Sunday, November 15, 2009

When folk became fashionable...

It was fairly clear a year ago that 2009 was going to see a resurgence in electro-pop and electronica in general and so it has proved. A rather different genre, which has been chipping away at public indifference for several years, also made huge strides in 2009. Folk/roots and its associated acoustic palette, whether modern or traditional, had long been seen in the UK at least as predominantly the preserve of middle-aged males drinking ale in the local pub.

It became very clear that something had changed: turn on BBC Radio 1 and one can often be forgiven for thinking your tuner has changed to the traditional end of BBC Radio 2 territory and that impression could only be reinforced at many of this summer's festivals.
These are young, talented performers playing a vast range of acoustic instruments and appealing to a young audience as well as the traditional one. Last year Laura Marling, signed to EMI, blazed the trail and seems to have been touring non-stop ever since.
I have mentioned quite a few acts already, as I have always had a soft spot for such music and Bellowhead, touring 2008 album Matachin, is indubitably one of the finest of the hundred-plus live artists of all genres that I have seen this year.

Here are a few more albums/artists to consider, not all of which I have heard yet. I'll start with the latest album by the artist who has possibly done the most to promote this trend over the last decade or so...

Sweet Bells - Kate Rusby (2009, Pure Records)

One new band that seems to have found favour in influential circles is the one that, on hearing them repeatedly on BBC Radio 1, made me realize that things had really changed and that I have probably seen more banjos deployed in 2009 than since forever... In the BBC Radio 1 'Live Lounge' sessions it is expected that the band will perform a cover version: Calvin Harris' - I'm Not Alone and it was as truly amazing as it was a surprising choice.

Sigh No More - Mumford & Sons (2009, Island/Universal)

I have mentioned the eleven-piece Bellowhead already but very recently the sole female member thereof has just released her d├ębut solo project.

No Man's Fool - Rachael McShane (2009, Navigator Records)

Many of these albums comprise a mixture of interpretations of traditional songs and completely new ones and this, the second album from Derbyshire singer, songwriter and fiddle player Bella Hardy, is no exception.

In The Shadow of Mountains - Bella Hardy (2009, Noe Records)

And finally, for now...

Here's The Tender Coming - The Unthanks (2009, Rough Trade/Beggars)

They may have changed the artist act name to 'The Unthanks' but it is still the same sisters and this album also includes traditional material, including the title track that also appears on 'The High Level Ranters' album 'Ranting Lads' that I have already mentioned.

Where does that leave us? Well, I'd like to think that it bodes very well for 2010. The raised profile and popularity of the whole genre is likely to inspire others contemplating similar forays in acoustic music and that can hardly be a bad thing.

This post focusses entirely on UK artists but that is not to say that there aren't others working in similar territory and equally deserving of a mention. I have seen several of them live in 2009 and mentioned some already but a fuller retrospective should follow soon. It should bode well for the 2010 festival season, particularly those such as Green Man Festival, EOTR 2010 and The Cambridge Folk Festival.

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