Styles & Forms | UK Folk
Folk music in Britain has an erratic history, susceptible to the fickle fates of fashion and image and almost eradicated completely by the apathy of the people whose culture it represents. Yet a hugely colourful treasure chest of music and traditions survives in the network of folk clubs that still exist up and down the country.
British folk clubs have little in common with the rest of the entertainment industry. Elsewhere, it is extremely rare for new, untried artists to be allowed to get up and play ‘floor spots’ as support for the main attraction. While this sometimes results in painful performances, as would-be stars learn in public, it has also allowed some exceptional talents to flourish. Some clubs have applied hard attitudes to support purist ideals, but essentially, the grassroots folk scene operates an open-house policy that fosters creativity and imagination. Blues, country, jazz, comedy and even pop musicians have been embraced by the folk fraternity, which makes it an alternative forum well beyond the radar of the mainstream music scene.
A flood of richly inventive young acoustic guitarists gravitated to the folk clubs in the early boom days of the 1960s and 1970s, effectively re-inventing the way the guitar was played. In particular, Davey Graham had a profound influence on young guitarists everywhere. Constantly experimenting with techniques and rhythmic patterns, he embraced musical styles from different parts of the world long before it was fashionable, and perfected the DAGDAD tuning that became standard for folk playing. His fearless, trailblazing Folk, Blues & Beyond and visionary Folk Roots, New Routes fusion album with Shirley Collins, both released in 1964, set a landmark for folk music.
There was consistent brilliance, too, from Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, who built on Graham’s breakthrough to develop the styles they were to employ so successfully in the band Pentangle, fronted by singer Jacqui McShee. Other brilliant musicians who emerged from the thriving Soho folk scene in London included Roy Harper, Al Stewart and Ralph McTell, and at different times extraordinary standards were also set for the folk guitar by Wizz Jones, John James and Martin Simpson. They were heady times, as American artists such as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Jackson C. Frank could be found playing at various clubs, among them Les Cousins and The Troubadour, at the dead of night.
Rampant With Subversive Talent
Scotland, meanwhile, had its own hive of creativity with The Incredible String Band emerging from Glasgow with a mad charm that captivated the hippy era. Elsewhere stars such as Julie Felix and Nadia Cattouse were virtually household names, regularly featured on national television. The Spinners, The Ian Campbell Folk Group, The Corries and The Yetties were the big groups of the period, dominating radio and TV with populist songs and presentation, but the underground scene was rampant with more subversive talents. Fashions came and went, and singer-songwriters, Celtic bands, dance musicians and folk comedians all predominated at...
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