Styles & Forms | Folk Rock | Folk

For many people in the 1960s, folk was equated with acoustic music or even unaccompanied music – and electric guitars were the great taboo. The sense of propriety among the revivalists of the time made them fiercely protective of the music, determined to preserve its purity in the face of attack from the evil forces of pop. Many saw the electric guitar as the enemy.

That is why Pete Seeger is said to have tried to pull the plug on Bob Dylan during his infamous performance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival with members of the electric Paul Butterfield Blues Band. In England, the cry of ‘Judas’ was heard when he repeated the formula. In essence, though, the first rumblings of a new fusion of folk and rock came not from the hardcore folk fraternity, but from rock bands seeking a fresh ideology. There had long been a course of great blues artists interpreted by young white guys, and with spectacular results from the likes of Elvis, The Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds, among others. As rock music diversified in the late-1960s, it was not unnatural for young musicians to seek to develop what they saw as a rigid format for playing folk music.

Dylan’s move towards rock opened the doors. Subsequently, when The Byrds began to have hits with Dylan songs, and bands such as Jefferson Airplane emerged in San Francisco with a strong folk blues flavour, it was obvious that the times were indeed a-changin’. In England, Fairport Convention modelled themselves on Jefferson Airplane with little thought of the implications, but it led them to the realization that there was a rich treasury of indigenous music in their own backyard, untouched by bass, drums or electric guitar. It was the bass player Ashley Hutchings who really led Fairport Convention’s drive into traditional music, with the landmark album Liege & Lief. Recorded in the aftermath of a tragic band road crash, which resulted in the death of the drummer, Martin Lamble, Liege & Lief was hailed as the first British folk rock album, attracting a new audience to both the band and the traditional music they were experimenting with. More than 30 years after its 1969 release, it was still voted Britain’s favorite folk album in a national poll – although it did lead to dissension in the ranks. The two obvious front members of the band, Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson, were both keen to develop their own songwriting rather than pursue the traditional path. Ultimately, this rift resulted in the departure of Denny and Thompson, as well as Ashley Hutchings.

A Bold Blend Of Ancient And Modern

Hutchings went on to become the seminal figure in English folk rock, forming Steeleye Span with two young stalwarts of the folk club scene, Maddy Prior and Tim Hart. When Martin Carthy, the most admired young revival singer on the scene, joined too, a lot...

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


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