Monday, 26 September 2011

Go Folk Yourself!


Just the mere mention of the word conjures up some strange images for you doesn’t it?

You instantly think of long - haired hippies, wearing home made tye - dye skirts, strumming a lyre, dancing around druid ruins (hopefully still wearing those skirts) and pleading with you to get in touch with the healing powers of crystals.

Ha! You stereotypes you.

This is simply one area of folk music. We have since progressed from the days above. I hope.

Traditionally folk music was a way that stories were able to get from village to village. Even in the days prior to the internet and flushing indoor toilets, people still enjoyed a good ol’ song and dance. These stories often involved a maid, a garter (usually falling down), and your choice of a tinker, tailor, soldier and a sailor. If you searched hard enough I have no doubt you would come across one with all four. This was the Medieval version of pornography, seeing as the majority of people were illiterate and paper was a stupidly expensive commodity afforded only by the rich.

The guy on the right is blatantly staring at her chest. Pervert.

Nowadays traditional folk has taken on an entirely new meaning.

Take Bellowhead. An eleven piece outfit including a kazoo, an anglo concertina, a mandolin, a sousaphone, a megaphone and a shaky egg on top of every other folk instrument you can think of, these guys are out of this world. They literally take traditional British folk, rape it, and then leave it for dead. Their vocalists cockney twang makes Dick van Dyke‘s attempts appear ludicrous. I have been told that listening to them on a CD does not compare to seeing them live; the sheer enormity of their set is something that puts Lady Gaga to shame, and that’s a statement that clearly needs living up to.

And you thought getting to band practice with four people was difficult!

At the other end of the traditional spectrum you’ll find Iron and Wine. With a name like that, how could you not instantly fall in love with Samuel Beam? Yes, you read that right. Iron and Wine is actually a one - man band, and that one - man goes by the name of Samuel Beam. He occasionally tours with a live band, but that is sort of a rarity. His sound is hauntingly beautiful. Beam’s vocal harmonies are blended perfectly with traditional folk instrumentals. The lyrics to his songs go beyond meaningful; they weave stories with their words and leave absolutely nothing up to the imagination. Beam’s latest album was an instant success - and for a very good reason. If you don’t add it to your collection instantly, you will regret it for the rest of your life.

And yes - Flightless Bird, American Mouth (if you're wondering) is part of the Twilight soundtrack. Unfortunately. The producers clearly held a gun to his head with that one.

That is an impressive beard.

Moving across the pond into international territory there is Le Vent du Nord. As their name suggests their songs are sung in fluent French. Heralding from Quebec, Canada, their music is heavily influenced by traditional folk music from both Ireland and Brittany. They even have a hurdy gurdy in their ensemble! You have to love them simply for that! Their songs are bawdy, traditional French folk ballads; all about good wine, fine women, and eating heartily around the kitchen table. It’s the kind of music that you want to stomp your feet to, clap your hands, and break out into some form of erratic Ceilidh.

Takes the meaning of the word multi - talented to a whole a new level.

That’s pronounced Kayley.

Speaking of Ceilidhs, even if you hate folk music with a passion, get yourself down to one. They are seriously the most fun you can have without taking your clothes off. Think line dancing but without the cowboy boots. Ceilidhs are traditional Gaelic dances, with a traditional Gaelic folk band. There is a caller who calls out the dances (their name is just such a spoiler don’t you think?) and then everyone follows suit.

Tip: don’t wear heels to this and be prepared to get VERY sweaty. Wear lose clothing, but not so lose that you get tangled up and fall on your face. You’ll be dancing up and down, round and round, side to side, in groups of four, in pairs and then as an entire massive group. Believe me - words don’t do this justice - it has to be experienced for itself.

So even if I have not yet managed to persuade you that folk music is definitely something you should add to your iPod, at least let me take comfort from the fact that you can acknowledge that, if nothing else, they are incredibly talented musicians. The majority of them can play the fiddle with their eyes closed, standing on one leg, doing Duck impressions! And that is something I would probably pay to see.

And if none of the above are floating your boat yet, check out anti - folk. This genre of music takes traditional folk music and then craps on it - in a hilariously comic sort of way. Try The Moldy Peaches, Tim Minchin, Regina Spektor, Adam Green, Kimya Dawson and SoKo. Or if it’s easier, just download the entire Juno soundtrack.

I’ll leave you to get your folk on.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

To Feel or Not To Feel

There are many different themes and emotions which provide the basic foundations to any great song. There’s money, comedy, tragedy, grief, laughter, family, friends, relationships, sex, the good, the bad, the ugly, and that all time favourite, the weather. Each attribute, whether displayed with others, or standing alone, gives songs, and music in general, a particular shape and form.

The most frequently used of these, is love.

Amore, adore, liebe. Whether you say it in French or Mongolian, it means the same thing. It is a universal concept which has stood the test of time. It can move mountains, repair that which is broken, and can cure even those sick at heart. It can make you feel like the luckiest man alive, or the most broken, desolate person to have ever walked the earth. It can make you feel like singing the soundtrack to the ‘Sound of Music’ along white cliff tops, and just as equally, it can make you feel like throwing yourself off from the highest point, into a raging sea below.

This is exactly what a great love song should do.

A great song, much like a great book, should toy with your emotions. If the music is sad, then you should feel sad. If the lyrics are hopeful, then you should be filled with hope.

More often than not, our language fails to adequately capture that which we feel, and expressing ourselves through music is certainly not a new concept.

When Danny sang ‘Sandy’ when he was stranded at the drive in, didn’t our hearts just break for him? When Helen Shapiro burst into the music scene in the late 60’s with ‘Walking Back to Happiness’, didn’t we just want to scream “go get him girl!” As Maria and Captain Von Trap are singing in the garden, our hearts melt, because we are all suckers for three little words; I love you.

Jose Gonzales’ ‘Heartbeats’ is just so poignantly beautiful. The words are so gracefully true that it is hard to feel anything but complete calm when listening to it. Regina Spektor’s ‘Samson’ is so haunting that you can almost feel the intensity of the love between Samson and Delilah radiating outwards.

It is no wonder that more and more couples are choosing Savage Garden’s ‘Truly, Madly, Deeply’ for their Wedding Song, the lyrics are compellingly puke - worthy, but, unfortunately true for so many couples in love. Even some of the more edgier music scenes are getting involved with the smushy stuff; Mary J Blige took home two Grammy Awards for her 2005 hit ‘Be Without You’. A meaningful song signifying the importance of standing by an established relationship, it moved struggling couples everywhere.

It seems that, regardless of whether or not you are a die hard anti - romantic, the love song is still going strong, and will continue to do so as long as the homo sapien has a song and dance left in him. My only solution to you cold hearted bastards is to climb on board and start feeling something whilst you have a chance. Music is emotional for a reason, and there is simply no crime in feeling.