PART ONE. INTRODUCTION.
To DG, who taught me about folk music…
Modern Britain, a small Island, uniquely, elegantly positioned between two continents-situated in the middle so to speak, geographically and historically hitched at the hip to Europe and the ‘Old World‘. Pulled and impelled along by the impetuous and dynamic transatlantic pulse of its younger, victorious and rebellious off-spring, the USA – and blending in its path between the two, a wormhole to the past, to antiquity and a bolt-hole to the future. That future and that past, bound together in a hot historical knot of language music and culture were about to meet and collide in a kaleidoscopic storm of music, metaphysics and poetry, all spun together over time and called Folk Music.
2. Once upon a time.
Now turning anti-clockwise, – tinkling the tuning-fork of time, humming with the hammer of history striking back-wards to the rags and reels and twining yarns of yesteryear, unwinding in the musical loom.
Billowing through the mighty mists of antiquity, like a plumed melody echoing through time and space, moving from country to country, place to place, dissolving fences, sweeping over borders, across town and country, city, and civilizations , handing down, teaching and informing and telling long tall tales of our lives and history, all captured in ballad, story and song.
Once upon a time, long before they were ever written down or recorded, words and music, spoken and sung in long forgotten oral traditions, were passed along by word of mouth down through the generations. Some remarkably existing right up to the present. All of which makes folk music the oldest existing genre of music in the world, the primal source and the well spring, and one way or another all music is bound to it.
Webbed together, strewn all over the countries of Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England there was a great wealth of it, unplugged and waiting. Ancestral voices, music and songs, deep inside us, doused but never quite sleeping, gathering momentum in the second half of the twentieth century and about to erupt and break out in a wild romantic storm. There were many outbursts and lightning storms, revolutions and revivals in the birth of the British Folk-song.
‘There is something alive about the folk-music of these Islands, the Irish, Scottish and English and welsh Ballads and songs that have a purity -strangely resonant to-day‘. So wrote A L Lloyd in his remarkable and explosive little hand-book , ‘The Singing Englishman’ .
Lloyds small, almost pamphlet size booklet ‘The Singing Englishman’ was in effect the first attempt at a survey of the totality of British folk-music since the Victorian Cecil Sharp’s’ English Folk- Song: Some conclusions’, written in the early 20’s.
He rescued many redundant folk-song s from the dusty shelves of academia, and restored a certain dynamic of the bawdy and explicit to the music of the people, returning them to their more erotic, and explicit contents – material that Sharpe and other Victorians had puritan-tly edited out. * Something Lloyd was critical of , though admiring and respecting Cecil Sharp’s enormous achievements. ( I will be returning to A L Lloyd‘s, contribution to folk-music later on).
It was a book I was to return to time and again over the years, and whose bones, like a vulture I picked, borrowed and plundered from. A book that had my imagination rooted and roasted, toasted like a chestnut, sizzling over hot coals, illuminating the still burning pages of the dark ages . It’s also a book I’ll be forever grateful for and deeply indebted too – for making solid those flickering phantoms, those ghostly dancing skeletons, casting magic lantern shadows on the musical merry-go go round of the past – and for making them stand out bolder, until they ghost danced – you might say, into flesh in front of me. Lastly, a book that inspired and handed me a key that opened the door to, above all, the people that made it – the common people and their voices down the ages.
(3) THE WISE ISLANDERS. (1066, and all that)!
Firstly, I am no folk-music historian or academic, far from it , and no doubt there are many others far better qualified than I am to write about this – but I am a story- teller, of Irish, Scott’s descent, a pure Celt by birth, – a British Islander by choice, and I know a good story when I hear it – and this one excels. It’s a story of the people of these Islands and their struggle for freedom, told through their songs and poetry – I hope I can do it justice in the re-telling.
‘Look at the folk-song first as music and poetry.‘ A L Lloyd.
‘A song of the people; a song based on a legendary or historical event or some incident of common life‘. Cecil Sharp.
Surrounded and protected by water, far outpost of the Roman Empire and the last to be colonised, perhaps due to which, ancient Britons unique heritage of Pagan, Pan-Celtic, Druidic, Roman history and mystical lore survived longer here than on the continent. Preserved ironically by monks of Ireland and Britain who took great care from the 5th century on to write down the ancient sagas (the Romans never conquered Ireland).
To this remarkable effort of preservation we owe almost our entire knowledge of Celtic culture. A vast storehouse and blend of the marvellous and immortal myths, legends, stories and songs, that together witnesses the vast wealth of a Celtic culture which stretched from Ireland to Asia and built and shaped the great Neolithic monument Stonehenge.
From the howling tales of Beawolf, The epic Mabigonionian,on through Romanesque art and the romantic languages of the middle ages, running through the tales of Arthur and the round table and the passionate myths of Tristan and Isolde. Stories and myths full of power, grace, resonance and beauty that continue to influence, shape and inform our lives still, to-day. Not least, a culture that helped give birth to the English language.
Saying that and a please, excuse me Guv, and begging your pardon sir, great and magnificent as they no doubt are, that history tells us much about the illustrious and great individuals, warriors, kings and Queens and heroes of the past, but not a lot about the common folk and the lives of ordinary people. But they, the nameless, obscure masses, as a culture, a people from the middle ages to the industrial revolution, left a splendid body of unique folk epics, that taken together can stand beside many of the worlds great collective creations of the nameless masses , like The Iliad , the Nibelung Cycle, the Romancero, the Kalevala.
A high watermark indeed and a cultural achievement considered the peak of the so called lower classes that reflects ‘the full flowering of the minds of mature men anywhere’.
Born out of social upheaval, this was a music that celebrated ‘a world turned upside down’ , and with no stretch of the imagination, a story and tale that will warm the bones of every passionate freedom loving individual, with tales and songs, full of struggle and adventure, magic, minstrels
and monks, witches and demons, devils and saints; parsons, peasants and plagues. Death, dungeons and darkness, political revolt and dissent, accompanied by the birth of a music that spoke of spring time, love and beauty, wild western winds and above all, the deeply felt longing for freedom, justice and a better life.
A story that developed and grew out of a class just establishing itself in society – often with only rusty pitch-forks, blunt swords and old bent bows, fuelled with an anger and rage that stretches across a haggard and ragged rack of time.
4. THE CONQUEST.
It begins on the Beaches of Sussex on that long dark day in 1066 when the Normans landed in England and King Harold fell to the Norman Archers. As a consequence from 1066 on to the thirteenth century, after the Norman conquest , for three hundred years, the English language largely disappeared.
