Friday, November 23, 2007

Roots music - the real thing

FAE Training Day - Friday 16 November: Roots into the Community.

This turned out to be a more informal and interactive session which even included a chance to perform some music! Advertised as ‘everything you need to plan and deliver a successful community arts project’, the session was run by Marilyn Tucker and Paul Wilson, respectively Artistic Director and Music Director for Wren Music in Devon. With the two of them and five delegates seated around the table, we were able to get into serious discussion on the relationship between folk music and community activity.

Essentially, the session showed how folk music can be a catalyst for social action. Marilyn and Paul talked us through examples of projects they had run (are running) and then led a brainstorming session (if that term is still permissible) on how to set up a community arts project.

The music session, which immediately followed lunch, was a demonstration of how a workshop can be run. Each of us took up an instrument that we had never played before (in my case, a fiddle) and Paul taught us each a few bars of melody or rhythm. We put it all together and, hey presto, we had the makings of a folk orchestra. It was definitely a feel-good moment of the day and, as Paul pointed out, effectively put into practice Christopher Small’s concept of ‘musicking’.

Here’s my summary of the key points that I gained from this training day:

1. Communities can be defined in different ways, meaningful to different groups, i.e.
(a) geography
(b) shared interest (e.g. fans, bikers, morris dancers, etc.)
(c) shared demographic details (e.g age, race, nationality)
(d) constructed or artificial community (e.g. constituency, newspaper circulation area, local radio transmission area)
(e) self-defining or self-selecting community or sub-community (e.g. based on style, taste, self-image, social class)

2. Folk (music) can be defined in terms of repertoire:
(a) traditional (sourced from archives and collections)
(b) vernacular (music as a form of expression by a specific nation, region or group of people)
(c) popular (literally ‘of the people’ with broad appeal)

The term ‘folk song’ or ‘Volkslied’ was coined by Johann Gottfried Herder in the 19th century, while ‘World music’ was a term popularised by Peter Gabriel, referring (arguably) to ethnic music for white western markets.

3. Organisations that run community projects or events may be:
- public (state funded)
- commercial
- voluntary (not for profit but may still be paid)

The activities also highlighted the intense planning process, especially the increasing need to obtain approvals from various bodies, e.g. CRB checks, Health and Safety legislation, equal opportunities; or research to ensure that religious observance or cultural practices are catered for.

There was also some discussion at the beginning and end of the session on the integrity of folk music and concerns that this should not be turned into something alien for people who are devoted to that music. Reference (quite emotional at one point) was made to the ‘Imagined Village’ project that was recently performed at the Warwick Arts Centre and regarded, by some, as a post-modern spectacular collage of musical styles reflecting an erstaz 'community' rather than a preservation of genuine folk tradition. (These views are not necessarly those expressed by this blogger - never saw the show but have seen the video clips!)

This indicated the importance of folk as a grass-roots, community based activity – a practice rather than a product.

FolkArts England     community    Wren Music    Christopher Small     Johann Gottfried Herder    folk music definition    Peter Gabriel    Imagined Village

Monday, November 19, 2007

News from Newcastle

We interrupt this blog to announce that Irish fiddle-player, Eoghan Neff, whom I had the pleasure of meeting during the British Forum for Ethnomusicology event at the University of Newcastle earlier this year, picked up an award for giving the best postgraduate paper at that conference. Sadly I missed it - I was only there for one day and Eoghan's talk was rescheduled to a different day.

Heard the news from his father who found my reference to Eoghan in this blog. Click here for further details - and, if you're reading this, Eoghan - congratulations!

BFE Conference     Eoghan Neff

Raising cash - the strategic way

Training Day - Thursday 15 November: Fundraising For Folk.

I wanted to attend this to find out what advice is given to folk events organisers - not only in terms of funds available and form-filling procedures, but also how to approach funding agencies and sponsors and present one's objectives in a way that's meaningful to them. I wasn't disappointed.

