Saturday 30 August 2014

10 Modern Folk Treasures

Over the last six months or so, I've got into folk music in a big way. I've started to explore the genre, listening to 60s and 70s folk, through to modern folk bands. I was lucky enough to see some great acts at Wickham Festival (and posted about it here). It was really hard to compile a playlist of only 10 modern folk tracks that I love, but I managed to whittle it down eventually. So click here for my '10 Modern Folk treasures' playlist.
Roll the Woodpile Down by Bellowhead: 
Bellowhead are an eleven-piece folk band who source traditional folk songs and writings to turn into dynamic masterpieces. They were amazing live and this song was even more uplifting than the album version. This song's origins lay in the Southern states of America, coming originally from the songs of African slaves. Bellowhead's CD inserts are really fascinating to read as they tell you where their tracks are sourced from and how far they might date back; it makes you realise how powerful the folk narrative and song tradition is, and how important it is that we are keeping it alive by participating in the traditions today, in one form or another. 

Many of the picks from my playlist inspire this notion in a far more powerful way than I could ever put it.

Jacket so Blue by Cara Dillon:  
Cara Dillon is an Irish folk singer. Her voice is stand-out in its purity and beauty. I chose this song from her latest album, A Thousand Hearts, because it is upbeat and makes me feel happy. having said that, some of Cara Dillon's songs, such as River Run, can almost bring me to tears. Her voice can be light and carefree in one song, and in the next, laden with heartache and fragility.  

Fifty Verses by Melrose Quartet: 
I found this track when I bought the BBC Folk Awards 2014 album (which is excellent by the way!). The harmonies and flow of this song made me fall in love with it quickly, so much so that I made a music video for it when I couldn't find any version of the song on youtube. It's on the playlist if you want to see what my amateur skills came up with!

Arthur O'Bradley by The Full English:
The Full English are a band formed by Fay Hield with the intention of bringing traditional folk songs into the modern day. I believe this album is the fruits of a massive research project which sought to put together an archive of traditional English songs and documents. Nancy Kerr (also of the Melrose Quartet) sings beautifully alongside Hield and Seth Lakeman's voice brings an emotional intensity to songs like Portrait of my Wife. Sam Sweeney is also a recognisable name on the folk scene being a member of Bellowhead. I chose this song because I love the way the two female singers share the verses and the traditional folk sound.     

Accident at the Harvest Festival by Matt Berry:
I've talked quite a lot about Matt Berry's music in previous posts. I went to see him live earlier this year (post here!) and he was fantastic. Most people know him for his comedy TV personas, but it is his music that I have a particular affinity with. This song from Witchazel is a tongue in cheek pastoral folk song which is definitely one of many highlights from this wonderful album.
Lads in Their Hundreds by Show of Hands:
Jim Carter and Imelda Staunton teamed up with Steve Knightley's band Show of Hands to create Centenary: Words and Music of the Great War, an album that features original songs and WW1 poems to music. I bought this to use as an inspiration for my students' exploration of WW1 poetry and gave a copy to a colleague who is particularly passionate about this area of literature. This song (and the whole album) is very emotional to listen to, both for the subject matter and beautiful arrangements. I saw Steve Knightley with his band Wake the Union at Wickham Festival a few weeks ago and this song was a real highlight for me. 
Pilsdon Pen by The Imagined Village:
This instrumental track features some beautiful vocals from Kate Garrett. As a piece of music this is energising, beautiful, dream-like and (to me anyway) even melancholy and haunting in places. The idea behind The Imagined Village is to bring together a range of cultural elements from music, including drum and bass, Asian percussion, dubstep and traditional orchestral folk. Billy Bragg features on this album in Hard Times of Old England and Benjamin Zephaniah also appears on Tam Lyn Retold. The track 'Ouses 'Ouses 'Ouses features John Copper who narrates about the history of folk music, reflecting on how his father may view the modern world. Asian singer, Sheila Chandra, accompanies him beautifully to cement some of the intentions of this wonderful album.

 I insist you listen to 'Ouses 'Ouses 'Ouses if you haven't already and have the remotest interest in music. It really is something very poignant and moving to experience.   

John Barbury by Kate Rusby
This is a version of the traditional Scottish ballad from the 1700s called Willy o' Winsbury. I came across Anaïs Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer's version which I also love, but I chose Kate Rusby's version of the song because I find the arrangement so beautiful alongside her voice. 

King of Birds by Karine Polwart:
I featured this song in one of my 'favourites' posts some time ago and it had to be on this playlist too. This mesmerising piece of music from the Scottish folk singer, Karine Polwart, is one of those songs that's lyrics are very cryptic and symbolic. To be honest, I've never really tried to analyse them until I started writing this post, and perhaps that's testament to how Polwart's vocals and the musical arrangement give you a 'feeling' of what this song is about without even understanding the lyrics.  

Lillibulero by Bellowhead:
This song apparently comes from a military march from the English Civil War! It is an addictive, raucous track from Broadside which has become one of my favourite Bellowhead tracks to date. I wish they had played this at Wickham Festival, but I may get to see them live again in the future and maybe they'll play this as part of a longer set. 

Which folk songs do you enjoy? 
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  1. Hi! I have nominated you to do the Liebster Award Nomination! If you want to check out the rules and my questions take a look at my blog :)

    A L L . A B O U T . M E | By Pat

  2. Thanks so much Pat! I will take a look x