Feudalism was a brutal and barbaric, tyrannical class system imposed by the conquering Normans, who mainly spoke French, ignored and despised the local inhabitants and their customs- the cast-aside serfs and peasants, condemned to live in feudal misery and poverty. It was a conquered land. For three hundred years thereafter the English language went underground.
While the Anglo-Saxon overlords had their epic warrior tales and the clergy its hymns and Latinised rituals and Christian hymns, and the ‘Jongleurs‘, brought over from the continent had their own style of Church litany and secular songs, the local, now out of date, unemployed ’de classe’ English Minstrels were turned out, cap in hand to wander the land in penury, and if need be, perform a trick, act the clown, play the fool and the jester – (the ‘Gesteour’ originally meant the man who sang ‘gestes’ or heroic military romances) – and all over the country, impoverished and penniless, the folk-singer rambled.
But wherever the people gathered, in the servants quarters, in their homes, in the field and farm, they spoke and sang English. Where it was preserved, nourished and kept alive by the common people , now the guardians of the English Language and through them, the language persisted.
When, some three hundred later after the invasion, towards the end of the 13th century, as the long reign of the Baron Lords began to fade and the English language surfaced once more. Like fresh spring water, flowing up from the moist green earth, it emerged into something simple and clear, graceful and strong, and was spoken and sung again through-out the land.
Just as the feudal days receded, and the ballads and songs of slaying dragons and rescuing fair maids fled into myth and poetry, now sung only in the decaying Baronial halls. Shorn of the clash of shield and sword and the ancient blood –curling howls of Beawolf, – outside, around the land a new sound could now be heard sprouting over the land. The music and poetry of the so called low born could be heard, flowering into a pattern of English folk-song that still exists to this day.
Songs of springtime, of blackbirds and wrens, the beauty of a country meadow, comely milk-maids and wild western winds blowing through the minds and hearts of the people and heard for the first time in the taverns and ale houses across the land.
These were the songs of the common people, and how they lived and thought , how they worked and what happened to them in history. The songs were learnt by ear, by the uneducated, illiterate peasant and spreading from village to village and down the ages and often changing as they travelled. They have no single author and have no fixed or final form. Folk songs existed in constant transformation down the ages, resurging in a perpetual state of renewal. One man sings a song and then others sing it after him, changing what they do not like and whatever personal trait’s a song may have had had long been washed away by vast stretches of time.
It should be understood, said Lloyd, ‘that what you have here are the basic tunes on which the folk-singer would improvise, sometimes modestly, sometimes extravagantly, but always with freedom.’ Neither are they rooted in one individual but in the greater collective group mind. The singers subject was not his own, it belonged to the people. What he or she sang, his neighbours sang and what he sang about, everybody felt and shared – the tunes and words inseparable, the phrases and forms sanctioned by long tradition, particularly with the great narrative Ballads, which are amongst the oldest songs we have, where a whole group of people would help make a song.
Life was not easy for the struggling peasant of the middle ages, living under feudal tyranny and as people do in time of oppression, living in tight close bound communities – bind closer together and forge iron ties. Ties that sowed the seeds of rebellion, whose political outcome was momentous, uprising of the peasant revolt. It was in the civil struggles of the people and the years following the baronial wars that saw the beginnings of an collective independent spirit rising and where the songs of the people first rose to the surface and ’crystallised into a particular style‘.
Through the black death, the fungus of bubonic plague, taxes, oppression; the numberless dead of the hundred years war, disembowelled and diminished, squeezed between Church and State, many desperate and decent men and women with nothing to hope for fled to the depths of the dark green forests, where the witch-cults flourished and where some still worshipped the ancient pre– Christian Pagan Gods.
Many peasants were drawn into the witch-cults of the 14th century, and along with outlaws and rebels , mixed with witches covens in the growing peasant revolt, where many an conspiracy brewed. An outbreak of lawlessness swept over the land and secret societies mushroomed. From the beginning of the 14th century, for two hundred years, the local minstrels and Troubadours were ostracised , outlawed and banned. A persecuted minority, demonized by the Church to be ministers of Satan, corrupters of youth and bundled together along with epileptics, magicians, witches and whores. Many were busy out there, peppering the land, subversives, agent-provocateurs spreading dissent and anti-authority songs , songs of hope, songs full of longing for a better life.
THE LEGEND OF ROBIN THE HOOD.
It was around then that songs about the tyranny of their overlords began to appear, emerging for the first time with the Ballads of Robin Hood cycles– not only about the life of the adventurous outlaw, but about the anger of the down trodden rallying against injustice and the callous luxury of the rich.
Now a world – wide legend and tale, Lloyd informs us that the bold ‘Rob the Hood’ appeared all over Europe for centuries as Rob Roy, Robin Goodfellow, and Hoodekin – King of the forest people in a land ruled by Normans. They wore natural green clothes, used the arrow and met round the great oak. ( Fairie tree). There were Robin and twelve main members – the witch coven. They particularly hated the Christian Church. Friar Tuck was a rebel. Little John was Janus the two faced pagan God.
This was reputed something happening all over Europe, in France and Flanders, in Scotland in the growing peasant revolt. Everywhere the organisation of the witch cults were the same, working undercover moving to and from between witches of different countries and covens, spreading revolt and dissent.
To the Christian Church of the time , witches were seen as shape shifters – transforming on moonlit hills into a devil or an animal dancing in a pagan circle and howling magical chants. Many of the witch-cults of the fourteenth century were connected to the political agitation of the time, and for centuries long after they were widely persecuted and slaughtered . A large proportion of the cults were women because matriarchy had always been dominant in pagan times. She had been the guardian of the sacred fire. And in a male dominated race, where the men were often at risk, the women were the repositories of the tribal secrets.
Animal totems were important in primitive magic ritual. Songs from ancient times that still had a magical ring to them. That once contained magical meaning and symbolism such as in the adoration of animals, water and river deities went back to pre-Christian, pagan times.
Witches songs of adoration and magic, animal worship, tree and river songs were revived, taken over and given new and revolutionary meanings of the time. And many witch or ‘Wicca’ songs and rebel songs were much the same.
For example ,originally a magical song , imbued with revolutionary meaning, songs like the Cutty Wren were skewered with political metaphors , symbols and signs that held hidden plans, transmitted in the words about seizure and redistribution to the poor – all of which needed to be carried out in secrecy.
One song in particular stands out, and Lloyd points it out in the lyrics he gives as an example in his book:*
‘We hunted the wren for Robin the Bobbin,
We hunted the wren for Jack of the Can,
We hunted the wren for Robin the Bobbin,
We hunted the wren for everyone‘.
