Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Folk and Roots Music - Whose Roots Exactly?

My mate and famous science fiction author Tony Ballantyne prompted this post with his own writing about the Valeta; not some form of motor scooter, nor a type of ice cream dessert but a dance popular among working class people who had their entertainment in Working Mens' Clubs up and down the country.

Tony and I are fans of folk music, or roots music as it has come to be known among the middle classes who like to associate themselves with whichever tradition they find most appealing sat in the audience
at Cropredy or Cambridge Folk Festival.

But listen to the Copper Family speak about how they passed songs from generation to generation through times when they were truly out of fashion, before the current revival of interest in 'folk' music, and you begin to understand how cultural heritage really works. Their motivation for passing on songs was rooted in a mortal fear of their heritage dying out: the songs said something about what made them the people they are. So when popular culture scorned their songs they persisted, not of some desire that they should become universally popular, but out of a desire that their heritage should be preserved.

So, what's my musical heritage? Despite my own love of acoustic music, sea shanties and Bellowhead, I can claim no heritage from it. If I am to follow the example of the Copper family and trace a line back, in order to preserve the tradition of my forebears, I must anchor my ship to the memories of Edge Lane Methodist Church Hall and the sound of feet scratching and swishing across the salted hall floor as dancers joined in songs made famous in Oldhams Adelphi Music Hall. Songs that made Gracie Fields famous, or the songs of George Formby, the songs that helped people forget the stress of life in Post-War England. And as I sit here writing I can hear the communal singing and can join in as I sing along too, the memories resonating in a way that prove the point.

So, do I put my money where my mouth is and next time Tony and I get together, he with his accordian, I with my guitar, do we knock out a Valeta tune before launching into a technically more complex but authentic version of 'Leaning On a Lampost'?

Or do we check the latest Bellowhead album for a song we both like (and can play)?

I'll let you know... "Turned our nice again..."

2 comments:

tonyballantyne said...

...and I started to type a reply too, but blogged it instead.

http://tonyballantyne.wordpress.com/2009/07/30/unfashionable-folk-2/

Wouldn't it be easier if we had this conversation down the pub?

Crofty said...

I've replied...but over at yours, basically it was a positive response to the pub bit!