Folk Music in 2020: Things I’ve Loved in a Mad, Mad Year

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Folk music in 2020 may have been battered by the devastating effects of the COVID pandemic, but there were great things to be heard, and fascinating changes to the traditional landscape, that will prove well-worth holding onto.

Here are a few thoughts on folk music in 2020, as viewed from the same couch I appear to have been sitting in now for nearly nine full months. Roll on 2021. May it bring with it a vaccine and the keys to a million folk clubs and village halls across the land.

Cynefin: Dilyn Afon

I’ll give it to you straight: Dilyn Afon was my album of the year, traditional folk or otherwise. It’s the work of Owen Shiers, recording under the pseudonym, Cynefin, and no other album has scooped me up in its world in quite the same way. It’s true, I have no idea what he’s saying (it’s a collection of Welsh traditional songs, after all), but that speaks volumes about the cohesion and beauty of the album as a whole. Whatever, whoever or wherever he’s singing about, he has me hypnotised. It’s all I could do to stop myself packing my bags and moving to Ceredigion.

The production and arrangements are sublime. There are faint echoes of Nick Drake throughout – strong, unwavering fingerstyle patterns; gentle, breathy vocals; paired-down string arrangements; a tendency to lean into a jazz feel – even though the songs are, for the most part, traditional. And there are moments of absolute magic and beauty throughout. No earworm has pursued me quite so doggedly as the moment in “Y Ddau Farch / Y Bardd A’r Gwcw” (it’s at 2:25, if you want to find it – but make sure you listen to it in the context of the whole piece) when he shifts into the second song, moving into a major key at the same moment, and begins a series of short verses that appear to be about a cuckoo. Again, I may be wrong about the lyrical content (I’m pretty sure it is an ode to a cuckoo), but it almost doesn’t matter. It’s like watching the sun burst through a cloud, and I feel the warmth of that moment physically. Moments like that didn’t come along too often in 2020. Savour and celebrate them while you can.

You’ll get the same warmth on your skin listening to “Taith Y Cardi”, a joyous, macaronic song about a pocket thief stealing hearts and money on the West Wales Line. As a non-Welsh speaker, it does wonderful things to your brain in myriad ways. Spoiler alert, but listen to it without knowing that it’s bilingual and observe how your mind trips over itself trying to work out what’s going on. Did he just say “train”? Are we going on a journey? Who’s making the sandwiches? Have you packed your Welsh/English dictionary? Sod this lockdown lark – I’m out the door and heading to Llandysul Station.

Lyrics aside, the song – like so many on this album – appears to have its own weather system. Paul Simon may have once sung about being “dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep”, but Owen Shiers and his band have outdone that description in strokes of vivid musicality. I can’t imagine how anyone can play Dilyn Afon without feeling the ruggedness of the landscape around them, the sun dancing on the train windowsill, the cool enticement of the Clettwr Valley. From the opening field recordings of “Cân O Glod I’r Clettwr” to the final, stripped-back arrangement of “Ffarwel I Aberystwyth”, this is an aural roadtrip – a postcard – through a place, a time and its people. In my opinion, it’s nothing short of a masterpiece.

You can order your copy here. Non-Welsh speakers will also find Owen’s translation and album tour guide info on this page very useful.

Jim Moray: Live at St George’s

A recent post on Jim Moray’s Instagram underlines the journey he’s been on over the past two decades. There he is: sprightly, wide-jeaned, and (surprisingly) thicker-haired than the person he’s standing next to – in itself quite a feat, given that he’s sharing the photo with the famously coiffed Amy Winehouse. They’re pictured together because, back in 2003, they were “the young guns” – not just the new faces of folk music and jazz, respectively, but cutting edge musicians dragging their genres into the 21st century.

We all know the tragic direction Amy’s journey took. Dead at 27, back in July 2011, some eight years after that photo was taken. Jim, in the same space of time, had recorded a brace of albums, and was preparing the release of a third. More prolific than Winehouse, but never any less keen to push the envelope, his reputation was built on intricate productions that demonstrated how far traditional folk could be stretched. Always with a nod to his influences, but woe betide any listener who thought his influences should be limited to the folk revival’s back catalogue.