‘We hunted the wren for everyone’ – to me, that is a potent, telling, almost universal sentiment, an collective ideal, expressed in the song. The Wren holds a particular place in early folk-music and was then considered the king, and a tyrant*
Over time many pagan and Christian themes overlapped. In songs like the Fisher-King that predated the Roman invasion and held mystical signs of the Fish and the river. Some historians have suggested that long before Christianity took possession of Rome, there was a great deal of fish and river symbolism and some of the ancient songs have a close connection to the Gnostics and the grail legend and further back in antiquity. These folk-songs whose origins lay in Primitive Magical Religions, coming down to us to-day have all but lost their original form, but whose traces can be heard in the folk-song John Barleycorn, (now a rousing drinking song for university students ) a song about the death and resurrection of the corn-king, who features in magical ceremonies all over the world. An immortal John Barley corn would strut out again, resurrected several centuries later through the vibrant strings of an electric guitar, pulsing in the psychedelic fields of the cosmic sixties, performed by Steve Windwood and Traffic – one of the early super groups of the time, returning it to its more pagan inspired, mystical roots.
The fourteenth century was the great age of the peasant revolt and it spread all over Europe – and with it the ‘dead hand of poverty and isolation were at last beginning to lift and the poor shared a common hope and started to sense a different life was possible.’ Even though it would be centuries before their political consciousness took hold and developed.
SONGS OF UNQUENCHING FIRE.
It was just then as the Great Society was preparing armed revolt on a national scale, and the common people ‘were emerging for the first time as freemen or wage labourers and just beginning their long struggle for political freedom, that a typical folk-song crystallised into a style that was to persist , with little alteration, right up to the present‘.
Pride and common sense are at the core of these songs. Pride in people as people, they look reality in the eye and told the truth, the signer knew the facts and they altered nothing and didn’t need to, stripped of illusion, they knew reality only too well, these proud guardians of the English Language.
Wicked, witty and obscene, funny songs , chillingly foreboding , sinister and dark, macabre and desperate songs , work songs and dance songs, poacher songs and the many crime songs that came later, songs of idealized heroism, and strange far fetched fantasy songs , songs of incest and absence. Songs of un-quenching fire.
Whether horrifying and barbarous, bitter or heart-breaking, funny or sad the folk-singer turned them into something beautiful and tragic, heroic and noble and using their imagination, they made it into something larger than life. They made it into art and they deal with simple things. There is little flight into mysticism and few references to the Church or religion as such – but there is plenty of bubbling mirth and merry making songs poking vast fun at the behaviour and sex habits of the monks and parsons on the make and on the take.
There is a special pride and beauty exists that can be heard in the love songs of men and woman, their joys and sorrows full of candour and spice, without evasion , passionate and complete and desiring nothing but the other. These are considered amongst the most popular but perhaps above all there is nothing base, empty or vulgar expressed in them , no false sentiments, no disgust, no resignation and they are usually moral. Many of the songs take a calm, impersonal and objective view and the best have something fine and tragic about them. The truly great Ballads have a heroic sense of honour and glory with great poetry in the words and haunting beauty in the tune.
Running deeply through all the songs , even in the most idyllic tunes, in the happiest of songs, there runs a deep melancholic strain that comes from a longing for a better life. Through the pestilential mix of poverty and plague, the black death and Baronial suppression , the hundred year war had all left its devastating mark on the people, a bitter sweet sadness in the tunes, whose melodies came from ancient church modes of the middle ages existing then. Whether deliberately or through time by osmosis, it is not certain, and whose melodies were picked up and improvised on by the impoverished English folk-singers of that dark and plague ridden time.
According to AL Lloyd , these Church modes are the forerunners of our modern scales, before harmonization, before do ra mi and continuing up to the 16th century. Known as the pentatonic scale or modes, these ancient model systems or diatonic modes were said to have developed in Byzantine Christian times and are found in early Gregorian psalmody and was something cultivated by the early catholic church.
These modes in turn are said to have their roots in an even older tradition descending from the Greeks( who absorbed ancient Indian and Persian modes) and whose language and alphabetic names are still used to-day, commonly known as Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian. – the pentatonic scale.
Based on the initial letter of the name of the mode and the order of the respective keynotes, i.e., as for example if you take the letters DEFGA and a system used by many musicians as a mnemonic, a remembering device in the pentatonic scale.
These modes, or the related the pentatonic scale, had been in existence long before Christianity, and were spread far and wide through-out the ancient world, and exist in almost every country in the world. Here in Britain they have continued to persist, with haunting gravity , right up to the present and are still to-day the commonest modes of the English folk-song.
What is known is that often the impoverished English folk-singer , who sang largely unaccompanied, would embroider, improvise these modes in his own way, moving away from the basic tune, allowing himself rhythmical freedom, ( without variation in the words) embellishing the melodies and inventing his own unique style of interpretation. An improvisation similar in kind to the same free form patterns that are to found in Jazz and some blues music, which is mainly Dorian and where the timbres and tones of the voice are also paramount.
Lingering on the western winds, keeping them moist in the musical mist , brought back to life again, several centuries later with ground breaking symmetry in the myxdelonin mix, in the trail-blazing glory of DADGAD, which saw a re-birth of the ancient modal scales in Britain in the sixties and igniting the resurgence of world music; and something which is no mean achievement and is perhaps the guitarist and composer Davy Graham’s most enduring legacy.
8 THE GREEN DOWRY.
‘And they sang many beautiful and mournful songs’.
Towards the end of the fifteenth century, with the spread of markets and farms and the development of towns and cities, feudalism was left behind and folk-songs were being merrily sung all over the land, all classes of people now sang folk songs but by the sixteen hundreds, the peasant folk-song was beginning to sound quaint. England was becoming a nation and soon, an empire – and the English language and the people flourished.
Brave and hardy, fine and noble, they sang through the black plague, the hundred years war, the Elizabethan age, past Cromwell, Napoleon – for over five hundred years they sang the old folk-songs, but less and less. Those voices would stick around for at least another two hundred years, before gradually receding in the great sea-change to come.
Up ahead rose the pale fires, the dark satanic mills of the industrial revolution, and the clanking and clunking drone of the modern world chugging, huffing and puffing, first taking off in trains boats and planes, dousing, drowning out, breaking that ancient connection to the land. The rest, as they say, is culture.
