Saturday, February 21, 2015

Folk, Roots, Americana - whatever you want to label it.

It seems that my music theme for 2015 is to be set to folk/roots/Americana in all its many varied guises. I should probably mention here that the "new to me" festival for this summer is in fact one of the longest running of the kind - Cambridge Folk Festival. Conjured up in the autumn of 1964 it made its first appearance in the summer of 1965. I've had it in mind as one to try for a while now and this coincidence seemed to be the perfect excuse. I have my ticket.
I don't know if this is generally true or not but I think that my liking of such genres may be down to the music I was exposed to as a child. In particular, and I was reminded of this just yesterday evening, live music.

I saw Leveret at Rook Lane Arts, Frome yesterday evening and I'm happy to say that the event was very well attended. It was lengthy set that consisted of tunes (not songs) mostly traditional but a scattering of new compositions in the style. It served to remind me that despite a very rudimentary knowledge of music theory I can spot a slip-jig when I hear one.
More interesting was the commentary by the trio about something I had never considered. Many of the traditional tunes, and there are thousands of them, are now known only from manuscripts and some dating from the mid 17th Century. For the most part all they contain is the basic melody. To make the tune truly fly again the harmony, ornamentation and speed is all pretty much a case of reverse engineering. That, needless to say, takes a great deal of time, patience and skill.

It was an issue that had never really occurred to me before if I am honest.
The trio comprises Andy Cutting (diatonic button accordion, also known in some countries as melodeon), Rob Harbron (English concertina) and Sam Sweeney (fiddle) and the set was astonishing. I do wonder if had I been new to such music this might actually have proven an overwhelmingly intense experience. It could have felt like a lecture, albeit light heartedly-given, in an esoteric subject.

I wasn't the youngest member of the audience, that's for sure, but I reckon that I was well below the median age. On the other hand I am older than all the members of the band.

My next post will likely serve to illustrate the obvious - such as night follows day. It also reminds me of something I was told at one of the first festivals I went to.
I guess I must have mentioned that I didn't know anything about the majority of artists. It all seemed too much to get my head around and therefore what I went to see play was something of a lottery - fortunately, as it turned out, one with damn fine odds...  What I was told was roughly this: keep listening, remembering and making notes and in time it will become second nature. I only remembered this last night and I can't remember if I was awake or dreaming but it was a real conversation in origin.
Seven or so years after the origin of this I have realised that this is in fact entirely true. 
In a sense that is why photography plays a part for me - it is a kind of note-taking. There are two strands. One is that I can now find new music that I like almost on a whim and especially that in categories that back then I would have been rather dubious about. I still dislike pigeon-holing music by genre but had you suggested alt-country to me back then I would have probably thought you were trying to lead me on a wild goose chase. The second is that now the music quite often finds me instead. This year I am for the first time attempting to listen to music by many of the festival artists in advance. I know lots of people that do this but, until now, it has just seemed like a whole lot of effort and what is more I really like the surprise factor of festivals.
I know that I won't be able to do that for all acts in advance, so I won't really spoil that aspect for myself. 
If I were in danger of doing that at least the reason is simple - I'm hoping that it will allow more informed choices about which acts to see when there are the inevitable clashes.
If it does then the reality is rather prosaic.  It is to go to more festivals.

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