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In other news, I've been zeroing in on a lot of amazing folk lately, and can't even quite remember where I found this week's track. I wish I could tell you more about Nathaniel Raitliff, but I'm thinking all you really need to know is that he must have been reading the part of my secret diary where I wrote how much I love vocal harmonies. He must also have read the footnotes on including wonderful lyrics and the margin where I'd scribbled how much I like powerful chest-baring choruses. Either that or he's just one of the amazing new artists that contemporary folk has been churning out lately.
Not all music genres were created equal.
When I walk into university everyday it's impossible for me to ignore the flyers taped to post boxes and telephone poles advertising all sorts of artists I've never even heard of before. I can hardly open my email inbox without being inundated by an avalanche of Facebook invitations to events hosted by MC Shamtastic or the Croydon Dub Masters. Many an evening have I walked away from the DJ booth in shame after being told that no, sorry, they don't take requests for Paul Simon at Lizard Lounge.
We live in a prejudiced world.
Long gone is that golden era when 'folk' and 'club' were two words that frequently appeared in the same sentence. How I wish I could experience those salad days, when I wouldn't have to panic when asked, so what kind of music do you like?
But there is hope. The few hundred visitors I get on this site every week all stand testament to the stalwart remains of folk fandom. The emails I get from readers suggesting new tunes and bands I haven't heard about fill me with unparalleled joy for the future of our encroached genre. We're still here, I whisper to my tear-stained reflection, And, dammit, we're going to stay.
And so to my humble comrades of the Good Music Resistance, to my fellow folk freedom fighters, I implore you to carry on resisting, to spread the good word of Folk. Slowly, we can persuade the non-believers, inch by dulcet inch we will retune their chart-deafened ears to the strumming of acoustic guitars and the chorus of three-part harmonies.
To aid you in your quest of conversion, I gift you with an excerpt from The Little Folk Book: Quotations from Folkmaster Luke. Spread yourselves throughout the countryside and speaketh my Word to those who will listen, for within folk lies the answer to many of life's deepest quandries.
The Little Folk Book: Quotations from Folkmaster Luke
Chapter 7--Coming Out the Folk Closet
There comes a time in every person's life when he or she must come to terms with what he or she truly is inside, a time when those feelings that have been bottled up for so long must finally be faced head on and properly understood. Usually people encounter signs that make them realise once and for all that they do truly like folk. You might have experienced these signs too. Perhaps you heard Mumford & Sons on the stereo at Old Navy and it made you feel...funny. Perhaps your friend put some Johnny Flynn on while you were hanging out and you felt an incredible loneliness when the track ended.
However you discovered that you like folk, the first thing you must understand is, there's nothing wrong with you. Many people throughout the world feel exactly the same way as you and it's perfectly normal.
Of course, life for the folk-initiated isn't always easy. At some point you're going to want to tell your friends and family, and if you don't handle it perfectly there could be dire consequences.
Luckily, the Generous and Exulted Folkmaster Luke and the National Party for the Advancement of Wonderous Acoustica have compiled a list of advice for what you should do when you finally decide to come out of the folk closet.
#1 Don't always tell people you like folk music, it might confuse them
A difficult question for any folk fan is, so what music are you into? Tread carefully, comrades. There are several ways to answer this question. Firstly, judge the questioner. Does she seem cool to you? What is her body language telling you? Is she genuinely interested in what you are going to say or is she only making awkward small talk while you both wait desperately for your mutual friend to come back into the conversation?
Act accordingly. If you don't think she will respond well, shrug off the question. Here are some handy phrases for you to employ:
- Oh, you know, I like everything, mostly acoustic stuff really.
- Well, I'm not really that into music, I just like simple stuff.
- Hmmm, do you know that guy Jack Johnson? Yeah, he's pretty good, I'm into him right now.
Of course, there is the chance that your questioner would be receptive to a truthful answer. Don't be afraid to humbly offer 'folk music...?' as a response. If she smiles, lifts up her sleeve and reveals a tattoo of a heart with the words JOSH RITTER etched inside, it could be the start of a beautiful relationship.
