Saturday, January 17, 2009

When 'folk' meant only one thing...

Folk music, and the influence it has on music in general, has had a bumpy ride in the last half-century. It's influence is, particularly in times when largely disregarded as such, just as important as it is actually indefinable. This applies not only to traditional music from Britain but to that from many other places as is now rather becoming obvious again...

This is not least because, and it was ever thus, it has a remarkable tendency to renew by borrowing from far and wide while also maintaining and reflecting its own place and time, so it somehow still keeps its innate and definable integrity. Here is a thought: why would it be otherwise? It has adapted over centuries, in many cultures, to be memorable - that is to play, to sing and dance to; and that is also a definition, which explains a later phenomenon, that we now know as pop!

Call it what you like - folk, roots, traditional or any of the bijou genres (and I'm guilty of this sort of categorisation) such as nu-folk, anti-folk, freak-folk - for whatever it is called it is alive and well in the 21st century. So is much truly traditional folk music and that is a real bonus for, in 2008, it was no longer a surprise to hear a mandolin played in a band that would not, in any traditional way, be regarded as folk-influenced. So what if it is an electric mandolin? To me that doesn't matter much in the context of new music but the fact the instrument is used at all certainly does.
Imelda May plays bodhrán on several tracks on her 2008 album but does that make mean she is any more or less 'folk' than the all-electric Thin Lizzy covering Whiskey In The Jar in 1972?

Of course it doesn't!

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