Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Now You Might Actually Learn Something

So far, I've been claiming myself to be a bit of a folk expert.

I've written my posts with a certain authority, I've offered unasked-for advice on all matters acoustic, I've proffered tunes that I thought you'd like and given you no choice in the matter.

And you know what, that's more or less okay. I've been listening to folk for a long time:

I can barely remember 1992, perhaps because I spent so much of it listening to progressive alt-folk and experimenting with Class-A drugs

Nevertheless, it's time for me now to admit that I'm a bit of a phony. I'm not a true folkist.

Folk means a lot of things to a lot of different people. To the Irish, folk involves fiddles and sing-a-longs, to the Americans folk means hobos and cowboys. German folk requires leather trousers.

However, this all changed as these different strands of folk started to tangle and entwine somewhere in the middle of 1940s America. Early in the 20th century, archivists traveled across the United States on a mission to collect and preserve the music that had been passed down through various generations, from campfire to campfire, the music that had until then never been noted down, let alone exposed to a recording studio. This was the true 'voice of the people', and the pre-World War II Socialist movement latched onto it with the idea that folk music really could serve as a genuine force for social change. Men like Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, who are now considered the great-grandfathers of folk, popularised what had until then been a rootless and organic genre. After them came further generations, including Bob Dylan and the whole American Folk Music Revival, and as folk evolved, Elvis, The Beatles, Nick Drake and, ultimately, bands like Oasis. See why it's so important for you to know your history?

If you have the time, I'd love for you to watch this video of Pete Seeger, one of those great-granddaddies of folk, who happens to still be fighting for the 'left' today (he performed at Obama's inauguration). Seeger got caught up in McCarthy's pursuit of un-American activites and, just when his career was hitting its peak, was unjustly denied the sponsorship and funding he required to keep performing. In the mid-sixties he managed to pull together enough resources to create a show called Rainbow Quest, where he basically just sat at a table drinking coffee and hanging out with people like Judy Collins and Johnny Cash. Watch the clip below where he's jamming away with Tom Paxton. I love how they casually tune up and start plucking, only half aware that the cameras are rolling.

Now I understand that this kind of folk is not everyone's favourite kind of folk. It's simple folk, it's raw folk. It's fine if you don't like it as much as, say, Damien Rice, but still, give it a chance. This is folk at it's best, when it's not trying to impress, when it's just about hanging out with a friend and a couple of guitars, when it's all about that shivery feeling you get when you hear voices sing in perfect harmony, when you hear that one lyric you know is going to haunt you all the way home.

This week I've chosen to share a tune that was released in 1964, right in the middle of the American Folk Music Revival, but I reckon it could have been released yesterday for all its timelessness. Bob Dylan stood in the centre of a folk river and watched it part round him, and while many people booed and left the concert hall when he decided to go electric (Papa Burns famously included!), he changed the course of music history forever.

Nevertheless, this is a tune from a time when his guitars were still mostly made of wood and musicians were not instant douchebags. I don't know what folk will sound like fifty years from now, but I hope it's still a little bit like this.

Bob Dylan-One Too Many Mornings


  1. My comp doesn't seem to like your inserted sound bites, but I came across this duet in search of the track you posted here.

  2. Oh, but this is my favorite kind of folk. But then, I'm Southern. We don't so much call this folk music. We just call it music.

    The same with soul food. To us, it's just food.

  3. Papa Burns And The Famous Booing! What a cool family story. But then Dad had to leave early to catch his bus home, which makes it SLIGHTLY less cool...