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.