Styles & Forms | Folk Pop | Folk

Folk pop is often looked down on by connoisseurs of the music who believe that in its purest form it should have nothing in common with the charts and the commercial world. Yet folk has punctured the mainstream more often than most would imagine, and in many ways its popularity has been reliant on those who’ve broadened the market by taking it into the pop era.

Part of the cachet of folk music is its alternative status. It has drifted in and out of fashion through the years, but the purity of the music and its ideals means that it could never co-exist naturally in a commercial environment. Yet every genre needs a visible face to fire the imagination as well as attract new audiences and musicians, and folk is no different. The early folk boom was built on the back of hits by The Weavers, The Kingston Trio and Harry Belafonte, and the vision of Bob Dylan inspired a whole generation of singer-songwriters.

Succeeding generations have accessed traditional music as an important source, but the fusion of folk music with other musical genres has increasingly provided interest for a less specialized audience. The advent of folk rock certainly rejuvenated the fading folk revival, led by bands such as The Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers in America and, in the UK, Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span. The Byrds enjoyed several hits – most spectacularly with Bob Dylan’s ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ and ‘All I Really Want To Do’ and Pete Seeger’s adaptation of the biblical passage ‘Turn Turn Turn’ – and there have been sporadic UK folk hits, too. One of the earliest came from the Irish folk pioneers The Dubliners, who, championed by the pirate station Radio Caroline, took the risqué traditional song ‘Seven Drunken Nights’ into the Top 10 in 1967, following it up with ‘Black Velvet Band’. It was 20 years before they made the charts again, in a collaboration with one of the bands they helped inspire, The Pogues, on a raucous treatment of the popular pub song ‘Irish Rover’. The Pogues themselves scored one of the most memorable folk-inspired hits of all with their classic, bittersweet Christmas song ‘Fairytale Of New York’, which reached No. 2 in the UK in 1987.

The Irish have a good track record of giving folk music populist appeal. In 1973, Thin Lizzy enjoyed its first Top 10 hit with a rocking cover of another old pub classic, ‘Whiskey In The Jar’. In 1982, Donegal’s Clannad had a massive hit with ‘Harry’s Game’, the atmospheric, haunting theme of a TV drama. Clannad went on to enjoy several more hits in the same style, and inspired a new genre of highly produced, richly layered Celtic music of tranquil overtones. In fact, Enya, a member of the same Donegal family as Clannad, has enjoyed the greatest crossover success of all in this sphere; her ‘Orinoco Flow’ went to No. 1 in 1988 and her...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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