folk music

   Modern British folk music owes its character not just to the traditional music of people in the UK but also to the ‘folk revival’ of the 1950s and 1960s. A crucial figure in the movement was Ewan MacColl, who repopularized both traditional and contemporary folk songs through his series of ‘Radio Ballads’ during the 1950s. This music is still extremely influential in the 1990s. MacColl’s more famous songs include ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’, ‘Dirty Old Town’ and ‘The Manchester Rambler’.
   There was a greater surge of interest in folk music in England in the 1960s. Martin Carthy, Norma Waterson and Roy Bailey were some of the better known folk artists to emerge, and all are still performing today. Towards the end of the decade the ‘folk rock’ bands began to appear with the formation of groups such as Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and Lindisfarne. All these bands were headline performers in the 1990s. The enduring popularity of the artists of the 1950s and 1960s indicates how little folk music has changed since then. Most new acts have much in common with their predecessors. ‘Folk rock’ has been continued by groups such as The Oyster Band and The Home Service. Protest singing, encapsulated by the work of Roy Bailey and Leon Rosselson, has been continued by the likes of Robb Johnson and Billy Bragg, as well as surfacing in other music genres such as punk rock and reggae. The mix of traditional and contemporary performance has been continued by Martin Carthy’s daughter Eliza.
   Despite the strong element of continuity, folk music has developed some new strands. The emergence of cajun and zydeco music has resulted in many English cajun bands as well as the performance of cajun numbers by many folk acts. Also, a successful fusion of English folk and reggae has been developed by Edward the Second, who will play ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ to a reggae beat with accordion accompaniment, and the Red Hot Polkas, who feature traditional English lead instruments backed by an Afro-Caribbean rhythm section.
   Essentially, folk music in the 1990s remained musically conservative but politically radical. The stereotype of the apolitical ‘finger in the ear’ folkie continues to circulate, but Ewan MacColl’s seventieth birthday concert contained an address by Arthur Scargill and in 1998 Roy Bailey performed at the Royal Albert Hall alongside readings by Tony Benn. Folk music is still a place where radical songwriting finds a natural outlet, not least because of the importance it places on of lyrics and narrative. Folk music continues to be especially popular at the many annual folk festivals throughout the country. Tens of thousands of people attend events such as those at Cambridge and Sidmouth. There are also flourishing folk clubs in many towns. The balanced age range at major festivals attests to folk’s continued ability to attract new generations outside of the mainstream of popular culture.
   Further reading
    Brocken, M. (1997) ‘The British Folk Revival’, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Liverpool.
   JIM BARNARD

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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