MONDAY, APRIL 13, 2015
WEEK 15: BRITISH FOLK
When Led Zeppelin released their fourth LP in November 1971, the cover was adorned with a framed, very English photo of a woodsman nailed to the wall of a derelict house set in an urban wasteland. Robert Plant had found the picture in a Reading junkshop and in its own way it showed just how close British folk had sailed to late sixties and early seventies music culture.
Before Zeppelin made their feelings known about the music of our past on Led Zeppelin III, folk had never been seriously considered as playing any part in rock. They legitimised folk for a generation and in so doing wiped away all those images of old boys in knitted sweaters wailing away in the back room of a pub. Of course, what Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were really doing was hitching their coat tails to the gypsy caravan, because British folk had already moved on from the dour voice of anti-authoritarian protest prevalent in the fifties and early sixties.
Throughout history, folk has always been closely linked with the land and the way we all see our place within it, while looking back longingly towards a past arcadia. In 1962, Davy Graham took those links and weaved in a slice of Miles Davis, but it was the electric guitar and unchained melodies of psychedelia that inspired the real transformation. The true revolution in British folk music took place inside drug enlightened minds, where rustic nostalgia blended seamlessly into the hippy dream. Dismissed out of hand as a Dylan copyist, Donovan was a deeply dippy bohemian boy who took folk out of the Soho club scene to number one in America, and in so doing nudged the door open for The Incredible String Band and the eclectic mystical reverie.
Folk rock’s golden years, a brief Indian summer and bountiful autumn of idealism, lasted from around 1969 to 1973 when familiar names like Bert Jansch and John Renbourn’s Pentangle, Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span defined the last flowering of British folk. But anything based around the magick and myths of an ancient Albion was always going to possess a certain, inbuilt fragility, and in the early seventies the secret woodland path walked by Marc Bolan, Meic Stevens, Nick Drake, Anne Briggs, Comus, Vashti Bunyan and Roy Harper disappeared as once again, folk succumbed to a stereotypical image of comedic, beardy ale drinkers.
Naturally, it was still more than capable of delivering a serious message if anyone bothered to listen. June Tabor’s unaccompanied version of Eric Bogle’s ‘And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ ends this short tale, reinforcing folk’s ability to reach out over the decade’s and connect with new situations and generation’s. The more I’ve seen of my soldier sons damaged comrades as they return from Afghanistan, the more I know that to be true.
01 DAVY GRAHAM ‘Angi’ (3/4 AD EP April 1962)
02 SHIRLEY COLLINS & DAVY GRAHAM ‘Reynardine’ (Folk Roots New Routes LP 1964)
03 JACKSON C. FRANK ‘My Name Is Carnival’ (Jackson C. Frank LP June 1965)
04 DONOVAN ‘The Trip’ (Sunshine Superman LP September 1966)
05 INCREDIBLE STRING BAND ‘First Girl I Loved’ (5000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion LP July 1967)
06 PENTANGLE ‘Sweet Child’ (Sweet Child LP December 1968)
07 BERT JANSCH ‘A Woman Like You’ (Birthday Blues LP January 1969)
08 FAIRPORT CONVENTION ‘Farewell Farewell’ (Liege And Leaf LP December 1969)
09 TYRANNOSAURUS REX ‘Lofty Skies’ (A Beard Of Stars LP March 1970)
10 STEELEYE SPAN ‘Lowlands Of Holland’ (Hark! The Village Wait LP June 1970)
11 VASHTI BUNYAN ‘Rose Hip November’ (Just Another Diamond Day LP June 1970)
12 MEIC STEVENS ‘Rowena’ (Outlander LP September 1970)
13 LED ZEPPELIN ‘Bron Y Aur Stomp’ (Led Zeppelin III LP October 1970)
14 NICK DRAKE ‘One Of These Things First’ (Bryter Layter LP November 1970)
15 ANNE BRIGGS ‘Tangled Man’ (The Time Has Come LP March 1971)
16 COMUS ‘Diana’ (First Utterance LP July 1971)
17 JOHN MARTYN ‘Over The Hill’ (Solid Air LP February 1973)
18 RICHARD & LINDA THOMPSON ‘The End Of The Rainbow’ (I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight LP April 1974)
19 ROY HARPER ‘Forget Me Not’ (HQ LP May 1975)
20 JUNE TABOR ‘And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ (Airs And Graces LP November 1976)