#2 No one likes pretentiousfolk
Some people like to spread the good word of folk and that's fine. The problem is, there will inevitably be those who don't want to hear about your enlightened sense of existence. I know, I know, what's the point in knowing about the greatest genre of music in the world if you're closest friends can't? Believe it or not, though, some people do not wish to hear about your slightly unorthodox taste in music. Some people are not big enough fans of music in general to be impressed that you think Devendra Banhart is too mainstream for the freak-folk outfit or London neo-folk got left behind with Alas I Cannot Swim. Some people don't like sitting next to the guy at parties who spends forty-five minutes individually explaining the pseudo-biblical references in each of 'The Trapeze Swinger's eight separate verses.
There was a time when this guy at parties was me, but as I became less of the Guy At Parties and more of the Guy at Home By Himself On A Friday Night Wikipedia'ing The American Civil War, I realised that subtlety, modesty and calm were the best attributes to have when listening to friends talk about how Jason Mraz is the best acoustic artist of our generation. Just grit your teeth, smile and hum along with your friends to 'I'm Yours'.
#3 Learn to play guitar
Do you know what is even cooler than writing folk music? Converting pop music into folk music. It's like aural alchemy. Most pop songs are based on three or four chords. If you can figure out these three or four chords, learn how to do a nice little fingerpick with your right hand, and slow everything down, you can turn everything into a folk song! These are the tunes that people want to sing along to at parties. These are the tunes that will make people realise they love folk without even realising it. If you don't believe me, ask William Fitzsimmons:
I hope I've been able to return to you lonely folkies out there some of the hope you bestow upon me every time you visit Shut The Folk Up. Honestly, folk is making a resurgence. These days you can hear good folk in places other than just phone adverts and Gossip Girl. Mumford & Sons are just as likely to be featured on a hip trendy website like this as they are on your mainstream radio station, and I think that is a sign of the times.
This week's reward for your tireless persistency in folk promotion is, in the opinion of myself and Papa Burns, one of the most beautiful pieces of folk music ever written. Judee Sill was probably the most unassuming heroin addict you have ever seen, and her untimely death at 35 appears all the more catastrophic when you hear what a genius she was at her craft. In the copy of her song 'The Kiss' below, I've chosen to leave in the brief intro in which she tries to explain to a live audience the hidden meanings behind the track. She seems to get lost in her own thoughts as she speaks, though, as if the true story behind the lyrics has escaped even her, the person who conceived it. What kills me the most is when she quietly, but with undeniable authenticity, tells the audience that she hopes they'll like her song, before launching into it. I feel this way every time I try to introduce folk to one of my friends, lining up something on iTunes that's been haunting me for weeks, sitting them in my chair and throwing it all into a click of the mouse.
I let the folk do the rest.
I live on the west coasts of two different countries, splitting up my time between Bristol, England (where I study) and San Diego, California (where my parents live). Every summer I have to make the paradigm-shifting, Earth-shaking, jet lag-inducing transfer between these two countries and the process seems to knock me out for weeks. It takes a long time for me to acclimatise myself to student life: this morning I sat at the kitchen table till noon waiting for breakfast to appear in front of me. You forget how wonderful mums are until there's eight thousand miles of ocean separating you from freshly ironed boxer shorts and bottomless cups of tea.
This time round, though, the shock of overflowing laundry bags was cushioned by a week of touring round the country with Papa Burns and the twin. We started near London and wormed our way up the M24, dropping in on relatives as we went and leaving them flustered and bewildered by our empty beds the next morning.
We finally reached St Andrews in Scotland, the fuzzy ginger hat of England, where I had to go through the heartrending process of parting with my twin sister, the person who has known me since my humble zygote days. Tears aside, St Andrews is a gorgeous town and certainly worth the visit. It's basically where golf was invented and Papa Burns took us out to the Jigger Inn, the original pub built to service the course. Here the Luke Burns Food Awards saw some new winners, as I graced the burger I had for dinner a gold star in my Best Burger (In a Restaurant) category, while the sticky toffee pudding that followed received a nomination for Best Pudding (Non-Chocolate Variety)—but ultimately lost out to a lemon meringue pie Mama Burns made back in July '08.
