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.