With the anvil and the plough of the past crushed by the pounding pistons of industry and the substitution of machine labour for hand labour meant the end for a certain way of life and the people and their music put out to pasture, made obsolete and redundant. As machinery and commerce rose and the cities swelled, so the green Dowry of the middle ages, the Golden Bough, the great sturdy peasant Oak of folk-music, lay felled, silent and still, receding over the land.*
They sang many beautiful and mournful folk songs about this passing of things, of things lost forever, and much else besides, like the sickle – reaper songs that went when the hoeing disappeared, as machines took over.
His chilling, disembodied presence, hauntingly persists, cropping up, excuse the pun, now and then in contemporary film and books – a tall hooded, shadowy figure, hunched on a scythe, the grim reaper man, patiently waiting to strike, still lurking in the unconscious, a sinister and foreboding spectre of death.
As the country rose, the great era of the historical ballads came to an end and except for a few remote corners of the country, the folk-song receded to pastoral pastures and part-time pleasures and idylls of a version of a Merrie England of rural pursuits, that fed into dreams and utopian ideals of that green and pleasant land.
Though perhaps, I have strayed further than I originally intended, yet ironically enough, have still only skimmed the surface of this music , but the further I looked and listened, the more I wanted to give a view, try to show a little of what it was like then, re-kindle a little of the tale of how they were born and wrought and what made them so tough, and resilant, strong and lasting, of such fine fibre.
Songs that began proudly with a longing for a better life and a much prized, hard fought for, long coming freedom and emancipation. Captured in a marvellous, dramatic, story-telling narrative to boot, an epic well worth repeating and remembering down the ages, cherished even, tuning in and turning onto as they trickle down the ages -Yeah! and singing about now and then!
And when you’re looking for a clear thought and an honest voice, something vital, simple and profound, a source of strength and beauty – and with a true yearning for freedom even. For to turn to for warmth, goodwill and good cheer -and whose origins exist in the poetry and music of the people.
Wildly scattered all over these Islands, moving with sweeping grandeur through the centuries, mulched in the kilns of threshing time, from the great Mountain Ballads of Scotland and Wales and the Bardic odes of Ireland, to the ancient and fabled sea-faring shanties ,spliced before homer was born, when men first sang together roving and rowing on the savage waves. Songs of heroism and great danger, songs of man and nature bound together.
Charming and picaresque songs of the South, Wild and tough and bitter songs of the north and the border ballads of the badlands, Songs of the harvester and the ploughman, songs and ballads of the highlands and lowlands and the songs of travellers and wayfaring strangers and travellers and tinkers and minstrel gypsy rovers,- and just so many more.
Songs of the wise Islanders: Wales, Ireland, Scotland, England (take the first letter of each race and it spells wise), as an old pagan friend once pointed out to me and a unifying idea that struck me as novel. The wise Islanders whose melodies and words litter the soil and linger in the soul like a fine mist descending like silt bedded in the sedimentary layers of the unconscious, lying in a golden slumber layered in the psychic soil of the people and in the quivering antennae of her artists and poets.
That, of course, is not the end of the story, nor indeed, the song and just as there were many more revolutions and rebellions still to come, out of which spun other types of folk-songs, that many of you to-day will have heard sung by any number of contemporary folk-singers from Ewan :McColl Martin Carthy , Joan Baez the Incredible string Band, Margaret Barry to Joni Mitchel and Bob Dylan. Eliza McCarthy, to name a random few amongst many others , of which this is only a small but not insignificant sample.
Indeed as far back as Chaucer, through to the Utopian Thomas Moore to Shakespeare – and it has been suggested that Shakespeare in his day, got the plots of several of his plays off the early Folk Balllad sheets. Milton, William Blake, Beethoven, (who set the poems of Robert Burns to music) Bartok, Byron and Borodin, to the 19th century romantic poets – indeed many great and illustrious artists and musicians down the ages would draw inspiration and fresh life from the moist, verdant limbs of folk-music.
It’s an old recurring story, times change and change again. Society changes and it’s almost the uncanny story of change itself; of things moving and things staying the same, of time standing still and then flowing, like lava sliding slowly and then irrevocably, unpredictably accelerating towards the future and the unknown.
PART TWO. FOLK RISING
TERRESTIAL SPINNING REELS.
‘The unconscious music of the folk has all the marks of fine art; that it is wholly free from the taint of manufacture, the canker of artificiality; that it is transparently pure and truthful, simple and direct in its utterance‘. Wrote Cecil Sharpe several centuries later in his historic work. *
Around about the turn of the 20th the century, as historical consciousness began to emerge more fully, and technology sped up and the past, present and the future, were about to uncoil and unwind, twined together, forever immortal on the terrestial spinning reels and whirling spools of sight and sound that would flicker and flick, like celluloid phantoms bursting into power and life.
Although in Britain and America, collecting and gathering in the field and workplace had been going on for at least a century before recording techniques developed. It is largely thanks to Prof. Francis James child’ ( 1825- 1896) that so many British Ballads are known to us today. Born in Boston, Child came to England and the result of his work was the English & Scottish popular Ballads, the definitive collection never to be superseded. Before Child, accurate editions of ballad texts were few and far between.
Cecil Sharpe (1859 – 1924) started to collect English folk- songs and dances at the beginning of the century and during twenty years, he noted nearly 5,000 dance tunes – 3,ooo in England and nearly I, 700 in the Appalachian Mountains of America.
Cecil Sharpe House, center of the EFSS, was erected in 1929 in Camden Town, London. It is truly said of him that ‘he restored to the English, the songs and dances of their country‘.
Kate Lee, whose 1898 leaflet ‘Hints to collectors of folk-Music ‘predated Cecil Sharpe and was one of the first pioneers of folk-song collecting in England. A lively, resourceful woman, and like many of the women of her generation, she crossed social barriers and was at ease amongst politicians, dignitaries and down and outs alike. She discovered and brought to public attention the Copper Family of Rottingdean in Sussex and their descendents are still singing the family songs today and she was the first secretary of the Folk Song Society in 1898.
The radical free-thinking poet and visionary William Blake ,wrote about the mind-forged manacles of the industrial revolution and the spectre of modernity appearing on the faces of poor people marked with weariness, marked with woe.
Wearing the frock, the long green cloak of ecology, embroidered by Victorian artist, poet and environmentalist William Morris. His admirable endeavours to combat the dismal satanic mills and revive rural life pursuits, blended folk crafts into art, and carrying utopian and socialist ideals of a better life.
A folk-heritage captured in the frank and sumptuous pages of Thomas Hardy, whose prose resonated with the rustic and acoustic sounds of the people and land of his beloved Somerset and Dorset.