The slight problem with having such a wide-ranging sound – and I’m sure Jim would be the first to say this himself – is that it’s pretty hard to translate to a live setting. So, unless you caught him playing festivals with a bigger band, the Jim Moray you got on record was often pretty different to the one you got live. If you went to see him in recent years expecting the pounding keyboards and glorious production of “Fair Margaret and Sweet William”, you might find yourself wondering where he’d hidden the orchestra.

But here’s the thing: that’s fine. Like any musician who has been recording for some 20 years, Jim Moray has changed. He’s changed a lot. He’s changed many times over. Nobody stays the same. In that amount of time, many of us will have been through as many jobs as Jim has made albums. It’s how we develop. The man in the photo with Amy Winehouse has grown from bedroom studio whizz kid to something of a polymath. What you got if you went to see Jim Moray in 2019, or perhaps squeezed in a concert in early 2020, or even logged on to watch the brilliant Live at St George’s, is a musician who (I reckon) is at his best when alone under the spotlight exploring the intimacies of songs he has seemingly turned inside out.

I organised Jim’s gig at Whitchurch Folk Club in October, 2019, and while the setlists were different, the feeling of Live at St George’s is much the same. What really gets me about these solo performances is the power in his voice. I rarely get tearful watching gigs, but something about his version of “Leaving Of Liverpool”, both in the club last year and here online, hits me in a way that I don’t really understand. There’s an aching and yearning to it that makes me miss people that are no longer with us; a loneliness and longing that I’ve never heard in other versions. I simply don’t believe Jim would’ve achieved that in a bigger, more produced version. This is the joy of Jim Moray, one man and a guitar. It’s something to be savoured before he heads off in his next direction.

And it’s not just that song, either. The same sentiment is there in “Jock O’Hazeldean”, and of course in “Lord Douglas” (which, by now, is surely one of the great folk guitar must-learns – you can do so here, if you fancy it). It’s there again in “The Isle of St Helena”, and “When This Old Hat Was New”. He’s got the vocal range and timbre that allows those top, pure notes to hang in gorgeous contrast above the rasping notes of a low-tuned acoustic guitar. It’s a unique sound, and one I hope we continue to hear more of in future.

Aside from those killer performances, Live at St George’s is a poignant document of the situation we found ourselves in during Pandemic Year. Filmed in front of an empty St George’s Hall (Bristol), but given the full HD treatment, Jim talks us through his set as though we were right there with him. From the initial staircase climb to the stage, right through to the thank-yous before the final song, it’s everything you’d want from your typical live DVD release… but for the fact that nobody’s there. When the camera cuts to those long shots, with not a soul to be seen, you’re reminded of what we lost in 2020, and you long for this year to end and the music-loving crowds to return.

In creating Live at St George’s, Jim Moray has managed to produce both a truly unique gem and a powerful historical document. Steam yourself a copy of it here.

Kris Drever: Where the World is Thin

Vying very closely for that Album of the Year slot was this incredible collection of songs by Kris Drever. I first saw Kris performing with LAU at Wickham Folk Festival in 2017. Their gig was recommended to me by several other musicians as the “must-see gig of the weekend”, and it proved to be canny advice. I saw him again at the Bristol Folk Festival in 2019, this time in his solo guise, and I made a mental note to go away and explore his back catalogue properly.

And it’s that catalogue of albums that has provided so much of the soundtrack to my life on the couch this year. In the early months, I listened to “I Didn’t Try Hard Enough” (from 2016’s If Wishes Were Horses) more times than any other track, and the October release of Where the World is Thin has hogged my earphones ever since.

As someone who occasionally records albums myself, I’m very conscious of how someone’s else’s music takes hold of me. On occasion, I have to take a step back and observe how the music I’m listening to is filtering into my own arrangements and productions. We’re all magpies, but sometimes someone else’s sparkly things can slightly overwhelm you. Paul Simon’s work does that to me (that’s the second time I’ve mentioned his name on this page). I’ll end up listening to it endlessly and then suddenly realise that his turns of phrase, both musically and lyrically, have sprinkled themselves all over whatever it is I’m currently working on.

