Apparently a lot of people want this song played at their funeral, but personally I think it’s so grandly beautiful it’s fit only for the deaths of Emperors, war heroes, gods, and angels.
I’ve heard it can be anyway. Being one of those Londoners who got a nosebleed (and cultural panic) if he ventured north of Watford I couldn’t tell you myself. Short trips to Manchester and Newcastle are my only experience of that part of the country.
This is a really gorgeous track by British folky Catherine Howe from her “lost” 1971 album What A Beautiful Place. Apparently it’s about her hometown of Halifax which I’ve never been to either, but I doubt if it’s as pretty as this song.
Download: Up North – Catherine Howe (mp3)
There’s a fine line between looking like a folk singer and looking like a crazy homeless person, and I think one or two of the Lindisfarne boys may have crossed it here. Or it could just be that they’re Geordies.
Angel Olsen is a folk singer from St. Louis with an extraordinary voice that goes from the soft rustic warble of Vashti Bunyan to the operatic intensity of a female Roy Orbison. Her raw vocal style can make her an acquired taste at times but at her best she sounds heart-stoppingly beautiful. This is from her album Half Way Home which came out last year. Gorgeous video too, and Angel is rather easy on the eyes herself.
As a bonus here she is singing another song from the album live. Prepare to be blown away.
A band with a name like Keston Cobblers’ Club could end up being insufferably twee, but this lot manage to stay the right side of being charming in a very English, folky, Village Green Preservation Society sort of way.
Stunning and beautiful new video from Fleet Foxes, best thing I’ve seen in yonks. Watch it full screen.
The Watersons are another act that piqued my interest while reading Electric Eden. They might be a little too Real Ale for my tastes but there’s something very elemental about this sound, listening to them you can almost feel the Northern soil under your fingernails and the coal dust in your lungs.
I’m currently reading the book Electric Eden which is a history of British folk music that digs deep and wide into the subject to also weave a fascinating tale about the nation’s traditions, myths, and landscape. Beautifully written by Rob Young (“Britons treasure their shrinking countryside like a family heirloom wrapped in silk, locked away in the secret compartment of a writing table”) it says something about the quality of his prose and storytelling that I’m engrossed in a 600-page book about a style of music I’m not even that big a fan of.
I have discovered some things I do like though, like the gorgeous, pastoral voice of Anne Briggs. A big influence on Sandy Denny, Briggs was a colourful and unconventional character who only released one EP and two (great) albums before giving up music while making the third in 1973 because apparently she didn’t like the sound of her own voice on record and preferred busking to performing on stage. So she did a Vashti Bunyan and vanished to a remote corner of Scotland, not to be heard from for 30 years. It’s a shame she didn’t record more at her peak but without the free-spirited, don’t-give-a-toss attitude of artists like Briggs the story (and the music) wouldn’t be half as interesting.