Other’s too around the turn of the century were becoming conscious of the Islands rich folk heritage and beginning to delve into Sharpe’s legacy . Particularly the Pastoral Classical composers like Ralph Vaughn Williams and Peter Warlock; Socialist, mystic, Orientalist and astrologer Gustav Holst and the pagan inspired and cosmopolitan free spirited Delius would delve deep steep themselves in the country’s Celtic -Pagan, Anglo-Saxon music, mysticism and folk-lore.
Australian composer and folk-song collector Percy Granger, avid folk-song hunter was also busy out there, trawling the land and the first in Britain to use state- of -the art wax cylandar recorders on his field trips. George Butterworth, composer of English Idylls, would put to music, the poet AE Houseman’s ‘A Shropshire Lad‘. And Houseman’s lyrics would go on to inspire many of the composers of his generation. Arnold Bax, Rutland Boughton, John Ireland, Peter Warlock, and Ernest J Morean, composers of what is sometimes referred to as the ‘Celtic Twilight’ would add to the rich cosmopolitan mix of freethinking, radical and progressive thinkers, artiste’s and social reformers of the day, amongst them GB Shaw, Oscar Wilde, H G wells, D H Lawrence and the Irish Poet WB Yeats ( interesting to note that they were mainly all socialists , engaged with the Islands musical heritage). This small and illustrious but dedicated cluster of individuals would succeed in bringing forth and preserving the Islands unique folk heritage, passing it on to others , and combined together, created Britain’s first folk and dance revival.
As modern Britain rose from the dust of the second world war , more than any other country in the ‘Old World’ was in a position to embrace and explore the New Worlds music, partly through a shared culture and a common language, and a linkage which gave increased access to emerging US musical forms, and in this two-way traffic gave rise to Britain’s own unique sound.
Drawing from the pioneering ground work of Child, Sharpe and others, speeding up in Britain and America. from the fifties on. With the advance of recording techniques and technology spreading, made recording in the field possible, particularly through the pioneering ground -work of people like the Americans folk-archivist John Lomax and his son, ethnomusicologist and broadcaster, the powerful Alan Lomax. A Texan tornado ‘the man with golden ears‘, and the first man of World music you might say, who tuned into the world and truly turned it on to a finer frequency, still audible, trembling on the wave-band of extinction.
Lomax was a pivotal figure in the American folk-music revival and a man with a strong social conscience. As a communist, he played an instrumental part in aligning American folk music with protest songs and left wing activism. Lomax put together the Almanac singers along with his sister Bess, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and the country blues singer Josh White, who would have the unique distinction of being the first black country blues singers to reach these shores.
Alan it seemed was a powerhouse, a man of prodigious energies , who due to the Mc Carthyite inquisition taking place in the USA was black -listed because of his communist sympathies. He escaped to Britain in 1950, staying for eight years, and almost immediately setting foot in the country became a prime mover and shaker in the fledging British post-war folk- music revival. A bubbling cauldron of an Anglo-Celtic , Afro American music.
Lomax was also a singer and performer and inspired by the skiffle explosion and the hungry voice of youth erupting in Britain, he joined forces with emerging folk champion, singer and broadcaster Ewan Mc Coll, and together with Peggy Seeger, member of the distinguished Seeger clan, and the rose of English Folk song , Shirley Collins, formed the ramblers folk group.
Keepers of a musical legacy and passing it on to others, Ewan McColl, Peggy Seeger, AL Lloyd and Peter Kennedy, along with the motivating gristle of Alan Lomax ‘exerting a unifying galvanizing effect’ on the British music-scene, were poised together to revolutionise the role of British folk music in contemporary life.
Albert Lancaster Lloyd, was born in London (1908-82). A widely travelled man with a gift for languages; he was at various times, a singer, sheep minder, whalerman, journalist, social historian, scholar, translator, lecturer and broadcaster; perhaps known best as the Author of the seminal ‘Folk-Song in England‘(1967) and as one of the main architects of the British post war ‘folk revival‘.
Like Alan Lomax, Lloyd was a communist, blacklisted by the BBC during the war and for some time afterwards. He wrote articles comparing negro spirituals with similar songs recorded by white singers and as pointed out earlier identified the similar use of the pentatonic scales.
Lloyds essay ‘The revolutionary origins of English folk song’ identified a continuing anti-authoritarian strain in English folk -song dating back to the social upheavals of 14th century and the uprising of the peasant revolt with the emerging Cycles of the Robin Hood ballads .
He collaborated with Ralph Vaughn Williams on the penguin book of English folk songs. As he rambled around the countryside gathering folk material,*he made field recordings for Topic Records, the most politically aware, committed and socially conscious folk-music label of the day.
With a strong socialist base Topic released the music of Ewan McColl, Pete Seeger, Paul Robson, Rambling Jack Elliot, Woody Guthrie and Peggy Seeger, Margaret Barry and Jeannie Robertson – propelling them into wider contemporary circuits with nation-wide concerts and television appearances. Topic would also put out the astonishing ground-breaking EP guitar sounds of a young Davy Graham and Alexis Korner. Lloyd’s crucial role in enabling and encouraging and empowering traditional music performance and research, cannot be overestimated.
Folklorist Peter Kennedy had folk-music revivalism in his veins. Son of John Kennedy and Helen Karples, he joined the EFFD in 1948, and was a man of whom it is said worked ‘tirelessly uncovering Britain’s folk heritage‘. He was also a keen documentarist and cast a visionary eye on his journeys around the country for the folk-society and uncovered previously unknown folk songs and dances. In particular he recognised the crucial role of Britain’s Travellers, Gypsy and Romany communities as store-houses of a rich musical legacy.
In 1953 he was given his own radio series, ‘As I walked out‘, working with Seamus Ennis, Irish Broadcaster and Uillian piper and Scott’s poet and song collector Hamish Henderson, and Sussex folk -singer Bob Copper. It was a weekly feature on the BBC radio between 1953 1958. And in 1953Alan Lomax appeared on British television in an eight part series called Alan Lomax: Song hunter, and featuring an eclectic mix of music and musicians and varied mixture of traditions and people like Harry Cox, Charlie Wills, Michael Gorman, Ewan McColl , Margaret Barry, Isla Cameron and Semus Eaniis. Peter Kennedy researched and co-presented the show, which was produced by a young David Attenborough.
Together, Kennedy with his friend John Hasted, they ran the small London Reel Club. John Hasted ears picked up the rasping, rustling twang gristle of the steel string driven acoustic twang coming from his legendary hero Woody Guthrie.
