It probably wouldn’t be too far from the truth to suggest that, for many of us, the first contact we have with traditional folk music comes via the sea. There can’t be many Brits that don’t know at least the first verse of “What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor” (Roud 322), after all, and some of our biggest and best singalongs started life in the sagging belly of an overloaded ship.
This article is about obsession. In some ways, it could serve as a warning: beware, young folk adventurers, for it may all end like this. Nick Hart may have made one of the finest folk albums in recent years, but it clearly came at a cost. This is a man who is kept awake at night by questions concerning the appropriate use of 5/4 metres; a man whose existential crises tend to whirl around the right and wrong way to accompany traditional English song. He’s a proper trad folk fanatic –so, in chatting with him, I felt I’d met a true kindred spirit. I, for one, could relate very specifically to each of his myriad musical neuroses.
On a pleasant autumn day in late 2017, I found myself kicking about in the fallen leaves outside Cecil Sharp House, killing a little time before I was due to meet the chief executive and artistic director (all one role) of the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS), Katy Spicer.
There’s a growing sense that 2018 may be the Year of Lucy Farrell – the year that the perennial band-member and session musician steps out from the sidelights and takes centre stage. If that’s the case, it has been some time in coming. Lucy has been a very sturdy cog in the traditional folk machine for a good while, notably as a member of the Johnny Kearney & Lucy Farrell duo, The Emily Portman Trio, The Coracle Band, Eliza Carthy’s Wayward Band, and the award-winning Furrow Collective. Her viola, vocal and saw (yes, saw) skills are in great demand, which is probably why the highly-anticipated solo career has been on the back burner for so long.
There’s an understandable worry in the traditional folk world that there may not be enough enthusiasts among the younger generation to take the baton and keep things going. The generation that lived through the 50s and 60s Revival appears to have had folk lovers a-plenty, but despite specialist university courses at places like Sheffield and Newcastle, the generation currently in their 20s and 30s feels sparsely populated by comparison.
Meet Jack Rutter: folk singer, multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire, and – as you’ll see – man who frets over things like ‘best before’ dates. I mention this point up front because I think it might give you a sense of who you’re going to read about – a gentle, humble, loveable fellow that I had the pleasure of hosting when he played at Whitchurch Folk Club in November.
Ahead of Normafest 2018, I chatted with Eliza Carthy about the festival’s history, the lineup for the coming event, the where to goes and what to knows. Along the way she chatted openly about her mother’s illness, the importance of the Bright Phoebus album, the contraband on sale in pubs around Robin Hood’s Bay, the new Gift Band album, a forthcoming and very exciting tour, and why Norma Waterson was once seen carrying a platypus on a board. Just a typical conversation with Eliza Carthy, then.
Jon Boden needs no introduction for most of the people reading this blog. Front man to Bellowhead, with whom he sold somewhere around a quarter of a million albums, and bagger of 12 Radio 2 Folk Music awards, he has also knocked up a string of accolades with bands and projects that have included Spiers & Boden and The Remnant Kings.
There are, as most of you will know, at least two Ian Andersons connected with music from the late 60s onwards. The one we are concerned with for the purposes of today’s interview is not known for his legs (as far as I’m aware), but has been known to give the occasional leg up (my sincere apologies – I’ll stop now) to upcoming musicians on the folk scene.