Folk music can sometimes be ghettoised in this country.
Treated as an academic artefact - or worse, a tourist curiosity - it can be sometimes be robbed of its inherent energy, of its ability to snub the establishment, to focus on life as it is lived on a day to day basis.
Stick In The Wheel have dedicated themselves to blowing this notion apart. A group whose ethos perhaps has more in common with punk than many of their folk contemporaries, the group's debut album 'From Here' emerged last month.
A record of real vitality, Stick In The Wheel rip apart the preconceptions surrounding folk music and retrieve the tender, beating heart at the centre of so much traditional culture.
It's little wonder they have a slightly different approach - two members were previously signed to XL Recordings as part of an electronic act, while Ian Carter has produced music for the likes of Ghostpoet.
A voice that deserves to be heard far beyond the trad. arr. community, Stick In The Wheel are set to see out the year with a series of vital, virile gigs. Clash invited the group's Ian Carter (with additional ranting from Nicola Kearey) to lay down their ethos...
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We're all from from old East End (read Cockney) families whose heritage is made up from all the immigrant communities (from far abroad and closer to home) that have populated that tiny area of East London from the last few hundred years. Communities that arrived fighting and stayed fighting, through wars, economic strife, social injustice and political oppression, whether fighting the blackshirts in the Battle of Cable Street or fending off a corrupt government's attempts to flatten once-protected heritage buildings to make way for prime office space, now it seems we have a new, much more insidious and elusive enemy to fight.
I grew with folk music as part of my life, not a major influence but more as part of the background that makes up day to day life, but my musical path like most working class artists was lead through jungle, grime and dubstep. However, I was drawn back into the folk world by listening to Martin Carthy's version of 'Georgie', a song that is told from the point of view of a woman pleading with a hangman to spare the life of her lover (Georgie of the title) who has been charged with poaching and fencing:
"Oh what has Georgie done on Shooters Hill? Was it stealing or murder of any?
Oh he stole sixteen of the Lord Judge's deer, and sold them down under the valley"
This is no passive lament though, the protagonist shows no fear in the face of the authorities:
"I wish you were stalled all in the grove, all in the grove standing ready With bright guns in your hands and a sword at your side, I'd fight you for the life of my Georgie"
A situation that not only describes a familiar scene (if you are part of working class London) of a woman bawling out the coppers in the middle of the street as they cart off her man, but also describing a situation of social oppression and corrupt authority where the possessions of the ruling classes are worth more than the lives of the working classes. Sound familiar? Yet this song is nearly two hundred years old.
Just as working class areas of London are being gentrified by the aspirational middle classes, our own culture has also been appropriated into a sort of fake Laura Ashley, shabby shit kind of style. Songs are sung as if they are saucy tidbits of Victoriana, a kind of Jeremy Kyle for the for the intellectual historian. When this happens the meaning is lost, we become detached from our history and fail to properly understand the situations we find ourselves in. Not only that, but the emotional and cultural significance is distilled and made weak because the perpetrators do not come from a place of empathy and understanding. It stops us from being sympathetic to other people in the community and appreciating their predicament. For example, another song we perform - 'Four Loom Weaver' - is about facing economic ruin when a cotton famine occurred. None of us are weavers now, but we sure know the feeling of being out of work through no fault of our own, and having no money, yet being absolutely proud of our skills and trades, too proud to ask for help.
We perform this music because we have to, as a voice linking now to then. We're not academics: it's how we respond to the emotion in the song that gives it meaning. English Folk music is not hip, it is not thought culturally relevant to people growing up; it's a stuffy, academic thing to be studied. It's vintage tea parties, beards, tankards and bunting. Fuck that. This stuff is ALIVE with meaning. It barely survives in the forgotten publicly funded bodies, who are made up of people who are interested in purely commercialising it, mixing it with American culture because, like, America. Their taste is poor and their interests self-serving. They like pretty ladies and inoffensive young men. They dismiss people coming at it from a roots/living history perspective as "amateurs".
Our traditional culture is being morphed into a elitist backwater, made irrelevant by career-minded lackeys. This rot goes straight to the top as a never ending line of pretty muppets with nothing to say, marching their way towards the golden throne of monetisation. In a time when the mass appropriation of culture is worldwide, it's time to make a stand with our music. This is our culture, this is our music, these are our traditions. It might not be pretty but it is real - and there are universal messages which might just stop us all being dicks to each other.
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'From Here' is out now.