He became enamoured by the music of the guitar and banjo sounds he heard coming from America at a time when guitars were little known and hard to find in the Britain in the forties and were certainly not in any way then associated with traditional folk-music. He was particularly drawn to the LP sounds of Pete Seeger and the Almanac singers, who sang folk renditions of songs like Frankie and Johnny, Stackalee, and frontier pioneer folk songs , prison ballads and cowboy songs.
Inspired by railroad songs like John Henry and Casey Jones that captured the plaintive and lonely locomotive whistle of the railroad train, and the ghosts of hobos and harmonicas, speeding across vast distances and wide open spaces deep into the majestic night. He wrote enthusiastically to Pete Seeger about his passion for the guitar, who promptly wrote back sending him instructions and tips on playing the guitar. He also ran Britain’s first folk club ‘ The Good Earth’ in Soho’s Gerard Street, and founded the long running ‘Sing’ magazine in 1954 giving advice and instructions on playing guitar and three-string bass.
Hasted, Kennedy, along with the formidable Red Sullivan, formed a jug-band, and long before Lonnie Donnegan appeared on the scene, Hasted was one of the first in the country to feature a guitar in his line up. Here, perhaps for the first time, struts on stage the embryonic, folk-guitar hero, a Guthrie-esque, freewheeling guitar – picking rambler, the techno-coloured, cowboy booted sage-brush minstrel of the lonesome prairies, who struck roots here and sprouted, with variations combinations and degrees since, the homespun image of the modern troubadour folk-singer. A rambling man with a guitar and a song, a pungent, iconic image, style and attitude that would inform, sweeten, enrich and deepen, the broad musical sweep of the guitar.
Last and by no means least, and standing at the helm of the folk-music revival there was dramatist, actor, playwright, street singer and musician Ewan Mc Coll, and the man widely regarded as Godfather of the fifties and sixties British folk revival. Another left winger with a vigorous and vocal social -political conscience Mc Coll was poised to become the architect of a revolution in British folk-music.
‘The uprooting from village and field to the city was the source of Britain’s blues,* wrote Rob Lowe in his brilliant and panoramic survey of over a century of the Island musical sounds cape. It’s an insightful observation , especially when seen in the guiding light of McColl’s formidable achievement.
Ewan McColl, aka Jimmie Miller was born on the 25th Jan in 1915 of Scottish parents, in Perthshire, Scotland and grew up in the working class slums of greater Manchester. There amongst the tender and gritty realities of daily life, Mc Coll became a man of the people, steeping himself in hard left politics since leaving school at fourteen.
His theatre work lay in the workers theatre movement of the late twenties and thirties, and along with various unemployed actors of the time he formed the political theatre group The Red Megaphones , delivering anti-war songs and anti-tory songs and preaching a Marxist idealogy. Conscripted for the war, he deserted from the army, disappeared and changed his name and resurfaced later as Ewan McColl
Later on, moving from Manchester to London where along with his wife, the actress Joan Littlewood, developed and worked on together the Theatre of Action and Theatre Union. A broad champion of the people, he picked up the baton of workers rights and at seventeen Wrote songs like ‘The Manchester Rambler’ in celebration of the mass trespass demonstration challenging the right of way laws in the peak districts in 1932. Often on the road he toured, played, acted and sang in miners clubs, in small mission halls, worker’s associations, ballading and preaching in smoky rooms and dingy halls up and down the country.
He became a powerful anti bomb campaigner a leading voice in the protest movement of the fifties and sixties and along with many voices raised joined the marching ranks of protestors on their way to Aldermaston protest against the bomb – a march that, incidentley 1958 marked the beginning of Britain’s first post war expression of mass protest. More significantly for the music scene, fired a wave of protest songs and singers, who were out there on the barricades, singing, writing demonstrating and introducing a new canon of folk-music. The protest song, sung by the protest singer, grappling with the issues of the day.
‘There are now more songs being written than at any another time in the past 80 years – young people are finding out that folk-songs are tailor – made for expressing their thoughts and comments on contemporary topics, dreams and worries,’ McColl told the daily worker in 1958.
He wrote a catalogue of volatile and radical protest songs like ‘The Songs of Hiroshima‘, ‘The Bomb has got to go‘, ‘The Ballad of Ho Chi Minh’, and others . His play Utranium 235’, a historical pageant and atomic age morality play, attracted some notoriety ,raising awareness and fomenting reform and dissent and ruffling establishment feathers.
Like Alan Lomax, he was a communist, committed to workers rights and left-wing politics and like Lomax , was then seen as a threat to national security. Special branch had their beady eyes on him, monitoring his mail and telephone calls and his visa applications to countries behind the iron curtain.
It’s amazing to stop and think what a folk-singer could achieve in the 50’s and 60’s, and to have had the mighty establishment trembling and a little paranoid about the impending communist takeover and revolution of the people – as espoused by the words and music of an urbane, subversive working class hero and folk-singer, about to topple the system – and all that surveillance at the taxpayers expense, too!
He was also a trail-blazing broadcasting pioneer and in 1957 the BBC gave him his own radio show, Ballads and Blues, which left the blue-print for radio, still not superseded today.
It began one fateful day, on Saturday February 9 1957 when Britain is shocked by the news of a runaway goods train disaster and the deaths of two employees on the train, the driver John Axon and guardsman Alfred Ball. Touching the Nations sympathies, the BBC commissioned its producer Charles Parker to make a radio documentary about the tragedy. He enlisted the help of Ewan Mc Coll, who wrote ‘The Ballad of John Axon’ a true story (and a British equivalent to the American train-driving ballad story of Casey Jones) that highlighted the heroic deeds of an ordinary working man dying in the attempt to avert colossal tragedy – and for which John Axon was posthumously given the George cross for his bravery.
The subsequent 45 minute programme put out by Parker McColl and a 22 year old Peggy Seeger caused a sensation and was acclaimed by the press and public alike and a tragedy and event that would have a deep cultural significance, changing the course of BBC radio broadcasts.
Back then The BBC still ruled with ‘plummy’ home counties accents and McColls approach of using the living working class accents and real people ’actuality recordings’ , broke all conventions and the impact was immediate. It was endorsed by the public and Axon’s widow and the rail workers alike ; and Hugh Carlton Greene, Director General of the BBC, called it ’The most brilliantly executed and the most moving radio programme Iv’e ever heard’.
