Since its 60’s revival, there has been an air of mystique about folk music. I’m sure some people even believed that the aloof figurehead of our parents’ generation, Bob Dylan, had died from a genius tragedy like a plane crash or an overdose, putting him in God’s VIP room, swapping stories with Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon.
There’s no way we can picture him as part of the late Seventies’ Dark Age of folk when it seemed a pastime for medieval wizards and warlocks. The Eighties fared better with Thatcherism’s political backdrop of miner strikes and civil unrest. Billy Bragg became a working class hero and Simple Minds wrote ‘The Belfast Child’.
All throughout this time and for most of the last few hundred years, the traditional folk song has continued to be distributed the old-fashioned way. Players travel from town to town singing and teaching songs for a pie, a pint and a bed for the night.
Popularity of living legend Bert Jansch and older artists that didn’t impact folk the first time round in the Sixties like Vashti Bunyan, Nick Drake and John Martyn has grown. Like so much great art, the missing audience is only found in death.
And where’s Dylan in all this? Well he’s been rejuvenated for an iPod advert. This it seems is a sign of our times – digi-folk for the pop generation.
In this interactive, multi player, online, self-publicising Twenty-first century, a quiet revolution is evolving. A shy march, headed by a one-man, music-making, second coming, calling himself King Creosote is afoot. Like the first folk revival spearhead, he’s aloof, hard to pin down, doesn’t have a mobile phone and has a prolific catalogue of thirty plus albums, amounting to over five hundred songs!
Clash caught up with KC, the head honcho of the Fence Collective, a man who’s managed to buck the music merry-go-round to create his own DIY music factory. He’s chosen to spend his energy actually making music and not chasing big deals or promoting and touring. “Your first record is a pick of what you wrote up to that point, then you’re so busy promoting that record that you end up fulfilling that ‘hard second album’ legacy,” he says about being a signed artist. “Maybe some bands see twelve songs as the next pot of cash.” But not KC, he prefers a more modest, tea drinking approach, free from industry constraints.
The early Fence Collective really was various bands made up of friends and relatives. “To the outside world we looked like a label,” explains KC. “We then started getting people coming out the woodwork to contact us.” KC’s approachable ‘have a go’ attitude seemed to rub off, and before he knew it “all these shy people started contacting us saying they’d been recording for a year or whatever. They didn’t think they’d written anything good, they just wanted us to have a wee listen,” he says in his soft Fife accent.
That stuff turned out to be really good; the talent behind them just “didn’t have any confidence… not themselves,” he adds, “but that in Scotland there wasn’t anything to help promote that kind of thing!” he rationalises.
Recently folk music has created an establishment in the shape of the stuffy BBC’s Radio 2 Folk Awards. But… as with all good music from reggae to punk cutting against the grain, KC and his Fence Collective are bucking the establishment to ignore the rules. “It seems with this New Folk tag, everything is in there. Like Photech… and The Earlies from Manchester. They’re into Prog! It’s almost like people are using the folk banner to embrace anything that they’re a bit lazy to describe”
You can have a good night out without being online all night
A humble KC is not surprisingly uncomfortable with a label that ironically bastardises its title. “I’ve always said that folk songs are something that in three-hundred years will still make perfect sense and be strong enough to sing without any instrumentation.” He means the themes are universal. They’re either tragic or funny, about lost love or getting drunk… “I love the funny ones!” he says. “My songs will not be sung in five years’ time, they’re not songs that will be taken forward and be taught to peoples grandkids. In that way I feel a little bit of a charlatan to be described as a folk singer.”
So excusing transient and trendy titles such as Nu-Folk or Folk-tronica, who comprises the resurgent charge of folk influenced forms bandying about laptops and microchips then?
Well for argument’s sake, let’s keep these bloody titles and agree that these names help define any music brought to the table for a last hearty meal with friends before we all have to fully embrace that we’re inevitably gonna be eating online with virtual friends before the decade is out.
Phelan Sheppard – ‘Harps Old Master’
Keiron Phelan and David Sheppards’s wide-ranging musical journeys have intertwined since they were teenagers. This latest offering is their pinnacle – a lush, expansive, emotional journey of instrumental melancholy.
King Creosote – ‘KC Rules OK’
Described by the man as “a sort of Best Of… even though no-one knows the songs,” it’s a unique voice that has been heard all year from Bestival to the Greenman fields in spite of what he says. Look for other Fence offerings from The Lone Pigeon, Northern Alliance and James Yorkson and the Athletes.
Imitation Electric Piano – ‘Blow It Up, Burn It Down, Kick It ‘Till It Bleeds’
Headed by Brighton-based ex-Stereolab bassist, Simon Johns, Imitation Electric Piano polish late Sixties psychedelia and early Seventies prog to a lush electric sheen.
Tunng – ‘Comments Of The Inner Chorus’
These new faces are the darlings of the scene; check out their cover of Bloc Party’s ‘Pioneers’ on the recent Folk Off compilation if you need proof. This latest record mixes pop, folk and electronica, although lead man Mike Lindsay says, “we just make our music without thinking about Nu-Folk”. They epitomize the open book approach to categorising the scene.