Monday, 15 March 2010

It's never a good idea to make assumptions about the folk community!

 While the Folk Against Fascism is clearly a good idea, to me at least, I also felt initially that it was a case of preaching to the converted. Holding campaign concerts in middle class Sidmouth and at the South Bank Centre with their ffffour by ffffour (as Chris Wood might put it) driving audience seemed a little toothless to me. Surely our beloved, folk community and folk music itself was all about inclusion, tolerance and shared experience. Surely the BNP's , laughable Nazi-esque attempt to adopt the country's folk music was going to hold no sway within our community of interest. Surely it's such a moot argument, we may even draw damaging attention to the issue by campaigning it.

Nevertheless it seemed like a good idea to contribute a track to a campaign CD when we were asked recently, and during that process I intimated my thoughts to the organisers and discovered some startling and distressing information. Albeit in small numbers, it seems that there is nevertheless pockets of support for the BNP within the folk world. I shouldn't have been so naive. I guess our community is a cross section of the public like any other. Right-wing politics of any sort would get short shrift if you looked for any support in the folk clubs where I grew up in Barnsley or in the North East where I live now, but of course the folk community is a bigger and wider place than that. Furthermore, debates about folk music often conjure up words like 'purity' and 'authenticity'. Traditional music itself is debated with ignorance and absurd prejudice and so it's not a giant leap to apply similar ill-founded opinions to the wider topic of Englishness and native culture. As if any culture or people was carved in stone when time began!

So depressingly, it seems like the Folk Against Fascism is extremely necessary and we all need to be doing what we can, including in my opinion, lots of talking. It's no good just saying that something is disgusting. It's never a good idea to fight hate with hate. Most prejudice is born out of individuals like the BNP preying on fear, and when we're frightened, we usually respond best to a bit of calm and the facility to understand more about what it is we fear.

Ultimately however, the FAF principal aim is to disassociate folk music with the aims of the BNP. Having thought about it more, I can now see that generating a united stance within the folk community is only the tip of the iceberg. The BNP aren't deterred at all by overwhelming contempt from folk artists. Songlines reported that on the subject of a forthcoming BNP radio station, a party spokesman said "any musician that attacks us and is worried about it, well we'll just start playing more of their music and there's absolutely nothing they can do about it." Incredible eh?! in other words, we can unite within all we like, but it won't change their ability to use English folk music to convince the less aware. Here lies the crux of the matter. It is the British public, unfamiliar with the folk scene that the BNP stand the best chance of convincing with our music. If joe public of Burnley or Basingstoke hears English music in a jingoistic context, they are unlikely to know that the maker of that music has been jumping up and down in protest. That is why this campaign needs all the backing and support we can muster and why protest concerts in our media capital on the South Bank are a good idea in terms of raising publicity.

Adrian McNally

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Traditional English song has no links to the far right or Nick Griffin

Stereotyping folk musicians damages the reputation of a struggling but valuable form of music
Eliza Carthy

  • The Guardian, Tuesday 26 January 2010

  • Christian Koch lightheartedly listed the musical tastes of "the world's most evil men" (The guiltiest pleasures, 16 January). For instance, Osama bin Laden thought at one time that Whitney Houston was "the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen", and liked the B-52s. Generally it was fine – apart from the inclusion of BNP leader Nick Griffin, who you report as being a fan of my music.

    People have said to me in the last few days that everyone who knows me and my work in traditional English song knows I am not far right. I collaborate with musicians from all over the world and have performed concerts for the promotion and recognition of migrant musicians in this country. I also come, albeit distantly, from a Gypsy family, and I believe in free movement, liberty and social justice for everyone.

    But music that stirs is political, be it a 100-year-old narrative about a murder, or an older song about a young girl struggling with unwanted pregnancy within a prurient society. And I have always made a point of performing English music almost exclusively, engaging in media discussions about what this means, and how to celebrate the ancient culture of where you are from without pushing anyone away; in fact treating a strong cultural history and music as an invitation, essentially "you show me yours and I'll show you mine" – pride in oneself engendering mutual respect without hostility. I have been lucky enough to perform all over the world and I have held my head up among the most stunning, proud people because I know who I am and where I come from. My country has its ugliness. But I feel part of the positive side of us.

