How many folk singers does it take to change a light bulb?
Two. One to change the bulb and the other to write a song about how good the old one was.
As you might have gathered from reading this blog, being an ageing expat living on the other side of the Atlantic from home makes one rather sentimental and wistful about olde Blighty and it’s culture, even for things I once found faintly ridiculous. As an urban London sophisticate I used to think quaint rural traditions like Morris Dancing and Folk music were a bit of a joke (see above), the domain of men with beards wearing chunky Fair Isle jumpers who smoked pipes and drank Real Ale, or hippy Renaissance Faire types who’d read “Lord of The Rings” too many times — it was all a bit too Hey Nonny Nonny for me.
But last summer I saw some Morris Dancers on Boston Common (no idea what they were doing there) and I found myself coming over all pastoral, getting warm and fuzzy thinking about village greens, maypoles, willow trees and dandelions. Seeing them prancing around among the grass and flowers with their bells and sticks, lit by a golden halo of bright afternoon sun, it was like a vision of a vanishing England had appeared before me and I was quite touched by it. It was the England of eccentric, ancient customs which by rights have no real place in the modern world but suddenly seem worth cherishing as we’re losing all the other peculiar, dusty old things that made us English.
Folk music drinks from the same old, rusty well of England and when I hear the exquisite voice of Sandy Denny singing with Fairport Convention it’s like a sound from another country and era, clear and pure as a church bell ringing out over a country fair with the scent of lavender, foamy beer and mint sauce.
Download: Who Knows Where The Time Goes – Fairport Convention (mp3)
Download: She Moves Through The Fair – Fairport Convention (mp3)
Denny is generally considered to be the greatest English female folk singer (sadly she died in 1978) but I’ve always had a fondness for the voice of Steeleye Span‘s Maddy Prior, even when I thought Folk was beyond the pale. Their big 1975 hit “All Around My Hat” isn’t exactly trad Folk with it’s big pop production but it is very Hey Nonny Nonny with its merry, skipping around the maypole vibe that makes you want to sink a pint of cider, grab the nearest rosy-cheeked wench, dance a jig with her and have a roll in the hay afterwards.
Download: All Around My Hat – Steeleye Span (mp3)
I may not have cared much about the English countryside and it’s way of life before, but at least I knew it was always there, but sadly I’m not so sure anymore and now I’m the one writing about how good the old one was. Not that I’m about to grow a beard and take up pipe smoking or anything.