That’s what’s happened with Where the World is Thin. In fact, I can pinpoint several things I’m having to watch out for. The half-picking, half-swooping guitar lines that dot the album (you can hear a glorious example in the opening seconds of the title track) – deeply melodic, but rhythmic and precise. The cinematic production of a song like “Scapa Flow 1919” (the sudden appearance of the clattering drum that arrives in the second verse, bringing with it a fresh urgency; the gentle descents that follow the choruses – 2:21 onwards – and end in a vast mind-altering chord that emphasises the sheer scale of the story being told). The storytelling and the lyricism – for Kris Drever is, in my opinion, one of the great lyricists writing today – that thrive on his ability to zoom down from the wonder of the larger picture to the beauty of minutiae, all in the space of a couple of lines.

We were ragged, we were dirty
Though we knew we didn’t care
Our only flag was a linen rag
As lank and lousy as our hair

Esprit de corps and dignity they ran off with our hope
One day I robbed an officer
I sold his iron cross for soap

It’s that kind of album. From universal themes to the tiniest details, it takes it all in, and the listener who choses to spend forty minutes in its company comes out all the more enriched for it. One of 2020’s must-hear albums. Buy yours here.

Burd Ellen: in general

I’ll be honest: I’ve yet to fully immerse myself in the latest Burd Ellen album, Says the Never Beyond. It came out in late November, and I’m writing this only a few days following its release, so it would seem a bit dishonest to start gushing without having let it permeate properly. However, Initial explorations suggest it has been well worth the wait, and (given its winter themes) will be a prominent fixture on future Yule-ish playlists.

The pre-release single, “Cutty Wren”, is already there. It’s right up my street, with its peculiar, off-kilter production. This is the stuff that I go back for again and again: angular, distorted guitars laid around the dancing sprite in Rachel Newton’s harp; reversed echoes through multi-layered backing vocals; found-sound birdcall in the song’s wider aural picture. A dark, enthralling place to be. As with the Kris Drever album reviewed above, it’s the kind of production that makes me want to down tools and head back into the studio.

And that’s the thing that Burd Ellen (Debbie Armour in particular) has done for me this year. They’ve given me a new thread of inspiration. I interviewed Debbie on The Old Songs Podcast in July, and her enthusiasm and vast knowledge around the subject was eye-opening. In fact, it left me slightly shaken in my confidence to keep the series going. I came away with a strong sense that Debbie should’ve been presenting the series herself – she instantly seemed far more qualified than I was. (It’s worth knowing that she presents a very similar thing herself on her Patreon page.) It’s certainly the episode that received the most enthusiastic feedback, and, shuddering bouts of self-doubt aside, it’s one of the things I’m most proud of having had a hand in creating this year.

More than anything else, though, her presence on the traditional folk scene has been hugely important to me in 2020. She’s a talented musician and arranger, and as a fan of folk musicians who tend to head off the beaten track, I find her productions irresistibly immersive. She’s also a very witty commentator who refuses to suffer fools gladly – her Twitter account always seems to tackle the scene’s less desirable aspects with a succinctness that I can only admire. I’m glad to count her as one of my new 2020 friends, and I can’t wait to get to better grips with the new album, not to mention inviting her back on the next series of The Old Songs Podcast.

Martin Simpson: Home Recordings

Over the last few years we’ve seen a number of musicians taking the stripped-down approach to recording. fRoots even mentioned a “New Wave of Folk Blokes”, pointing to the fact that a number of these albums seemed to be men with acoustic guitars and a bag full of traditional songs, harking back to the troubadour tradition that found a home at Les Cousins in the late 60s.

Of course, some of those veteran troubadours never went away. Although he belongs to the generation of guitarists that followed the Les Cousins crowd, Martin Simpson has been one of the leading exponents of that style since before most of the latest crop were born. Jack Rutter and Nick Hart deserve all the plaudits they receive – I’m a huge fan of the recordings they’ve both made – but they’re merely the latest members of a club that must count Martins Simpson and Carthy as join chairpersons.