    The thing that really bothers me about Koch's piece, however, is when he says: "No prizes for guessing the BNP chieftain's favourite type of music. Yes, it's that most arthritically white of genres: English folk." These words offend me with their ignorance and prejudice. Ancestral music is blameless in this, and what does my ancestors being white have to do with anything if civilised people know that race is irrelevant?

    Idle gossip is all very well, but Koch damages the reputation of a struggling but valuable music, centuries-old – though currently undergoing a massive and diverse youth revival. The folk scene was struggling, and with an ageing audience; but in the last decade it has become exciting and inclusive, as going to any one of the hundreds of festivals around the country can demonstrate.

    As a cottage industry it needs intelligent and open-minded support and does not need outdated stereotypes trotted out for the sake of a giggle. I refuse to be a "nu-folk poster girl" for this.
    At the moment I'm touring with the Imagined Village, an English folk band that includes British Asians alongside guests such as Billy Bragg and Benjamin Zephaniah. You mentioned Folk Against Fascism: we support their attempts to distance folk music from the far right. Bollocks to Nick Griffin. And because talk is not cheap when it comes to this, bollocks to Christian Koch. It's just not funny.

    Wednesday, 16 December 2009

    Everything is Everything

    Talking to Tee from Edward II

    You ask me how things have changed since I was a kid? Names and faces have changed but it’s pretty much the same. More people get on together now than used to. Maybe more people try harder to get on even if they have prejudice against people because of the colour of their skin.

    It’s like, one time; I was doing a gig in Denmark and was talking to this guy. Afterwards I was talking to some other people and they said “What you talking to him for? He’s the most racist guy in Denmark! He hates black people” But the way me and him were talking I would never have known that. I don’t know what he was up to, but in my experience I’ve always found that some people have prejudice against the race of black people, but with me or a particular person, they’re alright. But as a race, it’s a different story.

    I’ve got people I grew up with and people I’ve met all over the world over the years who say “I’m not racist” and so on and I’m thinking “Yeah, yeah, yeah … I’ve never seen you with black people or going in black areas, but you talk as if you know what being black is”. It’s like that programme “How Racist Are You?” that was on TV the other day. People were protesting, saying that they weren’t racist but they weren’t even prepared to listen to what life is like for black people.
    The BNP are playing on that, appealing to people’s racism that has always been there but not admitted to or not understood. Talking about immigration when people are scared of losing their jobs, like it’s the immigrant’s fault. Whipping up the fear of all that – but racism is racism. Different degrees of it maybe, but the core of it is wrong.

    When EII started we used to get a bit of trouble. People saying we were, ‘polluting the British heritage’, where music’s concerned and stuff. That was a long time ago but yeah we used to get it from what I remember. And we used to get it the other way round too. I couldn’t believe it when I saw white people coming up to the white guys in the group - John, Simon, whoever - to say, “What are you doing in a reggae band? You’re white!”. I couldn’t believe it, I mean, I get it all the time, I’m used to it, but you get die-hard people into a particular genre of music and on this occasion white guys into reggae music giving the white guys shit, I couldn’t believe it!

    EII never really played to all black audiences. It doesn’t happen so much now, all black crowds. It used to when I was younger but now everything is much more accessible to everyone. When I was a kid black music was our music, then bands like UB40 or whoever came along and it broadened it out. They made a fortune out of it but the people that wrote those songs or first recorded those songs, they’re not going anywhere, they’re getting a raw deal. From Elvis down … Elvis would be nowhere if it wasn’t for black people. And that’s just the way it is. I’m not saying it’s right but that’s just the way it is.

    I think in the UK folk world, because our music is black orientated, we’re invisible to the establishment. We get crowds as big as Shooglenifty say, Bellowhead even or The Oyster Band and still they don’t recognize us for it.

    I’m a believer that nothing is new. Just a different face. We have a saying in Jamaica you know and when I first heard it I thought, “What are these people on about?” but I think it’s so apt, “Everything is everything”.

    When I was a kid I lived in a house with 3 families in it, in Hyson Green in Nottingham. Then after a few years my dad bought everyone else out and we had the house to ourselves, it was great, so much space! Two years or so before I left school, mum and dad bought a new house on an estate called Cinder Hill. It was like a mining estate, my dad was a miner for years. This was when I first ever really knew about racism. Because I grew up in a ghetto. I grew up in a street where everybody was different. Next door to me there was a Polish family, then a black family, then an Indian family. My mum would baby-sit for all kinds of nationalities so we grew up without knowing about racism – apart from a bit at school where you’d meet some bigoted people and stuff, but not in our area where we lived. But when we moved to a posh area … Jesus Christ! …. “You fucking black bastard, what you doing round here” all this kind of stuff. Things started getting violent, man, … you had to be to stay alive. Getting cut up, all kinds of shit just cos of the colour of your skin. I’d never done anything to nobody, hadn’t troubled them….