The session was led by Wendy Smithers of the hub arts consultancy. She was joined by Polly Robinson, fundraiser for the Bernie Grant Arts Centre, London and Ben Lane, former PRS Foundation funder.

The training day can be distilled to six key messages which are vital for anyone seeking funding. These were:

1. Get information across quickly and succinctly
2. Be strategic; have clear objectives
3. Sponsorship is an investment, not a donation. Think of what you can offer in return.
4. Build relationships. Think of potential funders as potential partners.
5. Research. Research. Research. Don't send out 'all-purpose' applications; tailor each one to the interestes of the funder.
6. Show passion.

Topics that were covered were:
- Commercial sponsors: could they offer support either through cash or 'in kind' for a folk music project? For example, a 'media partnership' could involve press or broadcast coverage and free advertising
- Public funding, e.g. Arts Council or National Lottery. Some concern was expressed on the impact of the Olympics on the availability of funds for other, smaller projects.
- Trusts and foundations.

My overall impressions from this training day were very positive; I think all participants felt the same. We even had a chance to work in groups and prepare and pitch a project idea to the other participants. A lot of attention was given to presentation techniques and interpersonal skills - possibly surprising if you consider that a lot of fundraising is form-filling. This did however serve to emphasise a partnership relationship with funders and the need to be clear in one's thinking about project aims and objectives.

The session included advice on how to present a (balanced) budget and also brought home clear messages on accountability and evaluation. This illustrates the broader value of this session as far as my own research was concerned. It demonstrated how enthusiasts of folk arts need to understand and enter into the mindsets of potential funders, i.e. participate in management, commercial or political discourses, in order to achieve the support they need. This may mean re-presenting the argument that you are preserving a vital tradition to one that shows your sponsor tuned in to PR benefits of supporting heritage.

FolkArts England     fundraising    sponsorship    Arts Council     National Lottery    heritage    discourse

Sunday, November 18, 2007

'With A Little Help From My Friends...'

Eastwood – birthplace of DH Lawrence – was the venue for this year’s FolkArts England gathering which incorporated three events: the FAE Training Days, Folk Industry Focus Days and the Conference for the Association of Festival Organisers. With the strapline 'With a little help from my friends', the programme provided a great opportunity for people in all apects of folk performance, promotion and education to offer and gain support, intelligence and a chance to network.

The Focus Days programme ran 15-16 November and delegates discussed and explored current issues in education and training, publicity and marketing. The conference on 17-18 November included sessions on media, promoting young acts, ‘greening’ your festival, dealing with bad weather, cancellation insurance, ticketing and website design.

However, the training days, also 15-16 November, had the greatest potential for my own research, so I signed up for both sessions. Thursday's looked at fundraising for folk events; Friday's session, entitled ‘Roots into the Community’, looked at planning and delivering community arts projects.

I will write up a separate post for each and another on observations and thoughts from the Conference itself. Then I shall resume the task of updating my review of literature.

FolkArts England    AFO conference

Friday, September 21, 2007

Capturing and Preserving Tradition

Back to the initial literature review. This is Part 3, following my August 27 blog.

Music as folklore
As Pegg has indicated, much of the research effort into British folk music, from the late 19th century to the present day, has been directed to the collection of songs, tunes and dances for the purposes of preservation, education and social history. Child’s extensive work on the ballad traditions of England and Scotland (2005) provided an impetus for the 20th century folk revivals (see Cheesman & Rieuwarts 1997), although earlier collections of popular songs, for example by Thomas Percy (1729-1811) and Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), were already in the public domain.

Sharp’s comprehensive study (1907) stimulated renewed interest in English folklore although his seemingly heroic rescue of almost-forgotten songs from obscurity was not without its critics. Boyes (1993) comments an inherently conservative view of folklore epitomised by Sharp and reinforced by the establishment of the English Folk Dance and Song Society in 1932 through the merger of the Folk-Song Society and the English Folk Dance Society, formed by Sharp in 1911 (Schofield undated, online). Sutton records accusations by Sharp’s contemporary, Mary Neal of inaccurate collecting, pedantry and obstruction of mass participation in the folk movement (Sutton 2000 online).

