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.