PYT is out now and my article - kindly edited, nay hacked - is on the back page.
I thought you might like to read the unabridged version here:
The mainstream music press would have you believe that Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling and Noah and the Whale are the new folk acts we should all be raving about.
But these outfits are a far cry from the gifted, dynamic and – most importantly – exciting artists on the young British folk scene I know.
A young British folk scene that, apart from the occasional mention in The Guardian or Mojo, is largely consigned to the few specialist (and often hard to come by) magazines and websites that serve the genre – and will continue to be so.
Oh, unless you find yourself the token folk act in the Mercury nominations like Rachel Unthank and the Winterset (now known as The Unthanks) who can now count a genuine cross-genre audience following among their many successes.
And this is proof that folk music isn’t a niche, and can appeal to a wider audience – if two girls singing old songs from their native Northumberland, with a bit of clog dance in between, can play to a packed Night and Day café, why can’t any other musicians on the scene do the same?
Artists like Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts, a fiddle and guitar duo nominated for the Horizon Award at this year’s BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. They tend to play more of their own material than traditional, but incorporate English and American styles in their own work.
Or Edale’s Bella Hardy, a singer with a voice to die for: powerful yet tender, simple and without pretension. Bella has released her past two albums on her own label, producing the album and doing all PR herself, despite being one the British folk scene’s rising stars.
Speaking of voices, there’s Jim Causley. Only one or two years older than me, Jim possesses a voice that sounds like it’s been maturing in old caskets for decades. His collaboration with English dance band, Mawkin, has sadly come to a premature end – maybe it was something to do with them appearing nude on the cover of folk and world magazine fRoots – but his knowledge of songs and his distinct delivery makes him an exciting performer. (September’s installment of For Folk’s Sake in Manchester will see Jim headlining.)
Of course, the reason that the vast majority of the young folk musicians stick to the folk circuit, playing the country’s vast network of folk clubs and a summer full of specialist festivals, is because it pays. For the vast majority of professional young folkies, travel expenses and a few beers – the reward for the young indie band, for example – cannot suffice. And though the audiences at the folk clubs and festivals will be rapturously receptive, it is often the case that they are hardened folk fans and much, much older.
The situation is self-perpetuating – and it somehow seems a shame that these musicians, many in their early twenties, rarely play to people their own age.
Perhaps the inclusion of and collaboration with other genres may help this crossover and slowly bring other fans forward, thus raising folk’s profile.
Under One Sky is an original suite of Scottish-inspired music from fiddler and composer, John McCusker. Already working with musicians from other backgrounds, most notably Radiohead, John invited Graham Coxon and Norman Blake to contribute to the project and to go on tour when the opportunity arose.
Under One Sky is a varied and beautiful piece of music, but with the tour stopping off at arts centres such as The Lowry, rather than the more dingy rock venues I had hoped for, I very much doubt that anyone other than the most dedicated Blur and Teenage Fanclub fans made it to the gig to accompany the rows and rows of grey-haired folk devotees.
John McCusker is also a member of another project that aims to blur the genres: the not so imaginatively titled Drever McCusker Woomble, featuring Orcadian singer and guitarist, Kris Drever, best known for his work with Lau, and Idlewild’s Roddy Woomble. Sadly, though, I feel their album Before The Ruin doesn’t live up to the big names involved, showcasing instead a middle of the road, sentimentalised and rather plodding collection.
PBS6 is perhaps a more adventurous collaboration project, still in its early stages. Will Lang, a percussion tutor at the University of Newcastle’s Folk and Traditional Music course, decided to address his belief that hip hop is, in essence, a kind of folk music and assembled together a group of established folk and hip hop musicians. The resulting album is an unusual mix of accordion driven tunes and beatboxed beats, with MC Crystalize putting old songs into hip hop rhyme. Though it’s too early to tell whether hip hop enthusiasts like their rap with rapper dance, it is a brave undertaking nonetheless: attempting to step away from the negative, constrictive connotations of both genres even before the listener presses play.
So, carefully avoiding treading the murky waters of the ‘what IS folk?’ debate, please don’t fall under the spell of believing that Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling and Noah and the Whale are the be all and end all – there’s some fantastic folk music out there; it just needs your support.