Nevertheless, Sharp’s work revealed the existence of a wide range of sources of ‘folk’ material. His contemporary, Percy Grainger introduced a revolutionary means of collecting songs in the first decade of the 20th century, by recording performances of folk singers on a phonograph (Yates 1982). Collections, which helped fuel the post-war folk revival, included Vaughan Williams and Lloyd (1959), (1960), Lloyd (1967), Raven, J. (1971 and 1977),* Raven, M. (1974) and the prolific collections of Roy Palmer (1974, 1986, 1998)**.

Historiographies of folklore are critiqued by Harker (1980 and 1985) who, along with Boyes (1993), represents a ‘revisionist’ approach to the study of revivalism in folk music (Atkinson 2006: 6-8). Harker observes that the preservation of folk songs was effectively a form of ‘mediation’ reflecting ‘assumptions, attitudes, likes and dislikes’ (Harker 1985:xiii). He argues:
…unless we are prepared to learn to cope with cultural products, like songs, which derive from workers’ culture, then history will continue to be written from the ‘top’ down...
(Harker 1985:255)

Returning to Brocken, concerns on the mediating role on folk ‘tradition’ by bourgeois collectors and archivists have resonance in today’s folk club performances, which:
…can (and do) reek of … musical virtuosity and elitism. Sessions and singarounds do not belong to the common musical parlance of young people of the twenty-first century and do not relate to their social mores or everyday social interactions.
(Brocken 2003:130)

He levels a similar criticism at Britain’s biggest-selling folk magazine, F-Roots, which, he argues: ‘continues to present folk music as an anodyne substance soaked in the values and mores of its largely middle-class clientele’ (op cit: 140).

* Raven, J., 1971, Kate of Coalbrookdale: Songs from Broadsheets of the 18th and 19th Century, London: Robbins Music; Raven, J., 1977, The Urban and Industrial Songs of the Black Country and Birmingham, Wolverhampton: Broadside
** Palmer, R. (ed.), 1974, A Touch on the Times: Songs of Social Change 1770-1914, Harmondsworth: Penguin; Palmer, R. (ed.), 1986, Everyman’s Book of English Country Songs, London: Omnibus Press (reprint of 1979 edition by London: Dent); Palmer, R. (ed.), 1998, A Book of British Ballads, Felinfach: Llanerch (reprint of 1980 edition of Everyman’s Book of British Ballads by London: Dent)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Ethnography or ethogenics?

I've finally got my hands on a copy of John Smith's paper, The Ethogenics of Music Performance, in which he undertakes a social-psychologist's analysis of behaviours and roles in his local folk club, the Glebe Live Music Club in Sunderland.

The links between this and my own research are obvious and, glancing through the pages, I noted immediately some similarities in his approach. For example, he discusses the spatial arrangements of the club room and the impact this has as an environment on human interaction and role enactment - a theme I also addressed in my conference papers in Newcastle and Birmingham.

Another point that struck me was the similarity in organisation, routine and indeed repertoire encountered at a folk club in Sunderland in 1985 with those features today of many folk clubs that I have visited in the English Midlands. Although I did expect this to be the case.

What I didn't expect was the opportunity this paper provides to reflect on methodology and ethics.

Ethogenics is a term I hadn't seriously explored up until now, but according to some sources it does address some of the methodological problems of ethnography, not least because it takes into account the ability of researcher to share or empathise with the cultural knowledge and values of those being researched. In this case, the author was analysing the folk club that he himself ran and took part in. Rather than pretend to put on a social scientist's hat as he wrote up his results, he was able to apply the social psychologist's tools of analysis from a more informed basis. In many ways, this approach is similar to David Grazian's study of a Chicago Blues Club that I have discussed earlier.