    Nowadays you hear on the news things like the Stephen Lawrence case, but in my day those things were everyday. Skinheads burnt down the nightclub where my brother went – one day it was there, the next it was gone, burnt to the ground. People were being seriously hurt every day because of the colour of their skin.

    They’re trying to bring it all back. But something strange is going on with the Youth. Now it’s white people fighting white people, black people fighting black people. The younger generation have grown up in a much more mixed society but the BNP’s ideas to them are new. They’ve not grown up with the things we grew up with. It’s kind of switching back to that now. They don’t necessarily have the experience of what, say, I went through in the seventies and eighties. They might not see how these ideas go and develop. European immigrants are now feeling it the same way, like when my parents came. But the BNP are whipping up fear about immigration and jobs and such, but then skewing it so it becomes specifically towards non-white immigrants because if they come at black people directly again it’s too blatant.

    Things have changed so much for the younger generation but people’s attitudes don’t seem to change. After all these years of ‘political correctness’, or awareness shall we say, the BNP are still playing on the same fear and misunderstanding. A lot of people are born into it – kids taking on their parent’s attitudes. Unless you leave where you grew up, you aren’t going to see any different. Unless you go and experience things for real, your attitudes aren’t going to change. The circumstances of all of what we do make us what we are today. You can only change if you mix with different people. Experience different ways of life. There are generations of people who just live their parent’s views without questioning things. Either because they don’t get a chance to - because there’s no money, or no jobs - or because they choose not to.

    My dad’s time it was the Teddy Boys, my time was skinheads, now time …. The BNP, the EDL …. Nothing’s new. Everything is everything, you see what I’m getting at?

    Sunday, 29 November 2009

    Joe Solo speaks up

    I've been alarmed recently by the number of people I know with sympathies toward at least some of the BNP's policies. I suppose there's a kind of innate snobbery in my thinking that you'd have to be stupid not to see through it, but I know people of above average intelligence who are so utterly disillusioned with mainstream politics that they've given doorstep time to these morons. I have a friend who says this happens after a long spell of Labour in power (it certainly did in the late 70's) because people react in extremis to the Left by swinging to the Right. Personally I think that's a bad excuse for switching your brain off. Either way, it's time to nail the colours to the mast."

    Friday, 6 November 2009

    Bands Not Playing

    That was the witty headline in the local rag last week! The boycott of a local pub by a whole raft of bands and performers made page 3, along with a mugshot of the falsely ingenuous landlord whose deviousness had been at the core of events.

    ‘Rotherham Acoustic’ is an occasional live music feast devised by Dicky and Mikey the tireless Rawmarsh Mashers, run every quarter or so. It’s a kind of extended open mic. session that issues an invitation to performers in folk and other acoustic traditions right across South Yorkshire and beyond. Contact the Mashers and they’ll oblige you with a spot of 20 minutes to half an hour depending on numbers, in front of a small but attentive and highly appreciative audience. And it goes on all day!

    It’s already becoming an institution and there’s been no shortage of keen performers since its inception a couple of years back. (Look up the website if you fancy a turn!). The Monkwood, a sixties estate pub on the edge of ‘Rawmish’ as it’s locally known, had become its regular home.

    The session organised for the last Sunday in October was fully booked. One woman was due to travel from somewhere near Newcastle. A couple of days beforehand the Mashers sent round an urgent message. The landlord had agreed to host a BNP meeting on the night the big blob was due to appear on Question Time. Everything was booked; people were travelling; what did folk think? Dicky, who had affiliated the Mashers and Rotherham Acoustic to Folk Against Fascism in the group’s earliest days, urged everyone to phone the pub and make their feelings clear.

    Shortly afterwards – another email. Success! The landlord had agreed to cancel the meeting. Folk were quietly cockahoop. A motley bunch of mere singers and performers taking a united stand had rolled back the fascist machine!

    Next day, a further email. He was lying. He had allowed the meeting to take place because ‘he couldn’t afford to lose the takings.’ Big mistake lad.