Leaving St Andrews, with the car lacking a passenger and a couple suitcases we made a good pace south, where I had to do a handstand in front of the Angel of the North. She was pretty much begging me to.
Note: If you can see your bellybutton from 100 feet, it's probably time to start dieting
Now, my dad is originally from the north of England. For those reading this in America, you should probably know that regional contrasts are just as marked in the UK as they are in the States. The south has classically been labeled the 'posh' side of England, whereas the north has always prided itself on its abundance of coal mines, steel factories and trade unions. The time had finally come for me to acquaint myself with my northern roots.
I did everything I could to immerse myself in Yorkshire culture. I went to watch Rotherham, my father's hometown with a team my dad has supported since the days footballs were still made out of leather, wolfing down vinegary chips and moaning with genuine northern exasperation at the nil-nil result. I discovered a whole slew of second cousins I had previously only ever seen in Christmas cards and photo albums, and was awed by their politeness as they lined up to thank my father for the sweets he had brought them (“Thank you, Ooncle Patch-rick!”). I chuckled conspiratorially with my Uncle Fred as we carried our overflowing plates away from the meat buffet of a local pub carvery, and then groaned quietly as I struggled to fit my stomach back into the rental car for the drive home. We also visited my German grandmother who lives in a home very close by and took a tour of the streets and fields my father played in as a boy.
It was this final part of my three days up north that really shook me. As we wandered around Rotherham, Papa Burns slowly brought me back in time. Starting with his elementary school, we traced a line downtown that culminated somewhere in the mid-19th century, outside a row of terraced houses that belonged to my great-great-great-grand-something. On this corner stood a sweet shop he ran and behind it, a cobbled square that I recognised from a black and white photograph taken nearly two centuries ago that hangs above my father's desk.
A few minutes down the road stood a large brick building plastered with signs for DISCOUNT CARPETS—CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP! Papa Burns and I pulled back a rusting fence and stumbled into a graveyard next door blanketed by overgrown vegetation and beer cans. We had to be quick, we weren't supposed to be there and the owner of the carpet store was apparently not a very nice chap. My father had just enough time to point out a crumbling chapel where his grandparents had married so many years before. The owner of the carpet store was looking to tear down the property, he told me, was trying to build a block of flats in its place, didn't care about the graves or the chapel. Papa Burns' efforts to preserve the area had been ineffectual, the neighbourhood was too rough to warrant a restoration grant and few people seemed that bothered to fight for it.
Suddenly a quiet voice called from around the corner, “You're not supposed to be in here.” From the other side of the building emerged three tiny children. We were caught in a surreal moment, my father and I engulfed in the sadness of this crumbling building, trying to escape before we were seen and now suddenly being interrogated by a group of six year-olds brandishing sticks. After we explained the plight of the chapel at trembling twig-point, the little gang disarmed and enthusiastically promised to start a war on the chapel's behalf. After seeing we got back to our car safely, they sped off to find bombs and missiles in the park across the street. Within this tableaux of young children and old buildings, of the overcast Rotherham sky my father spent his formative years beneath, of that same big man walking away from a town that was becoming less and less familiar, I felt I understood a little better the stolid, impassive qualities so often associated with people from the North.
On the drive home Papa Burns gestured at the long beams of light peaking round the corners of Rotherham's greying buildings. He mentioned how the light in Rotherham had a certain slow, dreamy quality he has never seen anywhere else in the world. It was good to know that not everything was changing.
When I finally got to Bristol and said goodbye to Papa Burns, who had been my traveling companion for two weeks, I was struck by an unbelievable sadness. Just like I do every time I miss my dad, I hurried inside and put on some Paul Simon records.
If you're in the mood for some good old-fashioned feeling-sorry-for-yourself then you can't really go wrong with a bit of Paul Simon. My older sister remarked to me how great it is to discover an overlooked but entirely incredible song by musicians who have been around for forty years, whose repertoire you thought you knew off by heart. She sent me Simon & Garfunkel's 'Bleaker Street' a week ago, and it's been on repeat ever since.