At the same time this also raises an ethical consideration. Should the researcher let on to his fellow singers, musicians and auience members that he is studying their behaviour? If they know, would it change the way they behave, or the way they feel about the presence of the researcher? Because I attend folk clubs anyway, usually as a floorsinger, occasionally as a guest or a guest host, my presence at these events is accepted as normal. But I don't turn up armed with tape or video recorders, or laptop, or even a notebook and pen. Recording my observations relies on my sometimes precarious memory but I still feel more comfortable with that than drawing attention to my role as a researcher at the venue itself. It seems to me that this problem is inherent and inevitable for the ethogenist (if that's the right word!) more than it is for the ethnographer.

Hopefully I'll have more insight when I actually read John Smith's paper. Will report on that soon - and continue with the overall lit review, (now that my computer is back online).

John L.Smith    Glebe Live Music Club    ethogenics     ethnography     folk clubs     David Grazian     ethics

Monday, August 27, 2007

Naming the beast….

Here’s part 2 of my initial, which sets out a simple structure and includes references to attempts to define ‘folk’. This was necessarily brief; the word length of the assignment prevented a more detailed discussion.

I have since read a slightly tongue-in-cheek definition that nevertheless highlights the discursive differences that this research seeks to address, i.e. between folk practitioners and the popular music media. It was provided by Stuart Maconie in a Radio Times article about the Cambridge Folk Festival:
Cambridge's definition of folk is dizzyingly broad; basically it means anything not likely to appear on Chris Moyles' show...

Literature search strategy and aims
My research focuses less on form and more on practices. However, to provide a context of current understandings and debates on folk music in the UK, this paper highlights literature that has delineated academic understanding of both forms and practices of folk music for much of the 20th century (particularly the latter half). It also considers literature on ‘popular’ music, in the specific sense of music produced by cultural industries to manipulate audience tastes and choices.

Debates on the definition of ‘folk’ music provide a starting point. I shall then consider texts that characterise three approaches to the study of folk:

(1) as ‘folklore’ and expressions of social history;
(2) as a musical style and genre, and
(3) as means of expressing cultural identity.

Some sources that fall within the second category also highlight the position occupied by folk as a commodified form within the practices of contemporary music industry. Other texts, which historically may have adopted the ‘folk as folklore’ perspective, relate to the third category of this review through their insights into the sociology of participation in folk music.

Defining ‘folk’ music
Shuker cites the Music Central CD-ROM’s description of folk as ‘…simple, direct, acoustic-based music that draws upon experiences, concerns, and lore of the common people’ (Shuker 2002:134). Inevitable issues of taxonomy arise from his discussion of ‘folk culture’; the term ‘folk’ may encompass a variety of categories including world music, roots music, protest songs, songs identified by their regional origins and the output of contemporary singer songwriters.

Frith seeks to explain difficulties in defining folk through ‘a history of the struggle among folk collectors to claim folk meaning for themselves' (Frith 1988: 113). Attempts by folk musicians to define their art highlight McLean’s view of folk as ‘something of an elastic classification’ (McLean 1996). She cites an interview response by one English folk musician, Seth Lakeman which reflects the view of folk as:
the people's music … That's evident in how many folk music festivals exist. Cambridge is the biggest - I think 15,000 go to it - but there are so many others that are attended by 3,000 or 4,000 people
(See also my earlier post)

Debates on the concept of ‘folk music’ reflect differing allegiances to historical movements and manifestations of vernacular and acoustic music. Pegg* (2007) summarises and contrasts the influences of ‘folk music revivals’ in Europe and the United States, which have established frameworks for understanding the concept but also for division on the authenticity of music that claims to be ‘folk’. She points to the American Folk Revival as one major influence, which:
…came out of the social and economic setting of the 1940s in which many young people believed that the parent generation had gravely mismanaged the world. Figures such as Pete, Mike and Peggy Seeger, and Alan Lomax, promoted engagement by college students and intellectuals in the ideas of populist folksong.
(Pegg 2007 online*)

In contrast, she alludes to two British folk revivals, the first dating back to the collections of middle-class enthusiasts, especially Francis James Child (1825-96) and advocate for an early 20th century folk revival, Cecil Sharp (1859-1924). The second, reflecting post-World War II socialist and Marxist movements, was instigated by such figures as singer and songwriter, Ewan McColl (1915-89) and song collector A.L.Lloyd (1908-82).**

