Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Dan on the folk explosion!

About five years ago we were in the midst of what was rather grandly known at the time as 'The New Acoustic Movement', which, looking back, I'm sure was record-company-spin to help sell the batch of quiet rock groups emerging at the time. These included Turin Breaks who had hit it big with their The Optimist LP and Kings of Convenience who Simon and Garfunkel'd their way to success. There was also the annoyingly-feeble Tom MacRae and David Gray wobbled his head a bit. All mildly satisfying, I suppose, but I do remember getting annoyed that my Mum knew a Kings of Convenience song I was listening to because it was Terry Wogan's record of the week. The NME, as it tends to with a different genre every week, hailed this new sound and devoted pages of one issue to it. Sales of acoustic guitars apparently went through the roof.

I'm not certain if that 'movement', or those guitars, formed the basis of the plethora of Folk that exists at the moment. My suspicion is that it didn't really play a part. Certainly some artists being recognised now have been making music for some time. Electro folk outfit Tunng and Scots balladeer King Creosote spring to mind. Yet plenty of others have sprung forth and forged a much more plausible sense of a 'scene'. It really does seem to exist.

Folk seems omnipresent and credible right now, and I for one am pleased. iTunes tells me that Sufjan Stevens - of whom I can’t seem to tire - is 'Folk'. From the US, Sam Beam aka Iron & Wine, Bright Eyes and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy have been exploring Folk music for a while but I never really explicitly thought of them as Folk. More longstanding contributions have come from artists such as Laura Cantrell and Animal Collective, and folky albums like Neutral Milk Hotel's supremely odd In the Aeroplane Over The Sea, largely written off in the 90s as a minor piece of indie rock whimsy, have been deservedly reappraised.

On Monday night I caught on BBC2 a programme called Folk Britannia, which I think was originally shown on BBC4. It explored the re-emergence of Folk during the 1960s and its take up by the Hippy movement. It reminded me that of course Dylan was essentially a folk musician who turned his talent to protest song and then 'went electric'. Many of the famous American musicians at the time came to Britain to immerse themselves in the pubs and clubs of Edinburgh, Glasgow and London, where distinctive folk scenes had formed.

Paul Simon's famous rendition of Scarborough Fair was the result of one of these trips. The programme charted the emergence of the Incredible String Band and Fairport Convention amongst others and documented the stir caused when they plugged their instruments into amps and went psychadelic. It showed me the roots of an important part of British music I had always overlooked.

I was, in my sleepy state, trying to make mental notes of apparently seminal album releases or compilations but can now only remember Unhalfbricking by Fairport Convention, which I already own and love, and which is perhaps the only album I can listen to with my Mum which we can both enjoy.

Re-releases of 'lost' recordings have also played their part to a resurgence of folk, as well as several very good recent compilations. These include Vashti Bunyan's 1970 album Just Another Diamond Day aided by endorsement from Davendra Banhart and also by the use of its title track on a T-Mobile mobile phone ad and Linda Perhacs' Parallelograms another 1970s re-release. This has led, I suspect, to much retrospective CD and vinyl buying. The ongoing allure of the 1970s film 'The Wicker Man', with its by turns charming and sinister folk soundtrack, has also played a part.

Perhaps this resurgence is just down to the mood or the style at the moment. Perhaps it's a reaction against manufactured music and endless stylised guitar bands called 'The...'. Maybe people are after what they perceive is a non-corporate back to basics approach to music that in some ways keeps it real. I don't know, but I do know that I like this 'New Folk' and psychedelia and am clearly not alone...

[blogging by Dan]

1 comment:

Laban said...

"What We Did On Our Holidays" by Fairport is pretty good too.

I blogged about the very wonderful Vashti Bunyan here ...