my more pathetic side, I have managed to play their records so often that I've been accused of having a vested interest in their sales figures, which would be absurd, as they currently don't have any records you can buy. Their album, Wild Go, is out in the spring but until then you will have to put up with streaming their records on the internet. Do it as often as I have and soon your brain will be able to play it back to you perfectly without the need of a stereo.

Shit Horse, from Brooklyn, have a silly name but are really rather good, moving wildly from screeching blues to psychedelic rock with the odd moment of tranquillity in between. I haven't heard anything like them before and am therefore rather excited by them. I get the impression they don't take themselves all that seriously so perhaps it is our duty to do that for them. Their album is called They Shit Horses, Don't They?, which isn't going to make our task any easier.

There's one more band that I can guarantee won't get the attention they deserve. A Hawk and a Hacksaw are a couple from New Mexico. With just the use of an accordion and a violin - we'll call it "Balkan folk" - they can fill the largest of rooms with joy. Their album Cervantine is out in March; it will make you want to run away with a family of gypsies.

I am trying to assist you in letting good music get stuck in your head because if you leave a void, something awful might find its way in. My little sister has a nasty but effective trick she plays, which involves saying, "Simply Red - 'Fairground'" when she greets you in the morning. It stays with you all day, torturing your mind. Oh no, you haven't got that stuck in your head, have you? Quick, go and listen to the bands I mentioned - they'll wash it out. l

Tom Ravenscroft's radio show is on BBC 6 Music every Friday at 9pm

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The radio station where the loyal listeners are chickens

Emma Hills, the head chicken trainer at Giffords Circus, knows what gets them clucking.

“The music is for the chickens, because of course on the night the music is very loud, and so it needs to be a part of their environment from the very start.” Emma Hills, the head chicken trainer at Giffords Circus, is standing in the sawdusty ring under a big top in a field outside Stroud as several rare-breed chickens wander freely around boxes and down ramps. They are the comic stars of the summer 2017 show, and Emma is coaxing them to walk insouciantly around the ring while she plays the early-morning show on Radio 1.

It’s the chickens’ favourite station. There seems to be something about its longueurs, combined with the playlist, that gets them going – if that’s the word. They really do respond to the voices and songs. “It’s a bit painful, training,” Emma observes, as she moves a little tray of worms into position as a lure. “It’s a bit like watching paint dry sometimes. It’s all about repetition.”

Beyond the big top, a valley folds into limestone hills covered in wild parsley and the beginnings of elderblossom. Over the radio, Adele Roberts (weekdays, from 4am) hails her listeners countrywide. “Hello to Denzel, the happy trucker going north on the M6. And van driver Niki on the way from Norwich to Coventry, delivering all the things.” Pecking and quivering, the chickens are rather elegant, each with its fluffy, caramel-coloured legs and explosive feather bouffant, like a hat Elizabeth Taylor might have worn on her way to Gstaad in the 1970s.

Despite a spell of ennui during the new Harry Styles single, enthusiasm resumes as Adele bids “hello to Simon from Bournemouth on the M3 – he’s on his way to Stevenage delivering meat”. I don’t imagine Radio 1 could hope for a better review: to these pretty creatures, its spiel is as thrilling as opening night at the circus. Greasepaint, swags of velvet, acrobats limbering up with their proud, ironic grace. Gasps from beholders rippling wonder across the stalls.

Emma muses that her pupils learn fast. Like camels, a chicken never forgets.

“I’ve actually given up eating them,” she admits. “Last year I had only two weeks to train and it was like, ‘If they pull this off I won’t eat chicken ever again.’ And they did. So I didn’t.” 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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