Ebbed by plucking strings, bawdy ballads and romantic love songs, over the next six years , he would broadcast seven more radio shows and pointing a light on previously overlooked sections of society. A formidable achievement that, in the process, introduced a whole new canon of folk – music that went back at least two hundred years; Industrial songs and miner songs. The songs of weaving looms, conveyer belts, and the blast furnace; the fishing trawlers songs , and songs of the modern highway and railway songs.
The songs of the urbane poor, city dwelling factory workers, with themes of work, hunger, poverty and exploitation, and of their loves and fears of living and dying , pain and deprivation. The folk -songs of the people to-day.
On his last broadcast, he recorded first hand the songs and stories of the much vilified travellers and the gypsies , that have woven through the country’s history and backwoods for centuries, and cast a long prescient look on their plight in the modern blinkered world , then comparing Britain’s treatment and demonisation of her nomadic peoples, to the fascist and Nazi pogroms of their day.
His most famous composition ‘The first time I ever saw your face’ written for his life -long sweet-heart Peggy Seeger, became a world-wide hit and won a Grammy for Roberta Flack in 1972.
Re-mastered and remixed, fifty years later, his Radio Ballads still continues to fascinate and draw attention inspire and migrating, echoing to the techno -turntables of the 21st century – into and the dynamic dancing forms of rave culture, a cultural transmission, put out by Primary Transmissions, Broadcaster music and a similar homage as was done by Moby with Alan Lomax American field recordings of the blues . His club of the same name as his radio show opened in 1957 at the Princess House pub in central London, and as with his radio show, his revolutionizing club format was soon copied in the Capital and up and down the country, creating the template for folk venues , for at least the next two decades. Folk music owes him an outstanding debt.
It was this cementing and outstanding mix of thriving, nourishing, living energetic trail-breaking collaborators, music makers and shakers that radiated out from the pioneering work of McColl, Al Lloyd and Lomax, Kennedy and others, weaving together the course and the fine thread of rugged and rustic, industrial and electric, wicked and sublime folk-music, – ploughing up the ‘plummy’ ground, churning on the milk-train, speeding past the ancient rustic gates and powering through the mighty oaken doors of the past and opening into the electric garden.
12 THE ELECTRIC GARDEN.
‘The folk revival offered something that promised to be considerably more wholesome and constructive, more purposeful and social than what the Beats proposed. Kerouak went On the road, while Woody Guthrie had travelled the same road but with a more assured destination‘.*
That said by the tail-end of the fifties, with packaged culture everywhere, skiffle’s subsidence and the illustrious period of rock and rolls first glorious and rebellious, righteous reign in decline, it seemed, back in late fifties Britain, just as the avuncular poet of Rock Chuck Berry crucially observed in his piquantly poetic rock song, that there was ‘No particular place to go’.
Stylistically, metaphorically even, and to the wider public, folk – music was still wrapped up in an image of cosy fishermen sweaters, tangled in the briars and brambles of bourgeoisie – convention and the pint swilling traditions of a distant, long dead rural past. Or seen as hide bound, elitist and reactionary – a minority thing, powdered with the distinct odour of the classroom, with little relevance or appeal in the wider electrically charged modern world but all that was set to change.
Switching on the ‘wireless’ then, seeping through the BBC radio waves , throwing in a little Caribbean calypso and songs by Harry Belafonte and Cy Grant crooning here and there in the background , you could also hear the mild voices of the Kingston Trio, gently harmonizing Tom Dooley – a folk-song tale about injustice and hanging. While Peter Paul and Mary wailed Stewball, and Bob Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind and singing a whimsical quaint little fairie folk-song called ‘Puff, the Magic Dragon’ .
Well, it seemed to many then , a quaint and innocent enough little puff of a fairy folk-song. Indeed. A Puff that lit a trail and left a candy coloured cloud that drifted like smoke in the misty musical minds of musicians rolling up, turning on, tuning up and stringing their guitars. Submerged, running like a fine thread through the texture of the times, folk-music’s muffled melodies could now be heard prowling and growling with the cats in the backstreet basement bars, fermenting in the aromatic mix, in the urbane heat of white R& B, emerging like a chrysalis, fluttering like an electric butterfly, spiralling around the Musical Maypole, and unleashing the blistering folk-rock classic ‘The House of the Rising Sun‘, a sundering rhythm and blues rendition of a folk classic performed and sung by Eric Burdon and the Animals, and a fore-taste of the tide of British blues, folk and rock musicians, soon poised to conquer the world.
Part of the rolling cart-wheel of folk music, it was also during the latter part of the fifties and sixties that Britain drew from the soil a national and international pantheon of guitar strutting folk, rock and blues musicians, singers and balladeers. Many who became famous and found international commercial success and spawning lucrative careers, while some faded away and a few, like Davy Graham,in their own lives, became living Legends.
To this early, inspired band of home grown merry minstrels and string pioneers belong people like Alex Campbell, Ewan McColl, Steve Benbow ,Robin Hall, Redd Sullivan, Diz Dizley – Beryl Brydon, along with many another known and unknown, forgotten figures now. Part of the vanguard that together formed the first battalion of the rolling cartwheel of a British folk-blues and rock revival, and laying the fast moving groundwork for, and soon lining up beside them in the guitar picking firmament, a generation of younger musicians that Davy Graham would exert a powerful influence over.
Amongst them, people like John Renbourne, Clive Palmer, Whizz Jones, Robin Williamson, Ann Briggs, Long John Baldry, John Martyn, Bert Jansch, Donovan, Cat Stevens Raph McTell Roy Harper and Martin Carthy, and pulling on the paradigm of strings up to the baroque folk -rock fusions of Fairport Convention, Pentangle, Fotheringay, and The Incredible String Band.
Now something new and old was shaking the platform and folk music was fast losing its schoolmarm headmaster image and would soon take on more relevant, threatening, as well as deafening tones. And revving up consciousness and conscience everywhere, calling out above the rising tide of sound and fury, an anthemic rumble gathered, an apocalyptic thunderclap, summoning a universal cry for freedom and change, delivered by the awesome, timeless and sublime voice of Bob Dylan.
13 ROOTS .
Looping back in time now and stepping out from the shadows, two tall, downright – home figures emerge, holding their guitars and wearing jeans and dungarees – unique figures of enormous importance in the high, hallowed halls of contemporary folk – music.
The first is a big black man, Hudson ‘Huddy Ledbetter‘ , (Jan 20 1888 – Dec 6 1949)or more famously known as Leadbelly, a man of enormous stature and presence, who left a wealth of material, and whose songs have remained classics down the ages. An authentic gold standard barer, there is no one quite like him in the folk-firmanent. Born on January 1885, in North-western Louisiana, his mother half Cherokee Indian and his fathers family had been slaves.