Pegg identifies a subsequent distinction made by participants between ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’ folk music manifested through different styles of folk club, which ‘began to develop “traditions” of their own’ (Pegg op cit*). The former incorporated ‘vocal techniques and mannerisms considered to be intrinsic to a “traditional” style, such as singing nasally with the hand cupped over one ear…’; the latter reflected the influence of new acoustic guitar techniques, epitomised by Martin Carthy: ‘sensitive finger-picking and open-string tunings that enabled drones to be produced’ (ibid).

* These links only work if you are a signed-up subscriber to Grove Music Online

** For more detailed examination of their influences and the emergence of folk as working class cultural expression, see Long (2001: 96-141) and Brocken (2003: 25-42)

literature review    folk music    folk music definition     Stuart Maconie    
Cambridge Folk Festival     Chris Moyles     popular music    Roy Shuker   
folk culture    Simon Frith    Guardian     Seth Lakeman     folk revival     American folk revival    Pete Seeger    Alan Lomax    Francis James Child    Cecil Sharp    
Ewan McColl   A.L.Lloyd    folk clubs    Martin Carthy

Friday, August 24, 2007

Taking stock

Time to get this blog active again! The research hasn’t been dormant since the last entry but it hasn’t been very systematic either – gathering sources, making notes but not really getting engaged with any debate since my visit to Newcastle.

However, I did receive confirmation that the process of undertaking a PGCE – as a requirement for registration of the research at UCE – has been successfully completed. Part of that process was an initial literature review. I’m going to set it out here in this blog but in instalments and with hyperlinks and tags – partly to remind me of what I’ve covered so far and, possibly, to stimulate some discussion – who knows?

So here is the introductory section, which seeks to (pardon the cliché) ‘map the terrain’.

... / ...

My research addresses practices of ‘amateur’ music performance and consumption within the network of folk clubs and music and song sessions across the UK. It identifies discourses inhabited by organisers, performers and audiences and studies their motivations to share folk music in an informal setting.

In tackling these issues, this study addresses a concern raised by Brocken on the contemporary folk scene in Britain in the wake of (at least) two folk revivals.
This folk discourse has become caught up in a consolidation and a permanence that has relations only to, or with, the images created at its own inception. … In what was originally a space for absence of rules, a rejection of music rules, the folk club has now become caught up in the revival’s own rituals. … [It] has now become the tradition, only resembling itself.
(Brocken 2003:124)

While reaffirming this self-contained, self-referential aspect of folk clubs, my research considers evidence of tension between the largely unregulated practices of amateur performance and encroaching institutional, political and cultural contexts in which they operate.

The activity of reviewing scholarly literature on folk music reveals an irony in defining the object of study as ‘music of the people' (BBC, online) – in a literal sense, ‘popular’ music. A clear paradigmatic distinction exists between an extensive body of research on ‘folk’ music as a traditional or vernacular form (e.g. Pickering 1982, Bohlman 1988, Nettl 1990, Russell 1997) and research since the 1980s into ‘popular’ music as a product of a cultural industry (e.g. Frith 1988, 2004a, 2004b, 2004c, Toynbee 2000, Wall 2003). Both approaches agree on the notion of music as a form of cultural expression but much of the history of research into folk has veered towards anthropology and the study of ‘folklore’ while the concept of ‘culture’ in studies of ‘popular’ music is often aligned with post-Marxist conceptions, following a trajectory established by Adorno’s (1941, 1991) interests in agencies and practice of cultural production of music as a commodity (see Witkin 1998 and 2002).

Hesmondhalgh and Negus identify 1981 as the year that popular music ‘began to emerge as a recognisable field of academic study…with the establishment of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music and the launch of the academic journal Popular Music' (2002:3). While folk music’s place as a style and influence is acknowledged in some studies of the ‘popular’ (see for example Kassabian, 1999:116-7, Bennett 2001:24, Wall 2003:30-31), a cursory browse through the journal suggests that rock, jazz, hip hop, punk and, in particular, blues are more likely to attract scholarly attention as ‘popular’ forms of music.