In a career that spans several decades, this particular Martin has made more stripped-down recordings than most, so his latest collection isn’t all that surprising when viewed in those terms. As several other reviewers have pointed out, however, it’s the intimacy of this collection that really strikes (no pun intended) home.

Home Recordings does what it says on the tin. It was recorded at home in Sheffield during lockdown. You can hear the sounds of his front room and his back garden. As such, it’s aurally quite different from a typical Martin Simpson record. In the past, there has been a sumptuousness to his recordings, whether he’s had killer backing musicians with him or not. That’s not the case here. Sure, the sumptuousness is there in the playing, but the sound is quite brittle. It’s right there in your face (or ears), as though the man himself was sitting right in front of you in his living room with all the acoustic limitations that such a setting would bring.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s not a negative thing. Quite aside from the obvious fact that having Martin play in front of you in his living room would be an exquisite treat, I love recordings that take you out of the studio and put you somewhere else, warts and all. Some call it intimacy, but in this case I’d call it honesty. It takes a very talented musician indeed to hold your attention over 14 tracks with no studio trickery to hide behind, and (let’s face it) there are fewer more talented musicians on the folk scene than Martin Simpson.

I’ve already written a lot in this blog post about people providing me with inspiration over the course of the last 12 months. Anyone who has heard the music I record myself will be able to tell instantly that Martin Simpson has provided me with a lifetime’s worth. He hasn’t let up this time, either. In fact, speaking as someone who was put into the aforementioned “New Wave of Folk Blokes” basket, I can tell you that Home Recordings merely serves to show the rest of us how’s it’s done. It’s as though he’s saying, “Yes, yes, we can all record things in intimate, scratchy settings, but you still have to be able to produce the goods.” It’s something to aspire to – something that makes me want to work harder and practice more religiously. And as such, if I had such an accolade to give, I’d say this is the Best Guitar Record of 2020.

Stick in the Wheel: Re-engaging

Way back when I first started blogging about traditional music, I interviewed Stick in the Wheel. I was fascinated by their straightforwardness, whether that was in the performance style of their first albums, the simplicity of their field recordings, or the things they had to say.

Somewhere along the way, however, I lost them. This almost certainly has to do with my own journey into the classic albums of the traditional genre. Throughout the tail end of 2018, into 2019, I existed on a musical diet that consisted mainly of source singers, and lots of things connected to Richard Thompson. Anything “new” tended to pass me by.

I was always interested in what might be termed the Stick in the Wheel Universe, however. I have thoroughly enjoyed their work with Jack Sharp, for example, as well as the simple production work that Ian did with Laura Smyth & Ted Kemp. And this year, when Youtube started recommending the videos connected with the Help the Witch project, I found myself clambering back onboard the SITW bus.

Two recent songs in particular have really grabbed my attention. Both have great videos – testament to the lengths that SITW will go to in order to reach beyond the traditional folk scene and engage with artists that might never have connected with that world to begin with – but both stand as wonderful productions in their own right.

The first to really catch my ear was “Villon Song”, the video for which came out in July. It’s a fantastic thing when a thumping, two-and-a-half minute song can open you up to a whole new world. This piece does exactly that for the form of expression known as, “cant song”.

“Cant” is described elsewhere as, “a sort of secret language… that contained words and phrases spoken by the underworld”. It was the first time I’d come across it, and it has since cleared entrances to untold rabbit holes. A time suck, perhaps, but I’ve never found that time spent learning new things has particularly sucked. And since 2020 has provided me with more empty hours than any year since university, I thank Stick in the Wheel for being so generous with their introductions.

The second track that rekindled my love for their work was the radio edit of “Drive The Cold Winter Away” (see video at the top of this section). With its dark, foreboding, 70s-sounding sequencers, on the surface it’s the vicious, cold-blooded cousin of McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” (famously made when the former Beatle was messing around with 70s sequencers). It’s Giorgio Moroder meeting the pagans on the frost-bitten Hackney Marshes.