He had enormous strength and physical bearing and rode horses bareback, his guitar slung his shoulders to fro across the countryside from home. Working in the cornfields inspired one of his most famous songs ‘Pick a bail of Cotton’ and he was interested in music from an early age and was soon able to play guitar, piano and accordion.
Most noticeable was his unique guitar playing technique. He played with finger picks most of the time, using a thumb pick to provide a walking bass, which led to him being labelled ‘The King of The Twelve String Guitar’. He spent time in Jail for murder, ( he claimed self-defence) escaping three times and during that time in Jail entertained his cell mates while building up a large repertoire of songs – the most famous being perhaps ‘The Midnight Special’. He was eventually pardoned and his song, the classic ‘Goodnight Irene’ won his a reprieve from the Governor of Lousiaanna.
It was in Jail that the legendary Alan Lomax* sought him out, soon recording his entire opus for the Lomaxs and had his first major hit with ’Bourgeois Blues‘. On his way to becoming a household name , he toured the US with the Legendary Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Josh White – and just as his music spreading, he up and died on December 6th1949 of advance sclerosis. There is an excellent biography that covers his extraordinary life.*
Interest in his music has not declined and in 1976 paramount released a picture covering his dramatic life and career. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of fame 1988, and in 1994 Kurt Cobane and Nirvana released a live version of his ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night’ and way before that in 1965 Davy Graham recorded the same song on his seminal break-through Album, Folk, Blues and Beyond.
Alongside Huddy Ledbetter, a generation younger and a man who slept with his guitar on Huddies floor in New York- the denim clad Woodrow Wilson ‘Woody Guthrie‘, the dust bowl Troubadour (July 14 1912 – October 3 1967) who spawned many an imitator. The template for the radical, modern folk-singing protester everywhere, pointing his guitar at injustice . Guthrie had written on his guitar, ‘This machine kills fascists’.
Man of the people, a white man and the original rambling man. A romantic, Whitmanesque figure, no less real, who travelled the length and breath of America in the depression times and wrote about his experiences of the dustbowl days howling over the land and the people in the depression.
Rambling from state to state in boxcar – train, by foot and boot, car and bus, or walking dusty roads, carrying his guitar, living with and writing songs about the lot of the common people, their struggle and their common values and he penned many magnificent tunes, producing classics and leaving a trail of music that were pictures of life, carbon copies of the real world carved in a song. He shared the same landscape as Steinbeck, writing about the dust-bowl days in his books Cannery Row and of Mice and Men.
He was also a political activist, who belonged the to the left, and became strongly identified with the urbane folk movement –particularly in America and whose radical politics, along with Pete Seeger, Patricarch of the Seeger clan and folk royalty as it were, and did much to advance the protest movements and voices of freedom then blowing in the wind.
Guthrie lit the fuse that would unleash a whole generation of worthy soothsayers of the soul, particularly Bob Dylan, who inherited the wind and the wave and gave it voice.
Stoked by the psychic roar of an outraged humanity – well some of it anyway, protesting at the insanity of a world teetering on the brink of nuclear destruction and terrified with the imminent prospect of species annihilation that appeared in the billowing shape of a mighty mushroom cloud moving across the world, under which mounting voices gathered in protest. And the rumble became a roll
In Britain its faint acoustic voice could be heard stroking the crackling crowds of ban the bomb protesters trekking on the streets, allied on the march to Aldermaston with Ken Coylers coronet blasting ‘When the saints go marching in‘, welded and uplifted by the strong bawling voice of Ewan Mc Coll, widening the birth of modern folk pathways through the present turbulent times with the contemporary issues of the day.
It was nuclear submarines, it was ban the bomb and chanting CND members, arm in arm with Beatniks and bards, anarchists , and hobos and professors and poets on the March, with the concerned public singing folk-protest songs and demonstrating against the cold war threat of thermo-nuclear destruction and meltdown. Political radicalism was spreading, student unrest brewing, dissatisfaction with status quo fermenting –in the west, social upheaval, imminent, was at hand, and cultural revolution were all stewing in the cultural pot.
Simultaneously erupting in the US It was Martin Luther King and the civil rights movements, left wing student radicalism and anti-Vietnam war demonstrations and linking holding hands and singing folk-songs , which had large amounts of gospel influences and traditions elements in it such as the spiritual, the jubilee, hymn and the anthem, used as weapon in the brave charge of civil rights protestors.
In a broader, international sense, folk-music was spreading and Folk Songs were sung at mass meetings, rally’s, demonstrations, prayer vigils, jails and the spreading folk festivals- (soon to spiral into free-fall and the festival fever of the psychedelic sixties) , and exerting a moral and political force and life-style choices that would broaden and deepen – as conscience ignited, catching fire in the spring of youth.
The voice of spiritual hunger and political unrest gathering urgency and momentum bursting out like a dam in the radicalised young, who fled to the music for meaning and direction , prized by lyrical barbs and the wild stroking strings of the guitar – plucked from the hopeless loop of materialism, meaninglessness and spiritual bankruptcy, and the empty, dismal, cold war side dish of post – war years, and wresting other ideals that filtered through the music and songs of the time.
From the evergreen fingers of folk, up through the dancing vines of rags and reels, its smoky, ancient roots snaking through the post-post, modern world, and adding a bedrock of sincerity, lending an authentic grain to the tuneful testimonies and broadsides of the day. Spinning a garland and galaxy of tune-smiths, poets, prophets and pamphleteers, musical heralds, minstrel charioteers, legends now, whose manifestoes and melodies, sublime and edgy – broadcast a battering ram of protest, revolution and change. And whose contemporary verse and compositions in music were listened to, lingered on poured over, passed around and shared for messages of meaning and direction. In the rapt and swelling ranks of youth culture, advancing at the gypsy vanguard, folk music was rapidly becoming the launch pad of rebellion, revolution and change. Erupting in a spiralling rapture that would make the ancestors dance for centuries to come!
This was a generation torched by a lyric, liberated by a lick that captured a call, that fused body and soul, that could inflame a life , stir a movement , nurture a hope, create a dream, a future, and light a fuse that spun it into orbit around the globe, eclipsing everything else. Now, overwhelmingly it was the youth, their ideals and their music, their meaning and their drugs, stamping the future, ahead of the time. And for the rapturous and idealistic young then , its radiant and most potent symbol was the Guitar.