    Dicky set off an email discussion group and although I spotted I think one plea for tolerance and free speech the overwhelming tenor of contributions was ‘sorry but count me out.’ No more takings from us at the Monkwood!

    During that period Dicky was hurtling around the place looking for alternative premises and thankfully by the Saturday he had clinched it. Hardly a mile across the other side of Rawmish stands the Queens. The email networks were busy getting the message around and in double-quick time the action was complete. Everybody boycotted the original venue and the whole proceedings were transplanted to the Queens where Rotherham Acousticated itself wholeheartedly for several hours.

    Regular Sunday afternoon drinkers tapped their feet, joined in odd choruses, or carried on regardless. The woman from Newcastle came. Barnsley folk club members flogged their Folk Against Fascism badges. It was a good do. Well done Mashers.

    The clear message of unity, across many musical styles and political starting points, was carried unanimously and occasionally with harmonies, around the community, into the newspapers, and as it happens, well away from the Monkwood’s once ringing till.

    Ray Hearne, No Masters

    Friday, 23 October 2009

    Lau go mad in Belgium

    Hello FAFers,
    Lau have just spent a very enjoyable week in Belgium doing a “Best of the BBC Folk Awards” tour with Devon folk star Seth Lakeman. We finished the first leg of the autumn tour in Basingstoke, and jumped on Seth’s tour bus with his band and headed for Dover.

    Lau love a boat.

    And even a rather cold and under-populated Dover-Calais ferry makes us happy. For those that haven’t experienced that huge boat, there is a whole alcohol supermarket on the boat, presumably to cater for those that wish to take advantage of French drink prices without having to sully themselves with the culture.

    The fist gig was in Liers, a bonnie toon, with a sizeable river through the middle and a beautiful clock. The Jubilation Clock in Liers, 12 smaller clocks run off one master clock, beat that.

    Fiddle playing celebrity sound man Tim Matthew and Kris have a pre-gig tune.

    Lau and the Seth Lakeman band enjoy a post gig pint, not hard in Belgium.

    Mmmm Belgium.

    Day two took us to Roselare, to a beautiful theatre and yet more quality Belgian hospitality.

    Lau on stage in Roselare.

    Day three saw us with a day off, and never scared of an adventure we left Seth’s band to work up some new songs and set off for the station. Antwerp seemed like the place to head for, but breakfast had become just a distant memory, so we jumped off the train at Gent in search of food, we found not only good food, but a truly beautiful station:

    Gent station.

    Back on the train to Antwerp.

    Tim trying to look clever on the train to Antwerp.

    Friday, 11 September 2009

    Politics and traditional folk music - Jon Boden

    Sidmouth was great this year, and of the various gigs I played two stand out. The first was a tribute concert to the late, great Peter Bellamy featuring Martin and Eliza Carthy, Mike Waterson, Damien Barber, Mike Wilson and myself. It was great fun sharing the stage with a group of people who are all not only fabulous, legendary singers, but great raconteurs to boot. It was also the first time I've ever seen video footage of Bellamy, which was incredibly moving, although he did rather upstage the live performers. The other standout gig was the Folk Against Fascism launch at the Ham. Although it was a serious event the gig was great fun with all the musicians busking along with each other (this is common at Canadian festivals but unfortunately quite rare over here.) The juxtaposition of these two gigs made me think a bit about traditional folk song and politics. There is of course a long association between the 'folk movement' and left wing politics. As a left-winger myself it was very nice to be on stage in support of a good cause safe in the knowledge that all the other performers and 99% of the audience probably shared my political leaning. The flip side of this is the knowledge that Bellamy's self-destruction was not helped by the folk-scene's lack of interest in his work. Bellamy was certainly of the opinion that his liberal-Tory political views were a part of the problem. This may or may not be fair. There are other explanations - Bellamy was an awkward bugger personally and totally uncompromising musically - never a great recipe for commercial success. On the other hand I do think it's important for those of us with left wing views to detach our politics from our folk music. Traditional folk songs are not inherently left wing: there are some that effectively represent the Marxist dialectic, but many more that extol the virtues of the manorial hierarchy. Politics should only become an issue when political groups attempt to annexe traditional folk music/song/dance/custom to their own political agenda and attempt to restrict participation on the basis of background, politics, colour etc. This is currently the case with the BNP, and resisting that attempt is where Folk Against Fascism comes in.