1. The New York Times, 7th July 1971, credits Louis Armstrong with the infamous statement, “All music is folk music. I ain't never heard a horse sing a song.”

literature review    folk music    amateur music     folk clubs    
music sessions     folk revival     folk culture    popular music    Michael Brocken    Theodor Adorno    IASPM    Popular Music journal

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Analysing amateur musicmaking - reporting work-in-progress to the BFE

The BFE Conference at Newcastle was something of a hit-and-run event for me. I was only able to attend the first day of the 4-day event and inevitably there were several items that I would have enjoyed attending, including Eoghan Neff's talk on the 19th century fiddle-playerEdward Cronin and a cylinder recording of his performance of Banish Misfortune - scheduled for Day One but got put back last minute to Day Four.

I was fortunate to attend Simon McKerrell's talk: Modern Scottish bands (1970-1990): 'Cash as authenticity'. This raised some fascinating (and for my research, highly relevant) points on how financial considerations proved to be a driving force in the popularisation of traditional Scottish music. He referred to the success of bands such as Silly Wizard, the Battlefield Band and Capercaillie to demonstrate how the priorities of making a living, touring, producing albums and playing through a PA system have become dominant factors in the revival of traditional music in Scotland. Quoting from his abstract:

...commercial success [is] measured through record sales and cash from gigs, as the new authenticity which eventually prevailed over the earlier, ideological revivalist model of success based upon repertoire and style.
My own presentation was well attended, with some interesting follow-up questions on my research work-in-progress. Here is the abstract that appeared in the programme:

Regulating the amateur: traditional music and cultural control

This paper examines the discourses of folk music within the ‘amateur’ network of folk clubs and music and song sessions across the UK. It provides details of research in progress into the tensions between the largely unregulated practices of amateur folk music and three external agencies which appear to impinge upon them:

1. The music industry as a commercial enterprise setting 'professional' standards in performance, organisational practices and technical resources.

2. Administrative and bureaucratic practices of regulation ranging from the PRS, local authority licensing, etc. to cultural agencies seeking to promote folk as a form of creative or community artistic expression.

3. 'Mainstream' popular culture and its transformation of 'folk' culture into commodity forms, e.g. for Irish theme pubs, medieval banquets, etc.

I argue that these agencies represent a form of cultural control seeking to regulate amateur music practices and the experiences of performers and audiences. Based primarily on participant-observation study of folk clubs in the English Midlands the research examines how discourses of ‘mainstream’ culture, commodification and political management are apparent in amateur folk events and asks whether these undermine the perceived integrity of amateur music as a genuine form of cultural expression.

The research acknowledges studies of folk music as forms of cultural expression (e.g. Blacking, 1974; Finnegan, 1992) and of generic and structural developments in forms of traditional music (e.g. Oakley, 1977; Sweers, 2005). It develops themes identified in Brocken’s study of the British Folk Revival (2003) through its localised focus on a folk music circuit and its experiential, ethnographic approach.

The bottom-line argument that I tried to put across was the surprising lack of research that currently exists on folk music as performed in small, non-commercial, back room folk clubs. There is plenty of literature on folk music as folklore, folk music as a social and cultural phenomenon and folk as a style or genre but I argued that my research would be filling a gap in the understanding of 'amateur' folk music as a social practice.

Feedback from fellow delegates included some good constructive support and advice. I was reminded of one, albeit dated, study of a folk club in action - Smith, J.L., 1987, ‘The Ethogenics of Music Performance, a Case Study of the Glebe Live Music Club’, published in Pickering and Green's Everyday Culture, Popular Song and Vernacular Milieu. It was also suggested that I refer to former BFE chair, Jonathan Stock - this is one item by him that I've found useful.

