There are a collection of images that seem to be indelibly linked to the phrase “traditional British folk music”: drizzly village greens populated by small groups of old men morris dancing while their families cower under umbrellas and look a bit embarrassed, blokes with unfortunate facial hair irritating the patrons of pubs with badly-tuned guitars, strange willowy women with over-the-top ethereal voices.
There is more than a grain of truth in this perception, but it also lacks an awareness of how much fun the British folk scene can be. I don’t mean Mumford & Sons or Noah and the Whale – as entertaining as they are they shouldn’t overshadow the thriving world of traditional British folk music. I have less musical ability than most (clapping in time at gigs is a tremendous challenge) but it doesn’t make the blindest bit of difference. If you have a sense of fun and the ability to sink a few pints of ale, you can’t go far wrong.
We sit on a vast vault of cultural history in this country and it seems a massive shame not to make the most of it the timeworn tales of mischief and tragedy are still pleasingly entertaining to this day. Bellowhead, my favourite band, is a good example of how resiliently enjoyable our musical roots can be.
I acknowledge that it is futile for me to ramble on about my favourite genre to people who have different tastes – a variety of interests is obviously a very good thing and I don’t want to force mine on anyone. The people I have a problem with are the ones who like to proclaim loudly and often that Britain isn’t British anymore! Depending on who you speak to, the root of the problem can either be Muslims, the European Union or the left (sometimes all three, if they’re feeling particularly annoyed). There is one consistent feature with this group, though – a complete lack of participation.
They will moan about a perceived loss of Britishness, but they are the last people you will find actually getting involved. There’s no hope for a wider cultural acceptance of our musical roots if these people cant be convinced to enjoy some British culture, rather than just moaning about the lack of it. I admit that the prospect of having my local folk night invaded by a cohort of tedious bores isn’t an exciting one, but I’m willing to put up with it for a bit. A diet of good ale and decent company should soon sort them out. Give them a few hours and I’m sure they’d be singing along with the same enthusiasm as everybody else.
I am aware that this call for greater links to our cultural past is something that the BNP would probably endorse, a fact that I find aggravating. Those on the far right are the antithesis of everything the British folk scene represents. Their dreary half-baked mewing for cultural homogeneity has no place in the hearts of folk fans. When the BNP tried to use the Show of Hands song Roots
, there was an impressive backlash within the community, resulting in the creation of the Folk Against Fascism movement
. You might think that traditional folk would shun the new and innovative, but it’s really not the case. Just look at the wonderful Imagined Village project – their sound is composed of sitars and dhol drums as well as fiddles. This is where folk’s true value lies, in its unique blend of tradition and innovation. Folk provides us with a strong link to our cultural history and more importantly, a source of merriment and joy.