Actually, with repeated listening, it’s much more than that. There’s a warmth in the radio edit that envelopes the listener, the vocal appearing as a bright light in the emerging, encompassing womb of synthesised sound. In that sense, it is the musical equivalent to the nascent Christmas tree – a spark in the darkness around which we huddle together. The lyrics remind us just how far beyond Christianity these winter traditions stretch. Fundamentally, it’s all about keeping each other warm and sane through difficult times, and as such, Stick in the Wheel couldn’t have chosen a better song to release in 2020.

This time of the year is spent in good cheer
And neighbours together do meet,
To sit by the fire, with friendly desire,
Each other in love to greet.

Old grudges forgot are put in the pot,
All sorrows aside they lay,
The old and the young doth carol this song,
To drive the cold winter away.

Eliza Carthy: Through That Sound (My Secret Was Made Known)

Reminding us that she is so much more than an interpreter of traditional song, Eliza Carthy (in the company of Ben Seal) produced an album of deep yearning that sits so far away from her folk origins that I’ve questioned whether it belongs on this list at all. In fact, I have wondered whether this wonderful mix of soul (and soul searching), cabaret, jazz and torch songs may have slightly confused her regular audience. If so, I urge them to go back and explore it in greater depth. It’s an extraordinary collection of songs.

In truth, Through That Sound… is not all that much of a shock when placed alongside 2017’s Big Machine. It has that similar grandiose feeling that demands a large stage, only this time the stage has one spotlight and it is directed solely on the woman at the centre, all the rest vignetting into velveteen shadows beneath large braided lampshades.

And rightly so. It’s an album that comes from what sounds like a very emotional place, and as such puts huge emphasis on Eliza’s voice. Take, for example, the second track. “The Black Queen” must be one of her greatest recorded vocal performances. It leaps from tenderness and fragility to defiance and determination with all the dexterity of an Etta James recording. In fact, a newcomer might well assume that they were listening to a Chess Records outtake, with only the occasional inflection giving away the location as Yorkshire rather than Chicago.

It’s an experimental album, too. “Our Savage Friends” is one part cabaret to one part disco to one part chamber orchestra. “The Lute Girl” might have been lifted from a West End musical, with its multiple mini movements, albeit with far more opaque, beguiling lyrics. “Mean to Me” takes us straight back into Chess world, with its slapback echo and doo-wop backing, and “Surrender” is a wonderful piece of writing and arranging that makes me miss some of the work she did with the Wayward Band.

It’s not as if Eliza hasn’t been recognised for her songwriting before, but an album like Through That Sound… is a real reminder of the sheer quality that exists in her non-traditional output. It’s also a powerful example of how schizophrenic her career must seem to the newcomer. You can put an Eliza Carthy playlist on shuffle and bounce from the rough, raw, exhilarating sounds of something like “Cold, Wet & Rainy Night” to the incredibly sophisticated creations that make up this album. Here’s hoping that she gets to put it on the stage at some point in the coming year. It’s surely where it deserves to be heard.

Other mentions

The folk music scene in 2020 underwent huge changes, and it’s very easy to look back and regard the year as a complete mess. But in some ways we were forced to look at how we do things, to try new things our and adapt to more modern systems. Who could’ve predicted, for example, that 2020 would’ve been the year that folk clubs found their way online in such a digitally interactive way? Sure, it’s not ideal, but it shows what’s possible, and may even pave the way for larger audiences to beam into gigs in future, regardless of where they’re being performed.

The early days of lockdown saw a great many collaborations, many of which we might not have seen had COVID not taken a hold. From a personal point of view, I doubt I’d have recorded anything with Katherine Priddy and Lukas Drinkwater this year, and yet we were all astounded to find that our cover of Nick Drake’s “Northern Sky” reached around 50,000 international viewers (largely on Facebook) in a mere 48 hours.

I went on to perform the song with Katherine at a very rare gig post-lockdown (huge thanks to the brave folks at Grayshott Folk Club for being one of the first venues to try and stage live music again, and for taking a chance on us), and it was easily one of the highlights of my year. The love for our recording and performance in the room that night was incredibly touching. I only wish somebody had thought to video it.

A huge round of applause, too, for the collaborations that Sam Sweeney, Jenn Butterworth and Rob Harbron produced. Always witty, always superbly performed, always astounding in their attention to detail, and – if you’re into such things – always a treat for fans of Sweeney in the shower.