It was also reassuring (if slightly alarming at first) to speak to one delegate who had actually performed at two of the folk clubs that I referred to as case studies of social and cultural spaces for amateur music practice. She recognised and supported points I'd raised about room layout and proxemics for 'concert' style and 'singaround' events. I may blog on that more later.

BFE Conference    Eoghan Neff    Simon McKerrell     amateur music    
traditional music     popular music     folk revival    folk clubs

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The day the music died

While preparing for the Newcastle Conference (see previous item of this blog), I thought it would be useful to consider sub genres and hybrid genres of 'folk' music. There are of course many, ranging from roots and world music through to folk rock, punk folk, acid folk, folk metal, folktronica, neofolk and 'anti-folk' - click here for the Wikipedia entry on this latter concept!

I've only recently become familiar with the idea of'anti-folk'. One of my UCE colleagues, Mark Sampson runs Iron Man Records in Birmingham and regularly manages UK tours for New York band with anti-folk tendencies, Dufus (pictured).

Jason Toynbee discusses genre in popular music and argues for an understanding of ‘genre as a social process’, rather than simply as a set of textual properties:

…social formations often have a strong affiliation with musical genres and may invest them with intense cultural significance. (Toynbee 2000:103 - see references below)

This is an important point. Genres are often seen as a set of properties inherent in the music itself, or self-referential categories. People who talk about genres often ignore the social processes that brought them about in the first place. From other texts I've been looking at (Georgina Boyes 1993, Niall Mackinnon 1993 and, in particular, Dave Harker 1985 and Michael Brocken 2003), a view is emerging of a post-revival folk scene, at least in the UK, appropriated by the middle-classes imposing their own definitions of 'folk' as a musical genre. Their 'cultural capital' and skills in academic research of folklore have produced a huge reservoir of folksongs and tunes (and dances and mummers plays) which can be preserved, covered and arranged, often by new blood folk musicians with access to modern instruments, digital recording studios and the short list to Radio 2's Folk Awards.

This is great if you don't mind the 'folk music' genre affiliated with bourgeois myths reinforced through the 'preservation' of 'traditions' (folk-as-heritage). But this masks the essential revolutionary act of performance that folk music represented in the 1950s and early 60s as a back-room-of-the-pub alternative to an encroaching, glitzy and commercialised pop music culture. Think of Ewan McColl in the UK and Woody Guthrie in the US.

Preservation techniques for any 'museum' piece could include embalming or even taxidermy, but for processes like these to be applied, the original life force must first be removed. So here's something to think about - by preserving 'folk', are the middle classes essentially killing it and stuffing it?

'Anti-folk' suggests a convergence of traditional music and punk mentality, rejecting the polish and professional gloss that folk music has had to acquire to get accepted by mainstream media propomoting 'populist' tastes. The author of the Wikipedia entry refers to:
music that sounds raw and poorly executed, but mocks the seriousness and pretension of the established mainstream folk scene and also mocks itself.
This appeals to the revolutionary sentiments that my own middle class upbringing didn't quite succeed in suppressing. Some who know me may argue that this description is not a million miles from the sound of The Oddsods - a band that I know has been accused by some as not a 'serious' folk band (although we're seriously not 'anti' folk - we just see folk music as something that should be fun and broad in appeal!)

The trouble with 'anti folk' as a sub genre is that it could end up heading in the same direction as 'punk' - a category of commercial music that has its own section in the CD displays of HMV and Virgin Megastores.

genre    anti-folk    Dufus     Iron Man Records     preservation of folk     Oddsods    
folk music     middle-class

Boyes, G., 1993, The Imagined Village: Cultural Ideology and the English Folk Revival, Manchester: Manchester University Press

Brocken, M. 2003, The British Folk Revival: 1944-2002, Aldershot, Ashgate

Harker, D., 1985, Fakesong: The manufacture of British ‘folksong’ 1700 to the present day, Milton Keynes: Open University Press

Mackinnon, N., 1993, The British Folk Scene: Musical Performance and Social Identity, Buckingham, Open University Press

Toynbee, J. 2000, Making Popular Music: Musicians, Creativity and Institutions, London: Arnold