As far as trying different things went, I loved what Andi Lee did with his Ashen Asks interviews. These were friendly but in-depth chats with a series of multi-genre musicians, digging into their work, their backgrounds and their politics. Of particular interest to traditional folk fans would be the episodes featuring Nancy Kerr (see above), Jim Moray and Burd Ellen. It’s rare for traditional music to be afforded that level of exploration in this kind of digital format, so hats off to him for putting so much of his time and effort into this.

In a similar but more freeform vein, the Friday night song swap (Isolation Sessions) that Piers Cawley has been running this year has been something that I look forward to on a weekly basis (even if I can’t always make it – sorry, Piers). The format is simple. Piers (an unaccompanied traditional singer of growing repute) invites a guest onto his channel (broadcast on Youtube and a number of other platforms), and for approximately three hours they geek out about songs, occasionally interrupting the chatter with actual singing. If you’ve ever wondered where traditional songs come from, or simply miss the joy of seeing just how much a song can uplift an occasionally bearded gentleman, this is for you. I only wish Piers would keep the sessions up on his channel indefinitely, as they’re a great resource that I’d happily mine for songs time and again.

I spent a happy evening in early August with Sid Goldsmith, Tamsin Solanum and friends. Many of us did. We were all invited into their home in the midst of lockdown to see what they were getting up to. Nobody went anywhere, of course. From The Coop made it all possible – a very special mini-documentary covering life in a kind of musicians’ commune in Bristol.

It would make a great double-bill alongside Jim Moray’s Live at St George’s, presenting two versions of live music in the Year of the Pandemic: one, a poignant performance for an absent audience, and the other a kind of mental health life jacket for a group of people just trying to get through. Which, I suppose, has been all of us.

Gorgeous music, and a quietly touching record of the times.

Songs I’ve had on repeat in 2020

I’d happily put together a mixtape of songs I’ve had on repeat this year, but I know that many musicians have different opinions about being included in Spotify playlists these days. So, here, in no particular order, are a few that may or may not have appeared elsewhere on this page already. Each have kept me company on the couch at one time or another. Clicking on the links will take you to their shops.

Cynefin: Y Ddau Farch / Y Bardd A’r Gwcw (taken from Dilyn Afon)
Martin Simpson: An Englishman Abroad (taken from Home Recordings)
Bob Dylan: Goodbye Jimmy Reed (taken from Rough and Rowdy Ways)
The Rheingans Sisters: The Yellow of the Flowers (taken from Receiver)
Mr Alec Bowman: My Kind of Chaos (taken from I Used to Be Sad)
Kris Drever: Scapa Flow 1919 (taken from Where the World Is Thin)
Eliza Carthy & Ben Seal: The Black Queen (taken from Through That Sound)
Burd Ellen: Cutty Wren (taken from Says the Never Beyond)
Stick in the Wheel: Drive the Cold Winter Away (radio edit single)
This is the Kit: Keep Going (taken from Off Off On)
Fay Hield: Hare Spell (taken from Wrackline)
Katherine Priddy: Still Winter, Still Waiting (single)
Jackie Oates & John Spiers: Gallons of Brandy / Fox Tell (taken from Needle Pin, Needle Pin)

Bellowhead: Live Online

I wrote the majority of this blog post in late November, but I didn’t feel I could publish it without mention of the incredibly touching online gig that Bellowhead offered up in early December.

I never saw Bellowhead live. I came to traditional music too late to have had the chance. By the time I started interviewing the likes of Sam Sweeney, Jon Boden, Paul Sartin and Rachael McShane for my Grizzly Folk website, they were all well into other things. I’d heard legendary tales of incendiary gigs across the country, this was my first experience of watching a full Bellowhead gig (albeit online).

What to say, exactly? They don’t disappoint, do they? And they really are a great example of the magical alchemy that some bands seem to have been blessed with. As individual musicians, they’re at the top of their game. As Bellowhead, they’re the sum of all those wonderful parts… plus a dollop of something truly special.

Having watched the online gig with my family, at least two of whom are not particularly interested in folk music and undoubtedly had better things they could’ve been doing, I’m pretty sure that that the “special something” is camaraderie. It’s the glue that seems to have made that performance special, and it’s the glue that seems to have provoked the outpouring of online love afterwards (even allowing the band to trend on Twitter).

The sheer joy that those musicians get from playing together flowed from the computer screen and into living rooms all over the world. In a year when the word “infectious” has only had unpleasant implications, it gives me great joy to use it with entirely positive connotations here. The camaraderie on screen was infectious. I saw it in my children’s feet as they tapped along to Pete Flood’s mind-boggling rhythms, and I heard it in the questions they were asking about the music – an interest they haven’t really shown before. It was music imbued with, and spilling over with, camaraderie. It brought people together.

That the concert had to be performed online was a result of the strangeness that 2020 has brought on all of us. But who’s to say that a Bellowhead reunion would have occurred at all without that weirdness?

You see? It has been a very tough year, but there have been real moments of joy and togetherness despite the divisions that COVID, Trump and the ever-looming Brexit have perpetuated. Sure, I’ve missed live music tremendously, but the underlying camaraderie and beauty that Bellowhead and all the people featured on this list have evoked over the last 12 months only makes me excited about what’s to come. These hard times, they will not last long.

Keep on keeping on, won’t you? I hope to see many of you out and about again in the not-too-distant future.

Spread the word


10 responses to “Folk Music in 2020: Things I’ve Loved in a Mad, Mad Year”

  1. Jon,
    This was a fascinating read and thank you for all of your wonderful recommendations. I will endeavour to check them out as I totally respect your judgement.
    Clearly, you’ve written this from a musician’s point of view, which is to be expected but as you know, us Folk Clubs have really battled against the odds to keep going and we need the Oxygen of publicity to waft on our rapidly dying embers. A mention of Grayshott Folk Club by name would have been much appreciated and trust me, I tried very hard to get a film crew along from the University of Surrey to video your gig but sadly, they didn’t materialise and term was just about to start. Oh, and Covid was happening.
    I would love to repeat your gig at Grayshott Folk Club with Katherine sometime in the future, when I would hope you get the audience numbers you both deserve but with all this uncertainty and fear still pervading the air, we can’t say when that might be……..Wishing you and yours all the best for Christmas.

    Here’s to a Happy, HEALTHY and Prosperous New Year.
    Des O’Byrne,
    Grayshott Folk Club.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Des. And you’re right, I should’ve mentioned the club by name. The great thing about digital publications is that such errors can quickly be fixed. In fact, this one shall be by the time you log in again. Merry Christmas to you, buddy.

  2. John Aylott Avatar
    John Aylott

    Hi Jon, I really enjoyed this, probably because if I’d set out to write a blog about the things I love about Folk it would have been pretty much identical!
    Really glad that you’ve reconnected with SITW, I’ve seen them twice live and buy everything they put out. The field recordings in particular I think are so important in connecting the music with a particular place and time.
    One thing you might need to know, Malware bytes did not want me to open this, for unspecified reasons, but i’ve not previously had problems with your stuff so I took the risk, Hope you have a cool yule, given the times we’re in, looking forward to the Album, regards John A.

    1. Thanks John. Good to hear your thoughts, and thanks for letting me know about the Malware Bytes. Sounds like an electronic band name!

  3. Nat Clare Avatar
    Nat Clare

    Loved reading this and being made aware of some great new music. Well done, John, I’m sure you’ve kept some of us sane this season or maybe it’s just me. Well done you!

    1. Thank you Nat! Hope you find something there that you’ll enjoy.

  4. Paul Barber Avatar
    Paul Barber

    Thanks Jon, there’s so much thought gone into this. I think Ill need to re-read a couple of times! Thanks for the links to some great music

    1. You’re more than welcome, buddy. Yes, it’s a bit humongous, but people seem to be getting through it. I just hope it’s useful.

  5. Andy Howell Avatar
    Andy Howell

    Thanks for the Ashen Asks. A great discovery!

    Keep up the good work and the real challenge of bringing culture to the rest of the world 🙂

    Andy back in Brum.

    1. Thanks for the kind comment, Andy. Big up The Ashen Asks!

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